Traumatic Memories & the Trauma Response


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silhouette of a man asking for help

Image courtesy of

Memories can be wonderful … but not always. Sometimes they thrust themselves into consciousness without warning or invitation, knocking the air clean out of our lungs. Like a kick in the gut with steel-capped boots, an unwelcome memory can force us to your knees , gagging, or send us stumbling numbly in search of a dark, dark cupboard in which to hide … a cupboard that holds no Narnia on its other side, but only ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night.

Some time after the witching hour last night, a memory came to visit. I tried to grab it by the throat and force it back through the door of my dreams, but still it came … stealthy and relentless. And then came another … and yet another. Today I’m barely able to function.

Such is the reality of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a response all too common to survivors of verbal, emotional and psychological abuse. I wish I could tell you how to make it stop. Psychologists will teach you cognitive behavioural techniques (CBT) – the mode of therapy that is currently flavour of the month. It aims to mediate your emotions by getting you to control your own thought processes and attitudes. What the ‘experts’ don’t seem to understand, or tell you, is that the deep-seated feelings of horror and terror that result from years of cruelty actually circumvent the normal neural pathways. And that lack of understanding comes very close to ‘victim blaming’; it unleashes a barrage of guilt and alienates us from much needed love and support.
During my own (long-ago, pre-illness) studies of psychology, I learned that it is, in fact, not possible for researchers to determine whether the physical responses associated with anxiety – the release of stress hormones, which lead to rapid heart rate and pulse, etc) – pre-empt the feeling of fear itself, or whether the fear triggers the physical response. It’s the physical processes that make us shake with fear or paralyze us; that make us feel sick and our palms sweat as the blood thuds and throbs through our heads, leaving us spent. Researchers still don’t know whether the chicken comes before the egg.

Truth is, memories or events that evoke a trauma response trigger automatic emotions first … and the thoughts then follow. From there we scramble to make cognitive sense of them while our fight or flight responses are on auto-pilot, ready to take off like a jump jet. Add in the fact that stress (in all its forms – anxiety, fear etc) shuts down our normal cognitive processes, making it impossible to think straight, and we have a wrecking ball massive enough to demolish the very fabric of our being.

Under these circumstances I believe it’s virtually impossible to be rational – although I baulk at fully embracing that concept with its implication that we just can’t help ourselves. There has to be some level of personal responsibility, certainly, but there needs to be an attitude of compassion, too. Compassion not only from others but also compassion for ourselves. Sometimes we need to cut ourselves some slack. That doesn’t mean allowing ourselves to be out of control; to rant and rave at others; to get drunk and drive fast in an attempt to get away from ourselves; or to engage in any other forms of destructive behaviour.

What it means is to understand that the feeling itself is okay.

We are NOT DEFECTIVE! We are injured and may always carry painful scars that adhere to our souls … wounds that are easily reopened. It is NOT OUR FAULT. We are who we are. Survivors.

shy girl

We need to accept ourselves with all our battle-scars even if no-one else does, and we need to nurture our own wounded inner child. Imagine how you might treat a little girl or boy who has been irrevocably damaged by some adult monster. What would you say to her? How would you soothe and reassure him? If you were harmed by an intimate partner and not by a parent, your inner child is still just as wounded. We all carry that vulnerable facet deep within us and it is this very precious, fragile part of our souls that our abusers hone in on in their attempts to destroy us.

Some of us turn to God and hand our brokenness to Him; the perfect parent; the ever-loving spouse who cherishes us in a way no human being ever can. He is the keeper of my soul and my only true solace when the demons of trauma return to torment me. He scoops me up and cradles me in His powerful yet gentle arms and kisses me like the wounded child I truly am.




Feeding misogyny: what it means to be naked


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Original artwork by Melinda Jensen

For the past few days I’ve procrastinated about bringing up a controversial and volatile subject; but that ‘still, small voice’ is so insistent, I’ve decided to wade right on in. Past experience assures me that the topic – ‘nakedness’, or ‘nudity’, in all its nuances – raises strong opinions and heated debate on both sides.

