Dealing With PTSD (Svali Blog Post)
This information is mirrored from https://web.archive.org/web/20110823095926/http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/ritual_abuse/82659
Ritual abuse is one of the most severe forms of physical, psychological, and spiritual trauma that a human being can undergo. During the trauma itself, the victim is silenced and taught to ignore his or her own internal feelings about events, and in many cases is taught to dissociate their trauma away.
Once safety is achieved, or in later life when the survivor experiences events that remind them of former painful events, they often wrestle with the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
In fact, dissociative identity disorder, which is common in ritual abuse survivors, has been labeled by some therapists and psychiatrists as “a chronic form of PTSD”.
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?The symptoms of PTSD can begin soon after the trauma, or may resurface years later, depending on the coping style of the trauma survivor. The main symptoms include: re-experiencing the trauma, and the symptoms related to the event(s) and avoidance of remembering the trauma.
Re-experiencing the trauma can include any of the senses, and for the survivor may mean brief visual flashbacks (such as of a ritual scene or a long suppressed event), feeling emotions tied to the traumatic event (such as terror, nausea, or rage), and feeling physical sensations, or body memories. These can include feeling that the hands or feet are tied up, that the survivor has a gag over their mouth, or even re-experiencing the sensation of being shocked or sexually tortured.
Bad dreams and nightmares may mean sleepless nights, or nights with interrupted sleep, as the survivor wakes up with a feeling of terror.
In some cases, the survivor may fully re-experience the event and act as if it is happening again (abreaction). The remembering can cause feelings of severe anxiety, defensiveness, or even combativeness in some survivors, as anger, terror, and physical feelings recall the original trauma.
These re-experiencing the trauma are as if the brain and psyche are trying to struggle through the trauma that occurred and was forgotten. The survivor may not have total conscious recall, but their body never forgot what happened to it.
Remembering can be triggered by sights, smells, tastes, sounds, or a situation that in some way reminds the survivor of their trauma. Some survivors are triggered when they have children who are the same age that they were when they underwent certain abuse; the sight of their child reminds them of their own pain history. Others may be triggered by holiday decorations, or the anniversary of a painful event.
The survivor with PTSD may struggle with hypervigilance , or feeling that they are constantly on the lookout for danger. They may feel unsafe, and their body will react to loud noises with and outpour of adrenaline (causing panic and sweating). And some survivors of RA have been known to reflexively tackle or hit anyone who walks up suddenly from behind, as a protective mechanism.
With avoidance, the survivor will try to avoid remembering the trauma, and may feel that they are in danger if they do begin to remember. This will often be reinforced by cult programming for the ritual abuse survivor. The survivor may avoid triggers either consciously or unconsciously. They may avoid family members who were involved in their abuse, or any activities that remind them of their trauma. Some survivors become completely numb, or “shut down” to avoid feeling or thinking about their painful history.
The problem with avoidance is that in the long run, it doesn’t work well, and the person will continue to experience symptoms related to their trauma if they are not dealt with.
Other symptoms often occur along with PTSD as a consequence of the hypervigilance, re-experiencing, and avoidance. Frequently, loneliness (feeling “different” or “marked”) and a lack of trust in others because of the betrayal and severe abuse results in poor relationships with others and the survivor can become isolated. Deep bitterness due to the loss of innocence and faith (and feeling cut off from God) is also very common and is reinforced by cult programming to ensure that the survivor believes that God has abandoned them. . They may also feel deep anger or rage towards others and turn on family members, spouses, and others, causing personal relationships to deteriorate.
The survivor may also experience extreme guilt and shame, and wonder why they survived when others didn’t (survivor guilt), or because of shame at the abuse that they experienced. Children will often blame themselves if they are abused, and when they grow up, fear reaching out for help for this reason. In fact, many survivors are reluctant to ask for help, even when they are in crisis, and must be taught this skill in therapy.
Because PTSD symptoms can last for years and years, especially with chronic abuse such as ritual abuse, the person may struggle with the fear that they will never get better, or that they are “hopelessly damaged.”
Poor health and various addictions, including food, alcohol, drugs, or smoking can also occur in an attempt to cope with the anxiety that occurs with PTSD.
Treatment of PTSD
For treatment to be successful, it is best if the person is safe, or removed from their ongoing trauma (although many survivors begin treatment while their cult abuse is still occurring, and finding afety may be a process that takes time for some).
Safety issues are usually addressed first (ie stopping cult contact, dealing with severe depression or suicidality). Factors that could slow healing such as addictions to drugs, alcohol, or sex may also be addressed fairly early in therapy, and the use of positive, healthy coping skills in place of numbing behaviors will be taught.
Education about PTSD, what it is, the symptoms, what causes it is also done and can help both the survivor and their family cope with the effects of trauma better. Coping skills such as slow breathing, anxiety containment, positive distraction (the use of a positive or healthy method to distract from the memories to avoid being overwhelmed), and grounding techniques will often be taught. Intrasystem cooperation will be used, and as the survivor of ritual abuse gets to know his/her internal people, they will learn to slow down memories to avoid flooding.
Therapy may include both talk therapy (telling the therapist about the painful events, and discussing the feelings the survivor has; often just learning to have permission to feel at all will be addressed early in therapy since the cult often teaches members to not feel or show emotions), the use of imagery to reaccess traumatic memories, or cognitive restructuring (discussing the survivor’s beliefs about him or herself caused by the events that they underwent).
Learning new social and interaction skills may also be taught, to help make the “here and now” better for the survivor and to help them develop a good support system. Learning to ask others for support, and giving and receiving it from others is often a large part of the healing process. This can help to decrease the sense of isolation and “differentness” that often occur.
EMDR (Eye Movement Densensitization and Reprocessing) is another technique that has been used to help survivors reaccess trauma memories.
Medication can also help survivors with PTSD deal with the terror, depression, sleep problems and other symptoms that frequently occur. The survivor will need medical follow-up to find out which medications can help the best. Often, as the “edge” is taken off of symptoms with medication, the survivor can work better in therapy to resolve memories.
Group therapy is also helpful to many survivors in finding a safe place to process their memories with others to understand. Because ritual abuse is such highly charged material, it takes a therapist experienced with both groups and working with ritual abuse to successfully lead a group. Mixed groups of RA survivors with non-RA survivors may or may not work, dependent on the group members and the therapist. Once concern in mixed groups is that those with less traumatic material to process may feel overwhelmed, or as if their own abuse issues are minimized when a survivor of RA shares their memories. The ritual abuse survivor may also feel that they are not understood, are not believed, or may fear traumatizing those who have no background of understanding this type of abuse. But some therapists have reported success with mixed groups if the group dynamics are handled skillfully.
Learning healthy methods of distraction (while working on trauma with a therapist) can also help with coping. For many survivors, this can include hobbies, artwork, or enjoyable activities that are relaxing.
Finding meaning in the trauma, and helping others, can also be a method of coping. Each survivor will find their own unique coping method to both process the trauma, and deal with the aftermath.
Article Sources:“Treatment of PTSD”, National Center for PTSD, article online at http://www.ncptsd.org/facts/treatment/fs… “What is Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome?” Sidran Foundation, article online at http://www.sidran.org/ptsdbrochure.html