*WARNING – GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT*
“Dark eyes…. with a grin… he was enjoying it… raping me.”
“Your mother wants me to do this… It’s going to hurt.”
“I trusted him…. I called him… Dad.”
“I was so confused. I didn’t know what to do. I believed him. I believed she knew and didn’t want to talk about it.”
“I worked so, so hard to bury it (my memories). I felt unloved, uncared for and unwanted. I dug a hole to bury it. I thought I did a good job of burying it.”
My Dear Readers,
As our country and the international community continues to try to recover from the death, sorrow, and loss created by COVID-19, we are also responding to the other deaths, destruction, and psychological impacts from the collapse of the condominium in Miami and the assassination of the President of Haiti resulting in turmoil and uncertainty for its citizens.
Recently, intense media attention has also been given to the controversy surrounding the release of Dr. Bill Cosby, whose sexual assault conviction was overturned on a legal technicality and vacated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Much fervor has been casted about this outcome many see as black man being able to receive “justice” in a legal system that has historically been silent when it comes to black men.
Ironically, if we accept Senator Scott’s assertion that “America is not a racist country”, then why does the race of this individual become the issue? Why has the release of Dr. Cosby been constantly compared to the acquittal of OJ Simpson other than the fact that they are both black? White America wants to believe that it is not racist and yet is consistent in pointing out that these two black men “beat the system”. While, on the other hand, there are African Americans who rejoice, albeit quietly, that a black man, compared again to OJ Simpson, finally received “justice”. As both groups engage in countless hours of debate over the cases of Dr. Cosby and OJ Simpson, they fail to appreciate the one commonality that both men share with yet another group – the rich. While Senator Scott seeks to hide racism for political manipulation and America seeks to deny racism even exists, the reality is simple though race is the central topic when discussing these men in social circles, both men used their money to manipulate their way through the legal system.
Victims of sexual assault across the country were rightfully indignant about the ruling that allowed Dr. Cosby to be released from prison, but it must be stated that his release does not absolve him of his actions. (I address him as Dr. Cosby because the American media, against Senator Scott’s assertion, routinely refuses to acknowledge his educational achievements) Yet as we listen to the voices of his victims who have been denied vindication or justice, others who were also sexually victimized, scrape by in the shadows either ignored or simply suffering in silence.
In my role as a clinical traumatologist and psychotherapist, I have been working with one such individual on a weekly basis for 10 years. I have listened to her ongoing stories of childhood sexual abuse, despair, abandonment traumas, and psychological impacts occurring at the age of four when she was raped by the landlord of her residence and then repeatedly raped by her stepfather from the ages of nine to twelve. It was at the age of twelve, upon reaching her first period and her stepfather insisted that she have his child, that she had the courage to tell her mother and to her shock, her mother physically assaulted her, using a fork threaten to blind her and forced her into foster care under the label of “incorrigible”.
The story that I am about to share doesn’t involve celebrities, and will not be highlighted in the local, regional or national media. This is story of one person who to protect her confidentiality I have named “Bobbi”. There will be those who will question the relevance of both writing the details and listening to her story. There may be those who will be left impacted by her words and her experience. And there will be those who want to turn their heads, close their eyes, minds, and ears to the pain she has suffered.
Her story told thorough her journal writings deserved not to only be heard, but her story deserves to be listened to and understood. Bobbi speaks for the many Bobbi’s who have, regardless of race, ethnicity, or origin, lived in the shadows of America ignored and who are now, no longer silent.
Trauma is impactful and permanent. It intrudes without notice, creating flashbacks from the simplest observations reflecting or challenging memories. Trauma is a permanent etching on the psychological self. It is a testimony of the horrific moment experienced by the individual. Trauma never, ever – I repeat, never, ever – goes away. It is the objective of the work of self-relational psychotherapy to learn how to balance the trauma experience (psychological intrusion and impact) and in doing so, learn to live and not just exist or survive so the individual can have the life they want and not be forced to live the live they currently have.
