The Danger Of Stigma

A brilliant clinical psychologist once said two things contribute to trauma: 1. The survivor feels a sense of “I’m different/not the same” following the traumatic event. 2. The survivor did not receive empathy or compassion. #HealingTrauma

I will never forget the clinical psychologist shared an example of two vastly different potentially traumatic events to illustrate the devastating impact of stigma:

  1. A ‘natural disaster’.
  2. ‘Being raped’.

A natural disaster includes the possible threat to life, homes, belongings, injuries, loss of loved ones. A rape includes the possible threat to life, survival, violation, contamination of self, identity, unwanted STDs or pregnancy, physical damage, fear of repeated abuse.

The clinical psychologist noted there is no stigma associated with a natural disaster. So it is common for these survivors to recover from trauma. What normally happens is the community come together transparently, help each other and share empathy and compassion.

However, there is stigma associated with being raped. This survivor not only has potential trauma from being raped; they are stigmatised. Often this survivor does feel a sense of “I’m different/not the same” and no empathy or compassion is provided (e.g. if it’s a secret).

Some survivors of rape are kicked out of their group (i.e. their family, work environment, an entire community) if the group does not believe them or deliberately denies the truth; they face the original traumatic event, feeling “different/not the same”, and social death.

Therefore, the type of trauma can dictate what a survivor experiences and how they believe they are different from others. Trauma that generates shame from stigma will often lead to survivors feeling more alienated from others—believing that they are “damaged goods.”

Australian of the Year Grace Tame: #LetHerSpeak

“All survivors of child sexual abuse, this is for us. I lost my virginity to a paedophile. I was 15, anorexic; he was 58, he was my teacher. For months he groomed me and then abused me almost every day. Before school, after school, in my uniform, on the floor. I didn’t know who I was. Publicly he described his crimes as ‘awesome’ and ‘enviable’. Publicly I was silenced by law. Not anymore.”

Partners, family, friends, the media and the government can help break the “stigma” for trauma survivors by: believing them; listening and allowing them the opportunity to talk about the event in their own time and in their own way;

not judging them; spending time with them; allowing them some private time; reassuring them they are now safe (if they are); allowing them the opportunity to express their feelings;

not saying things such as ‘lucky it wasn’t worse’, or ‘she is a lying cow’ or the alleged perpetrator is an ‘innocent man’; not doing things like taking the alleged perpetrator’s sides or rejecting valid requests for an independent inquiry.

Unlike a natural disaster, a survivor of rape can face the trauma of being raped and it’s stigma in the form of silence, shame, rejection or social death. It is not hard then to understand how their trauma might endure and why some might even decide to take their life.

Anyone can break the stigma for a survivor of rape or any other trauma that is stigmatised. If you find yourself privileged enough to be trusted to hear a survivor’s story, then listen to them with empathy and compassion and gently remind them that they are always “whole”.

Now you know the power of Trauma Informed Care. Let’s turn this framework into a mindset for personal, social and political change. If you are unable to, you might need help first, to get safe or become ‘unstuck’ from trauma. Reach out for trauma informed care. #YouBelong

With love,

Dr Louise Hansen
Psychologist
PhD in Psychology
Human Rights Activist

#HealingTrauma #Justice4Australia #WeAllBelong

Keala Settle and The Greatest Showman Ensemble – This Is Me (2017):

“I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown ’em out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh
Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades and
Reaching for the sun (we are warriors)
Yeah, that’s what we’ve become (yeah, that’s what we’ve become)
I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown ’em out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh
This is me
And I know that I deserve your love
(Oh-oh-oh-oh) There’s nothing I’m not worthy of
(Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh)
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown ’em out
This is brave, this is bruised
This is who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come (look out ’cause here I come)
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum (marching on, marching, marching on)
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown ’em out
I’m gonna send a flood
Gonna drown ’em out
Oh
This is me.”

#YouBelong

https://youtu.be/IDL33yN2oQ8
#IncarcerationNation

https://youtu.be/XUyfAme3i_U

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
“Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of support we received overnight! We’re able to fund one more Indigenous Psychology student for a full three year Psychology degree from just a 10 minute appearance on ABC #TheDrum.” – Dr Tracy Westerman AM

If you would like to donate, please visit:

https://www.thejilyainstitute.com.au/about-us/
My partner Marcelo Alegre Rubic who taught me do not let anyone control your life. #YouBelong

Trauma Informed World was inspired by Kopika and Tharnicaa; two faces that remind us everyday of Australia’s cruel refugee system. One of many systems in Australia that remind us of the negative operation of power. #HomeToBilo

Kopika (left) and Tharnicaa (right) were kept at Christmas Island Detention Centre for nearly two years despite trauma informed calls to return them to Biloela, Queensland. Tharnicaa has spent most of her life detained by the Australian Government and is still in community detention to this day. #YouBelong

Australia’s National Helplines and Websites:

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/national-help-lines-and-websites

To provide the best information possible, Beyond Blue has listed national helplines and external services. All services linked to Beyond Blue are reviewed before they are posted.

Trauma Informed World respects and acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Custodians of the land and waterways on which this educational resource was inspired. I acknowledge and respect Elders past, present and emerging. I honour the continuation of educational, cultural and spiritual practices and celebrate the extraordinary diversity of people and relationships worldwide. This website contains images of deceased persons. There are also swear words in some of the songs presented that portray intense emotions. This website is not intended to trigger people who have experienced trauma. However, if you do find any of the content triggering, each page has a link to Australia’s National Helplines and Websites for immediate mental health support. These are my own personal views and comments and may not reflect the views of my employer.

Published by Dr Louise Hansen

This is a free educational website on Trauma Informed Care for survival and wellbeing. While each injustice differs, all stories share the same trauma: the negative operation of power. Let’s break the cycle of injustice and trauma together one day at a time. The byproduct of clarity is peace. Joy is peace dancing. Trauma is disconnection. Empathy fuels connection. Knowledge is power: “Love is the absence of judgment.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama. #YouBelong

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