Reflection: Stopping The Cycle of Complex Trauma

 

“As a clinical traumatologist I am committed to bringing light to those forced into darkness, and offering acknowledgement and acceptance to those feeling disavowed and rejected.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane

“Everyone knows that a man ain’t supposed to cry.

But listen, I got to cry, cause crying eases the pain.”

-The Temptations, “I Wish It Would Rain”

My Dear Readers,

Last week, I attended the National Association of Black Social Workers 48th Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.  While I was there, I found myself struggling one night to write a response to a reader who responded to last week’s blog, “Censorship and The Survivalist Mentality.”  The writer states:

Dr. Kane,

I’ve been reading your blog posts and have enjoyed them and the thought provoking positions that you take. While I disagree with some parts, I value them on the whole as they help me reconcile complex issues.

I haven’t read anything that I thought would be worthy of censorship or rejection so this news surprises me. I agree that the silence of the community on these incidents can reinforce isolation, however sometimes the community doesn’t hear about the censorship.

I was unaware of this incident possibly because I don’t subscribe to the listserv in question, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other listserv members didn’t know about the rejection either. Neither I nor they will know for sure thought because you didn’t name the listserv. I’m guessing that you didn’t call it out by name on purpose, but without a name it makes it tough to encourage them to set and keep a standard for rejecting posts.

The writer was correct. I specifically decided not to name the listserv.  I wanted to make a point regarding the trauma of censorship, but I felt that naming the listserv directly would be derisive and be seen as an attempt to shame or humiliate the moderators instead of my true intent, which is and was to educate my readership and obtain ABC (advocacy, balance and calmness) for myself.

Yesterday, I led a workshop on complex trauma identifying the 13 types of traumas, which can cumulatively impact African-Americans at any time.  During the conference, I participated in a workshop led by Dr. Shawneladee C. Cole focused on the complex trauma of intra-racism and skin color among African-Americans.  Tears rolled down my face as the workshop attendees spoke of their internalized pain suffered at the hands of African-Americans, their own people.

My traumatization of being silenced via censorship did not begin with the listserv.  It began when I was eight years old. I can still recall one of my first traumatic experiences—I was a “colored” boy integrating a “for whites only school” in the third grade, being the only “colored” kid in the class, being directed to stand in front of the class and recite the alphabet.

Even today, I can still the sea of whiteness, blond/brown hair and bluest of eyes staring as I counted down to the last letter.   I can still taste the flavors of shame and humiliation as I return to my desk with the tears rolling down my cheeks.  I will never forget that day.  It was the first day of my invisibility, censorship.  For the next 18 months no would play or talk to the colored boy hidden in the back of the class.

At twelve years old, being the only negro boy (got promoted from colored to black) on the baseball team, when someone farted in the dugout, I was the one forced to stand outside so the room could be aired out.   Similar to my black peers in the workshop, I went on to experience other forms of being traumatized by my community.  Like standing at the doorstep, with a box of candy to pick up my first date and then to be told by the girl’s mother that “I was too dark to go out with her daughter.  The mother kept the candy.

However, the most consistent painful memories came from not being able to get into “black only” dances because of the inability to pass the brown paper bag test (my skin was darker than the bag).  The dance, I learned, was for the “best” black people—the light skinned ones.

As stated earlier in previous blogs, the African-American community is a closed system.  Generally, closed systems are isolated and economically unsustainable.  Such a system relies on a small middle class and a labor force that is dependent on the dominant majority.   As a result, closed systems are particularly susceptible to psychological wounds arising from experiences of complex trauma.

The attendees of the workshop expressed feelings of complex trauma being forced upon then by a closed system practicing intra-racism.  The symptoms of Complex Trauma PTSD that many either displayed or verbalized included:

  • Difficulty with managing impulses such as anger
  • Feelings of self-destructiveness
  • A chronic sense of guilt or responsibility
  • Difficulty trusting people
  • Isolation or being emotionally distant
  • Difficulty establishing and/or maintaining intimate relationships
  • Feelings of hopelessness or despair
  • Focus on somatic or medical problems

It was clear that these folks experienced a sense of disempowerment by being victimized by people who are their reflection—people of the same complexion.  There was the clear description of the deliberate, planned and premeditated violation and exploitation they experienced from someone who looks just like them, who imposed pain on them and benefited from their suffering.   

