Tag Archives: post traumatic stress disorder

The Recording Angel

24 May

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Twelve months ago, I found myself in a situation that eerily replicated scenes from childhood. I had done everything in my power to avoid the circumstances, knowing the damaging effect they would likely have on me. In the initial example of traumatic repetition the matter was taken out of my hands by the other party in a betrayal of trust that continues to leave me stunned, and exhausted by the fatigue that accompanies the struggle to come to terms with events over which one has no control.

I behaved exactly as I had when a child. I became compliant. I tried to anticipate the other’s wishes. I did what I thought the other wanted me to do. I felt outside of myself, an observer rather than a participant. I fled, as I did as a child, into the persona I came to think of as the recording angel, the only part of me with any agency, the part of me that witnessed, the part of me whose role it was to remember.

I’ve watched and listened as survivors of childhood sexual abuse give their wrenching testimony to the Royal Commission. Every one of them has, like me, their own recording angel who witnessed, and remembers the events that determined the course of our lives. Every one of us found ways in which to stay alive except for those of us who didn’t, and who died of grief, and despair, and wounds that would never heal. Every one of us knows what it is to live a life in which every choice we make, every step we take, is steeped in the aftermath of our experiences and so is never free, and all too often self-destructive or at the very least, not in our own best interests. We have tainted perspectives on our own best interests. How could it be any other way?

My experience of a year ago plunged me into an ongoing nightmare of flashbacks, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, terror, self-blame, and ultimately despair that I will never be free of my history. I thought I was free, or at least as much as I could expect to be. I thought I had learned to manage the ongoing fallout from childhood. I thought that managing it was the best I could hope to achieve and all in all, that wasn’t too bad an outcome. Yet out of nowhere I encountered circumstances that released the demons; as an adult I failed to protect myself though I was certain that I had, and in a matter of minutes I found myself as powerless as I was when I was ten.

My life-long belief in my ability to manage, even overcome the damage of childhood was destroyed in those few minutes. That was the scaffolding on which I built my adult life, and it collapsed.

When survivors tell the Royal Commission their lives were stolen, this is one of the things they mean. We are never free. We never know what circumstances lie in wait that might hurl us back at the speed of light into the terror and powerlessness of childhood experiences. We cannot trust that our scaffolding will hold fast, subject as it is to the vagaries of memory provoked by unforseen reminders of hideous events.

There is what the abusers did to our bodies. There is what the abusers did to our hearts. There is what the abusers did to our spirits. And there is the recording angel, witness and testifier, speaker of truth.

To Cardinal Pell I would say, find the courage to face the testimony of the recording angels. If you wish to salvage something of your soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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War: what is it good for?

25 Apr

April 25 2012

Last night SBS Dateline reported on how life changes for many military men and women and their families after they’ve seen action in a theatre of war. Post traumatic stress disorder is rife, for example, and the effects of this illness can be horrific. It’s compounded by the stigma attached to those suffering the mental trauma of war, a stigma that can discourage sufferers from seeking help.

Reporter Nick Lazaredes has spent considerable time  investigating the dire circumstances of far too many returned military personnel in the US, and asks is Australia prepared to support and assist our soldiers who come home emotionally and mentally damaged by their service to their country?

This piece has just appeared at The Drum, addressing similar concerns, as does this one by Bruce Haigh.

As well, here at Overland is Jeff Sparrow’s excellent essay on Anzac Day and the celebration of forgetting.

As one observer in the SBS documentary pointed out, politicians like to declare “America is at war!” However, America isn’t at war, he claimed, America is in shopping malls. The military is at war, and America is ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of that when men and women with shattered psyches return to take up an ordinary life. The difficulties they face affect everyone around them, and the wider society.

If politicians are willing to send citizens to war in order to preserve our freedom and values, it seems remarkably short-sighted of them not to ensure the society we’re fighting and dying to protect doesn’t suffer, when those citizens return unable to rejoin it because of their contribution to its protection.

In 2003, then US President George W Bush told then Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas: “God told me to strike al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.” Our own John Howard supported Bush in this endeavour, as did then British PM Tony Blair.

It seems rather remiss of God not to have told Bush, Howard and Blair to make ample preparation for the care of the military personnel they sent to do God’s work, when they returned from their endeavours broken in body and/or mind. It seems remiss of God not to have commanded the leaders to adequately care for the partners, parents and children of these women and men who risked everything in God and George W Bush’s interests.

