For those who have not suffered a chronic trauma reaction it can sometimes be hard to understand how a victimized person gets situations where re-victimization can happen. Wouldn’t one trauma at the hands of another cause you to be vigilant against any subsequent danger?
You might think so, but here’s how it happens in simplistic terms:
- Interpersonal Trauma leads to confusion, self-doubt (and hatred), loss of voice.
- Vigilance against one kind of victimization leads to making decisions to give up other values/interests to avoid the trauma
- That decision (or impulse) leads to opportunity for exploitation
Still doesn’t make sense? Consider how a societal trauma preps a community or country for re-victimization. Dave Zirin writes about the use of “Shock Doctrine” in his 2014 book, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy. Shock doctrine is opportunist moves by governments interested in taking advantage of a traumatized population
Left to their own devices, people tend to vote for things that make their lives better, like sharing wealth and resources and ensuring quality health care and education for all. Nobody wins elections by promising to turn the country into a sweatshop zone. So in order to put neoliberal policies in place, the world’s elite need a strategy—some clever sleight of hand to get what they want before anyone can object. Enter the shock doctrine
The idea is simple: people who are traumatized are more likely to agree to authoritarian measures, to suspending democracy, to doing whatever it takes. The trauma can be unexpected, like a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, or planned, like a massive budget cuts or a military coup—anything that
‘puts the entire population into a state of collective shock. The falling bombs, the bursts of terror, the pounding winds serve to soften up whole societies much as the blaring music and blows in the torture cells soften up prisoners. Like the terrorized prisoner who gives up the names of comrades and renounces his faith, shocked societies often give up the things they would otherwise fiercely protect…’
While people are reeling, trying to figure out how to survive, corporations and the corporationist state walk through the open door and take what they please.” (p 73-4)
Zirin illustrates this by pointing to countries who take privacy rights or freedom of speech from citizens in the name of protecting the people (state) from outside attack. Or corporations who find ways to take land from poor citizens after a natural disaster—to use for their own benefit.
My point is not to attack political ideologies, corporations, or governments. Rather it is to show that trauma sets us up to give up rights and boundaries more easily in order to avoid a terror. That same willingness is more easily exploited by one who sees the vulnerability. The authority will protect us we think. But if the authority is only interested in its own protection, the victim is prone to re-victimization.
Sarah Lipp (HarvestUSA, Chattanooga, TN office) gave a presentation with the above title. Her focus: What is the experience of women victimized by men; How do such women relate to God as a male being? She started us out with a review of the kinds of victimization experienced (abuse of all kinds (including nagging for sex and/or punishment for not being willing to give more), dehumanization, oppression rooted in the inherent power in masculinity, distortion of the image of God that of females (being treated as only sexual or only trouble). She gave just a couple of stats from the CDC. 18% of women are raped in their lifetime. 51% have been abused. Of those raped, 83% are raped prior to age 25 and 54% before age 18.
So, how do we help?
1. Affirmation. Permission to feel upset and victimized. What happened was wrong. She needs permission to define what happened and own it (name it for what it is). Educate about the patterns and symptoms of past abuse as they impact her life now. Educate on how abuse effects the brain (especially the amygdala’s work in generalizing emotions from the past to present situations). Yes, the brain is plastic and can be changed but it may be that triggers remain. Teach on PTSD symptoms (re-experiencing, avoidance tendencies, increased arousal). Teach that she is not alone but 40 million others also fit these criteria.
2. Explore how this impacts her experience of her earthly father and males in general (and as a result God). What reactions does she have when she thinks of words such as man/men, daddy, father, husband, etc. What did she learn about herself and men from her family, from her community, from her church, her culture? What has she come to believe? Sarah says that the danger for counselors is to try to fix it. Tell them to think differently. Have compassion
3. Healing gender images. One of the images God gives of himself is female. Sarah isn’t arguing for a feminine God. However, she lists Mt 23:37, Is 51:12, Psalm 131; Acts 9:31; 1 Cor. 1; Isaiah 66:13 as images of the feminine side of God. God images himself in male AND female. Therefore, Sarah argues for starting with (not stopping with) some of the female images of God to see that he cares for her desires and needs as well. God does give maternal pictures of himself and these may be good places to start. To do this, you may have to explore what images she has of women, mothers, feminine. Healthy relationships with same sex members will help here. Once here, you will also need to heal the masculine images of the world and of God. Male is redeemable. This may take a lifetime of relationships with men, 1 at a time.
4. Grief & Redemption. Now that she is not living in denial, she will begin to grieve dashed or unfulfilled desires. Sitting with the realization of the loss of love and men and women are fallen. This moves us to the possibility of redemption and the transforming power of Christ in men.
5. Dealing with the here and now. How does she discern her past from present. Begin re-writing her story and rewriting facts and feelings from her present perspective. This re-writing actually does change the brain and reduce traumatic fear. Counselor and counselee co-construct a new narrative and speak back into flashbacks. Her re-written story speaks into those flashbacks and in doing so mentally pictures something different. She is free to walk away from that flashback.
6. Coping with past in constructive ways. Address the destructive means. Yes, repentance necessary but be aware of the body’s impact (look up info on the Endorphin Compensation Hypothesis (ECH) as why many become addicts). Work to avoid seeing destructive patterns as only sin or only body.
Healing must also include faithfully embracing Christ and her vulnerability as a woman.
Suggested reading: Brenda Hunter’s, In the Company of Women; Louis Cozolino’s, The Neuroscience of human relationships.