Christian Counselling for Trauma and Abuse

Experiencing any form of childhood trauma and abuse can impact on an adult’s quality of life in fundamental ways. It can make basic day-to-day activities, such as eating, sleeping, working and study difficult. Trauma and abuse in childhood can also affect your mental health, physical health, and your relationships with the people around you.

The good news is that  with Christian counselling for trauma and abuse healing and recovery is possible.

People who have experienced trauma are often out of touch with their feelings – confused by emotions or reactions they cannot explain. They have often been raised in environments in which a child’s normal expressions of upset or discomfort were punished or ignored. They may have been taught to attribute the negative emotions associated with childhood trauma and abuse, such as shame and anger, towards themselves. This confusion often persists into adult life, and can result  in heightened experiences of:

  • Anxiety
  • Grief and sadness
  • Shame, self blame and guilt
  • Alienation
  • Helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness

Survivors often live with chronic distress and pain. For many survivors, these emotions are so much a part of their day-to-day life that they don’t realise that there are alternatives. Unable to readily regulate their emotions they may seek to do so through alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, or other compulsive behaviours. Many survivors also harm themselves out of a sense of despair. All of these ‘coping strategies’ make sense in the context of childhood trauma and abuse.

Learning about emotions – what they are, where they come from, and how to respond to them – is a crucial part of finding a path to recovery. Survivors can learn new, effective ways of regulating the intensity of their feelings, so that they don’t need to use alcohol or drugs and/or cut themselves to express their emotions. For many survivors, learning about the psychological impacts of their trauma or abuse helps them to understand why they have struggled for so long, and how they can move forward.

Acknowledging these feelings, understanding where they come from and why they are so intense is an important part of any survivor’s journey.

Survivors often find it difficult to trust others. As children they might have been betrayed by the very adults who were meant to nurture and protect them. As a result, survivors often find it difficult to form and sustain relationships. A large survey of adult survivors of child abuse in Australia found that survivors had a higher rate of failed relationships and marriages, and reported lower levels of social interaction (Draper, Pirkis et al. 2008).¹

When children are abused they come to believe the messages their abusers deliver, such as: ‘You are worthless’ and ‘You have no value’. Of course, these messages are not true, but children accept and internalise them. These messages become ingrained  that, when a child who has been abused or traumatised grows up, the adult survivor will often experience feelings of low self-worth or poor self-confidence. Rebuilding self-esteem is a gradual process, but a crucial one.

Effects on physical health

Childhood trauma and abuse doesn’t just affect the mind – they can affect the body too. Children who feel perpetually in danger grow up with a heightened stress response. This in turn heightens their emotions, makes it difficult to sleep, lowers immune function, and, over time, increases the risk of a number of physical illnesses. Adult survivors are at increased risk of chronic pain and fibromylgia, gynaecological problems, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, headaches, cardiovascular disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome. They are also more likely to smoke and drink more than other people in the community, and be less physically active. These factors can all affect health and wellbeing in later life.

The negative impact of child abuse on adult mental health has been documented, in particular, numerous research studies have documented the link between child abuse and mental illness in later life. At present, there is no single diagnosis or condition that describes the psychological effects of child abuse. When in contact with mental health services, many adult survivors of child abuse find themselves diagnosed with multiple psychological conditions, many of which have considerable overlap.

The psychological impact of abuse on a child depends on a range of factors, including: the type of abuse, the severity of abuse, the relationship of the child to the abuser/s, the child’s family environment and their relationship with their parents or other caregivers, and whether the child has previous experiences of abuse, or a history of support, care and love. These factors can soften, or exacerbate, the impact of abuse on a child’s psychological wellbeing, and the likelihood that they will develop mental illness later in life.

Below is a list of a range of psychological conditions that are associated with child abuse.

¹.http://www.asca.org.au/Survivors/How-can-abuse-affect-me.aspx

Many survivors of abuse and trauma experience flash backs : (the bulk of this section was sourced from www.recoveryourlife.com

If this is happening please seek Christian Counselling for Trauma and Abuse. Your counsellor can guide you though a process of healing where the trauma loses its sting and you are able to move forward  relatively free of its effects

Flashbacks can be triggered at any time and can happen anywhere e.g. you could be watching a programme on T.V. or reading a magazine or out at the theatre or out for a meal etc. when a flashback occurs.

Do flashbacks differ in any way?

Yes, flashbacks can be experienced in many forms and combinations which include some or all of the following:

Visual flashbacks:

This is like watching a film or slideshow of the original trauam. You may experience this as happening inside your head or you may experience this as happening outside of you and involving other people. This might be likely to happen if people around you remind you of the rape/assault or the perpetrator by doing or saying similar things. You may find yourself watching and/or reexperiencing all of the rape/assault/ trauma scene or tiny fragments of it. The images you see could be clear or distorted and you may see the same picture from different angles at different times. For example, you may see a picture of the perpetrator coming towards you, or grabbing you and you may then reexperience the feelings you had when you were raped or assaulted; or you may see the perpetrator and yourself in the same picture, so you are watching the picture from an observers perspective and you may feel cut off from any feeling.

