Trauma recovery can be a painstaking process. But it’s well worth the effort. Truama leaves marks. It affects our brain networks and functioning. It impairs our ability to rest peacefully in the present moment. And sadly, it often negatively impacts our behavior. Trauma can significantly arrest our growth. So, to really live and thrive truama survivors must wrest free of the past. But just how to do that has long been a matter of considerable debate.
Last week I began discussing the methods of covert self-monitoring and reinforcement. These are powerful therapeutic tools of recovery. They’re based soundly in the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). (See also the series: A Primer on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.) And this week I want to begin sharing some trauma recovery stories. They’re based on actual events. But the details have been deliberately altered to preserve anonymity. I hope the stories will give readers a better idea of how some powerful CBT tools can help change a life.
Lisa’s self-image was still pretty poor. For years she only heard how fat, weak, inept and stupid whe was. She didn’t feel that way before she met Jim. In fact, at first he made her feel quite special. But over time things changed. And she came to learn: he was always right; she was always wrong. Sure, she tried to assert herself. But somehow he could always make her feel like a fool. She didn’t know anything about gaslighting back then. (See: Introduction & pp. 133-135 In Sheep’s Clothing.) (See also: Manipulation and the Gaslighting Effect.) But she learned about it the hard way: after the fact, and after leaving.
Just being free of Jim and his antics didn’t bring back any confidence. When Lisa looked in the mirror, an inner voice told her she was indeed fat. And when she tried to make decisions, she would ruminate for hours, certain she would likely make the wrong call. Maybe Jim was right. Maybe she was simply a loser who was lucky to have had him in the first place.
A Change of Mind and Heart
Lisa didn’t like it when I first suggested she work on changing her thoughts. For one thing, she was still very mad at Jim and she wanted the focus on him. For another, she was tired of carrying burdens. And it seemed like I was asking her to carry even more.
As difficult as it almost always is, I made my case. To find our strength, we have to focus and invest energy only where we have power. And where we have the most power is over our thoughts and behavior (both mental and overt). The thoughts running through our head are either secure or insecure, I explained. They’re either positive or negative. And when a negative thought arises, we have the power to change it. Similarly, when an insecure thought enters our mind, we can adopt a secure one.
At first, Lisa didn’t know what to make of this empowerment strategy. She once snapped: You make is sound so easy!” But I assured her I knew it was not easy. Simple, and straightfoward for sure. But that doesn’t mean easy. We develop patterns. We get conditioned. No sooner we change a negative thought, we might find it coming back again. That’s why it’s imperative to self-reinforce every effort. No new learning takes place in the absence of reinforcement. Each of us has the power to do that, too. And most of the time we must reinforce over and over again.
Reclaiming the Power of the Present Moment
Lisa eventually did more than just get back on her feet. She truly soared, both personally and professionally. Not uncommonly, her trauma recovery was more like two steps forward and one backward. Old patterns are hard to break. And operating well autonomously and independently can mimick loneliness. Such things can dampen motivation. But Lisa kept her commitment to think and do differently. And in so doing her feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and entire mindset also changed. The day eventually came when she could rest peacefully and confidently in the present moment. She’d found her strength. And she knew the truth: she had power, and she was using it wisely.
Next time I’ll be sharing another trauma recovery story.
18 thoughts on “Trauma Recovery and the Present Moment”
So what is an example of a negative and insecure changed into a positive and secure?
Lisa’s fat. She’s thinks, “I’m fat (negative thing to be)” and instead she replaces it with
“My size 30 self is fabulous! F*** society and it’s beauty culture mandates!”
Would that be an example of applying your method?
By the way, this is a genuine question. Hard to get tone right via internet.
I’m not saying anything about people who are larger. Fat is beautiful. Unfortunately, so many are of the belief that it is not and women are constantly pressured to be thin, to objectify themselves and rate their worth in terms of their thinness or prettiness, according to conventional beauty standards.
So, given her abuser told her she was fat and used it as an insult/degradation, is Lisa to simply reframe it or what? Very specific examples would be appreciated.