As I looked around the room, and saw the nodding heads and tears streaming down the faces of the tormented and suffering, those words were truly hard to hear.

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane 

I will not name the listserv that censored me.  In reality, the listserv is serving the desires of its community.   It is a non-activist instrument.  Its community is focused on job announcements, legislative briefing, and research posting.  It is not an instrument of empowerment.

For example, that listserv, although focused on black social workers and mental health providers in Washington state, never published any information regarding the current conference of the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW,) which 3,000 black social workers from the US and around the world attended.  Nor have they provided any information regarding the NABSW 2017 conference in San Diego, or the 50th Annual NABSW Conference slated to be held in Washington DC in 2018.

For those of us who have suffered complex trauma from the actions of our closed system i.e. the African-American community, I would recommend focusing on self-empowerment by extolling the therapeutic model of ABC:

  • A-Advocacy– for self; be reflective, respond to the abusive acts or behavior.
  • B-Balance-seek to heal the psychological wound; take a respite and own your reaction.
  • C-Calmness-maintain calm in your external environment; re-evaluation of actions that were taken

In the end, I will continue to submit my truths for publication to all media platforms, including the one that has silenced me.  I will allow my actions, rather than the acceptance of silence, to speak on my behalf.  I encourage those who disagree or have different perspectives to voice them for all to listen.  This is the benefit of residing within an open system and democratic society.

 Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

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Censorship and The Survivalist Mentality

Living in a closed system is slowly quietly sucking out the life and killing us, one by one.

-Micheal Kane, Psy.D, Clinical Traumatologist

Author, Our Blood Flows Red

Our lives begin to end the day we are silent  about things that matter.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

My Dear Readers,

I typically make a habit to re-post my blogs on a listserv focused on black social workers and mental health providers.  Recently, one of my blogs, The Yearly Celebration Is Gone: Is Black History Over? was, to my surprise, deemed “inappropriate” by the moderator and consequently, was rejected for publication.  No other explanation was provided, and no one else commented on the situation.

Since there aren’t any stated guidelines on posts, I was confused as to why this arbitrary decision was made, and no other remarks were made.  I will never know what was “inappropriate” about this blog entry.

I believe that this was an act of censorship.  Censorship can be defined as the following:

“The suppression of speech, public communication, or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient by groups or institutions.”

Hmm…Have my writings this year met the standard for censorship within the African-American community?  In my recent writings, I have advanced the following points:

  • The African-American community is responding to ongoing cumulative incidents of complex trauma. Not only is this trauma psychologically wounding, but individuals who experience complex trauma continue to remain vulnerable to the impact of these experiences.
  • The African-American community is a closed system. Generally, closed systems are isolated and not economically sustainable, relying on a small labor force that is dependent on a more open system.  As a result, closed systems can be particularly susceptible to psychological wounds arising from the experience of complex trauma.
  • The African-American community engages in avoidance and denial behaviors. Avoidance is the act of dodging, shunning or turning away, where denial is the failure to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion.  It can also be the refusal to accept the reality of an event or the reliability of information received.

I acknowledge that these assertions may be met with strong disagreement by those who read it, but censorship is a weapon of silence.  Where avoidance can prevent something from happening and denial comes from an event that is too uncomfortable to accept or reject, censorship effectively removes the threat or controversy from view and in the silence that follows, creates the illusion to the community that the threat or controversy never existed, and therefore, the balance or harmony within the closed system remains untouched.

The listserv functions as a media platform, but it can also stand as a microcosm of the African-American community.  When communities like the one on this listserv become vulnerable to censorship, it, like the African-American community it serves, becomes a closed system.  Its members are descendants of generations upon generations of people who have endured 400 years of horrendous acts of racism, oppression, and discriminatory treatment.

By censoring “inappropriate” posts, the moderators not only suppress information, but they reinforce complex traumas inflicted on its readership. During the time of segregation, many of us who have experienced the denial or limiting of access to information firsthand.

Censorship of information by media platforms due to arbitrary decisions and lack of formal allows people, communities, and organizations to live in fear. When we live in fear, we allow our fears to take over our lives and dictate the limits of our possibilities.

When we live in fear, we often use that fear as a hindrance and an excuse for not accomplishing what we are working to accomplish.  Instead, I suggest that we can learn to embrace our fear, and respond to it in a way that allows us to thrive within an open flourishing system.