There is a certain niche culture that embraces and even worships the human body at its most exposed; artists and sculptors endlessly depict it, actors wantonly portray it and photographers of a certain ilk are somewhat lecherously obsessed with it. Other sections of society are more coy, though coyness is fast disappearing in a world that rewards image over substance, superficiality over depth. Where ordinary mortals may once have been relatively protected from exposure to mass human nudity, needing to actively seek it out in order to experience it outside their own mirrors and bedrooms, today’s similarly ordinary mortals are subjected to nakedness any number of times in a day, without their consent. Why? What does it mean? And how do we cope with the onslaught?

Let’s take a look at what history teaches about the implication of nudity as it is used to express societal attitudes. There is little dispute that in the beginning of time, when humanity was just emerging, the issue was merely a practical one. Clothes were fashioned and adopted according to the dictates of climate, habitat and mode of living. As humankind’s thought processes became more advanced however, what was once merely a practical consideration began to take on a host of possible meanings, bringing with it an even larger host of emotional responses.

Greek and Roman gods were often depicted naked, with a couple of theories being put forward as explanation. Some sources indicate that in day to day existence, ancient Greek and Roman citizens wore long, flowing robes and even in the public baths, where people disrobed freely, the sexes were generally segregated. Other sources insist that communal bathing, with the genders mixed, was not uncommon and that Greek citizens frequently dropped their robes to work naked in the fields, to dance, and of course, to exercise.

According to the first theory, there existed a widespread cultural attitude of respect for the human body, and Greek philosophy held that health of both mind and body were of paramount importance to spiritual and psychological maturity. The display of the body was considered a sign of health and strength of character, and did not elicit responses of lust and ribaldry. It is thought that in the depiction of gods in particular, nudity was used to indicate that a hero or god had passed beyond the need for such protection as clothes offered.  And while it is true that Olympic athletes originally performed naked, historians believe this was both to prevent cheating and to allow them to move more freely, since the clothing of the day was restrictive and cumbersome. It is also noteworthy that women were not allowed to participate, and married women were not even allowed to attend. At a separate festival, celebrating the goddess Hera, young women were permitted to participate in foot races but were covered in loose tunics that fell to their knees.

Nudity was reserved then, almost exclusively for men, as evidenced by a number of surviving sculptures. And the prevailing attitude towards that nudity was one of respect for the health, strength and spiritual achievements of those depicted.

What seems indisputable is that during that particular period in history, a state of undress denoted a certain respect for a being’s divinity or accomplishments.

Yet…such are the vagueries of history…that other sources insists the Greeks were, in fact, vain creatures who succumbed to the lures of the flesh from very early on. This contradictory view argues that the rampant displays of nudity were fueled by vanity and hedonism, and that the Olympic games, right from the get-go, were characterized by orgies, dope-taking, prostitution and blood-lust.

How can we make sense of such blatant contradictions? For the purposes of my post, either scenario can be used to argue against the acceptability of today’s pornographic images, which center almost entirely on the female form (gay porn aside).

Considering the first scenario – can it be said that today, women are being displayed naked as a symbol of their strength, health, power and spiritual achievement? The answer must be a resounding no. They are there for the viewing pleasure and titillation of, in fact for the arousal of, lust in men. (Mostly! Yes, I hear those of you who are protesting that there’s a growing culture of women who use porn for the same reason.)

Considering the second scenario – that historical nudity was linked to hedonism, orgiastic behaviour, drugs, prostitution and blood-lust – what does that tell us about today’s culture of porn, including the so-called ‘soft-porn’, whereby fashion magazines, movies, television and even newspapers feature partially naked or even fully-naked women? It clearly tells us that a woman’s nudity is used for ribald and lustful purposes, certainly not to empower or engender respect.

Think of the image of Miley Cyrus on her wrecking ball.  I hardly think it conjures up respect, nor a reverence for her spiritual (or other) attainments. It conjures instead mirth, derision or lust, and frequently all three.

So how has the panorama evolved since the days of myth and legend? Firstly, to state the obvious, today’s nudity is overwhelmingly female. The one constant is that these ‘objects’ of lust have been almost exclusively used for the pleasure of the masculine of the species.

