Trauma Survivors and Assault in the News

If you are a survivor of abuse or assault, it may at times be very difficult dealing with the news cycle on a day-to-day basis. Not only may we hear and read about details of experiences that mirror our own, we also hear a great deal of public discourse around those kinds of traumatic and personal events. In some ways this may be even worse.

Hearing public figures and people in authority expressing doubt, denial, and minimization of survivors’ experiences is often a rerun of the kinds of responses we may have experienced ourselves when we tried to tell parents, friends, family members, or others we hoped would help us. People in our present lives may also be expressing disbelief or minimization about other survivors’ accounts in a way that re-opens our own past wounds and invalidates our experiences.

The lack of support or even belief around assault is in some ways as injurious to survivors as the actual assault was. The underlying message we may internalize is “I’m not important enough to protect or believe.”

You may find you are having trauma symptoms without recognizing them for what they are. It’s common to see increased insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, depression and anxiety symptoms generally (OCD, GAD, panic, etc.), irritability, difficulty concentrating, hopelessness, and so forth. Always pay attention to an increase in your symptoms–it’s a sign that whatever the reason, you need to make sure you are giving yourself more support, flexibility, and care.

Remember, this does not mean you are “not working hard enough” on your healing. It just means trauma can leave us vulnerable to PTSD flare-ups at times. (If you’re being hard on yourself for experiencing symptoms, remember, it does not mean you are “weak.”)

What can I do?

Limit your exposure to triggering material: we certainly want to be informed about the world around us, but it’s easy to get sucked into obsessively monitoring the radio, social media, or TV for news that goes over and over the same points. If you need to, give yourself a specific window of time to take in the material. But make it short, and recognize that you may need to account for how it may affect your functioning afterwards. If others insist on discussing it, it is okay to say you need to not hear about it for a while.

Be around supportive others: if you have friends or family who are especially minimizing, it will be harmful for you to be around them all the time with no validating voices to neutralize them. Spend some time in person, on the phone, or even online with people you know are supportive and trustworthy. Maybe friends, your therapist, a relative, or your clergy. (If no one you know is available when you really need to talk, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline [800-656-4673].) For those lucky folks who have a pet, hug an animal companion. They are often our most ardent and nonjudgmental supporters!

Take care of yourself. If you tend to dissociate from your symptoms, you may not even realize how stressed you are feeling. Re-visit how to do self-care if you have allowed it to slide a bit. If you have worked on your recovery before, now is a good time to re-visit interventions that have worked for you before. If you have not worked on your recovery, now is the time to start!

For a general overview of how PTSD affects survivors of sexual assault, here is a short article.

Blue-Collar Brilliance

Whatever your race, ethnicity, class background, rural or urban: your brilliance is valid! Your dialect, your accent, your ways of expressing are valid (and needed)! You enrich culture and you enrich the world.

You Are Not “Lazy”

“I’m not getting enough done, I’m so lazy.” “I ended up hardly doing anything Sunday and I felt so lazy.” “I need to get this one task done, but I keep being lazy about it.” “After work I’m just too lazy to work out.” “I’m too lazy to keep track of things.”

In fact, I have never met a lazy person.

I’ve met people who are: overworked, exhausted, sleep-deprived, in chronic pain, ill, mired in depressive episodes, struggling with anxiety, stuck in intolerable situations, and having attention difficulties, but I’ve never met a lazy person.

“Lazy” doesn’t really mean anything clinically. It’s a “folk” term, and it is primarily used as a pejorative towards self or others. One patient summed it up as “not doing what you think you ‘should‘,” and I think that’s a good all-around summation.

Calling yourself “lazy” is usually an internalized message from caregivers in your formative years. It could have been directed towards you or towards others. The message is “You are unacceptable unless you do what I want, regardless of your ability, wishes, or how you are feeling.”

If you are injured, walk it off! If you are tired, too bad! If you are sick, it can’t be that bad since you’re not actually in an ambulance on the way to the hospital! Just because you don’t want to do something is no reason not to do it! You’re just “lazy”! In other words, how you feel and what you want do not matter. Ignore your own feelings and your wishes.

“Lazy” has also been used (and still is) as a way to demean racial minorities, those with disabilities, the poor, and women. Please be especially careful not to re-enact racism, ableism, classism, and sexism on yourself by calling yourself lazy!

The implication is that if you would just “will” yourself to do whatever it is, then you would be acceptable and worthy. If not, then you must just be a bad, unworthy person and you must deserve bad treatment.

The fact is, you are already acceptable and worthy, without doing anything to “earn” that worth. Now, you might feel better or happier if you were doing certain things, and they are certainly worth trying, to see if that is the case. But telling yourself you are “lazy” is not helpful.

Feeling awful about yourself is not a good motivator for anyone. And it is in no way helpful in mitigating situational factors, such as poverty or prejudice. In fact, it is likely to worsen your exhaustion, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and concentration, which will make it even harder to do whatever it is you would like to be doing.

Instead of calling yourself lazy when you did not do something you intended to, try paying attention to your feelings. Are you tired? Has it been weeks since you had a good night’s sleep? Have you been working 60 hours at three different jobs? Do you have an infant or a toddler? Are you taking care of others’ needs? Are you sick? Are you getting sick? Are you going through an exhausting life transition? Are you grieving? Are you experiencing chronic pain or illness? Are you in a depressive episode? Are you experiencing anxiety/phobia about certain tasks? Do you have PTSD? Are there systemic barriers to your tasks that make them much harder than they are for others? Have you been paying attention to self-care?

It may be that you have internalized some unrealistic expectations for what you “should” be able to do. It may be that some others can do the thing you want to do. It may be that on “good” days you have been able to do twenty times as much as you are doing today. But where are you, just you, today, right here, right now? Maybe you’re doing the best you can with what you have at your disposal right now. Maybe that is enough.

Another day, you may be able to do something more or something different. But accepting yourself right now is even more important than doing the thing. And that does not make anyone “lazy.”