- Newsfeeds featuring sexual abuse can trigger survivors, making self-soothing necessary for them and anyone supporting the healing process.
- Self-care strategies such as music and exercise can help mitigate PTSD triggers from the news cycle.
- Listening to sex abuse news stories with a "macro filter" may help one process the details easier.
Sexual abuse fills our daily newsfeeds. Just this month alone, there is sexual assault news from the Boy Scouts, Catholic Church, US Hockey, Hollywood, and the White House. How can victims and survivors heal effectively while being constantly triggered as the stories, lawsuits, and judicial systems evolve?
Whether you are the one being triggered or helping a loved one or patient, the first step is to fully allow the story to unfold. Then, self-care for both the survivor and the supporter is essential. Listening to adults' recant trauma can take an emotional toll; however, it's the most generous gift you can give someone working to move beyond trauma.
Childhood development and trauma expert Dr. Gabor Maté says, "Trauma is the invisible force that shapes our lives, the way we love, and the way we make sense of the world." Facing the truth, focusing on self-care, and establishing self-soothing structures are ways to support healing on all sides of this tough topic.
In this post, I describe how to cope and heal effectively as our society learns to use its trauma for growth.
1. Be Aware of the News
First, locate yourself in the current news cycle. Due to the #MeToo movement and laws empowering survivors, thankfully many organizations face accountability and financial setbacks for protecting sexual assault perpetrators. See the successes and limit judgment. Some of these organizations/industries currently being held accountable include:
- Boy Scouts of America: On July 1, 2021, the Boy Scouts of America reached an $850 million agreement with sex abuse victims. It's among the largest sums in U.S. history involving cases of sexual abuse and is pivotal in the organization's bankruptcy case. It makes history in holding organizations accountable for protecting pedophiles who systematically prey upon children.
- Catholic Church: Pope Francis clarified penalties for sex abuse most recently in June 2021.
- US Hockey: Three adult men told their story to CBS's Dave Savini in May 2021 which included allegations and a lawsuit that their hockey coach, Tom "Chico" Adrahtas posed as a woman named "Sheila" and abused them when they were teens and rising stars in youth hockey. US Hockey, the University of Minnesota, and the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois (AHAI) are cited in the lawsuit. The men formed a nonprofit, Survivors for Change, and a documentary about their allegations is in production.
- Hollywood: Bill Cosby's sexual assault conviction is overturned, and the actor will be let out of jail due to a technicality.
- White House: On July 2, 2021, the White House released sexual assault findings in the military.
I'm an international publicist and a sex abuse survivor who put my childhood perpetrator in jail at the age of 17. I have to endure whatever truth is exposed in the newsfeeds to do my job effectively. Over 32 years of reading and pitching the news cycle, I've successfully moved from victim to victor in my own trauma story by first facing the truth, no matter what. This applies to my professional and personal life.
How do I do that? As I listen to the news cycle every day, I navigate the truth and let go of hyperbole. (I do this with gossip, too. After all, gossip is just someone's story of reality. Learn to listen without judgment.) After first facing the truth of what other survivors are saying to journalists and juries, I listen through my "macro-filter." Let me explain what that is.
2. Listen Through a Macro-filter
In my human development graduate studies, I researched how humans are meaning-making machines. What empowers me most as I listen to a noisy newsfeed is how the news fits inside the commitments that make up my life. I do that by categorizing what I hear into "macro" and "micro" conversations.
For example, I'm quite committed to a trauma-informed society, so as I listen to the news details, I listen for whether or not society at large is moving toward or away from a trauma-informed society for survivors and victims. The "trauma-informed society" becomes my macro-filter.
When a victim tells his or her story, I classify it as a success inside the "trauma-informed society" commitment I have for not only my future but for society's future. This helps me move past horrifying details that exist on a micro-level. Sticking with "macro" versus "micro" conversations helps me process the details of the news stories that feed our lives.
3. Allow All Details
Listen to a survivor's story without interruption and listen to all its details without judgment. Eve Ensler wrote a book called The Apology which details her relationship with her abusive father. I attended a group reading this book aloud in a coffee shop in Asheville, NC in 2019. We were asked to bring our own apology letters if we cared to read aloud.
I wrote an apology letter I would have loved to have received from my pedophile's mother, whom Kentucky state detectives told me was the original perpetrator of the man who abused me. They were both my next-door neighbors where I lived in Valley Station, a suburb outside of Louisville, Kentucky.
