In Our Corner: New Pain From Old Wounds

“This too shall pass.”

-Idiom

“Failure is not an option.”

-Gene Kranz, NASA flight director of Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle missions.

“Evil people will surely be punished… children of the godly will go free.”

-Proverbs 11:21-25

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My Dear Readers,

Recently, it was reported that a 15-year old boy, living in a state supervised residential facility for troubled youth was sexually assaulted by four of his fellow residents, with a staff member looking on, and beyond belief, laughing and even shaking hands with one of the attackers. It is also alleged that the following the incident, the victim confronted the adult and was in turn physically assaulted by the adult.

The excitement created by the media coverage is over. The perpetrators of the assault will be punished. Racist and stereotypical beliefs will be reinforced. Both the black minority and white majority communities will remain silent and life will continue in its drudgery as both victim and perpetrators slip quietly into oblivion. That is, until the next time.

Evil people will surely be punished… children of the godly will go free.

In all actuality, they will simply be forgotten.

Yes, we can be assured that legal accountability is be initiated and severe consequences will no doubt be assigned to the perpetrators of these criminal acts. Felony convictions, incarceration within adult institutions, and lifetime registration as sexual offenders, are certainly possible in this situation, and Florida’ s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) stated:

“DJJ does not tolerate this type of behavior rand the contracted staff person involved in the incident has been terminated. Their actions are inexcusable, and it is our expectation that they be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Still, it remains too easy to treat this as an isolated incident. Research shows that 20% of men behind bars have been forced into sex. However, the unreported estimate is 50 to 80%. These statistics are not unknown. Instead it has been the norm to ignore the atrocities that happen within juvenile residential and adult correctional facilities until something shocking as what occurred in this Florida residential facility becomes public.

This Too Shall Pass… No, It Won’t

This is complex trauma, and without therapeutic intervention, these children, both the perpetrators and the victim, will continue to experience repercussions from this incident and the conditions that led to it. These young men will soon become adults, seeking employment, creating intimate relationships, and starting families, and they will bring the memories and unresolved suffering with them, potentially adversely impacting their partners and their children.

Failure is not an option.

Yes… it is. Failure is an option. In many cases, it is an expectation, especially when we, without hesitation, continue to travel the same roads and expect to arrive at a different destination. In essence, we fail by asking the wrong questions:

  • Why did this happen?
  • Why did the system fail?
  • Why would four juveniles rape a fellow human being?
  • Why would an adult stand idly by, laughing and observing the sexual assault?

Why” questions invite answers that circle back on themselves and as a result, they do not lead us to a full understanding of the foundation of the issue. A more useful method of inquiry would be focusing on the “what,” instead. Specifically,

  • What experiences are rooted within the adult and juveniles’ actions and behaviors?
  • What specific roles or models have the adult and juveniles observed and integrated within their developmental core?
  • What family resources and community systems do these individuals currently have? What family resources and community systems will be available to them as adults when they return from an institutionalized and repressive penal system?

Anger: The Common Thread in Pain

The four assailants and victim are in the midst of adolescent development. One can only imagine the sadness that each of the five juveniles must have felt being removed from their own families and communities and placed together in a residential facility.

Typically, when male children become sad, they act out in anger, not sadness. As explained by the rapper 50 Cent, this is not abnormal:

“Everyone has feelings, but there are some people who have trained themselves over time not to be out crying and doing all kinds of shit. When someone else would cry, we replace those feelings of anxiety and get angry instead.”

There are five reasons young men allow themselves to get angry rather than feel the pain:

  • Lack of understanding of how to deal with feelings; so when all else fails, anger works.
  • The feeling of sadness reinforces the state of weakness, and anger can restore feelings of strength.
  • Anger is a more comfortable emotion for young men than sadness.
  • Sadness is a form of weakness. Anger is more aggressive and masculine and places the individual in a state of feeling “in control.”
  • Anger is strong and feared by others; sadness is weakness and manipulated by others.

What is Complex Trauma?

Complex trauma is a form of psychological stress. It is more than simple PTSD. It usually means that a person has suffered several traumatic events, often beginning in childhood and continues through adulthood.

The repetitive nature of the traumatic events often means that a person’s mental, physical and emotional states are all affected. It is often very difficult to function at work, school or in the community. It impedes and/or hinders involvement in interpersonal relationships.