It seems remiss of God not to have ordered Bush to have a strategy in place for the period after he toppled Saddam Hussein as well. But there you go. The Bush God is a belligerent, obstreperous and ignorant war-monger. He cares nothing for the lives of women, men and children affected by his witless triumphalism. He rewards only the moral fervour of arrogantly incompetent white alpha males who cherish the delusion that American-style democracy must be adopted by the entire world, and it matters not who suffers in the pursuit of this implacable goal of blind universalism, as long as it isn’t them.

Politicians will always find reasons to send their populations to war, no matter how ill-founded, duplicitous, and opposed by the citizens those reasons are. The invasion of Iraq is proof of that statement. While that situation seems unlikely to change in the near future, what governments ought to be forced to do is made adequate provision for the wounded, in mind, body or both, when they return from doing their duty in whatever hell hole they have been assigned to by their governments. Anything less than this is scandalous.

What we need of course is a paradigm change. We need to cease our participation in what is, to paraphrase John Gray,  the US myth of its manifest destiny as a redeemer nation, expressed in missionary-style politics with the salvation of mankind as the goal.  As Robespierre noted in 1792: “No one loves armed missionaries: the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies. One can encourage freedom, never create it by an invading force.”

I’m encouraged by the perspective of this youthful blogger, who points out that while on Anzac Day we must commemorate those who died in battle, we shouldn’t be celebrating the wars in which we’ve participated. There’s nothing to celebrate in war. War is hell, and it is all too often good for absolutely nothing.

Axis of Arsehats

Government’s brand new 12 year plan to end domestic violence is already out of date

20 Mar

by Laurent Fintoni via flickr

 

Kate Ellis, Minister for the Status of Women, launched a 12-year national plan last month that is designed to reduce violence against women and children.

The plan is based on research that indicates as many as one in three Australian women will experience physical, sexual and emotional abuse by men during their lifetimes.

The plan expresses the intention to address social norms and practices, rigid beliefs about gender role expectations and cultural values, all of which contribute to a society in which violence against women and children is endemic.

Currently, there are more reported assaults on women by men.

However, what the plan completely neglects to address is that there is also a great deal of anecdotal evidence that women are the primary perpetrators of the emotional abuse of children, with disastrous and long-lasting effects.

Any 12-year national plan to prevent violence against children should include proper and full investigation into this type of child abuse. Why doesn’t this one?

Paucity of empirical research

While there are studies on female violence against male partners, it’s difficult to find current research on the occurrence and effects of maternal emotional abuse on children, and on the adults they become. Research has lagged behind clinical experience, notes the author of this 2007 study and there is a relative paucity of empirical data.

Yet there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence to be found on the long-term effects of maternal emotional abuse on the development of children, and on their adult lives.

There are thousands of personal stories of emotional abuse – maternal bullying, attacks on the young child’s self esteem, the long-term consequences of being raised by a narcissistic mother for whom one is little more than an accessory in public, and an emotional whipping post in private. This clinical term has been colloquially adopted as shorthand for maternal emotional abuse.

There are 10 Google pages dedicated to the term, and a further 10 pages dedicated to maternal emotional abuse.

The term “narcissistic mothers” sits comfortably with increased societal concerns about the “sexualisation” of young children, specifically when young girls are dressed and made up as if they were adult women.

Campaigners such as the Australian Christian Lobby and Melinda Tankard Reist express profound and I believe legitimate concerns about this increasing practise.

However, the elephant in the room is that mothers and female caregivers overwhelmingly purchase and dress young girls in this manner. Reist, the ACL, and many other campaigners apparently find it easier to lay all blame at the door of various media and advertising outlets.

They neglect to mention the responsibility mothers and female caregivers must bear for purchasing these products, and choosing to dress their little girls like adult women.

It’s reasonable to investigate the possibility that such mothers and caregivers are indeed abusively acting out their own narcissistic and unrealised desires through their little girls.

The stories of maternal abuse are out there

The long-term consequences of maternal abuse

Maternal abuse is a broad predictor of adult dysfunction in the areas of relatedness, identity, affect regulation, abandonment concerns, and borderline and anti-social features. Briere and Rickards found that “high paternal support did not appear to reduce the negative effects of maternal abuse”.

On the matter of childhood sexual abuse the authors note: For example, the current results suggest that childhood sexual abuse, although significantly related to impaired self-capacities, is second to the effects of childhood maternal abuse. (emphasis mine.) Such data does not mean that sexual abuse is less than psychologically toxic, but rather that another form of child maltreatment—one less addressed in the literaturemay be even more traumagenic. Additional study is clearly indicated to determine the reasons (whether biological, attachment-related, or sociocultural) for this specific effect.