I will conclude with an analysis of my work with Bobbi. It is my honor to present Bobbi’s Saga …. this is her story.
“I had a difficult session with Dr. Kane today. We talked about SWIPE. At one point Dr. Kane noticed my hands were shaking. I hadn’t noticed I was shaking. I was feeling scared, anxious and the feelings from the past were coming back.”
(*NOTE- SWIPE is an acronym divided into three components Spacing (S) as in creating emotional space from the disturbance; the process of “Work In Progress” (WIP) as the focus is on the work utilizing time and “Empowerment” (E) movement toward the attainment of achieving the desired objectives of walking the landscape. It is technique used to momentarily distract, relax and subsequently normalized the process as the individual continues to manage the subjects that arise from the traumatic experience.)
“I could feel his penis being rubbed all over my body while he called out instructions for what he wanted me to do. When I remember that it makes me cringe. Me below him while he moved himself over my body. He would be on his knees above me. I hated the way it looked and felt. Why didn’t I do something? I could have bitten him hard or screamed as loud as I could. Why didn’t I tell in the beginning? Why did I wait until I was being beaten and was so depressed and sick?”
“When I did yell it to her (mother), she didn’t believe me. She called me a liar and continue[d] to beat me [with] the broom. When I think back, my behavior had changed. At 8 years old, I was afraid of getting into trouble. Once the abuse restarted with Bennie (stepfather) my behavior changed as I was still scared from the first rape (Bobbi had been raped at age four by the landlord) and then Bennie started. It increased my guilt and shame.”
“How could 2 different men want me? What was I doing wrong? Was I giving out the wrong vibes? How could I have stopped this? I was still following the rules. And I was so mad. Mad at my mother. She was my mother. Why was she so mad at me? Why didn’t she believe me? I was so mad. She was supposed to protect me. Instead, she believed him. Instead, she called me bad names and accused me of doing bad things and being a whore. Telling me about having sex with boys and telling me I was going to get pregnant. Telling me I had to go, if I got pregnant…. that, no fast pregnant kids were living in her home. She said when you old enough to have babies, you are old enough to live on your own.”
“I left Dr. Kane’s office feeling low, disturbed, and depressed. The memories seem so close. The smell is so strange. I am not sure why. These memories, thoughts, and flashbacks are rising up. I buried them so deep. They haven’t risen for years.”
“Last week, when I became overwhelmed with the feelings, I thought I couldn’t take it any longer. Sometimes, the only way out is to relieve the pain by suicide. I told Dr. Kane I wanted peace. I wanted a few moments of not being scared, ashamed or feeling guilty. Dr. Kane said what I call peace by another name is freedom and freedom is not free!”
“I have so many emotions now; shame from [what] happened and bad guilt from what was happening. I also feel guilty because I had weird body reactions to what he was doing to me. Why would this happen? What is wrong with my body? I didn’t choose or want this. Why is my body feeling strange? This is really making me feel like a bad person. How could this happen? Why is my body doing this? I don’t understand at all.”
“I am breathing hard and fast. My heart beats rapidly. I am crying. I feel so low, dirty, and shamed. I have no self-esteem. I don’t know what to do. I am not going to call Dr. Kane. I am shaking. I feel so bad. I feel like I am swimming in pain. I feel like I am drowning. I am going to bed. Why are these feelings rising?”
“Today I woke up thinking about Bennie and my abuse. I want these feelings to become lighter. I feel these feelings have control of me. I closed my eyes and clenched my hands into fists. This is not how I wanted to start my day. During the day, I had intrusive thoughts. I had no suicidal thoughts. I want this to continue becoming lighter. I feel like I am struggling now.”