What else? We’ve all heard that the only constant in life is change, and history bears this out. As the centuries rolled by, along with changes catalyzed by ever-expanding exploration, discovery, industrial and scientific inroads and social change, so too has the context and connotation of ‘nakedness’ changed. There have been epic landmarks to note these changes.

No human condition more clearly depicts gross inequality and injustice than that of slavery. A slave has no worth above that of his monetary value, a value set by his potential owners in the same way it would be set for pigs or cattle or even farm produce. He is valued only for his perceived capacity for hard labour and obedience. He is beaten and abused because his life has no value and he is assigned no dignity or inherent worth. A slave is an object of degradation. At the moment he is sold into slavery he is stripped of his humanity at the same time as he is stripped of his clothes and paraded naked for the inspection of his masters. Not allowed to so much as look upon the face of a white woman without risking punishment, even death, he is himself (and herself) able to be intimately scrutinized in all his naked vulnerability. The message is clear. To be naked correlates with inferiority, dis-empowerment, humiliation and being at the mercy of a ruling class.

From the Christian scriptures we learn that Jesus was stripped naked, flogged and tortured, then hung on a cross to die a brutal death – classed as a low-life criminal. He died, bare and exposed to his detractors, laughed at and ridiculed as they shredded his robes – the ultimate humiliation. His nakedness too, marked him as inferior, dis-empowered, and at the mercy of a ruling class.

Where does this leave the argument of modern day feminists who forcefully insist on their right to parade naked and semi-naked, enter prostitution, pose for porn magazines and movies, claiming it is empowering for them to do with their bodies whatever they please?

Frankly, they’re on shaky ground. Clambering to appropriate some prized position as if it truly were an indication of equality and empowerment. Playing right into the industry’s hands … and dare I say it, right into the hands of the dominant culture; a privileged white male culture, who once again, achieve exactly what they want. That is, an endless supply of objects for their amusement, titillation, and (as I have shown above), objects of humiliation and inferiority who have been successfully brainwashed into believing they are joining a ruling class, when in fact, they are simply still being ruled by it. In a different manner to which women have been dominated throughout the centuries, yes. But dominated all the same, through manipulation of their psyches.

Much research points to the likelihood of pornography inciting violence against women, and when we view the historical context of nudity, and perceive it as the tool it has been – one used to dominate, humiliate, denigrate and dis-empower – it isn’t difficult to fathom its role in today’s escalating culture of violence against the feminine.

The subtleties of the game have changed. But the game itself has not.


An Open Letter To Donald Trump From Some Angry Women.

It seems every time I open my mouth about the current American political situation I am inundated with abuse of one kind or another. However, given the nature of my own blog, it would be entirely remiss of me to not share what I believe is an excellent blog post that highlights the culture of oppression towards women that underpins societies all around the world. The fact that one of the US candidates flagrantly employs those very tactics of denigration, humiliation and subjugation towards women will lead to what can only be a return to 50’s style thinking. It will turn the efforts of suffragettes into a travesty. Read on. Feel free to comment but please keep it respectful. And also please understand that my objection to Donald Trump does not mean my support of Hillary. That’s not what this post is about.

Drifting Through


Dear Mr. Trump… can I call you Mr. Trump? Is that ok? I want you to be happy, that’s very important to me.

Before I get started, let me say this letter isn’t from all women. The Trumpettes surely won’t approve of this message. But this is from most women.

We see right through you. We have all known you at some point. Your ways are not unfamiliar to us. We see through you because we’ve been dealing with you our whole lives.

We heard you call women pigs. And disgusting. And stupid. And bimbos.

We watched as you called a former Ms. Universe “Ms. Piggy” and then spent four days continuing to insult her.

We see your weakness. Your lust for attention at any cost, your need to denigrate women. We see all of it. And we’re mad.