The posts are very vague and general. If Lisa is the example and she became this success story, why not give a specific negative or insecure thought of hers that she reframed into a positive and secure thought?
This is borderline ‘the power of positive thinking’ kind of general self-help books that lack substance due to the vagueness involved.
im learning more about trauma bonding and my relationship with Noah whom come to find out his real name is Helal he changed it. One thing I do know is Im a good person and he is evil. i pray for him but I have to think more about me and my well being and the emotional abuse he caused
I’ve been helping people my whole life. Often the person I help turns on me in vicious attacks once I determine they no longer need my help or that I can continue to help them. How this post is helping me to heal from the trauma of nothing but broken relationships with people who seemingly are just using me?
By staying in the moment, recognizing their problems are causing disruption in my life causing me to be worried or angered by their dysfunction. An episode just happened with someone I’ve been helping. I informed them they would have to correct the problem them self as it is in their power to do so. I feel less angry and more at peace!!
Cannot continue is what I meant to type.
I know in my own experience with my narc ex, it was only because of the abusive past from my family of origin that he was able to get to me. Its not hard to get into a victim mentality after an abusive past, you feel like the world is out to hurt you. Being with the ex was just an extension of myself not feeling worthy. To me that is one of the dangers of an abusive past, carrying it forward into your present and filtering your life thru a victim mindset. Lots of work to recover from abuse but well worth it.
The world is largely out to hurt women. It’s not victim mentality but reality. It’s truth. It’s sensible, intelligent and rational for women to realize this. They don’t have a victim mentality nor a victim mindset. They are hunted. They are targeted. They are oppressed. They are selected for men’s violence, abuse, aggression, and predation.
It’s not surprising that so many women feel not worthy. Look at how half of society believes themselves to be superior and women are but sub-human. Sure, there are exceptions, but most men get off on degrading, harming, abusing, and victimizing women. Women’s oppression is very real and still very much happening today.
I would think abused persons would carry their past into the present and have it inform them of the horrific reality of this world and it’s current state. Women are hated and hunted and oppressed. To deny it and buy into a false narrative of abused women supposedly having victim mentalities is to help abusers. There is no such thing as a victim mentality. Men (I’m assuming) invented such term to further discredit women, shame them, silence them and their pain and their very legitimate complaints.
I totally disagree with all of this thinking. It’s victim speak and negative.
I am a sensible, sane and intelligent woman and I have NEVER thought this way about the world.
How sad if that’s how you view life.
Most women deny these realities. It’s too painful. So they live in denial, which benefits oppressive men all the more.
If reality is considered “victim speak and negative” then how do you explain porn? Ever seen the content occupying a vast area on the Internet? What percentage of men are getting off on women’s humiliation, beatings, rapes, torture, abuse, and degradation? It’s in the 90s, Denise.
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of “Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America” (2009). I have yet to read it but I’m sure it’s good.
Explain the rates of sexual harassment of women and girls. Explain the rates of regular consumption of child porn (of girls being raped). Explain the rates of regular consumption of porn (which is woman hating, rape tapes, human trafficking, and torture all wrapped up into jerk-off content for 90 percent or so of men inhabiting the earth).
Explain the rates of wife-beating and woman abuse. Explain the rates of femicide. Explain female genital mutilation. Explain why boys are still favored over girls. Girl babies are aborted more than boy babies. Girls’ education and personal development is neglected to favor that of boys.
Women and girls are the world’s slaves. They are 2nd class citizens. And no positive thinking (more aptly put as DENIAL and DELUSION) is going to change such. It’s far more “sensible, sane, and intelligent” for women and girls, the world over, to face painful realities.
Explain the persistence and prevalence of date rape. Explain the prevalence of dating violence where teenage girls are controlled, isolated, manipulated, and subjugated much like battered women are.
There is no such thing as victim speak. And yes, such abysmal facts and realities are negative. If men and boys were better human beings, it’d be a more positive world, but because they are not, one is only delusional and willfully ignorant to discard reality because it is “negative”.
