I have worked as a psychotherapist with many ‘survivors and thrivers’ of several types of abuse. They tend to see themselves as in some way tainted, soiled and ‘less’ than they could or should be, and somehow of less value than other (non-abused) people. Research shows that abuse and trauma effect the developing brain and result in impaired perceptions, unhelpful thinking patterns, and behaviours that can swing between being too needy for love and reassurance through to a cold rejection of love and attachment – both of which are attempts by the wounded child, who still hides deep inside the psyche, to avoid further pain, confusion, betrayal or exploitation.
I have often read that the worst form of abuse is that of being ‘ignored and insignificant’ to the parent or other caregiver. Apparently it is regarded as worse than emotional, physical, sexual abuse or physical neglect, because the child is treated as a non-person – and not worthy of time and attention, or even angry rejection or physical injury – which at least let the child know that they are seen even if despised and rejected.
All abuse creates emotional and often physical wounds that seem to constantly shout out their existence to a world that doesn’t seem to understand. Being around people who do and can understand and empathise has a really powerful healing effect because there’s a deeper knowing and sharing of the relentless inner pain. Shame is diminished when it is shared and understood. Being heard and believed – particularly if this didn’t happen at the time of the abuse – is empowering and affirming. Without the ‘making sense’ of our traumatic experiences they continue to wreak havoc with the emotional (Limbic) part of the brain resulting in mood disorders, self-dislike and self-harm in its many forms, and a whole range of neurotic behaviours.
Our memory is unreliable and each time we recall something we retrieve the last memory we had of it and in doing so the actual and real original memory becomes changed. Repeating a story of abuse to a counsellor week after month after year only serves to turn that dirt track into a hard road that becomes more difficult to avoid or divert from. The identity can become associated with being a ‘victim’ of abuse and trauma rather than someone who has learned to understand the context and meaning of their earlier experiences, and most importantly to express and release these in a safe contained place such as in a small group of like-minded people. This is one of the benefits of self-help groups. A downside of such self-help groups is that they can unwittingly keep people stuck in the identity of the group and its focus at each meeting.
With this is mind I have ensured that the six short groups of TREP do not specifically cover or work with abuse or trauma, although they could help someone to make sense of their own history and their reactions to it, psychologically, emotionally and physically – and in a small safe group of up to six adults who are all on a similar path of wanting to know more about themselves, others and how to make the changes they want and need in order to live a better life and to be an improved version of themselves.