“There are tons of kids out there who endure chronic abuse and suffer in silence. They can’t trust anyone, they can’t tell anyone, and they have no idea how to get away from it”
-C. Kennedy, Omorphi
” I think scars are like battle wounds –beautiful, in a way. They show what you’ve been through and how strong you are for coming out of it.”
My Dear Readers,
For those of you who are joining us for the first time, Bobbi’s Saga is the story of a woman recovering from childhood physical and sexual abuse.
Since aging out of the foster care system at 18 years old, Bobbi has “survived” her childhood sexual abuse. For forty years she has lived in fear: fearful of what people, especially in the African-American community would think and say about her if they knew her secrets. For forty years Bobbi held on the memories of childhood sexual abuse, suffering in silence. Finally, no longer able to tolerate the emotional pain, she decided it was time to end her life and bring the suffering to an end.
Instead, Bobbi made one last attempt to reach out, this time to seek psychotherapy to relieve her suffering. Historically, psychotherapy in the African-American community has been taboo. Strength, not the weakness associated with seeking therapy, is what is valued and respected in the African-American community.
My name is Dr. Micheal Kane; I am a clinical traumatologist, which basically means I specialize in treating individuals suffering from psychological trauma. I view my role as a guide and companion to those lost in emotional darkness and psychological suffering, and my goal is to assist my patients in finding the light of day. The work I do is known as The Journey of Self Discovery.
As a result of hundreds of years of racism, oppression and discrimination, African-Americans are often psychologically disempowered and strongly impacted by shame and humiliation. The basic nature of chronic or excessive shame is that the person enduring shame feels unworthy, defective and empty. Humiliation is the infliction of a profoundly violent psychological act that leaves the victim with a deep wound within the psychological self.
Those who have been victimized by the actions of others have the right to live their lives without silence and suffering. This is the basis of my commitment to this valued and difficult work.
Bobbi no longer suffers in silence. She is no long a survivor of sexual assault. She is now an individual who was victimized during countless sexual assaults. Rather to be labeled as a survivor for the rest of her life, Bobbi prefers to be identified as a “striver” as she continues to move along her Journey of Self Discovery.
The Emotional Pain in Reclaiming One’s Body and Honoring the Therapeutic Work
I just came back from a session with Dr. Kane. We discussed my journaling, my mother and my body reactions as an 8- and 9-year-old. In therapy, I admitted how ashamed I have been for 40 plus years as my body reacted to the rubbing of my chest by my stepfather and me not fighting enough.
I was more ashamed of that than being sodomized by him. I always felt that my body should not have reacted to his rubbing of my chest. He told me to rub my chest every night to make my breast grow. I had no breasts then. When my breasts grew large, I believed it was because of the abuse. I hated my breasts. In fact, I still don’t like them. I hated my breasts because they reminded me of my abuse. For 50 years, I believed my breast size was because of my abuse. I am employed in the healthcare profession and I never stopped believing my breast size was due to my abuse. It was not until Dr. Kane told me that rubbing my breasts would not make them grow. Yet, I still was not sure. I asked my primary care physician as well. She seemed disturbed by the question, but agreed that manipulation of the chest will not make breasts grow or influence their size.
Dr. Kane said something today that I will never forget. It was one of those moments where something just clicks. He said that my chest being rubbed is just like my primary care physician checking my reflexes by tapping my knee- what I experienced was an automatic reaction. Dr. Kane let me know that just like I could not stop my knee from jerking in response to the tap, there was nothing I could have done to prevent my chest from reacting to the rubbing.
Dr. Kane also stated that no matter how much I fought, it was not enough to withstand the assault. He wants me to focus on the fact that I survived the abuse. Him saying that is so important to me. I have felt guilty because I didn’t fight. I also felt guilty and ashamed because the rubbing he did made my young body react to it.
I don’t remember it feeling good, but I do remember it feeling different from anything I had felt before. Fifty years of shame I am now able to let go of. I feel so proud and good about achieving that.
Dr. Kane has a way of making things that are so painful to say make sense. His explanations reduce the shame and guilt. His explanations make it possible to see what is most painful in a totally different way.
I left today’s session feeling good. I left with the understanding I no longer need to carry that part that I was most ashamed of.
I can let it go!
Concluding Remarks-Dr. Kane
In Bobbi’s writing, she acknowledges a major achievement. Notice the term being utilized is “achievement” and not utilizing terms which symbolizing “overcoming” or “breakthrough.”
In the process of in-depth trauma therapy, the focus is on balancing the traumatic events as the individual continues as a traveler in the journey known as life. It is essential for anyone impacted by a traumatic psychological wound to understand that the traumatic wound remains as a permanent entity within the psychological self. To be clear, the traumatic wound can heal; it will never ever go away. It will remain with the individual until death. Understanding this, Bobbi is learning to balance the traumatic wounds associated with her sexual abuse, abandonment and parental betrayal within her psychological self. In doing so, she is able to find new meaning and value. Furthermore, validation comes from within and as a result, Bobbi becomes less vulnerable to the shame and humiliation aspects of her disempowered community.
It is important to understand the power that shame and humiliation can have over those impacted by trauma. Bobbi held to the belief that she, and not her rapist, was responsible for her abuse. Specifically, Bobbi held to the belief that since she was unable to stop him, she was responsible for size of her breasts. This trauma can be so debilitating and thorough that despite Bobbi’s training and employment as a healthcare professional for 30 years, she held on to those beliefs. This insures the maintenance of her shame and guilt as well as the belief that she is “a bad person.”
In-depth trauma therapy is also essential to respond to Bobbi’s feeling that “I did not fight enough.” Bobbi used this for 40 years to justify blaming herself for the abuse that she endured. Role-playing in the therapy session allowed Bobbi to finally let go of this premise. Notice that I used the term “let go,” instead of “surrender”. Surrendering is forced; letting go is voluntary, and therefore empowering to the psychological self.
The scenario we used was that of a 9-year-old rape victim sitting in the office waiting room, with the therapist directing Bobbi to bring the child into the therapy room and tell her directly that she, the child, was responsible for her sexual assault. Specifically, it was to be Bobbi’s responsibility to affirm to the 9-year-old that she was responsible because she either failed to fight or did not fight enough to keep herself from being raped by a 250-pound adult. It was only after presenting this scenario that Bobbi was able to clearly put her traumatic experience into perspective.
Bobbi’s achievement in reclaiming partnership with her body is critical to within her healing and her journey of self-discovery. However, of major concern within the therapeutic work is her willingness to “hand over” credit for her achievements to the therapist, instead of reinforcing the foundation of her work—her own willingness to do the work.
When the therapist commits to the journey, he/she provides an environment where difficult and often horrendous issues can be explored. When the time comes for the therapist (as the guide) and the patient to go their separate ways, it is essential that the patient leaves with a solid personal and emotional foundation, the sense of resolution from the work, and a desire to continue on their own journey.
The way to respond to the patient’s desire to acknowledge the involvement of the therapist is to encourage the patient to honor the work that was achieved in the therapy. In honoring the work, the patient also honors the therapist.
To clarify, the role of the therapist is that of guide and companion. Nothing more. To honor the work in therapy is to honor the therapist. C. Kennedy suggests the following:
“Abuse does not define you.”
I disagree. Abuse will define you if your community is allowed to write the words that define you. Validation must come from within the psychological self, and it will always be imprisoned as long as another person, group, or community holds the key to his/her freedom.
Join us here next month for the next installment of Bobbi’s Saga.
-Dr. Micheal Kane, Clinical Traumatologist