Would you approach FGM and tell the girls who are subjected to such that their complaints are “victim speak and negative” and thus seek to shame them into silence?
Would you approach a raped woman and tell her how she needs to be more positive, otherwise she is a pity case for being “negative” and thus it’s “sad” that such is “how [she] view[s] life”?
Why are billions of woman and girls illiterate yet to this day? And their brothers are not? Why is porn such a booming industry, raking in billions?
Are all such points — factual, objective reality — dismissed by you because it’s “negative” and thus “victim speak”?
So many women live in willful ignorance and deny reality because of how painful it is. It’s painful to be confronted with the truth of just how much men really hate women. The vast majority of men HATE women. And most women live in willful denial of this reality. You are clearly one of them, if indeed, you are female and not some incel male selecting a female name.
Explain child marriages. Marrying off a 10 year old little girl to be raped by some lecherous old pervert man.
Explain burqas. Explain why women are forced to wear black burqas in the furnace of the Middle East while the men have cool white attire, more suited to the extreme heat and sun.
Explain brothels. Explain why girls from rural areas are tricked into moving into a big city, with promises of work, only to be kept as captives in some brothel and raped each and every day, with police being of no help, even the regular customers of poor, kidnapped girls who are kept locked into brothels.
Explain the wage gap. Explain why women are paid less to do the same job. Explain the pink tax. Explain why women’s products are of lessor quality and priced higher… and women are paid less on top of that.
Explain why girls’ self-esteem drops considerably upon hitting puberty. Explain why so many girls and women have eating disorders. Explain why the greatest insult a boy or man can receive is to be compared to a girl/woman or called a girl/woman.
Male supremacy is alive and well. Sexism is alive and well. Women’s oppression is all around us. This is not victim speak. This is reality and yes, it’s negative.
To deny such realities is to side with the oppressor and abuser. There is no neutrality available. If you bury your head in the sand and consider the confrontation of reality to be “victim speak” and refuse to acknowledge it, you are siding with the misogynists of the world. You side with women-hating men.
Wow. What an education your comments just gave me. I wish I could print them out. It’s all true. Thank you
I don’t necessarily disagree, but young boys are being sold, used and raped as slaves and sex-slaves too. They are OFTEN a target of paedofiles and they face gender stereotyping and the insecurities they create. In the western world, males are often portrayed as stupid and incompetent to females.
It’s unhelpful for you to make comments like this. Of course there are boys that are preyed upon. However, when you have 100 child victims and 95 or 99 of them are GIRLS, but you insist on saying a ‘whatabouta’ argument of ‘hey! it’s done to boys, too!’ you’re privileging that 1 or those 5 boys over the 99 or 95 girls.
You see why that is unhelpful?
Why is it that we cannot concentrate on girls and women for once? Just exclusively girls and women! The 95 or 99 girls aren’t important enough? Must we always have someone saying “what about the boys/men?!” “it happens to boys/men, too!” and “women can be abusers, too!”
Might as well throw in a “Not my Nigel” argument, too.
Think about FGM. Girls of 9 years of age (or around there) are having their clitorises sliced off, without medication, usually with a razor blade, and left to lay around and cry and bleed and either die of infection or live to see the next month, having made it through the horror. There are millions of females who’ve had their clitorises sliced off.
Remember rapist Bobbitt? Remember how instantly that became INTERNATIONAL news! One abuser, rapist man has his penis cut off and it’s news, the world over, for the next year.
Millions of girls are being subjected to FGM. And I don’t see that being international news. No year long spectacle in news coverage.
Thus, when you, Kaye, say that boys can be prey and victims of pedophiles, you don’t seem to get it. Boys have privilege. Boys being victimized? They have more attention paid to them, more instant validity given to their claims, more instant credibility, more concern given to them.
And who are the pedophiles of such boy victims? MEN.
But let’s keep the focus on 95 to 99 victims of the 100 victims who are FEMALE, because they deserve it. Why must women go lobbying for boys and men all the time? Why must the 1 or 5 victims who are male take privilege over 95 to 99 victims who are female?
