By Allison Crowe, See the Triumph Co-Founder
For the month of December at See the Triumph, we are focusing on self-care strategies that survivors can use to cope with abuse. I wanted to share some “basics” about one of the common mental health problems associated with IPV – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. At See the Triumph, we believe that knowledge is power. Knowing who is impacted by the disorder, what PTSD might “look” like, and how it can be treated will hopefully help you, or someone you know not only recover but ultimately triumph over abuse.
For many survivors of intimate partner violence, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an unfortunate result of an abusive relationship. It’s an anxiety disorder that people might struggle with after living through or witnessing a dangerous event. Think about it this way - when you experience a dangerous event, it is normal to feel scared. When we feel scared, these feelings trigger our bodies to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it (this is also called fight or flight). Fight or flight is a normal response to danger, but sometimes this response will linger well after the dangerous event no longer exists. PTSD is exactly this - a reaction that happens even when the danger no longer is there.
Who gets PTSD? Both adults and children can suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Children and adults will respond in different ways, but the disorder can impact anyone who has been through a serious event - veterans who have experienced combat, survivors of natural disasters, survivors of abuse, to name only a few. Some people who experience PTSD have not been through a serious event themselves but have a family member who has been harmed, experienced danger, or has died.
What does PTSD “look” like? Here are some of the symptoms you might notice – 1. Re-experiencing symptoms: these might be flashbacks, when the trauma is relived over and over as if you are going through it again. You might have sweating, a racing heart, and other physical during a flashback. There might be nightmares of the event or thoughts during the day about the event. People, places, or objects might trigger this re-experiencing. 2. Avoidance symptoms: these are symptoms such as staying away from places, events, or things that are reminders of the traumatic experience. There might be feelings such as numbness, worry, or depression as well as a loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable. You might begin losing memory of the event that caused the trauma. 3. Hyperarousal symptoms: these symptoms include being easily startled, feeling edgy, having difficulty sleeping, focusing, or eating. These symptoms are always there, rather than being triggered by something or someone.
How do I know I have PTSD? Not everyone who has been through trauma will be diagnosed with PTSD. Experiencing trauma is certainly a risk factor for developing the disorder, but seeking out support from others such as friends, family, or a mental health professional after experiencing a trauma can help people cope and respond effectively and even prevent symptoms from developing into PTSD altogether. If you find a mental health professional to talk to about the trauma you experienced, he or she will most likely use counseling, medications, or perhaps both to treat PTSD, depending on how serious the symptoms are. Often the first step is just talking about the event to someone who is professionally trained to listen and assist.
When choosing a therapist, counselor, or other mental health professional, we suggest asking important questions about whether the professional has training in intimate partner violence and trauma, so take a look at our past post on finding a competent counselor for survivors of IPV here to make sure you ask the right questions as you seek mental health treatment: http://www.seethetriumph.org/blog/finding-a-counselor-who-is-competent-to-serve-survivors
PTSD is a challenging mental health consequence of surviving a traumatic event. I hope that by knowing some of the “basics” of the disorder you feel empowered and educated as you, or someone you know recovers and ultimately triumphs over abuse.
Information retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
By Amber Johnson
Though the holiday season may be filled with joy and love, for some IPV survivors there may be intense feelings of loneliness during the holidays. Surviving IPV may mean living away from family and friends which can become even more apparent during the holidays. Also, feelings of shame and guilt may isolate survivors of IPV, causing them to feel emotionally distant even when surrounded by friends and family. Making it through the holidays without a significant other to share traditions with can make the holidays stressful.
Here are several tips to help you work through the loneliness you may feel during the holiday season
1. Live By Your OWN Expectations
Many people measure their own happiness during the holidays based on the happiness displayed by those around them, in the media, and on television. Further, social media can often portray images of happiness and success that we may feel we can never achieve. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness when our own happiness doesn’t measure up to what we are observing around them. What we may observe in the media, on TV, or even social media only give highlights of others’ lives. Comparing your life with a limited glimpse you have others’ lives can deepen feelings anger, isolation, and loneliness. One of the ways to combat this is to define your own expectations. Some questions you could ask yourself are: What makes you happy? What are you grateful for? What are you comfortable with? Asking yourself these questions will allow you to focus on you and help you to define your own expectations during the holidays.