The area is almost a professional and wider societal no-go zone – so thoroughly has feminism succeeded in creating the belief that the perpetration of intra-familial abuse is a primarily male phenomenon. Yet there are many, many women and men who experientially know this is not so. Why don’t feminists who are in a position to do so, validate this experiential knowledge, and clamour for empirical research?

W Kierski addresses professional reluctance in his paper ‘Female violence: can we therapists face up to it?” This link appears to come and go, but Google “female violence” and you’ll find this paper, and 11 further pages with both scholarly and anecdotal material on the topic.

The reality many feminists resist

Together with society’s reluctance to consider that mothers are anything but good, as well as the difficulties of identifying what can seem, compared to physical injuries, a nebulous concept of emotional maltreatment, this area of abuse receives far less attention than others. It is described by some mental health professionals as the “hidden” form of maltreatment.

Unpopular as this notion might be, it’s my opinion that feminism has created a simplistic but powerful binary narrative in which men are perpetrators and women are victims. This has now hardened into a rigid gender role expectation.

There is very little room in this story for the reality of female violence against male partners, against other women, and against children, unless a woman murders them or otherwise physically abuses them in a manner worthy of media attention. These women are then cast in the role of the extremely bad mother, and frequently subjected to vitriolic public attacks.

Yet victims can also be perpetrators, regardless of their gender. This is the reality many feminists resist, to the detriment of all of us, and in particular, our children.

The halcyon days of brilliant feminist scholarship and subsequent ground breaking cultural change are over. The once inspirational ideology has degenerated into little more than housework and lipstick cat fights.

The first feminist clique to address the issue of maternal emotional abuse, and lobby for urgent and comprehensive research into its occurrences and effects, will receive my support. Feminists have always led the way in addressing domestic violence perpetrated by men – now it’s time  for women to address intimate partner violence and child abuse by women.

This is not something women would accept being addressed by men. It can only be seriously addressed by women ourselves.

What we know so far is that there is very good reason to investigate. If further study bears out the 2007 Briere and Rickards’ data, we are looking at a profoundly significant determiner of adult well being, one at least equal in its probabilities of long-term damage to male perpetrated domestic violence, and the sexual assault of children.

Facing up to and addressing maternal emotional abuse is quite possibly feminism’s next frontier, and if the sisters baulk at it and stay with the trivia, then what is feminism really good for in 2011?

WHAT THE NATIONAL PLAN SAYS

The definition of domestic violence used in the new 12 year National Plan announced by Minister for the Status of Women, Kate Ellis, last month, does not acknowledge any familial abuse other than that perpetrated by men:

Domestic violence refers to acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship. While there is no single definition, the central element of domestic violence is an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner through fear, for example by using behaviour which is violent and threatening. In most cases, the violent behaviour is part of a range of tactics to exercise power and control over women and their children, and can be both criminal and non-criminal.

Read: “in most cases the central element of domestic violence is violent male behaviour” towards women and “their children.”

Female violence against intimate male partners, well researched for quite some years now, and alleged by some researchers to be as common as male violence, and often differently expressed, is inexplicably omitted.

Maternal violence of any kind against children is omitted, though paternal or male violent behaviours against “women’s” children are included in the definition.

Further in the document we find this:

It [the Plan] will look at building positive attitudes and beliefs, social norms and ways for organisations to confront controlling, macho, aggressive and ultimately violent behaviour.

Read: “Violent male behaviour, because with “macho” in there, what else could it be?

The vision of the National Plan is that: ‘Australian women and their children live free from violence in safe communities.’

Read: “free from male violence” as female violence is not acknowledged in the definition.

And then: Values and Principles are: Responses to children exposed to violence prioritise the safety and long term well-being of children.

Read: “Responses to children exposed to male violence’, as female violence is not acknowledged in the definition.

And then: Protecting Children: Physical abuse, emotional maltreatment, neglect, sexual abuse and witnessing family violence are now all recognised as forms of child abuse and neglect. In April 2009, COAG endorsed Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business—National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009–2020. This framework is aimed at reducing child abuse and neglect in Australia over time. The National Plan and the National Framework are designed to work in tandem to bring about positive change for women and children experiencing violence.

Read “ experiencing male violence.”

The linking of the two plans suggests the National Framework might also be based on an interpretation of domestic violence as male violence. I haven’t checked. I hope I’m wrong.

And: The primary objective of perpetrator interventions is to ensure the safety of women and their children.

Read: “Male perpetrator interventions”

The examples are numerous. See:

http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/women/progserv/violence/nationalplan/Pages/default.aspx

We need a plan that addresses violence perpetrated on children by both women and men that includes physical abuse, emotional maltreatment, neglect, sexual abuse and witnessing family violence.