The world over and it’s institutions are designed BY. MEN. FOR. MEN. So I tire of all these false claims about how men and boys aren’t allowed to cry and feel shame about their victimization and thus are such poor, poor victims. Boys and men are not worse off than girls and women. What about all the women and girls???
It never fails. People talk about wife-beating and it’ll be a news story of another woman badly beaten by some wife-beater. And in the comments section there’ll be comments about how ‘women abuse men, too’ and ‘what about the men who are victims?’
Talk about all the examples of women and girls who are being systemically oppressed and victimized, discriminated against, etc. and here we have Kaye, a woman, saying “what about the boys?”
Of course boys and men can be victimized. And almost invariably it’s men doing that victimization, too.
‘Honor killings’. Gang rapes. Those are also good examples of women-hating. Men’s hatred of women being shown.
Media coverage is very brief on all such things. And even when covering a murder-suicide, for example, where some wifebeater goes and murders his wife in his final act of control and hatred and then suicides and the headlines and articles will almost always be sympathetic to the murderer man. You’ll see things like ‘poor guy, he must have snapped, it was the stress of the coronavirus, she must have provoked him, he was so nice, he was always helping around the neighborhood, he was the greatest guy, blah, blah, blah.’
Society and the institutions are created by men, run by men, and serve to privilege and benefit men. Is it any surprise that men control nearly all the wealth and resources? Is it any surprise? It’s by design. And it’s maintained by design, too.
Once again, I must ask you to be more mindful of both the content of your comments and the intensity you put behind them. Some legitimate points have been made about the targets of pedophiles, and when it comes to ephebophiles, (pedophiles whose main sexual interest is in the characteristics of post-pubescent but not yet adult individuals), the point the commentator is trying to make is even more legitimate. You have a legitimate beef and crusade when it comes to the historical victimization of women. But you do not always have sufficient knowledge to be so forceful and rigid in some of the points of view you are so ardently pushing. So, respectfully, once again, I’m asking you to tone it down. This is a blog is designed primarily as an informational resource. The only crusade, so to speak, that has standing is in regard to character, which, unfortunately, for many reasons, has very much become an equal opportunity problem in our times and is sadly in short supply. As a professional who’s worked with trauma survivors of all ages, orientations, and gender, I can tell you that the damage done to anyone by an unhealthy parent, sibling, relative, spouse, sexual predator, workplace superior, etc. inflicts the same types of damage, regardless of the victim’s sex. You have a perfect right to champion women’s issues. And you’re right to point out that women are much more often the victims of certain abuses. And you have every right to advocate a radical feminist agenda, too, although there are plenty of online resources more singularly devoted to that purpose. But if your comments become nothing more than a constant stream of chastisements of anyone seeking to broaden perspectives, I might have to edit or withhold some of your comments.
Thank you Mae, as I didn’t know if I was talking to the wall or if anyone appreciated such comments.
I hope to encourage women and girls to adopt radical feminism as much as possible. I encourage women and girls to throw off the shackles of male-identification (modeled by Kaye and all others who prioritize and pity and lobby for male victims, male this and male that, male interests). Throw off the shackles and indoctrination of sexism, misogyny, and liberal feminism.
Are you still wearing makeup? Ask yourself, what man wears makeup? What man throws his money away to purchase face paints and proceeds to throw away large chunks of his life to smear his face with subordination paint?
Are you wearing heels or other uncomfortable, unpractical footwear? Ask yourself what man out there is spending hundreds on shoes that make his feet hurt, that restrict him to cutesy-like little steps, that generally hobble him. What man is spraying his feet with spray to temporarily numb them so he can display his subordination by teetering around in some torture devices that jack his butt up and out and infantilize his movements ?
Are you into beauty? Most women are. Why? Because as the subordinated sex, women have been taught their value is determined by men’s gaze and men’s ‘f**kability’ rankings of women. Ask yourself, given you have only one life to live, do you really want to spend it giving a rat’s behind on catering yourself to the enforced subordination and objectification of your sex? Do you really want to waste your life catering to male pigs’ porno desires and ranking schemes?