The pain of operating in a survival mentality in a closed system allows us to clearly see the benefits of transformation to an open system.  By doing this, our communities and organizations can transition from serving its own agendas by controlling the flow of information, to providing clear guidelines targeted towards the service and enhancement of the people it serves.

Closing Remarks-Dr. Kane

The issue here is not the power of the moderator, but the silence of the community.  When a community accepts censorship, it reinforces its own isolation and encourages individuals to adopt the survival mentality in its closed system.

Media platforms dedicated to black audiences throughout many African-American communities across the country are designed to be “non-activist,” meaning that its role is to pass along information such as regional legislative agendas, job announcements and research opportunities.  Meanwhile, “activist” issues such as those below continue to add to the complex traumatization of our community:

  • In 2016, a CDC study determined that 50% of all Gay African-American males will contract HIV in their lifetime. Gay and bisexual Black males have a have a one in two risk of contracting HIV in comparison with one in 11 for white males.
  • The same study found that one in 48 black women are likely to be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime compared to one in 880 white women.
  • Only 10% of 8th grade black males in America read proficiently.
  • 1 in every 16 African-American men is incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white males.
  • One in every three black males can expect to be to prison in their lifetime.
  • Black males were three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists.
  • African-American males are twice as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.

There is much more that these media platforms can do to assist in the empowerment and psychological wellness of African-American communities across the country.  Maintaining a non-activist stance will only reinforce the current state of survivalist mentality and not move us towards empowerment.

Recommendations:

  • Media platforms must encourage a range of discussion regarding issues impacting the psychological wellness of the African American communities throughout the country.
  • Media platforms must establish specific guidelines and structures defining the appropriateness of submitted articles
  • Media platforms must provide notification of regional and national conferences focused on the wellness of black communities, such as the National Association of Black Social Workers, whose conference is taking place this week in New Orleans.

Finally, let us not ignore the dangers of silencing through censorship. The Russian poet & dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko once said:

“When truth is replaced by silence, the silence becomes a lie.”

I will continue to submit my truths for publication to all media platforms, including the one that silenced me.  I will allow my actions, rather than the acceptance of silence, to speak on my behalf.  I encourage those who disagree or have different perspectives to voice them for all to listen.  This is the benefit of residing within an open system and democratic society.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just World Trauma and the Black Middle Class

 

“(White Interviewer) Your son Langston, a student at Brown, was questioned while in a public park by police. What had you said to him about situations like this? 

I remember when a neighbor of ours, who was not black, got into trouble and the police brought him home.  I walked my son outside, pointed down the street and said, “They wouldn’t have brought you home.  You’d be in jail.”

-Dr. Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.  Chairman African-American Studies Department, Princeton University

“He treated me like I was a nigger.” (Incident in which police officer forced a member of the Seattle City Council to spread eagle over his car refusing to believe that he was a councilmember)

-Richard McIver Councilmember, City of Seattle 1998-2010

My Dear Readers,

This week, we will examine one way that complex trauma asserts itself in our lives: Just World Trauma. Just World Trauma has a devastating impact upon the black middle class as it attempts to claim the benefits and privileges it feels are deserved.

Many white and black people believe that black people have achieved middle-class status.  Both groups maintain an unconscious belief that all you need to do to keep bad things from happening to you is to follow the rules and guidelines of the culture within which they live. In my clinical practice, I hear countless stories from African-Americans regarding how upsetting it is to be viewed as those people, thereby denying them the benefits that come with being members of the middle class. An example:

A black executive and three white colleagues enter a four-star restaurant.  As he follows the hostess to be seated, another patron, without paying attention, nonchalantly asks him for a menu and to pour his water (both pitcher and menu are placed on the opposite side of the table).  To the chagrin of his colleagues, he pours the water and hands the patron the menu. When questioned in therapy why he took that action, he shrugged momentarily and the tears began rolling down his face.

Just World Trauma begins when one societal group comes to the realization that its path to the “good life” is being blocked by the conscious and unconscious beliefs (stereotypes, prejudices) of the other societal group.  Traumatization can occur when individual members of one group repeatedly push back and in the act of doing so, constantly re-experiences psychological wounding and distress.

The African-American community is a closed system, which is a system that is isolated and not economically self-sustainable, that relies on a small middle class and a labor force that is dependent on more open community systems to maintain itself. As a result, the black middle class can be particularly susceptible to psychological wounds arising from the experience of just world trauma as it attempts to negotiate its strategic position as gatekeepers between the two communities.