The meeting was moderated by two professional male therapists. After the gathering, one of them came up to me and asked if my story of abuse was real or made-up. He said, "Certainly it can't be real. I almost stopped you. Your details were horrific. That couldn't have happened to you." I assured him my story was 100% true and real and then I comforted him by saying, "I'm sorry. Is that hard to hear?"
Later that night, my husband, who had overheard the conversation said, "Just because our society resists hearing the truth of what happens to 8-year-olds behind closed doors doesn't mean you shouldn't tell your story. If we ever hope to change society, we all must be willing to hear what's actually happening."
I'm grateful for the wise words from my husband. Ironically, I received an apology from the other male moderator for his co-facilitator's behavior. All too many times, survivors are silenced because others simply don't want to listen to the trauma.
The best gift you can give a victim is simply listening. Listening without judgment opens the door to healing. So many are hurting in silence, especially our boys and men who deserve a seat at our #MeToo table.
4. Plan Self-Care and Self-Soothing Rituals
Luckily, I entered therapy when I was 17 and have researched personal development my whole life. That led to self-care, self-soothing, and consistent positive responses to trauma triggers. Addiction, abuse, and the general numbing of pain plague most people, especially those recovering from trauma.
Dr. Gabor Maté says, "Trauma is not the bad things that happen to you, but what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you."
Once triggered, it's imperative to have a self-care and self-soothing checklist to reference to assist the brain and body cope with the aftermath of PTSD. What I've learned through the years is that PTSD and trauma do not cause mental illness, but rather mental injury. I like to think of it like the scar I have on my right shin from whitewater kayaking. I know it's there because I see it and sometimes that scar hurts when it rains. (Really, it does.) However, it doesn't define my ability to kayak nor does it impede my mountain biking. I simply am aware it's there. Naturally, if I wreck on a downhill trail or flip in a class-4 rapid, I would be concerned if my shin were to be reinjured, so I wear protective gear to keep it safe. My self-care routine for PTSD triggers from the news cycle is my personal protective gear. Here are some ideas. Perhaps they'll inspire and empower you:
- Make music memories. I love listening to popular music from high school or vacations as a way to get untriggered. Be sure to choose positive music memories, though! I also teach indoor cycling for fun because of its focus on music.
- Walk it out. Moving my body in any way, especially walking, helps me work through being triggered. I especially like to listen to audiobooks or podcasts. This way, my obsessive thinking is replaced by education or entertainment.
- Float in water. Whether it's a bath, a salt floatation tank, or a nearby swimming hole, I love to simply float. The suspension of my body helps my brain relax and I can re-center my thoughts on priority commitments.
- Talk it out. You can call a friend and chit-chat, but even better to hire a therapist who is trained to listen to trauma and help you work through it. I am blessed to have never had inhibitions when it comes to seeking therapeutic help. I do know people who resist therapy, believing it's for weak and ill people. We've come a long way in mental health since the 20th century. Alas, we have a long way yet to go. I credit my abilities to be resilient, creative, and solution-seeking to personal development courses, therapy, and consistent self-growth since my early 20s. "Talk therapy" starts with your internal voice. You know the voice in your head that just said, "What voice?" That voice. You could have a conversation with just yourself, but a conversation with another living human being cuts through triggers like nothing else.
- Be open to new modalities. Years ago when my dad died, a hospice grief counselor recommended I try EMDR. It was new and not as researched as it is today. I loved the results it provided me and now it's proven to impact PTSD in a positive manner. Being open to new modalities can truly impact your life.
I've been coping with PTSD now since I was eight years old. This year I'll turn 52. That's a lifetime of coping. I'm succeeding. I don't take it lightly, as I've been on the receiving end of phone calls from survivors contemplating suicide. Numbing our pain is only human, but we can turn trauma into triumph.
The news cycle is a way to practice this shift day-to-day. Headlines have and always will be shocking and most likely triggering for people suffering from PTSD. It's these reports on macro conversations of humanity that bind us all together. Building a positive relationship to these newsfeeds, especially in a world where it's difficult to divorce yourself from your smartphone feeds, is an essential self-care strategy.
Stories we consume, consume us. It's up to you and me to say whether or not that consumption is a trigger or a tool for our future.
“Wisdom of Trauma,” Dr. Gabor Maté, 2021, Zaya and Maurizio Benazzo/Science and Nonduality (SAND).