Are you still dieting? How many men do you know count calories, speak to themselves in degrading, hostile ways, like saying ‘stay away from that fridge, fattie!’ and subsist on salads, downing them with a back of some laxative pills or the like? How many men have ever gotten their jaws wired shut in order to cut some additional weight for a certain dress at an event?
Are you still shaving, primping, coloring your hair and doing other stupid, wasteful, time and money sucks? Please stop. No man does such things. And yet inordinate amounts of time, money, and effort is expended by women all over the world doing such elaborate primping, shaving, etc. routines. Men don’t waste their lives doing such. Women shouldn’t either.
Wear comfortable clothing. Throw away any corsets, shapewear, or other confining things. Throw away any body-hugging clothing. Do you see men wearing corsets? Do you see men fussing over which spanx or other shapewear will make their bodies appear roll-free and smooth? Do you see men wearing Spanx? Not being able to breathe properly? No, no you do not. Thus, throw that junk away and shake off such subordination manacles.
Love yourselves, women of the world. Show the girls of the next generation how to be their fully human selves. Disabuse yourselves of any beauty culture mandates, f**kability mandates, catering to the male gaze, or other forms of subordination and subjugation. Ask yourself, “do men do this?”
There was a calendar put out where all these men were made to be in pinup poses and it showed just how ridiculous such things are. For everything that is forced on women through socialization (which ends up being indoctrination into woman-hating and woman-subordination), re-evaluate it.
If anything is pitched as being “empowering”, see if men are behind it or are in support of it and that’ll generally tell you if it is actually empowering. As a general rule, if men are unhappy and up in arms against something, it’s empowering to women. Example: suffragettes and women’s right to vote. VERSUS porno-movements like “free the nipple” which is NOT empowering to women in the slightest and yet liberal fems seem to be deluded into believing such. Men are behind many “free the nipple” type ‘movements’ and men benefit and men support it because they benefit and yet they deceive women into thinking it’s “empowering”.
Generally speaking, if something makes men uncomfortable or angry, it’s a good action for women to take. Men are uncomfortable with women speaking out on their violence and the systemic oppression women are under. Men are angry when women demand their rights be respected, they refuse to be dominated, controlled, abused at will, without consequence.
And it goes on. Read radical feminist authors’ books.
You’re very right, Dr. Simon. And sexual violation is very shame-provoking in victims. It’s so damaging.
But when boys are raped, nobody puts the raped boy on stand and says how the boy wanted it, the boy was dressed too sexy, what kind of underwear the boy was wearing, whether the boy led the pervert on, and so forth. When boys tell of being raped, they don’t have to justify their existence, their clothing, their appearance, their demeanor, if they were walking alone, if they were nice and friendly and polite, if they wore white briefs or ‘racy’ red boxer-briefs.
But I’m sure, being most men are so toxic, it is a harrowing journey for others to know they, males, had been violated by another male. However, they do have the advantage of being assumed to have not wanted it and aren’t put on trial and scrutinized like female victims. And people tend to care about male’s injuries more than female’s injuries.
But I have been thinking and radical feminism isn’t an end all, be all.
There are women abusers. I knew of this one mother and daughter, who I’m certain both will go to hell, and they publicly presented very feminized, submissive, polite, well-mannered, etc. but privately they were vicious abusers who did horrific stuff. The husband and two sons were actually good, kind, caring, decent people. And the females, the narc, sociopath mother and her mini-me daughter were evil, predatory, calculating, abusers.
Not much hope. Predators will never stop preying. And victims, if severely abused and damaged enough, seem to be continually revictimized as they muddle through their so-called life, and if female, not many care, or they go so far as to blame and shame the victim and see her violation and victimization as deserved, justified. Women-blaming is alive and well.
The vast majority of pedophiles’ victims are female. Some pedophiles target only boys, but most are either exclusively girls or a girl/boy combo, depending on the available prey.