There are two barriers that prevent the achievement of the black middle class from doing this.  One, the white community views black people as monolithic; that is, having a massive, unchanging structure that does not permit individual variation.   Two, privilege is defined, controlled and maintained outside of the black community.

The white community is an open system.  As the dominant majority, it is politically strong and economically sustainable.  The open system allows individuals to travel without hindrance, moving freely to interact with other units within the group (business, professional organizations etc.), and external environments (interstate, international etc.).  As the dominant partner in the relationship with other communities, it sets the standards in which others can be designated “privileged, “ thereby accessing the benefits offered within its flourishing system.

There are questions that warrant understanding and hopefully bring awareness.  What is privilege?  How does privilege differ between blacks and whites?  Privilege is a special right or advantage available only to a particular person or group of people.  Privilege can be emotional or psychological, regarding personal self-confidence and comfort, or having a sense of belonging or worth in society.

Definitions of Privilege include the following:

  • Male Privilege-is the granting of special rights, advantage or immunity that is made available to individuals of a specific gender. Every male (regardless of race) by virtue of being male benefits from male privilege.
  • White Privilege– is defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available to only to individuals of a specific race (white) due to the perception of institutional power in relation to individuals of a different race or ethnic group.
  • White Male Privilege-is privilege accorded to white males only. This privilege is unlimited, has no boundaries and supersedes all other privileges.
  • Select Privilege-is a privilege accorded to white females and wealthy, elite or influential males/females individuals of a different race or ethnic group. Those selected are carefully chosen as being the best or most suitable for close contact with those holding white privilege.  This privilege is granted or conferred or revoked (exception-white females) at the discretion of white males.
  • Intra-Group Privilege is created by those holding white privilege and is extended to of a different race or ethnic group, holding college level education and middle class status. Those holding intra-group are gatekeepers and act as the bridge between those holding white privilege and the other ethnic or racial groups. Similar to select privilege, it is discretionary and can subject to revocation at any time.  This privilege which allows access to perks and benefits is highly sort after; is difficult to obtain and subject to loss at any time
  • Limited Privilege-is privilege that is created within a specific ethnic or racial group. Here specific members achieve status and esteem through what is valued or validated within the confines of the community. Unlike White Male Privilege, which is powerful and has no boundaries, limited privilege lacks meaning, worth or value outside the confines of its community.

It is reasonable for members of the dominant majority, especially those from situations of middle or upper class standing, to openly deny possession of privileged status within their community.  The benefit of privilege is one either unconscious or conscious, is taken for granted.   Either way, within the group there is the assumption that persons of social status, education and wealth expect to be treated “differently.”

It would be a dangerous error, both physically and psychologically, for members of the black middle class to choose a similar assumption.  Richard McIver, a city council member of Seattle during the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999, was pulled from his vehicle and manhandled roughly by a Seattle police officer.  The incident, is described by Jean Gooden, a white fellow council member who witnessed it:

“Councilmember McIver and I were on our way to an official dinner.  We were stopped by a Seattle policeman who did not recognize him as a council member, refused to believe he was a public official, and insisted on making him stand spread-eagled up against his car.  He never forgot that, not so much because of the indignity, but that others did not believe an African American might be a city councilmember.” – Jean Gooden

In an interview with the local media, McIver angrily said: “He treated me like I was a nigger.”  The incident was one of complex trauma, specifically Just World Trauma.  The idea of a just world is built on three premises:

  • The world is benevolent
  • The world is meaningful
  • The self is worthy

The belief in a just world falls in line with the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the theory, there is the belief:

  • That the individual is capable of anything,
  • That hard work pays off,
  • That what goes around comes around and
  • That buying into the moral precepts and rules of behavior will keep us safe from all the uncertainties of life.

The fallacy of the Just World principle is that it was developed for those who are a part of the dominant culture and have developed these beliefs because following the rules and guidelines of the culture within which they live actually has made them immune from adverse events.  In essence, the just world is actually just privilege restricted to a specific group.  Members of the dominant group can grant temporary membership into the dominant group for others by extending select privilege to specific individuals.  The caveat is that the extended privilege is subjected to challenge and revocation at any time without reason or cause.