“Bennie was so cruel. I had thought of him as a father. Even though he was my stepfather, he was the only father I ever had. We called him dad. He took us to fun places. My mother was happy because of him. To have a person I had trusted turn into a monster, destroyed my sense of self. I lost the small amount of self-esteem I had. I already felt bad about myself at 9 years old. I didn’t know what was happening. I also been taught to obey adults. This was so hard. I was so confused. I didn’t know this didn’t happen in all families.”
“Then one day at school when I was 12 years old, they taught us sex education. They said your body belongs to yourself. They said not to let anyone touch you in that way. Then I became really confused. My mother was not protecting me. I thought she knew. Why did she hate me so much?”
I knew I had to leave home, but I was 12 years old; where would I go? I knew no one would believe me. I was scared, depressed, and wanted to die; I didn’t know what to do. All my fears turned into depression and anger. I was angry because I had no choice. I couldn’t tell any of the teachers. I wasn’t a bad student. I didn’t feel any of the teachers cared. I was lost.”
“Even though it has been over 50 years, it still feels so close. I will be glad when it becomes lighter. I know these flashbacks and memories will never go away. I want balance in my life. Balance, that will allow me to have a vivid flashback and not have it take me away from reality. I am working with Dr. Kane to make this happen. I know unless I continue to work with Dr. Kane, the vivid memories will rise up like a fire blowing dragon.”
Analysis – Dr. Kane
The usual Eurocentric treatment modalities were not helpful in providing relief for this patient. Typically, she would have been diagnosed with PTSD, recommended for a medication evaluation for prescriptive medications, therapeutic interventions of group therapy and a nominal number of individual therapy sessions and labeled as a “survivor of sexual abuse”. Bobbi would have failed to comply with these reasonable “recommendations” and in her no show and/or lack of compliance, she would have been designated either “resistant” or a ‘failure” in treatment.
Everything above is a setup for failure. First, she would not have had any appreciation for the full impact of the diagnosis. Second, understanding the mistrust African Americans have of white physicians following decades of mistreatment, it would be unlikely that she would have agreed to psych meds. Third, the concept of therapy within the African American community carries the stigma of being for the “crazies” or the “weak minded”. The idea of sitting with a therapist, a stranger, particularly one who is white and ignorant of her culture, history or background or sitting in group sessions with other “survivors of sexual abuse” would be is unfeasible. Lastly and most dangerously is the labeling of Bobbi as a “survivor”.
Bobbi is in her mid 60’s. She has been struggling with the trauma of being raped repeatedly for 9 of her most formative years. The inaccuracy of Eurocentric treatment modalities while treating African Americans is its failure to take into consideration, with the difficulties that African Americans face in this country, labeling someone as a “survivor” is not a badge of resilience and strength. It can, in situations such as these, reinforce victimization, hopelessness and powerlessness.
In the Eurocentric methodology, the clinician given the limits of one’s training, may have hasten to diagnosis Bobbi with simple or uncomplicated PTSD. Symptoms of uncomplicated PTSD include avoidance of trauma reminders, nightmares, flashbacks, irritability, mood changes and changes in relationships. In making such a diagnosis, the clinician would had made a most grievous error. It is only through a clinical examination utilizing survey instruments designed to gather from psychological, social, and cultural perspectives that Bobbi can be correctly diagnosed and only then be encouraged to involve herself as a full participating partner in her clinical treatment plan.
Rather than uncomplicated PTSD, Bobbi is responding to complex PTSD. This relates to an individual having suffered numerous traumatic events often beginning in childhood and continuing 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 and 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 periods in a child’s life.
Having provided context to the specifics that Bobbi continues to endure, more must be stated on several other traumas that have created psychological impacts. Specifically:
- “Just World” Trauma – People have the need to believe in a just world, one in which they “get what they deserve and deserve what they get”. The just world theory corresponds to the principle of “goodness” and that the goodness of an individual is a primary factor determining his or her lot in life. Trauma shatters the hypothesis of the “Just World” Theory because the traumatic response occurs as a result of an “out-of-the-ordinary” event and is directly experienced as a threat to survival and self-preservation.