Data is skewed. Data is biased. Lots of attention is given to men’s (and boys’) pain, victimization, traumas. Not so much is given to women’s (and girls’) pain, victimization, traumas. Just look at how much attention is given to head injuries and the number of studies concerning men’s violence and contact sports resulting in head injuries. Football comes to mind. But look at all the head injuries sustained in battered women. Few studies concerning such. In pro-football, there’s a more equal sizing/strength, athletes all around, helmets, neck guards, mouthguards, and an assumption of risk involved for million dollar payouts. Not so in battered women. Bang women’s heads against walls, vehicles, cement floors, furniture, and no helmets are worn, she’s usually half the size of the brute, a fraction of his strength, and his attacks are almost invariably done as a surprise. Nothing to guard against whiplash, no neck brace, no medical attention upon seeing her unconscious. No back board, neck brace, and emergency responders giving the best medical attention. No medical attention given because that would cost money and she’s considered not worth it. No resting and recuperation for her. Just more brutality and extreme stress and terror and further injuries. Head injuries are a wife-beater’s delight.
But yes, it’s your blog, your agenda. Got it. And my apologies to Kaye for going attack mode.
Thanks for your consideration of these things, Betty. I worked for years assessing our state’s sexual predators. And I had heard all kinds of explanations for their behavior. What always struck me was the bias we seemed to have about why males vs. females offend. And it was no surprise that the closer and more objectively we investigated, the more the two groups were the same: a sense of entitlement, a willingness to gratify self at the expense of another, etc. And in my work with victims of both genders, I was again struck by the similarities, especially with regard to the nature and impact of trauma. As a species, we have much more in common than what typically divides us. And I mean for this resource to be a potential source of healing and unification. It will be my intention also in the post I’m about to submit on this Memorial holiday.
I will say that I encourage all women and girls to read as much radical feminist books as possible. We all swim in a sea of male-identified, male-controlled, male-dominant, woman-hating society. We don’t recognize it because of its like asking a fish, “what is water?”
Knowledge is power. If more girls and women were educated and aware from the get go, perhaps victimization and violation rates would decrease as we women would arm ourselves and fight to the death and raise warrior girls who expect and are prepared for men’s violence and predation. Probably not, as the blame is 100% on the male abuser and violator. BUT, women and girls wouldn’t be so quick to blame themselves, to be shamed when male-dominated society comes along and blames the women and girl victims for men’s violence, predation, abuse, and woman-hating.
Radical feminism isn’t an end-all, be all; however, it’s a darn good start.
And unity only is beneficial when inequity and inequality is eradicated. Otherwise, unity and calls to be less divisive more or less amounts to telling the prey to stop fussing and play nice with the predators who will go on to eat them for lunch, with complete and utter impunity.
Calls for suffragettes to stop their protesting, fall back into line, quit being ‘troublemakers’ and ‘divisive’ were made, too. But women deserved the right to vote and thus such calls for less divisiveness were wrong and only favored the dominant class, men, and in keeping the status quo. Women’s votes would have never happened had women not taken action, pressed for change, resisted any calls for unity, calls to cease any ‘divisiveness’ and such.
Women and girls are still victimized and violated and abused as massively higher rates than men and boys. Massively higher. And they are way more controlled, subjugated, injured and harmed. Their lives are profoundly affected. And most women and girls have more than one predator or abuser in their lives. Boys or men who come forward and talk of being raped have usually only been raped by one rapist. Women and girls will find themselves having multiple rapists, multiple abusers, etc. And society stans for men and boys. Not so for women and girls.
You cannot erase numbers and stats. Prevalence matters. Level of harms matters. I don’t know of any man or boy that has been gang raped but there are plenty of girls and women who have experienced such. About the only time a man feels what women feel on a daily basis is probably while in prison, assuming a smaller, more isolated, more vulnerable man. That’s saying something. And yet women and girls are blamed, shamed, and pathologized.
Sorry again to Denise and Kaye for what Dr. Simon calls my “open chastisement”. My tone could have been better. Women need to stick together and sorry to my fellow women for my irritability. Trauma is a real factor.