We need research into maternal emotional abuse of children. We need research into female intimate violence. We need a plan that acknowledges the realities of domestic violence, not one based entirely on out-dated stereotypes of gendered violence.

After forty years of treating domestic violence as a male only phenomenon, there has been no significant decrease in violence and child abuse statistics. This indicates that there is something we are not investigating, and female violence against intimate partners and children is very likely it.

The conservative sexual crusader wants kilos of McFadden’s flesh

3 Mar

At Melinda Tankard Reist’s website today there’s a list of tweets from the hapless Brian McFadden, promising to donate money to rape crisis centres, and saying he’s sorry that his lyrics have been misunderstood.

He reiterates that he intended them as an intimate song for fiancee Delta Goodrem, and not as triggers for women who’ve been sexually assaulted while drunk.

I’m inclined to believe the bloke. I don’t think for  minute he wrote that song with the intention of glorifying or encouraging the rape of senselessly drunk women.

But his apologies and donations are not enough for Melinda Tankard Reist. Not a truckload of money, she writes, will make up for the damage he has done to women.

Even in a court of law, intention counts when you’re passing sentence. But not in the courts of Christian sexual conservatism.

MTR also holds Delta Goodrem partially responsible. Why didn’t Delta check the lyrics before allowing Brian to record them, she asks. Is Delta so inured to sexual violence that she didn’t even notice what Brian was on about?

This would be unfortunate, MTR implies, as Delta is a spokeswoman for Avon Voices, a group that raises awareness of violence against women.

I guess the sexual conservatives also hold women responsible for what the men they live with do.

Personally, I think that’s a pretty low and unnecessarily malicious swipe.

Then there’s a letter from a victim of sexual assault whilst she was drunk, telling how McFadden’s song has brought it all back and is severely distressing her.

Nina Funnell then writes a long reassuring response to the victim, and I hope the woman follows this up with counselling.

There are triggers that cause memories of sexual assault, and many other traumatic experiences to flood back into consciousness, often without any warning.  This is very hard for the survivor to deal with.

Triggers can be almost anything. I once worked with someone whose flashbacks were caused by pieces of green soap with a particular smell. Triggers are impossible to predict, extremely individual, and powerfully connected to the original trauma.

As much as the survivor would like never to have encounter these triggers, it is literally impossible to clear the world of them.

In some instances they may be so particular as to rarely emerge. Sometimes they aren’t known until the moment they strike. In many instances the triggers are all too common, and people have to deal with them on a daily basis.

It would be a foolish therapist indeed who recommended total avoidance of anything likely to act as a trigger. That would be condemning the survivor to a miserable life.

What we can do is teach cognitive behavioural techniques that can be used to manage the distressing flashbacks. This has the added advantage of empowering the survivor, both with the skills to handle bad times, and with the sense that she or he has some control over circumstances that can feel uncontrollable.

Given the proliferation of sexual topics in popular culture, it’s unrealistic to blame any artist for triggering a survivor’s flashbacks. As the triggers are so individual, its impossible to know what they might be.

As stupid as you might think McFadden’s song is, blaming him for activating post traumatic stress disorder is wrong. You might as well blame the manufacturer of green soap, and I believe McFadden, in his intentions, is as  undeserving of blame.

The world is not an easy place to live in when you’re suffering post traumatic stress disorder. Many people don’t understand it, and have a low tolerance of sufferers who can seem difficult, withdrawn, moody, angry, weepy, and generally not interested in much. It’s tough, having first to withstand the trauma, and then to spend your time dealing with the aftermath.

The most difficult part is working with people towards an acceptance of their experiences, in the sense that they cannot be changed and must be lived with, as must the aftermath. The survivor has to take responsibility for learning to do this. This is the cornerstone of recovery. It can take many years, and nobody can do it for them.

I don’t think it helps survivors to be encouraged to look for someone to blame in the world around them. Nobody deliberately triggers someone’s flashbacks, unless they are entirely sadistic and know the survivor well enough to be able to do it.

If a creator of any kind must first consider if something in their work will cause distress to someone somewhere, and then abandon it in case it does, then nothing will be created.

I think Tankard Reist’s crusade against McFadden, and now Goodrem as well, is bordering on the vicious. She wants what she wants, which is an abject confession that they’ve caused immeasurable distress to women everywhere by recording the song. If she doesn’t get that, she will hound them, of that I’m certain.

She is displaying all the signs of the outraged self-righteous good Christian woman bent on vengeance, not only on him but on the woman he loves, and that is not a pretty sight.

And let’s remember, he isn’t a rapist. He wrote a song.

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