This may have been the situation in which Mr. McIver found himself in when he was confronted by the Seattle police officer.  Having been granted select privilege due to his powerful position as a council member of a city population with a population of half a million, Mr. McIver may have considered himself to be immune to the policing action which was occurring around him as he drove through the WTO protests.  His status of select privilege was revoked when the police officer in viewing his black skin, forced him to spread-eagle on the hood of his own car.

The action taken against Mr. McIver occurred despite the assurances of a white female councilmember that he indeed was a member of the city council in route to attend an official function. The words of the female colleague may have been ignored due to her own status of select privilege being granted because of being a white female.  Nonetheless, it was a clear situation where white male privilege “trumps” the privilege and power of a white female.

When African-Americans of middle or upper-class status “forget” the rules that they once had to adhere to when they were non-privileged, traumatic experiences can occur through the action of revocation.  The action of revocation of select privilege occurs ongoing in cities across the United States:

  • Henry Louis Gates, (7.16.2009) professor at Harvard University, following a report of burglary, being questioned by the police as he is standing in his home. He was later arrested and charged with obstruction for refusing to provide identification. (select privilege revoked due to refusal to provide identification).
  • James Blake, (10.8.2015) professional tennis player, tackled, thrown to the ground and handcuffed outside an expensive four-star hotel in downtown Manhattan New York. Apology for mistaken identification extended by New York Police Commissioner (select privilege revoked due to black male being out of place (a four star hotel))
  • Blac Youngsta (1.9.2016), a rapper, thrown to the ground, gun placed at his head by Atlanta Police officers following his withdrawal of $200,000 of his money from an upscale bank (select privilege revoked because of belief he as a black man is not supposed to have that amount of money i.e. the rapper is a millionaire)
  • Condoleezza Rice (date unknown) it was reported in the media during the early days the Bush Admiration, when she was serving as National Security Advisor, a white male Secret Service agent physical shoved her away when she was traveling with President Bush (select privilege revoked due to failure to be recognized by an individual holding white male privilege)

Select Privilege is extended to those designated as worthy of association due to their status of being wealthy, influential or elite.  These are the individuals who make the national media headlines when the revocation of their selected privilege occurs, primarily because these revocations occurred due to mistaken identity or failure by the white individual to recognize the celebrity, statesman, or high ranking individual. These are usually resolved by the white individual extending an apology, the privilege is restored, and the matter is considered “resolved.”

Just World Trauma is a major factor in psychological wounds occurring within the black middle class.  As stated earlier the black middle class is a small isolated group within a closed system.  The black middle class consists of individuals who either were born into this structure or those who had “pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, by consistent hard work in order to buy homes, create wealth and send their children to college.  A major role of the black middle class is to serve as “gatekeepers” between the two communities.

In return for fulfilling the role as gatekeepers, the black middle class is granted intra-group privilege. This privilege allows access to perks and benefits available within the open system, which is flourishing, unlike the closed system, which is focused on survival.  However, in order to obtain this privilege, there is   a certain unwritten expectation that the person being granted this privilege will assist in maintaining the physical and psychological safety of those holding white privilege.  These may include:

  • Never openly challenging the formal or informal authority of a member of the dominant group. Questioning (not challenging) can be done privately, but at the end of the day, obedience is expected.
  • Always remember that intra-group privilege is inferior whereas white privilege is superior. Never forget your place in the hierarchy.
  • Take steps to ensure the comfort of the privilege group and the acceptability of the imbalanced relationship.
  • Never forget that the “perks” and “benefits” of intra-group privilege can be taken away at any time through the action of revocation.

Psychological injury—that is, just world trauma—can result when revocation of privilege:

  • occurs without warming,
  • mistaken identity
  • inflicted due to the individual “forgetting his/her place” in the assigned order or
  • refusal to submit to the formal or informal authority of the ranking privileged individual.

The following incidents are examples of possible psychological trauma due to revocation of privilege:

  • An African-American honors student in a predominantly white high school in Oldham, Kentucky in a class assignment of reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” was asked to draw a picture to describe his feelings, drew his views comparing today’s police with the KKK. The drawing, publically displayed with other class member drawings, was heavily criticized by white parents and demands were made to remove the offending drawing.
  • A mother in Alabama became extremely angry when her 7-year-old son, an honors student was pulled out of class and suspended due to the school principal not approving of his style of haircut. The mother states he was teary eyed and walked home with his head down. She said, I told him, don’t hold your head down…continue to make these A’s and B’s this is all about nothing”.  The superintendent of the school district acknowledged there was no defined policy on hairstyle, rescinded the suspension, and allowed him to return to school.