Yes. We’re mad. And fired up. And here’s the thing about us……

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Passive Aggressive Abuse – The Silent Treatment


(Image courtesy of Ambro at

There is no more effective way to let someone know how little you mean to them than to use your silence. If you want to cut someone to the quick, simply don’t respond when they implore you for understanding or explanation. Walk away from their tears. Turn your back on their pain. Or better still, pretend to listen and respond appropriately, then disappear out of someone’s life, either permanently or temporarily.

Make no mistake about it, neglect and the silent treatment are highly effective and particularly cruel forms of emotional abuse. Trying to pinpoint why you feel so utterly crushed when someone treats you this way is like chasing phantoms in the dark – you’re not really sure what you’re looking for or why it hurts so much. On the surface, you’re reacting to ‘nothing’. The person hasn’t yelled at you, called you names, belittled you or intimidated you in any tangible way. If you complain about their treatment, it will be turned back on you.‘What do you mean? I haven’t done anything! You’re the one with the problem.’ Or you will simply be treated to more silence.

And it’s easy to convince you that you are, in fact, the one to blame. Trust me, you’re not.

So what constitutes the Silent Treatment?

  1. Not responding to your reasonable emotional needs.

  2. Walking away from you when you try to address an issue.

  3. Saying yes, but doing the opposite.

  4. Ignoring phone calls and text messages.

  5. Often accompanied by tears and reproachful looks or …

  6. alternatively, intimidating you with an angry glare.

  7. And, of course, simply not speaking to you, especially when you make it clear that you really need to dialogue.


The method a perpetrator employs depends on his or her unique personality and behaviour pattern. In the ‘good old days’, men would bury their heads in a newspaper while their wives tried everything they could to get some interaction. These days, people bury themselves in their work or engross themselves in computer games (therefore living a virtual reality while avoiding their true reality). Some hide themselves in a bottle of whiskey. Others busy themselves with friends and other activities. The one thing they all have in common is that their coping mechanism is avoidance. Avoidance of you, the person they supposedly love; avoidance of conflict; avoidance of the issues they have; and most of all, avoidance of who they really are. It’s easier to avoid you than to face whatever demons lurk within their souls. It’s easier to slay a virtual dragon than to fight the good fight in the real world.

If you’re confused about whether or not to be angry when you’re on the receiving end of this form of passive aggression … because, as I’ve already mentioned, you haven’t copped any overt abuse … remember this:


A decision to not take action is still a decision … and still an action.

The choice to not act is still a choice … and still an action.

Not taking action when action is required is still a conscious act.


The silent treatment is the dagger used by cowards.


Nurturing souls and their abusers

I’m reblogging this beautifully and succinctly written piece from ‘Sanctuary for the Abused’. It speaks directly to the heart of the matter. Note: The genders are interchangeable.

A Nurturing Soul Does Not Compute with a Sociopath

Angel imprisoned Pictures, Images and Photos

Many are often shocked to find an otherwise healthy and strong woman in an abusive situation and wonder why and how this happens.

This women is a nurturer. She has nurtured her own soul, conquered herself to find joy in the world.

She meets a man who seems to be so close to winning. He’s almost conquered himself. She finds great pleasure and joy in watching and taking part in the nurturing of other’s souls. She sees how beautiful he is. She wants him to win his inner battles. She wants to be a part of this great battle.

She sees his behavior change from kind and loving, to mean and cruel, and believes she is watching an inner battle of self being waged. She wants him to win the good fight. She sees the worth of his soul, and feels the battle is worth the wages.

This loving, nurturing woman joins the man in his own personal battle as a loving friend and wife.

But she doesn’t understand his swift mood changes from kind to cruel, are not representative of an internal battle over self, but merely manipulative behaviors, designed to gain power over others.

He is not battling over self control, but dominating the souls and hearts of others.

In the end, she finds herself in a painful powerless position having lost herself serving him, loving him, sacrificing for him, in the illusion he will be moved by her love to win.

But their is no battle within him. His heart is not moved. There is no battle to be won. She will lose everything in a quest that never was.

And the devil will rejoice in the crumbling of another soul, that was once previously strong.

