PTSD: Hold Space. End Victim Shaming

Being a victim is not a bad thing. Getting trapped in victim mindset can be, but until we learn to hold space for the abused, to fully acknowledge what they have been through and let them express their truth in a safe container, the “victim” may not be able to escape the mindset. Without a safe space to process, heal, and recover it will undoubtedly be harder for them to recover from abuse. When families, friends, and society at large blame the victim of abuse for the violence perpetrated against them, not only do we do them great harm, but we lift the hammer to nail in yet one more spike into the victim box they are already trapped in. By rejecting, denying, dismissing, blaming, and telling them to “let it go,” we are telling them what they most fear; that the world, even in their most intimate relationships, is not safe. We are telling them that they should stay hidden, quiet, and to suffer in silence. We are banishing them to their isolation and pain.

By holding space for the victims of abuse who have suffered violence, neglect, emotional and physical abuse, and crimes unimaginable to the non-victims of the world, we show them they are safe to release the burden of the darkness they carry. We show them that it is indeed okay to step out into the light. Many times this can take months and sometimes years, but with the right help these survivors can learn to thrive. Even if they are marred with c/PTSD, by listening to their stories without judgment or shame we show them what true compassion and love looks like. Many abuse survivors may not even know what that is because for many of them the abuse started at a very young age. For them love has never been a thing of beauty and comfort because the “love” that was given can set a foundation of pain that lasts well into adulthood.

In a society like we have in the USA, and many others across the world, that prefers turning a blind eye, by and large, to the violence that one in four women, and one in seven men, know the truth of not only do we condemn the survivors to further irreparable suffering, but we trap them in self blame and pity destined to relive the cycle of abuse, shame, and victim in perpetuity. In many cases this cycle of abuse is then passed onto their children.

We could stop turning our collective cheeks. We could start actually listening and holding space for the victims when they so bravely open up to tell their tale. We could actually believe them when they release their firmly held secret of abuse because for many it is too dark and too deep to let go of. If the abuse started at a very young age they may have never even tried to tell anyone until they are well into adulthood. Especially if they were told over and over again with threats that to tell anyone would amount to physical harm, or worse.

We do this repeatedly without knowing it. Our media uses domestic violence to sell advertisements. They use the abuse of others to elicit a gossip like response. Most recently the abuse of the wife of Johnny Depp. She recently filed for divorce citing domestic violence and how quickly we as a culture said she was a gold digger, making it up to get money, and a number of other horrible things. Is it really so hard to believe that someone we love and care about has a temper so severe that behind closed doors he continuously threatens, harasses, and looses control of him or her self to domestic violence? Is it really so hard to believe that an abuser is also capable of being kind and compassionate and also abusive? We as a society want to believe, me included, that because he is a lovable force in our lives and has provided us with multitudes of entertainment that there is no way he could be a horrible partner and that is just not true. If I had not witnessed this with my own eyes in both my parents and my partners later in life I may not have believed it. I knew my ex-husband since we were 13 years old and I never saw him lose his temper once, until we got married that is. He was kind, lovely, went to church, cared for his family and friends, and is all around a nice guy, until he was alone with me and angry. Then he would throw things, yell, curse, slam doors, etc. Only our marriage counselor and parents saw this side of him. It was very easy for people to blame me and they did. They did not see what I was talking about and so it was very easy for people to assume it was me provoking him. The thing is, it is not ever okay to use anger, violence, emotional or physical abuse against another person.

If a loved one ever comes to you unburdening themselves of a story that they clutched desperately to their chest, please do not ignore them or dismiss them and if you have and you are able to reach out to them and apologize, maybe you ought to. The healing of this world demands that we acknowledge the pain, the perpetrators guilt, and the easing of shame as a reaction to testimony so dark it threatens the very soul of the victim. Hold space without judgment, trying to fix it (unless asked), or dismissal and watch as that person lifts their head and starts to rise. The darkness is frightening to us all, but do not condemn our brothers and sisters to stay there forever. Reach out and hold them safely and show them the way to healing through love.

If you are a victim of abuse know that I am not afraid of your darkness for I found my way out and I am happy to sit there with you until love helps you to journey outwards once more into the light. Healing can happen. I am determined to help create a world where love and truth is safe.

Sometimes it starts with a person acknowledging that they even knew abuse before they can begin to heal because the pain that they suffered was so great they will do anything to deny and deflect it themselves. These persons may need to spend quite a while in “victim” mode mindset to truly address and heal the wounds. An injury cannot mend when it is infected, forgotten, and unattended. We must flush out the wound, so to speak, that was inflicted upon those who survive abuse in order for them to heal. When we deny and deflect their story when they come to share the burden of their story we must remember not to tell them to “get over it” or to “let it go.” While these approaches work for everyday troubles they don’t even begin to scratch the surface of healing for the survivors of abuse.

Complex PTSD causes a mind and body wide disconnect. It causes irreparable damage to the amygdala or fear center of the brain. Abuse over long periods of time causes such a permanent state of fear, or flight or fight response in the person being abused that it causes damage to the amygdala. Telling someone to get over something “bad” that happened to them is like asking someone to just walk normally on an ankle that has been shattered from repeated blows. The damage leaves the person in a hyper state of arousal and fear response. “Well, I played baseball and I can walk just fine. I think you should just let it go and quit living in the past.” See, the thing about prolonged abuse is not that it is over so now everything is fine and the person is making a big deal about it. It is that the person’s brain has been completely altered to remain trapped quite literally in the physical and mental sensation of fear so great that it feels as though it never turns off. The fear is present here and now and the person experiencing the affects of PTSD cannot just stop because it pleases them. It takes years of support and nurturing, with coping skills and trained professionals and community and familial support to build enough neural pathways to reach a state where the pain of the past no longer affects the survivor. Their injuries may not be visible but truly, their pain is real.

“My heart is moved by all that I cannot save: so much has been destroyed. I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” –Adrienne Rich.

Holding space for someone could lead a downtrodden soul down a path to healing such that they may have never known. Save a life, a soul, the world, and listen with love. Embrace each other’s truth as real no matter how dark. Believe them. Do not condemn one more soul to the shadows rejected, forgotten, and suffering with deflection, dismissal, and rejection. Healing means being validated, heard, and held through the dark night of that person’s soul. Healing from abuse requires that person is seen, held, and loved in their truth. Their healing starts when we truly begin to listen.

I see you.

I honor your no.

I believe you.

You are not alone.

-Angel Marie Russell

#ptsd #cptsd #metoo

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