“Approximately 1 in 5 girls have had an inappropriate sexual experience.”
This is a sad reality pointed out by Dr. Paul Frewen, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry, at Western University.
An experience like this, along with other abusive situations, can be very traumatizing to a child, and often causes long term symptoms that effect people into adulthood.
Depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress syndrome are just a few of the many symptoms that can alter a person’s ability to live life to the fullest. Shirley Porter is a councilor at Fanshawe College, and explains that humans are actually very resilient when it comes to healing. “[If it’s a single event trauma] the majority of human beings recover quite well and don’t have any symptoms after a short period of time. But that’s often not the case with complex trauma.” Complex trauma is a traumatic experience that happens multiple times, over a long period of time.
“Finding it very difficult or impossible to trust people? Of course. Because if those closest to you, purported to love you, treated you very horribly, how do you trust anyone?”
With complex trauma, the symptoms include those mentioned, along with others such as low self esteem, trust issues, agitation, anger, shame, guilt and self blame. “Finding it very difficult or impossible to trust people? Of course. Because if those closest to you, purported to love you, treated you very horribly, how do you trust anyone?” Porter explains.
This is often an issue when it comes to personal or romantic relationships. Dr. Frewen also adds that people tend to repeat behavior that they witnessed or experienced in the past, “It may be the case that we’re led into relationships and environments in which they’re also traumatizing in the present. The kids with these histories, are often for example, in abusive relationships through their adolescents and adulthood.”
This is an important factor to remember when it comes to getting help, and coping with symptoms.
“It’s unbearable. Trauma is unbearable at times.”
Seeking help, coping and healing
A big problem with getting help though, is that many people often wait years, even decades to get help. Dr. Frewen explains, “The average age is more like middle adulthood, when they’re finally seeking help. So they’ve spent half their lives struggling with this in different ways, be it substance abuse, harmful relationships and various other kinds of addictions.”
Porter explains that the reason that so many people wait so long to get help is simple, “It’s unbearable. Trauma is unbearable at times. And trauma memories, unlike other memories of simply unpleasant events, trigger a part of the brain that causes reliving as though the event was still happening.”
Dr.Frewen adds that it’s important not to push people into therapy until they are ready. “It really is an important variable. A person has to be ready. It has to be the right time for them.”
When a person is ready, there are a number of things that need to happen, before delving into the memories and past experiences. Dr. Frewen explains one of those steps, is ensuring that a person’s current life situation isn’t harmful to their well being. He says, “We first wanna look at the current situation, and make sure the person is safe and secure in their current environment, and only after that would we look back at the past and try and heal some of those of wounds.”
Porter adds that another step, is ensuring someone has the proper coping tools to deal with the memories, “We never wanna open trauma when a person is already feeling overwhelmed or might be having suicidal thoughts, or self harming behavior. They have to have very good coping strategies before we even start to talk about the trauma.”
So for anyone who may be suffering from long term symptoms, it’s important to remember that though these things do happen, they are NOT okay, and the victim is never to blame. Porter and Dr. Frewen encourage anyone who may be suffering, to reach out – of course, when they’re ready.
For a full audio feature on this topic, listen to the 2 part docu-series about recognizing symptoms, and learning how to cope and heal.