Her whole life, her great quest to save her husband, is nothing but a lie.

by Natalie Fleming


Verbal punches and brain changes


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When someone delivers a physical blow, no one questions whether or not damage has been done to the victim, and no one tries to deflect the blame from the perpetrator. The bruises, scratches and broken bones are there for all to see.

Until relatively recently, abusers have been able to hide behind the smokescreen provided by the societal perception that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’. Of course, verbal, psychological and emotional abuses go well beyond name-calling, and yet, victims of this most insidious and devastating form of abuse face an uphill battle when it comes to being taken seriously. Already in a depleted emotional and cognitive state, with energy levels at a lifetime low, they rarely have the wherewithal to pursue understanding, let alone deliverance, from their personal hell.

Legislation however, is beginning to catch up with the truth. There’s a long way to go yet but the first seeds have been sown, at least in my own county – Australia. Most other nations are lagging a long way behind.

But I’ll save the legislative changes for another post. Today, I want to shed a little light on what emotional/verbal abuse victims have known for millenia, and which is only now being backed up by the latest research from neuroscience. To put it in very plain English, recent studies have proved that the brain changes that occur as a result of physical abuse are exactly the same as the changes that occur as a result of emotional, verbal and psychological abuse. In other words, the source of the abuse doesn’t matter. The brain encodes it the same way, regardless. The bottom line is that all abuse is physical.

That means the long term effects are identical. Well … almost. It has also been established that only one form of abuse consistently leads to Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(CPTSD). Surprisingly, it’s not sexual or physical abuse. It’s our old foe – emotional, psychological and verbal abuse. Although physical and sexual abuse are usually accompanied by emotional control and abuse, on their own they don’t lead to long term CPTSD. Emotional/verbal/psychological abuse however, is a reliable predictor of CPTSD without any other form of abuse being present. It’s a sobering thought, and something few therapists or authorities are aware of.

Knowledge is empowering. Spread the word.



More on Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a future post.




There Once Was a Little Girl

I’ve been quiet for the past couple of months, dealing with health issues and wondering exactly what the next stage in life will bring. Then along came this beautiful and moving blog post from Secret Angel. She touches at the very root of the pain and brings it into the light. Whatever you do … read this today … and listen to the song, ‘Broken Girl’. It could just as easily be ‘Broken Boy.’

The Abuse Expose' with Secret Angel

There once was a little girl…
who felt so all alone.
And even though she was loved…
affection was rarely ever shown.
So she grew up lonely…
feeling isolated and without worth…
even though she had a big family…
and the middle child in order of birth.

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Using vulnerability against you; aka throwing your past in your face


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Sad face, masque

Image courtesy of Miles

So you’ve put your past behind you? You’ve been to therapy and turned yourself inside out in order to deal with your demons and find the silver lining on your clouded past. Life’s been tough but you’re an overcomer. Good for you! Most people don’t have the courage. Well done. You’re going from strength to strength, right?

Hang on a minute! There’s someone in your life who thinks differently; someone you love, or someone who is an unavoidable part of your life who’s not letting you move on; who doesn’t recognize your growth. Each and every time you’re discussing an issue; trying to make your point heard; simply baring your soul, or building a bridge – what happens?

‘Oh … but you’ve had three failed relationships.’ ‘Oh … but you never finished your education.’ Or how about my personal favourite – ‘You’re sick in the head because of your past childhood sexual abuse. Everything you do and say is coloured by it. That’s why your so angry all the time.’

The implication? You failure, you! You hopeless case. You value-less human being. Why should anyone EVER listen to what you say? Or believe you? Who cares about the circumstances you’ve struggled through and healed from? You will forever be a disappointment in their eyes – the subject of derision and devaluation. Why? Because it makes them feel better to believe that. Because if they look fairly and squarely at what you’ve been through … what you’ve conquered … they’ll have to admit they couldn’t do what  you did. They’re not strong enough.

And so they throw it in your face – time and time again.