Just World Trauma is not specific to race therefore it can occur to anyone.  It forces a person who is now in a state despair to say to the psychological self:

  • “I did everything right.”
  • “I followed all the rules.”
  • “How could this have happened to me?”

However, the difference is that where just world trauma may be a one-time event for a person holding white privilege, it can be ongoing and cumulative for a black person who holds intra-group privilege.  For example:

On 3.2.16, the police were called to check upon a call made by two employees of a local athletic club.  The two employees, citing fear for their lives, called 911 because of a suspicious black man breaking into the club.  Upon arriving, the police immediately recognized the black male to be Seattle Seahawks star safety Kam Chancellor, who explained that he had stopped by the club, seeking information on it so that he could purchase the closed down, defunct club.  Chancellor later tweeted the following:

  • “Good thing the cops know I am a good guy and stealing isn’t in my blood. I work for everything I get.”
  • No, all I wanted was a number and they waved me off like a fly without answering me.”

 Closing Remarks-Dr. Kane

Question: How does one stop the infliction of Just World Trauma?

  • One cannot stop the infliction of Just World Trauma by one individual or a group upon another. This form of trauma is a result of a privilege being provided that not only maintains forced separation, it allows and at times encourages individuals of one group to psychologically injure others who are not part of their group.

Question:  Then, there is nothing that one can do to treat Just World Trauma?

  • Small group therapy, family therapy, and individual education can respond to just World Trauma.  For example, referring to the quote by Dr. Glaude: 

“I remember when a neighbor of ours, who was not black, got into trouble and the police brought him home.  I walked my son outside, pointed down the street and said,” They wouldn’t have brought you home.  You’d be in jail.”

Dr. Glaude provides a clear example of what could have happened in that situation if he had had higher privilege.  In taking his son outside to witness the treatment of his white neighbor, the message to his son is simple: Don’t ever think that your middle-class status will entitle you to the same treatment.

Question:  Understanding that Just World Trauma can occur at any time, under circumstances outside of my control, I feel scared and powerless.  What can I do?

Although we cannot prevent just world trauma from happening to us, we can learn how to live with fear instead of living in fear, and when we are confronted by just world trauma, we can:

  • learn to minimize its impact by maintaining vigilance and awareness
  • work towards treating the psychological wound and
  • develop a means of balancing the psychological wound as one must prepare for other types of complex trauma which are waiting and likely to occur

 More articles on this can be found at www.lovingmemore.com::

  • African-American Males & The Police ((vigilance & awareness)
  • The Five R’s of RELIEF: Living WITH, Not IN Your Fear(Treatment)
  • The I Factor: Balancing the IN’s & OUT’s of Information (Balancing)

We cannot prevent just world trauma, but we can learn to recognize it, treat it, and heal the resulting psychological wounds by identifying ways to balance the resulting complex traumas that intrude into our lives.  Failure to do so will only result in repeated wounding due to the complex trauma we will continue to experience.   

Once burned, we learn. If we do not learn we only assure ourselves that we will be burned again and again and again until …we learn. 

-Ten Flashes of Light in the Journey of Life

 Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

Bobbi’s Saga: Healing From Complex Trauma

 

“Outside, the sun shines. Inside, there’s only darkness. The blackness is hard to describe, as it’s more than symptoms. It’s a nothing that becomes everything there is. And what one sees is only a fraction of the trauma inflicted.”

-Justin Ordonez, Sykosa

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”

Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral’s Kiss

Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

Fred Rogers

My Dear Readers,

In the last few blog entries, we have defined complex trauma as repeated psychological injury over a period of years within specific settings and scenarios.  People in general who have experienced complex trauma continue to remain vulnerable to the uncontrollable lashings of these emotional struggles, but children who have experienced complex trauma such as sexual and physical abuse are even more prone to carry these memories into adulthood, further traumatizing themselves and impacting the lives of those around them.

As a clinical traumatologist, I am committed to bringing light to those forced into darkness, and offering acknowledgment and acceptance to those feeling disavowed and rejected.  One of the ways that I am doing this is to share Bobbi’s Saga, the journey of a woman who suffered sexual abuse at age 4, and between the ages of 9 and 12 by family members and associates.  Now in her early 60s, and having carried the shame and humiliation of these memories all that time, Bobbi reached out to me in desperation.

