Three Quick Quotes and a FREE resource – 17 March 2021

Hi there

This week we have quotes from Kathy Steele, Suzette Boon and Onno van der Hart alongside Christiane Sanderson and of course myself. There’s also some musings I’ve had this week on sexual violence and mental health based on recent media events.

And our free resource is the PDF version of our poster ‘Front and back brain spaces in traumatic stuckness’ which was developed as part of our webinar ‘Working with trauma that has become stuck’. The poster can be found here, and a low-ink version can also be found here.

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Stay safe!

three quotes

Kathy Steele, Suzette Boon and Onno van der Hart
Treating Trauma-Related Dissociation

“The job of therapists is to hold the whole patient in mind. They must find ways to steady themselves when their patients abruptly shift from one emotion or thought to the next, from one dissociative part to the next. They learn to notice what came before the shift and to anticipate what might come after, and try to be as consistent and congruent as possible, no matter which part of the patient is present. In fact, we can think of the therapist as a bridge of realisation and integration that crosses dissociative divides, until patients can also build their own bridges.”
“Clinicians working with individuals who self-harm may experience a range of reactions, such as shock, horror, disgust, incomprehension, fear, anxiety, distress, sadness, anger and frustration. Counsellors frequently report a sense of powerlessness and inadequacy when working with survivors who self-injure. The counsellor may feel weighed down by the responsibility and accountability associated with such work, especially by the expectations of the employing organisation or the survivor’s family to stop the self-injury. This may give rise to conflicting approaches to self-injury, with the family seeking immediate cessation of symptoms and the counsellor focusing on better management and developing alternative coping strategies. Such conflicts can result in counsellors avoiding working with people who self-injure or adopting condemnatory attitudes and simplistic explanations of self-injury. This can promote an authoritarian approach to survivors who self-injure, which can have a counter-therapeutic effect. In contrast, some counsellors become overinvolved with survivors and adopt rescuing behaviours.”

“Grieving is feeling the pain. Grieving is seeing just how much it hurts you. Grieving is rocking the ache to sleep inside you, not ripping your guts to shreds to make it go away. Grieving is saying that the pain is what the pain is, not numbing it or dissociating it or inflicting it on others. Grieving is the soul-burning ouch of acceptance that what is lost is lost, what is gone is gone, and only the pain may remain, but I am alive.”

this week’s free resource

Trauma pushes us into a survival-based ‘back brain space’, which is focused on imminent threat and rapid reactions in the service of survival, but which is not ideally suited to reflective, strategic thinking, perspective-taking or problem-solving. Chronic trauma during childhood therefore often impedes opportunities to develop a consistent ‘front brain space’.

This poster details some of the key differences between the front brain and the back brain, especially as these relate to stuckness after trauma. The full-colour version can be found here, and a print-friendly, low-ink version is available here.

snapshot of my week

The last fortnight has been explosive in the press and on social media around two issues in particular: violence against women, and lack of support for mental health. Two issues, two names: Sarah Everard and Megan, Duchess of Sussex. I, along with so many other survivors of trauma, have resonated with both a fear for safety against unprovoked violence, and a lack of support for our mental health.

It’s been incredibly poignant all week to hear and read the outpouring of stories of women who, like me, are afraid to walk home alone in the dark. Since my 2019 rape (read about it here), by a total stranger, after dark, in circumstances not dissimilar (but also very different) to Sarah Everard’s – and where I count myself lucky not to have been killed – my fear of being alone in the dark has multiplied exponentially. After a childhood of trauma and abuse, it was always there, but I suppressed it, feeling – like so many women seem to have done – that I was overreacting, that I was making a mountain out of a molehill, and that it’s just the way it is: we cannot expect to be safe if as women we’re out alone in the dark. We cannot expect to be safe in our own homes. We cannot expect to be safe with strangers, and we cannot even expect to be safe with people we know.

And that’s what the last fortnight’s outrage has centred on: how wrong it is that so many of us should live so fearfully, and how it’s not our fault – we can’t just blame ourselves for being worriers or cowards or overreacting; we can’t always (we shouldn’t have to) adjust our behaviour. I’ve found the media coverage of Sarah Everard’s abduction and murder unsettling, verging on triggering. I live a mere 120m from a corner shop along a well-lit road. But I’m reluctant even to walk there and back once it’s dark. I’ve always thought it was just me, and that I was being pathetic and that I should get over myself. Judging by the outpouring of stories since Sarah’s murder, it’s not just me, and maybe I’m not being pathetic.

And then there’s been the mental health issue raised by the Duchess of Sussex. Feeling suicidal, reaching out for help, and receiving no support. How many of us resonate with that narrative? Like women walking home clutching their keys, this for so many of us (male and female) is the norm. I recently changed GP surgeries and had an appointment with a new doctor. I told him about my recent rape. I told him about my childhood trauma. He didn’t respond. Nothing. Not even a sound. Not an enquiry about how I was either physically or mentally. No suggestion of support. He just changed the subject.

I won’t embroil myself in Team Queen versus Team Sussex, or Team Piers versus Team Alex. All I’m saying is that that cry echoes in so many of our lives – a patent struggle with our mental health, with the will to live, and no-one to hear that cry or offer help with it. (If you want to read more about suicidal ideation, check out my article Suicide: To Be or Not To Be).

How can it be right that so many of us live in daily fear of violence? How can it be right that so many of us receive no support for our mental health?


Be safe! (As much as it’s within your power to do so!)

… and, to cheer us all, Pepsi says hello!

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