You’ll find yourself endlessly wanting to have rational discussions about the issues and difficulties of life; of your relationship … but you’ll find yourself dragged back down to one point … one and only point. Your shortcomings … your vulnerabilities … your past. You’ve dealt with it … but they haven’t. So they use it against you – to WIN. To silence you. To win the power struggle that is their sole goal. Abusers view every interaction as a win/lose situation and they’re determined that they’ll win and you’ll lose. Psychologically healthy individuals realize that, where relationships are concerned, when one person loses, the whole relationship loses. The ‘winner’ gains power but never intimacy.

If you find yourself bringing up the same grievances time and time again, look for the bait you’re being thrown to distract you from the issue at hand. Distraction is one of the most manipulative tools a controlling person can use against you. It confuses you; throws you off the trail and makes you instantly the bad guy, no matter what the other party has done to harm you. It just one more ugly game in their repertoire. Don’t fall for it. And remember, mud sticks best to the cleanest wall.





Unleash the Flying Monkeys!


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So what on earth is a flying monkey?

image of flying monkey

Image courtesy of


The term ‘flying monkeys’ is derived from that all-time movie classic, ‘The Wizard of Oz’, in which the wicked witch of the west sends out her nasty little troupe of flying monkeys to inflict torment on Dorothy and her trusty trio.

In popular psychology it is used to describe the people an abuser enlists to back her up, join in with blaming the victim, name-calling, put-downs, the silent treatment and other crazy-making behaviour. Once groomed and recruited, flying monkeys invariably perceive the narcissistic abuser as the innocent party and are outraged at what they believe the real victim has done. They have it ass backwards.

Why it works so well

Narcissists carefully construct a false public image while projecting their real self, with all its ugly traits, onto their chosen target. Because an abuser never attacks in public, people find it extremely difficult to believe she’s anything but the lovely, caring person she pretends to be when she has an audience. Frankly, it’s disturbing to witness how fast she can switch from raging virago to Mrs Happy-Go-Lucky in less than a heartbeat. If you’re unlucky enough to be in a relationship with someone like this, you’ve already seen how fast she can go from sweet to psycho in private. Trust me when I say she is equally able to switch back the other way should a witness come close to walking in on one of her rages.

The narcissist chooses her flying monkeys carefully. She’ll only enlist those she knows will take her side and carry out her bidding, whether she has expressly told them what she wants them to do or whether the process is achieved in more subtle ways. Sadly, the most vulnerable potential monkeys are the abusers own children or other family members and, of course, her best friends. It’s likely they’ll even mimic her behaviour as a matter of course, since she has already portrayed you (consistently) to the be the crazy one, the one at fault, the one who deserves to wear all the guilt and shame. Because they’ve rarely, if ever, been privy to her craziness, they simply accept her version of the truth and go after you with all the self-righteous indignance they can muster, adding a lot of heated fuel to her attack  on you.

As the more responsible parent (or sibling, or child), you have most likely consciously avoided embroiling your children (or siblings or other family members) in your spousal troubles, trying to protect them from the ugly reality that you face on a daily basis. You have been set up like a row of bowling pins. If the first bowler doesn’t knock you out, subsequent bowlers – the flying monkeys – will. The group attack was carefully planned by your abuser.

It’s imperative to trust your own reality – to know who you are, how you operate, and what your values are. An onslaught from your abuser and her hoard of flying monkeys is akin to all-out psychological warfare, and will leave you with all the post-traumatic stress that accompanies battle.




Shoud’ve could’ve would’ve

Every now and then, I come across a piece of writing so beautiful it speaks directly to my heart. I found this post on a fellow blogger’s site – The Warrior’s Guide – and wanted to share it for its poignancy. It makes me wish I’d written it myself.

The Warrior's Guide


I once read that the saddest word ever is “almost”.

She almost loved him.
They were almost together.
He almost survived.

So many times we are scared by our own greatness, afraid of what we are capable of in our full capacity. Our successes scare the heck out of ourselves sometimes.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Even scarier, what would you do if you knew you would not fail? We as people rarely know how strong we are. In the life I left behind I learnt many things that should always be remembered…

When you think you can go no further, only then are you half way.

You only know how strong you are when being strong is the only option. And when you hit your lowest point, you have the greatest capacity to change.

People in an old age home were asked what they regretted of…

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