Bobbi is not her real name—we have changed it in order to preserve her confidentiality.   In her quest for her own strength and her desire for empowerment, she wants the readership to know her story…to know that she is no longer a “survivor” of sexual abuse.  Instead, she is a striver and as a result, she, not the memories of her horrendous assaults, will determine how she lives and the direction of her life.

We begin by reposting her first blog written in March 2015.  The following episodes can be found at the Loving Me More website at www.lovingmemore.com on the page The Journey: Bobbi’s Saga.

PLEASE NOTE: FOR AUTHENTICITY’S SAKE, THESE WRITINGS ARE GRAPHIC AND MAY CREATE DISTRESS FOR SOME READERS DURING AND FOLLOWING READING. PLEASE USE DISCRETION WHEN SHARING WITH THOSE OF YOUNG AGE OR LACKING EMOTIONAL MATURITY.


 At the beginning of therapy, Bobbi was adamant that she could never share the depths of her feelings with her mother.  That was six years ago.  However, those feelings changed in 2013 when she received a holiday greeting card from her mother, along with the gift of a blanket.  Inside the card read:

“Dear Bobbi,

This is a special snuggle for you from your mom.  I am sorry for what you had to go through as a child.  Had I known this, I would have done a lot of snuggling with you.  You are grown, but this snuggle blanket is sent to you with much love and when you don’t feel good or you feel sad, please know that my heart is snuggling in the blanket with you!

I love you,

Mom”

 These words represent the first words in 48 years uttered by Bobbi’s mother regarding Bobbi’s horrendous experiences. Following several years and hundreds of hours invested in therapy sessions, sometimes 2-3 hours per week, Bobbi became empowered enough to be able to respond to her mother’s message. The response from Bobbi is provided below in its entirety.  The response is indicative of a little girl who has suffered in silence to being an adult, focused on self-discovery.  She will no longer be silent. 

“Dear Mom,

Thank you for the letter.  I was surprised to receive it.  Your letter is the closest thing to an apology I have ever received.  I would like to let you know how I felt as a child. 

The landlord locked Billy in the bathroom.  Billy screamed and cried until he was sobbing.  I could hear Billy screaming while the landlord took off my clothing. 

He then pushed his penis at me.  He tried again and again to push it in over and over again.  

He also used his hand and fingers forcefully.  I was terrified and in pain.  I remember screaming.  I thought he was going to kill me.  I kicked and wiggled as much as I could, but it didn’t stop him.  There was nothing I could do. 

He laid on me and forcefully kissed me.  When I continued to scream, he put his hand over my mouth and told me to shut up.  He told me that no one could hear me or help me.  I remember the glaring look in his eyes when he was on top of me. 

I remember my private parts being sore and burning when I went to the bathroom afterwards.  When he got through, he told me he would come back and kill you and Billy if I told. 

I love you so much.  There is nothing I would not have done or endured for you.  I know you asked multiple times what happened. 

By not telling you, I thought I was protecting Billy and you.  I believed he would return and kill you.  Later, when you asked me in front of him to tell what happened, I could only think about what he had done and what he said he would do.  I was terrified.  Terrified not only for myself, but also for you.  I would have done and endured anything for you. 

I kept the secret because of my love for you and wanting to protect you.  The secret made me feel ashamed as a child.  I felt others could look at me and tell I was a bad person.  I felt I was dirty and a bad person.  I never had friends. 

I felt different from other children and alone.  I cried easily.  I have now learned through therapy it wasn’t my fault.  The responsibility of being left alone and what happened was not my fault.  The shame and guilt I felt for so many years was not mine to bear. 

You left for work and left your four-year old daughter, me, with the responsibility of watching my two-year old brother, when we were too young to be left alone.   

I know you were a single mother but there must have been another way besides leaving us alone with the landlord in the yard.  The burden of carrying the secret of my abuse changed who I am.  It stole my self-esteem, joy, and sense of who I was. 

When I started being sexually abused by Fred, at the age of 9 years old, I questioned if I deserved it.  He started by saying things to me.  Then he used his hands and then his penis.  He had the same dark glaring look in his eyes as the landlord when he was doing it. 

In therapy I have learned that it was the look of power and control.  Power that the abuser yields over a child.  Control, because I felt I was a bad person.  How could two men sexually abuse me if I was not a bad person or there wasn’t something wrong with me? 