In the circumstances surrounding Bobbi she is confused, the inner child is a good girl, she follows the rules, does well at school, is obedient and in return, she is brutally raped by two men once at the age of four and then repeatedly by her stepfather. There is the back and forth of blaming herself for not doing enough to resist, scream or fight off her stepfather coupled with questioning as to what she was doing “wrong” and whether she was sending off vibes resulting in self blaming and seeking to hold herself accountable for the repeated rapes she endured. There is Bobbi, balancing the emotions of both the matured yet emotionally wounded and psychologically traumatized adult seeking to view the world through the lens of the child, helpless, powerless, abandoned who was casted into the unknown world for actions not of her doing. As the adult she knows that being either a 4-year-old or 9–12-year-old, she was being controlled and manipulated by adults.
As the child, she seeks to believe in a just world and yet as the adult she knows from the 50+ years of carrying her pain, she knows the “Just World” does not exist.
- Betrayal Trauma – is a violation of implicit and explicit trust. Betrayal trauma that extends over time is traumatic and the closer the relationship, the greater the degree of betrayal. In the circumstances surrounding Bobbi, this occurred at several stages in her life; the first being at the age of 4 when she was viciously raped and threatened with death by the building’s landlord, second stage when she was repeatedly raped by her stepfather, the person she honored as “Dad” and the third stage occurring at the age of 12 when finally, upon the fear of pregnancy from rape, mustering up the courage to tell her mother about the repeated sexual assaults, she is rejected, physically assaulted, threatened to be blinded and abandoned by her mother.
- Intergenerational Trauma – also known as “Blood Trauma” occurs when trauma leaves a chemical mark on a person’s genes which then can be passed down is transmitted genetically. The symptoms of intergenerational trauma include lack of trust of others, anger, irritability, nightmares, fearfulness and the inability to connect with others. All of these symptoms are descriptive of the actions and behaviors of Bobbi’s mother. Bobbi’s inner child is confused, angry and resentful as she even as the adult today continues to question Why? …. Why did this happen to me? Why does my mother hate me? It is normal for the child to seek, to demand, and to want the love of the mother. Yet in this situation, the mother cannot provide for Bobbi the love that she never received from her mother. It can be hypothesized that Bobbi’s grandmother, likewise, was just as lacking in trust, angry, fearful, and unable to connect with her daughter. Bobbi, now as an adult, can grasp the concept that her mother’s actions stemmed from self-hatred and therefore she was unable to provide to Bobbi the love that she, herself, never learned. Yet there remains the conflict of the inner child still seeking …love.
- Impostor Syndrome – can be described as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that routinely challenge positive information that the psychological self holds to be true. Individuals who suffer from this experience profound self-doubt. Because these wounds are self-inflicted, it is also psychologically destabilizing, as the individual is essentially attacking their own psychological self. In Bobbi’s circumstance, shame, blame, and guilt are viewed through her lens both as a child and today as an adult. Although successful in her marriage, family and career, Bobbi is consistent in her lack of belief in herself and the minimization of her successes, competency, and skills. This destabilization can be directly linked to her traumatization beginning in childhood and endured throughout her life.
Understanding the complexities of the traumas impacting her life, Bobbi has made remarkable improvement and achieved successes in improving her emotional and psychological wellness. Ten years into treatment, she consistently, works to uncover (validate the experiences) discover (process its psychological impacts) and recover (the continual healing of the wounds). She has partnered with the “psychological self” in learning ways to advocate for self (advocacy), focus on internal balance (balancing) and seek to achieve peace (calmness) in her external world.
When Bobbi first engaged in intensive outpatient therapy with me, she was a survivor spiraling out of control. In fact, she was the verge of suicide. Today, she has achieved the stage of driving (empowerment). Whereas before she lived IN fear of her traumas and its pursing nightmares and flashbacks, today she is able to live WITH fear and not IN fear. She understands that the traumas are permanent, but she has learned to walk her landscape, empowered, balancing her feelings, and managing the occasional suicidal thought.