2. Get connected with other IPV survivors
Though sometimes you may experience loneliness even when you are around friends and family, this loneliness can be reduced when surrounding yourself with people who share a common experience, such as IPV. You can attend a holiday social with IPV survivors, call or email another IPV survivor you know, or connect with a local support group or a social media group to stay connected to IPV survivors. Though these feelings may persist, it is harder to feel lonely with a good support circle.
3. Understand and Accept your Feelings
Though IPV survivors may experience loneliness, the root cause for loneliness is not always a result of IPV. Feelings of loneliness are complex and different for each individual. That is why it always important to examine your own feelings either on your own or with a mental health professional. You may consider the driving forces behind your loneliness, such as living far away from social groups, or feelings of not being relatable with peers. Once you understand your feelings of loneliness, you can work toward fully addressing those feelings.
The holidays are the perfect time to give back to those may be less fortunate than you. One of the best ways to address loneliness is to help others. In some instances, this may give survivors a sense of hope and optimism. Volunteering allows survivors to be active in their community while making a difference. Before you know it, you will be taking on the true spirit of the holidays!
Amber Johnson is a doctoral student in the Department of Public Health Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Amber’s current interest focuses on the health consequences of shame endured by women on a systemic level, particularly among racial/ethnic minority women. She is interested in Community-Based Participatory Research and establishing effective partnerships with community members. She also seeks to find ways to lessen the differential power of researchers and community members. She will be on track to finish her PhD in May 2016.
Mental health, wellness, and self-care for those touched by intimate partner violence: Mini-series introduction
By Melissa Fickling, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
December can be a month fraught with mixed emotions and meaning – from holidays, to the changing seasons, to memories, it offers opportunity for reflection and self-nurturing if we allow ourselves the time. Starting this month, a group of students enrolled in a course I had the privilege of teaching, will serve as guest contributors to See the Triumph with a focus on mental health, wellness, and self-care for those touched by intimate partner violence.
We are a group of six women in a course titled Women’s Issues in Counseling. We come from all walks of life and all different academic disciplines. What we share, however, is a commitment to understanding and acknowledging the ways the social construct of gender impacts our individual and collective well-being. We have diverse interests, so you will hear about IPV from a variety of angles. We hope you will hear themes of hope and caring – themes which permeate the stories shared through See the Triumph all year round.
This semester, we have learned and shared about a variety of topics and their impact on the lives of women and people of all genders. There have been moments of courage, vulnerability, and healing in our time together. We have chosen to contribute to See the Triumph as a way to reach beyond the classroom to raise public awareness about mental health, wellness, and the impact of violence. We are grateful to be able to connect with you in this way.
By sharing our lessons and our stories we hope that you may feel empowered to speak out, share this information with a friend, or challenge hurtful words or behaviors when you see them. We also hope you will feel that you are not in this alone. As we move through the month of December and the days get shorter, I hope our words can be a source of light as we all continue our journey toward wellness and survival and triumph.
The term self-care refers to any behavior or practice which enhances or maintains wellness in one or more areas of your life, from physical to emotional to spiritual wellness. To start us thinking about ways we can practice caring for ourselves, we invite you to ask yourself the following questions:
Melissa J. Fickling, MA, LPC, NCC is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Counseling & Educational Development at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is the instructor for CED 574A: Women’s Issues in Counseling for the 2014-2015 academic year. Melissa has worked as a counselor in college, community, and private practice settings where she specializes in issues related to work, career, and transition. Melissa completed her doctoral cognate in Women’s and Gender Studies at UNCG. She is on track to graduate with her Ph.D. in May of 2015. Her dissertation is examining career counselors’ perceptions of social justice advocacy behaviors.
By Olga Phoenix, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
My name is Olga, and I am a Vicarious Trauma Survivor…
Between 40%-85% of “helping professionals” develop vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and high rates of traumatic symptoms (Mathieu, 2012).
How do we become vicarious trauma statistics?