Auditory flashbacks:

This is described as hearing conversations or sounds which are associated with the trauma (unfortunately many people have experienced rape/assault) . You might experience these sounds as being inside your head or outside of you i.e. in the same room. These sounds could be clear or distorted and may sound near or far away.

Sensory flashbacks:

This is described as feeling bodily sensations associated with the trauma. This type of flashback could manifest in

the following ways:

~You may feel as if you are being touched on any part of your body when in reality, there is no one there. This could range from feeling someone touch your arm to feeling as though someone is lying on top of you. Depending on the severity of this experience, you may feel anxious, frightened, confused or that you are going mad, particularly if you do not understand what is happening to you, or if you try to consciously stop it happening and are unable to.

During this type of flashback you may re-experience the physical sensations and/or pain that you felt during the trauma. These sensations could be experienced as happening anywhere on, or inside of your body. This type of flashback can also include strong, overwhelming sensations of taste and/or smell.

How can I help myself during and after flashbacks?

Firstly make an app0intment with us  or another professional for Christian Counselling for Trauma and Abuse.

If you have experienced one or more flashbacks, you may be feeling frightened, confused, disorientated, and/or overwhelmed.Theses feelings are understandable and they are normal reactions to what can be a terrifying experience.

You are not going mad or crazy! You are remembering experiences, feelings, thoughts and images, which were too frightening or impossible to deal with at the time that they occurred.

There are no specific reactions to a flashback. Every reaction to a flashback is an individual response, usually based on the ways in which you coped with the trauma. For example:

You may experience a flashback and feel very numb; you may have shut your feelings down and may watch the trauma  scene as though it were happening to someone else.

You may feel nauseous, as if you are going to be physically sick, or you may actually vomit.

~ You may feel absolute terror, as if you are going to die.

~ You may experience panic attacks and feel totally out of control.

Although they can feel very frightening, flashbacks could be looked at as a good sign that you are unearthing the buried trauma

and that you are on your way to recovery.

It is important that you reassure yourself with the knowledge that this is a temporary state, it will not last forever and through time, the flashback will reduce in frequency and intensity. You may find yourself trying to avoid all potential triggers for these memories. This is not possible as there are so many situations that could trigger memories. While it is not possible to control the nature and strength of the flashbacks, you can do a lot of things to help lessen the power and impact that they have on your life:

Take yourself to a safe place

This may be in your home, curled up on the settee with a warm quilt around you, or in the bath, or in your favourite chair, or at a good friends house. Go wherever you need to go, in order to feel safe and where you know you will be safe. If you are not able to go to a safe place at the time of the flashback, remind yourself that what you have experienced is a memory, take several deep breaths and promise yourself that as soon as you can, you will take time out to explore the flashback in more detail.

Don’t fight the flashback

Although this may feel difficult, try to breathe deeply and let the memory surface. Using alcohol, solvents, drugs, food and/or selfinjury etc. to bury the feelings from a flashback can actually add to and prolong the trauma of recovering buried memories. It can be hard to change these familiar coping mechanisms and old habits die hard, however it will be very helpful to you in the long run if you can manage to avoid coping with flashbacks in this way. If you try to ignore or push away emerging memories they are likely to feel stronger and more powerful as they fight for recognition.

Ground yourself

Remind yourself  of the day, date, time etc. Look at your surroundings, where you are right now. Remind yourself of how old you are, where you live etc. Try to let part of yourself stay in the present while, at the same time allowing yourself to remember your past.

Remind yourself that this is a memory

This is a memory of something that has already happened to you and you have survived it. Reassure yourself that you are not being hurt in the present, even though you may feel as though it is happening now. It is important that you keep on reminding yourself that you have come through this experience and that you are now on the road to recovery.

Give yourself space and time to recover

Reliving memories can be a painful and exhausting experience. It may take several hours or days for you to feel okay again. If you need to rest, sleep, cry or be angry, give yourself permission to do so. Don’t jump up and try to do something else straight away.

Write about your memory

If you feel able to, write down what you remember from the flashback. This can help to ‘get it out’ of your mind by

putting it on paper. This can also be used as a diary or journal of your recovery. Useful things to write about may be:

~ What you remembered

~ Sounds

~ Pictures

~ Sensations

~ Smells

~ How you felt at the time

~ How you feel now

Comfort yourself

After having one or more flashbacks, you may feel vulnerable and low. This is the time to give yourself a reward or treat for all of your hard work. It will be helpful if you can do something that makes you feel good, for example, a warm aromatherapy/bubble bath, a drink of hot chocolate or milk, a bunch of flowers, a long relaxing walk, meeting with supportive friends, seeing a movie, listening to your favourite music, cooking your favourite food etc.

Talk about it (if you can)

Even though you may feel like keeping the flashback to yourself, it can be really helpful if you share it with a supportive person. In talking it through you may gain more insight to yourself and it may help you to put your experience into perspective. Remember, you have not done anything wrong, being raped or assaulted or traumatised was not your fault and you do not have to suffer in silence. Give yourself permission to receive support and understanding from others.

Be proud of yourself

You have come through a frightening experience and you’re still in one piece. You have let yourself remember a very traumatic time in your life and that takes a lot of courage and strength to do. Through this process of remembering and acknowledging your past, you have moved deeper into your journey of healing and have grown a little bit more.

Well done!