Complex Trauma is the exposure to adverse experiences such as violence, abuse, neglect and separation from a caregiver repeatedly over time and during critical period of a child or adolescent’s development.

What is Complex PTSD?

Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), also known as complex trauma, is a set of symptoms resulting from prolonged stress of a social and/or interpersonal nature.

In additional to psychological damage, it can also lead to high blood pressure, stroke, increases in alcohol abuse, and domestic violence, as well as inflammatory responses and syndromic symptoms, such as chronic fatigue and irritable bowel.

Complex PTSD results from events and experiences that are:

  • Repetitive, prolonged or cumulative
  • Most often interpersonal, involving direct harm, exploration, and mistreatment, including neglect/abandonment/ abuse by primary caregivers or other ostensibly responsible adults;
  • Occur most often at developmental vulnerable times in the victim’s life and in conditions of vulnerability associated with disability, disempowerment, dependency, age and/or infirmity.

Research shows that complex trauma is related to the following factors:

  • Age of onset
  • Type of violence
  • Relationship to the perpetrator
  • Impact on the environment
  • Degree of isolation and
  • Amount of support received following the traumatic experience.

These factors exacerbate the victim’s sense of:

  • Degree of helplessness and powerlessness
  • Stigmatization (not being good enough)
  • Betrayal
  • Sexualization (primarily for childhood sexual abuse cases)

Living With Complex Trauma

Just like any major illness, complex trauma can be intense, painful and scary. It is treatable, but only with the willingness of the impacted individuals to view it as a typical outcome when one is forced to endure traumatic experiences, and not as a character failing or an indicator of weakness.

Individuals who suffer from complex trauma are often vulnerable to emotional and psychological struggles. These individuals are encouraged to seek treatment. The individual must define what a normal life is for themselves, and then pursue that life through processing their trauma in therapy.

Society, however, must be willing to understand what ails those suffering from complex trauma, acknowledge the pain, and work to end the suffering. In doing so, the traumatized will be empowered to balance the weight of their past experiences with their current realities and truly live the lives they seek.

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Concluding Words-Dr. Kane

“Home is where love resides, memories are created, friends always belong, and laughter never ends.” -Author unknown

My Dear Brothers,

I write for the general readership, but in my In Our Corner blogs, I want to direct my concluding remarks specifically to black men as we walk the journey of self-discovery.

The residential home in which these juveniles lived was one without love, where traumatic memories are now a permanent etching on the psychological self. It is now a place where those who lived together inflicted violence and terror on one another.

We may never know what male role models these juveniles had prior to coming to the residential facility. However, we do know what male role modeling they had while living within the residential facility. They were under the supervision of an adult who was no different from themselves.

Rather than provide guidance, mentoring, supervision and most important protection, this individual chose to add to their suffering by allowing, encouraging and ultimately reinforcing an environment that created a permanent wound on the psychological self on five youths. These wounds will never be forgotten and will be carried for the duration of their lives.

The actions and behaviors of one black adult male do not speak for the actions and behaviors of black men as group. To hold all black men accountable for the sordid actions of these individuals would play directly into the misguided and misinformed trappings of racism, stereotyping and prejudices.

However, as black men, we must want assume the collective responsibility of questioning the environment that would lead to this adult participating in the psychological wounding of those juveniles who were placed in his care.

Without having any information regarding the background or history of this adult, the indifference in his actions suggests that he too may have suffered from complex trauma in the developmental stages of childhood and adolescence. If so, what we see here are the consequences of what occurs when psychological wounding and pain goes untreated.

What would be a positive outcome in assuming collective responsibility? Well, we can be honest in our self-reflection that many of us have endured complex trauma and could benefit from the process of healing the psychological wound.

Psychological wounding and pain seek, no…demand relief. Relief will be achieved via self-medication with drugs, sex or violence. Or, relief can be achieved through psychotherapy, positive role modeling etc. You must choose. One way, or another, human beings will find relief.

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Complex trauma does not go away by

Simply pushing it to the back of your mind.

It is a thief that lurks around until finds an open door. It flashes. If screams as it leaps into my soul.

It is a thief that steals in the day or in the night.

Enough is never enough.

It steals and steals and steals.

It plucks and sucks the life, slowly from me.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

Until the next time, Remaining…In Our Corner.

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