Seven years ago, I was training new domestic violence advocates on the topic of "Domestic Violence and Children Who Witness It." In the middle of my training I called for an emergency break and asked my training partner to continue without me. I ran outside, nauseated, covered in cold sweat, my heart exploding out of my chest, and ready to pass out. I was experiencing a full blown panic attack as a result of the material I was training on. Back then, it didn't occur to me to connect my adverse reaction to the fact that I witnessed my father murdering my mother as a child.
After that panic attack incident my family and friends urged me to leave the field, concerned about my mental and physical health, my nightmares, my growing isolation and withdrawal, and my lack of life outside of work. I stayed because I felt that I had to stay no matter what, for my mom. I felt like I owed her that, to be working towards domestic violence elimination daily.
Seven year ago, I thought that I was a Wonder Woman and my past did not define me. I still think exactly the same, except now I know that in order to help someone else heal, I first have to heal my own personal wounds, and then continue practicing radical vicarious trauma prevention and wellness in order to maintain a life free of vicarious trauma while working in the trauma field. The majority of us come to trauma-related work for a reason, often having our personal untreated histories of trauma, which makes us vulnerable to vicarious traumatization.
My supervisor suggested I try therapy. That was one of the best suggestions that I ever took, and it started my seven year journey to healing and wellness. After a while, I learned that I don't owe anything to anyone, including my mom. I do this work because it inspires, empowers, and moves me. I get to do this work because I feel like I am contributing to bettering of the world, and that makes me feel like a real Wonder Woman. But in order to get to work in the trauma field, I must take care of myself. I must put myself first, always, because doing this is not selfish, but brave and effective. Putting myself first keeps me healthy and balanced in all areas of my life, for me, for my family, and for my clients.
As victim advocates (aka helping/trauma professionals) we tend to wrap our whole identity around our work, our partner, and/or our children, trying to please everyone. We are constantly reaching for perfection, and forgetting ourselves in the process. We often fall short of our unreachable expectations. Perfection is impossible. Perfection is really a myth, created to keep us forever dissatisfied, guilty, and ashamed of ourselves. We are always striving for more, better, faster, but keep coming up short. This cycle, which keeps us out of balance, prevents us from building healthy and full life.
I must foster and nurture life outside of work. I need to know I am not just a “victim advocate.” I am a friend, a sister, a mother, a cousin, an auntie. I’m spiritual, vulnerable seeker of wisdom, and an ocean lover. I can be intellectual, connected with nature, goofy, and loud at times. Sometimes I just feel lazy and want to escape to Tahiti. I’m also a student, a writer, world traveler, and a lover, who is full of life and gratitude. I can be a compassionate self-forgiver who is sometimes very hard on herself, but I know that life is a journey, not a destination. It’s progress, not perfection that counts. There are myriad of facets of me, and this doesn’t even scratch the surface. I’m sure the same is true for you.
Most of us, victim's advocates and other trauma professionals, love our jobs. We are often individuals who want to change the world, to eliminate human suffering, to make a difference in the lives of other people. And in our jobs, we can do it all! We are the Wonder Women and Wonder Men who create social change daily. We are also people who have real troubles with taking care of ourselves, who feel guilty about taking vacations, who only take a break when we are really sick, who expect perfection of ourselves. The results are tragic, really. We lose committed, dedicated, and deeply caring trauma professionals to vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout.
Like me, you may have wondered, how do I prevent vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout from creeping into my life? How do I do this all as a victim advocate, often overworked, underpaid, emotionally, and physically drained? Fortunately, vicarious trauma is preventable. If you are interested in learning more about vicarious trauma prevention, my new book "Victim Advocate's Guide to Wellness: Six Dimensions of Vicarious Trauma-Free Life" could be of help. It is your personal guide to living healthy and content while thriving in a trauma-related field.