He convinced me at first that you knew and wanted me to do what he wanted me to do but not talk about it.  He then told me you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.  He convinced me that you would be unhappy if I did not do what he wanted.  I was a child and I believed what he said.  I loved you so much.  Again, there was nothing I wouldn’t have done for you.  

On the day when I told you Fred had repeatedly raped me, you began beating me.  I don’t why or what I was being beat for when I swung at you and missed.   I also told the people at the Youth Center.  I always felt you should have known what was going on and protected me.  I was angry with him, but I was also angry with you.  

In foster care, I felt abandoned and unloved.  I knew our relationship would never be the same again.  I received no therapy.  Again, I different from the other kids my age.  I was severely depressed, cried all the time and wanted to die.  I felt I had on one who cared if I lived or died. 

I had no money to do the things other kids were doing.  My experiences were different.  I had no joy.  I made my own set of rules to survive by.  The foster care parents were doing it just for the money.  I had $25.00 per month to buy clothing, personal items and meds that were not covered by welfare.  The feelings of abandonment, lack of love and caring were always with me.  

I am now going to therapy.  I realize now that what happened to me was not my fault.  There was nothing wrong with me.  Young girls are often abused by more than one man.   Being abused by one man makes it more likely that it will happen again.

I have let go of the shame and guilt.  I have nothing to be ashamed of or guilty about.  I know that the abuse has changed who I am.  It stole the joy of my life for forty plus years before I went to therapy. 

I now look forward to living the rest of my life without guilt and shame.   There will always be pain, but it does not have to influence or control my life decisions and enjoyment of my family. 

I don’t remember much of my childhood.  I do remember some good things.  The bad things I remember far outweigh the good things.  I still have flashbacks of what happened to me in childhood.  I have learned to live with them. 

I responded to your note because I wanted you to know the depths of my pain and how it changed me.  I have tried to say what happened to me as gently as possible.  I wondered what I could what I could have accomplished without such a traumatic childhood. 

This letter is not intended to hurt you.  I have always loved you.

Bobbi (12/31/2013)

 

Concluding Remarks- Dr. Kane

Following Bobbi’s horrendous experiences in childhood and adolescence, she went on to engineering school, has been married for 35 years and has co-parented three children who are successful in their careers as a lawyer, a physician and a career military officer.

So what is the problem?  The problem is unwillingness of the African-American community, in this case, symbolized by Bobbi’s mother, to move from looking good (imagery) to examining the substance that lies under the imagery of success.   We are taught by our elders to hold on to “family secrets” regardless of the psychological and emotional costs.

Yes, Bobbi looks good, but she has spent the last forty years of her life in psychological and emotional hell holding on to her shame, blame, and guilt.  She has lived in fear all of her life that her “secret” could be discovered, simply by looking at her.   The fear she has associated with sex as a result of the abuse has also had an impact on her marriage as she felt that any man could be a possible abuser.

It was only after her children reached adulthood that she could psychologically let go.  However the age of maturity for her childhood proved to be her downfall.   In using her resources to protect her children from external abuse, she had been able hold back the flood of emotions regarding her sexual assaults, abandonment and self-loathing.   Now with the children gone, she no longer had the psychological resources to hold back the torrents of suffering.

Bobbi is one of the few fortunate ones to be able to hold on emotionally, and in doing so, move forward psychologically.   She is reclaiming her life.  She understands that the flashbacks and traumatic memories from the complex trauma she suffered will never go away.  However, she can empower herself and learn to balance these memories so she can set the direction in her life.

In closing, we are often taught that we must forgive our transgressors.  I strongly disagree.  Forgiveness is a gift and not an obligation.  It is time for us to reclaim our children.  There are many of us who may look normal and yet suffer in silence.  Those who are traumatically psychologically wounded and do not seek treatment and support will often create havoc in their intimate relationships and relationships with their children.

We here at Loving Me More encourage anyone who has been impacted by psychological trauma, sexual assault, domestic violence or emotional abuse to find and respond to the voice that lies within the psychological self and seek assistance.  Stop the bleeding, heal the wound and empower the self to live a more enhanced and emotionally satisfying life.

The psychological self is of substance.  It can and will advocate, seeking balance and calmness in a hostile world.  The physical body will hold onto the traumas, abuses and the violence, while the intellectual mind struggles through imagery i.e. looking good in order to forget”

 –Dr. Micheal Kane

 Until next time….the journey continues.