The desire for revenge or getting even after being betrayed or victimized is so strong that it can literally draw more abuse to you. This is true even if the abuse happened long ago when you were a child.
This story is about getting even. Sarah was mugged by a stranger while walking in her neighborhood. Victim Services referred Sarah to me for counseling because she was suffering from acute PTSD and was afraid to go out of her house at night. Her face was all battered and bruised with a bandage still on her head where she got cut pretty badly. She looked and sounded awful. Instead of sitting on my client sofa, she curled up on it in a fetal position.
Shock & Trauma
Initially, I had to treat Sarah’s shock symptoms rather than focusing on her trauma. I tried various ways such as helping her breathe more fully. She was actually short of breath and I noticed that she would yawn from time to time and seemed dissociated. I had her doing some deep breathing exercises to get her back in her body and I focused on empowering her. I also tried to stay attuned to her and reflected back what she said and even tried to mirror her body posture a bit.
In our book Healing Developmental Trauma we discuss the importance of working with the symptoms of shock before trying to address the client’s trauma. Gradually I could hold her attention and we could explore her past a bit.
In working with her over several months I began to discover that Sarah had been physically abused and emotionally abandoned as a young child. She felt like a victim as a child and now she was re-experiencing these feeling after her assault. At first she had very little memory of her childhood, but gradually she began to remember incidents and talked about them.
In my book, Breaking Family Patterns, Book One: How To Identify Your Family Patterns, I write about “Getting Even” as a pattern that will continue to show up in your life if you do not heal it. In the case of Sarah, the unresolved anger and resentment she carried as an adult possibly drew her attacker to her. A seemingly random act of violence can be caused by unhealed trauma and family patterns.
Expressing Feelings: The Pathway To Healing Trauma
My first attempts at helping Sarah heal her early childhood trauma involved helping her to recall the feelings she felt in these incidents. I found out she actually had a deep fear of feeling her feelings. She said she was afraid that her feelings would overwhelm her. With the safety I provided, she began to express feelings of deep sadness and grief connected to her experiences of being physically abused and emotionally abandoned. I also helped her express her anger at her parents for the way they treated her.
In Breaking Family Patterns Book Two: How to Change you Family Patterns, I describe a process of clearing old resentments and anger. I used parts of this process with Sarah to help her clear her resentments and anger. Finally, I was able to help her express her anger about the mugging and beating. As she connected her childhood feelings with the developmental traumas she suffered to her feelings about her current trauma, her fear of leaving the house began to decrease.
Sarah began to take walks through her neighborhood during the day and by using a tool I taught her, called the “Trauma Elimination Technique,” she could process any times she would get triggered by something that reminded her of her beating. This healing tool is described in Healing Developmental Trauma, Chapter 10. We have taught many of our clients how to use this tool to help them heal any remaining reactions from their developmental trauma that caused them to be triggered in some way. Whenever and wherever this happened they had a tool to use that helped them re- regulated their emotions and helped them through their reactions.