This piece is adapted from "Victim Advocate's Guide to Wellness: Six Dimensions of Vicarious Trauma-Free Life" by Olga Phoenix. For more blogs, videos, webinars, and training dates please visit www.olgaphoenix.com. Olga Phoenix is a national speaker, trainer, and an advocate. She is a founder and president of Olga Phoenix Project: Healing for Social Change, an organization dedicated to foster vicarious trauma prevention among trauma professionals, and to promote accessible, culturally relevant, and trauma-informed responses to trauma survivors through keynotes, trainings, and webinars. Ms. Phoenix is a Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime Training and Technical Assistance Center Expert Consultant and Trainer on trauma-informed services, underserved populations, and vicarious trauma prevention; a member of Training and Mentoring Team at National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence; as well as a member and motivational speaker at Elite Speaker's Bureau, Inc. Her new book about self-care and vicarious trauma prevention "Victim Advocate's Guide to Wellness: Six Dimensions of Vicarious Trauma-Free Life" came out in September 2014 and is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon.com @ http://www.amazon.com/Olga-Phoenix/e/B00N9M6MDU/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1414527624&sr=1-2-ent. Ms. Phoenix graduated with a Masters of Public Administration and Nonprofit Management from the University of South Florida, Masters of Arts in Women’s Studies from Florida Atlantic University, and is currently a Doctorate Candidate at California Institute of Integral Studies.
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
As a professor in a counseling program, I am a strong believer in the power of counseling to help people heal from past abuse, along with addressing a variety of other mental health, life, and relationship challenges they may face. According to the American Counseling Association, counseling is defined as “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.” Therefore, counseling offers many potential benefits to survivors of abuse and others whose lives are touched by domestic violence to both help address problems that arise related to the abuse and promote their future health and wellness.
Seeking counseling can be an important part of self-care for survivors of abuse, as well as for professionals who work with them and others in their support networks. Some of the reasons that people affected by domestic violence may seek counseling include the following:
For survivors of abuse, it is especially important to seek out a counselor who is competent to understand and address the dynamics of domestic violence, as I’ve written about in this past blog post: http://www.seethetriumph.org/blog/finding-a-counselor-who-is-competent-to-serve-survivors. From our research with survivors, we heard from some participants about problems they encountered from counselors who lacked this competence. For example, one participant said, “The therapist I was seeing during the abusive relationship didn't identify what was happening as abusive. He told me I was ‘triggering’ my ex's controlling behavior and sexual assaults, and encouraged me to focus on my own ‘contributions’ to the problem rather than find ways to stay safe. He also referred the two of us for couple's counseling, which also reinforced the idea that I was partially responsible for my ex's abusive behavior.”
When I hear stories of negative counseling experiences like that one, I’m deeply troubled that some people don’t find the support and help they need when they seek counseling. And, I’m reminded of the importance of clients being very careful in the process of selecting a suitable counselor. If you don’t find a helpful counselor on your first attempt, keep looking! It’s important to find a counselor who you feel comfortable with so that you’ll be able to address the most important issues that you’re facing.
Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of our research participants who mentioned counseling as part of their healing process reported positive experiences. The following quotes from survivors who participated in our research support the value of counseling for survivors as part of their overall self-care practices:
By: Alyson Swann, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
You are a survivor, and healing is an ongoing process. Poetry is one way to explore the healing process and build yourself up through self-expression. In my opinion, poetry is one of the most beneficial forms of healing. The art of writing poetry is an amazing tool for healing and personal growth. It provides unique opportunities of self-discovery and self-love. Life and energy are discovered through the words of poetry. The writing of poetry gives us the chance to discover how our vulnerabilities and strengths thrive together. Poetry gives voice to what is wounded in our lives, and has the power to guide us through rough times. Poetry profoundly heals and transforms! Poetry is life!
Helpful Steps in Writing Poetry:
1. Choose a subject that connects to your innermost thoughts, struggles, and experiences. Allow your mind to partner with your heart in creating a focus of the poem. What is it that your heart wants to say? How would you like to convey your experiences and emotions through words and the images that live within them?
2. Decide what message or mood you want the poem to portray. How can you lift yourself up, as well as others, through your poem? How can you allow your voice to be heard? Through pain? Through hope? Through faith?
3. Consider the style of writing that you would like to articulate your thoughts in. There is no limit to the ways in which you can express yourself through poetry!
4. Once you have created your poem, read it out loud! Explore your words and connect yourself with them. Release the voice from within! Embrace the healing of self through self-expression!