Bobbi’s work is predicated on the ability to gain maximum utilization of the community-oriented methodology of the SELF Protocol: Self-Empowerment Leaping Forward.
In this method, as Bobbi walks the landscape known as LIFE, the therapeutic environment becomes a safe and secure space to either sit with silence or speak openly about secretive (hidden or rooted), submerged (unresolved), substances (materials), surfacing (arising) upon the Self’s psychological landscape.
In closing this section, I want to extend my gratitude to Bobbi for the willingness to allow me to be her guide and companion on her “Journey of Self Discovery.” She consistently stated that it is because of her therapist that she is alive today. She seeks to give credit to me, but I have to respectfully disagree. It is her work and determination in moving forward on her journey that has helped her. Though it is my honor to walk along side her, she deserves the credit.
I remember the early days. Therapeutic sessions three times per week rotating phone calls 2-3 times a week. I remember the anguish and tears she would express. And in every session there the same damn question she would ask that I never shy away from: “When will the traumas, the flashbacks and the pain be over?”. My response was always the same…. Never.
Over the toll of 10 years Bobbi has integrated in her belief system that trauma is permanent. She now accepts that though it will never go away, she understands that she is driving (empowered) and advocating for self. She is now working towards striving (pacing) in balancing so she can live with her traumas and flashbacks and moving towards thriving (personal achievement) in lightening the impact of the traumatic intrusions.
In “Walking the Landscape,” Bobbi has full appreciation and understanding that “freedom, peace … is not free”.
Concluding Remarks-Dr. Kane
“There is a system for white people and a system for black people. This is what we face every day.”– Scott X Sedale Connecticut State NAACP President (03/18/18)
I do not agree with the assertion of the US Senator from North Carolina, Tim Scott, that “America is not a racist country.” On the contrary, 400 years plus years of institutionalized, structural, and systemic racism has been woven into the fabric of America. There are numerous African Americans and other members of communities of color who like Bobbi are either denied, rejected or unable to access mental health treatment due to the lack of culturally responsible care. When culturally responsible care is not a priority for those dominating the power structures and hierarchies, it will not be a priority in professional, graduate, or medical school or training. Subsequently, mental health professionals will be ill-equipped and unable to assist these ever-growing communities resulting in the failure of the system to provide treatment and continued victimization.
“Black folks in this city have never had anything to call their own except humiliation and despair. We need you Coach Boone; you are the answers to our prayers.”– Movie “Remember the Titans (2000)
This well acted dramatization of a black high school football coach in Alexandria Virginia arriving to save the African American community from humiliation and despair is currently being played out in real life in the availability of African American mental health providers to treat their community. African Americans make up 13% of the US population. Yet of the 41,000 psychiatrists in the country only 2% are African American. Furthermore, of the 171,500 psychologists in the US only 5.3% are African American. Women of color make up less than 5% of all psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers combined.
African American are vulnerable to being exposed to the psychological impacts from a minimum of 12 forms of racism and 15 subtypes of traumas daily with multiple racisms and traumas often occurring simultaneously.
Unlike the dramatization of Denzel Washington, in Remember the Titans where he heroically saves the day and wins the championship, highlighting achievements for the community, mental health and wellness is individual and should be a priority for the community seeking survival in the face of those in positions of power and control.
It is Bobbi’s hope that her journal entries will assist others who suffer in silence and want to empower the psychological self in walking their landscape to seek mental health treatment that is culturally responsible.
Remember Freedom…. Is not Free.
Dr. Micheal Kane
Complex trauma does not go away by
Simply pushing it to the back of your
It is a thief that lurks around until it
Finds an open door. It flashes
It screams as it leaps into my soul
It is a thief that steals in the day or in the
Enough is never …. Enough.
It steals and steals and steals
It plucks and sucks the life, slowly
Until the next journey…. Bobbi’s saga continues….