Today I would like to write about trauma, specifically rape and abuse and how it affects people. I was watching a Netflix show, “Longmire,” and they depicted a young Native American woman who had been raped. In her tribal community, they held a sweat for her. If you are not familiar with this, it’s a sacred Native American traditional way to provide spiritual connection and cleansing by sitting in a hot tent. The heat is provided through hot stones and often the stones represent a core belief. The leader will guide the time in the sweat.
In the episode, the leader mentioned that something had been taken from the young woman that was not theirs to take. She mentioned that as a result, the young woman was now wandering because that piece of her was lost. She no longer felt like herself.
I couldn’t help but reflect on the many women I have met with who have been sexually abused. A once vibrant, smiling and innocent person who engaged in life, now looked like an empty shell that could no longer put a smile on their face but only show pain. The void left in their eyes is hard to look at, so many avoid them and their anger, sadness and self-destruction.
Those that knew the person before the incident, notice they have changed, and feel they can no longer be friends, as the person is so different. They may even recognize that something has happened, but they cannot understand how the person can change so drastically.
Often in trauma, the self seems to be torn in two. In my work, I attempt to rejoin the self with the person. At the time of trauma, it’s as if the person must separate from themselves to bear the pain of what has happened. If they return to themselves, they will have to face the pain full force and often, we are not equipped with the support or tools to do that. Our brain protects us from this pain in a primitive way by using the division, however, it leaves a person, “wandering.”
As I work with individuals, we slowly bring back the trauma memories until it becomes bearable by using coping techniques. Over time, they can face the trauma without coming apart. And the person and the self rejoin.
The next step for the trauma treatment is to have someone bear witness to their story and to support and validate the survivor. The validation component is key to this part. There must be recognition that it was awful and that the strength it took to come through it was noticed. The story, most importantly, must be believed.
This does not mean that the work is over, but it begins the healing process. The pieces that were missing slowly come back to the person, but as anything that has been broken or torn apart, it comes together differently. The marks of healing will be present for those that look closely but perhaps the stitches will make it stronger than before.
The Native American culture knew far before any of our social science experts knew, what trauma can do to a person, and they were using the sweat lodge to help join the two pieces. Innately we know what is needed yet often avoid doing it due to fear or not having someone to walk on the path with us.
If you need someone to walk along with you on your healing path, please give us a call.