Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Not All Trauma Victims Are Treated Equally

by Philip Foley

Have you ever considered who you validate as a “true” trauma victim?  The people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I’d like you to ponder this thought for a bit.  To gain insight into why you may not treat all victims of a catastrophic injury the same way, you may want to examine the culture, religion, and social conditions in which you were raised and live in.

Perhaps part of the problem is that not all catastrophic injury is evident.  I do not suggest in any way that the PTSD suffered from a visible injury is any less traumatic than a covert, hidden injury only that they are both equally traumatic.  My wife was impregnated by rape as a young teen and was forced to live with secret, crippling trauma for most of her adult life.  Not knowing what to look for made it difficult for me to recognize the signs of acute trauma. 

It is fairly easy to empathize with someone who suffers the loss of a limb or is known to be battling cancer. What is more difficult is when the trauma comes from an invisible, covert or "unacceptable" source.  The vast majority of child abuse and sexual assault’s are not witnessed.  Most often there are no visible signs.

Thankfully, today our society publicly supports our military personnel.  We are better at accepting that not all the catastrophic war injuries are obvious to us.  We have a greater understanding of the consequences of sending our youth off to protect our freedom.  Those of us who remember the returning Viet Nam vets know this was not always the case.

We can use this same parallel to address how we treat victims of sexual assault and other unseen traumatic events.  Perhaps you are already aware that over 25 percent of our children are victims of sexual assault before they reach the age of 18.  If over 25 percent of our population had the bird flu, our government would mobilize into high gear to stop the epidemic.  Yet this epidemic of sexual assault is greatly ignored.  The ignored traumas of these victims eventually implode or explode. The personal, social and cultural cost of this unrecognized trauma is substantial. 

As individuals and as a society we can help all victims of trauma.  We can begin by educating ourselves and others about the signs of trauma and by extending compassion to the victims.  We can support trauma victims by encouraging them to speak about what happened to them, by not turning away because we are uncomfortable.  We can reflect back to them their goodness, their courage.  We must withhold our requirement for them to “forgive” and to “heal,” and allow them to discover their own path.

Through this shared journey of understanding with a victim, we in turn gain a greater understanding of ourselves. When a victim of PTSD is provided the time needed to dispel misconceptions, discover unknown truths, and acquire better understanding of themselves and their ordeal, we will be rewarded with knowing a person experiencing a full life, with a freedom that comes from acknowledgement of the torment that held them prisoner.

My wife and I encourage all victims to acknowledge what was “done to them” and speak.

With compassion and an open mind we can make life a little better for ALL those who suffer from a PTSD.