Unprocessed Trauma and Emotional Pain Cannot Be Ignored

(Note: Parts of this article were previously published in sections in other articles on this blog)

“Re-living childhood trauma will not make you better. Get on with your life.”

Albert Einstein said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”

Einstein knew there is no past, present, and future –only the illusion that time creates. Telling a person who has been sexually violated as a child that they need to move on with their life, is re-abusing a previous victim. It’s also a statement that is incongruous with the human mind.

The subconscious mind cannot put abuse in the past until it is dealt with in the present. Flashbacks, body memories, and the fear experienced by the adult survivor are intense, as well as dreadfully real. Those who feel that an abuse survivor should just “let it go” often say these words for their own comfort. If a survivor denies their past, then those who are uncomfortable hearing about the abuse can also deny its existence, and therefore, live in a self-made ‘blissful’ ignorance.

Experts who have worked with war concentration camp survivors say the only way to effectively help the survivors have a more peaceful existence is to regress them to the horrors of living under the Nazis.

William G. Niederland, M.D. found that by mentally taking war survivors back to the trauma, and working against their inclination to repress, suppress, and deny the trauma…. they can heal their somatic and other symptoms.

A person who is traumatized cannot alter their conscious actions without addressing their subconscious drives.

“Everyone has problems in their life, everyone gets depressed from time to time. Using psychoanalysis to look for childhood problems will not help you.”

Niederland found that psychotherapy is the best way to treat mentally disrupted Nazi concentration camp survivors. Many of the patients he treated displayed and expressed similar, if not identical symptoms, to those found in adults who had once mentally repressed sexual abuse. Niederland found that because of the deep guilt, numb feelings, grief, and high number of somatic symptoms in previous prisoners of war, the process of healing was often difficult, slow, and long-term.  He noted that his patients often suppressed their experiences. They denied their pain and trauma by literally putting it “out of existence.”

Survivors of child sexual abuse are often told they should just “move on,” but traumatic memory must be dealt with, acknowledged, and attended to. Somatic and emotional symbols must be made coherent and spoken in language, instead of beating the person down with physical symptoms or emotional problems. Survivors must truly experience their past –instead of denying it.

Suffering left unattended can only cause damage. I don’t know where the critics of psychoanalysis expect the undischarged emotions to go. It is like leaving a program with a virus inside your computer and saying “I don’t know what good it will do to find the infected program and remove it.”

If the traumatic material remains in the subconscious mind, it will always have control, and no amount of positive thinking, reality therapy, or medication will ever quiet it. On the contrary, positive thinking, behavioral therapy, and pharmaceutical drugs will eventually cause the subconscious mind to revolt. The unconscious will grow angry because it is being ignored, minimized, or numbed with medication.

When survivors of sexual abuse go through emotional breakdowns, destructive behaviors, physical ailments, and unyielding depression, it is the subconscious mind letting them know the abuse needs to be dealt with. It is simple-minded to think that a person with a massive amount of physical symptoms, severe depression, and debilitating emotional problems can just change their attitude towards life by ignoring or medicating the disturbances taking place in their mind and body.

“When you are under hypnosis, you are in an increased state of suggestion.”

Skeptics continue to push the same false notions and misrepresentations about the use of hypnoanalysis without updating their information. When a person does hypnotherapy, they are in a heightened state of awareness and experience an alertness of their true feelings. The patient normally has an acute knowledge of any untruth spoken by the therapist and any false statements will be rejected. One study demonstrates that those who remember childhood abuse after years of dissociating, are even less suggestible.

One expert says that therapists, who are competent and experienced in hypnoanalysis, are less likely to help create false memories in clients than psychotherapists who don’t use hypnosis.

Hypnotherapy has even been successfully used during periods of World War Two. Kaufman used hypnosis on 2,500 military patients. Eighty-five percent of the subjects returned to duty because of the healing abilities associated with the technique. The lives of five patients were saved by the use of hypnotherapy when it helped them during severe asthma attacks known as “status asthmaticus” which are not normally treatable with standard medical treatments for the asthma.

Hypnotherapy induced regressions in one war veteran allowed him to be symptom free after forty years of chronic PTSD, severe depression, and on-going periods of dissociation. His treatment involved reprocessing the negative emotions that resulted from his trauma in the war. This was accomplished with a “safe-remembering hypnotic method.” Hypnotic dreams along with normal dreams were used in his treatment. The patient subsequently remembered something during therapy that had previously been repressed, and this became a key part of his healing.

In another example, three cases of “chronic war neurosis” were successfully treated with hypnotherapy by integrating the patient’s previously repressed memories of horrible suffering.

Eli Somer, Ph.D. worked with Holocaust survivors who had been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Somer writes that talk therapy was not working for these patients because some of them were unable to get in touch with their painful traumatic experiences. Somer says that treating the complications of PTSD is not only a huge challenge that can take a toll on both patient and therapist, but that it often entails an emotionally difficult process of remembering what was previously blocked.

When people are placed in a traumatic situation which is inescapable, the person enters an “automatic obedience” to block the pain. This standard is tailored for continued emotional existence for some Holocaust survivors –just as it is in children that are continuously confronted with sexual violation by an adult.

Somers wisely remarked that if the repressed issues remain inside the victims and go untreated, it becomes a “symbolic victory for the perpetrators.”

“It is easier to blame someone else than to face one’s own problems and to change them.”

Holding a person responsible for a crime against a child is not about blaming them for the adult survivor’s personal problems. It is placing the responsibility for the abuse on the perpetrator and it points to the root cause of the adult survivor’s difficulties in life.

Lynn Crook successfully sued her parents after remembering as an adult that she had been a victim of incest. In Crook vs. Murphy and Murphy, the judge showed his wisdom when he examined the defense’s claims of revenge. He could not find any evidence of vindictiveness in the case, in Lynn’s persona, or in her history. The court concluded that he did not see any reason for malevolence, nor did he find it to be a motive in the case. In fact, he felt that if malice had been a motive for Lynn to take legal action against her parents, then it would be the result of her having been the victim of incest, not due to fabrication of it.

“Clients are told by their therapist that recovering memories of child sexual abuse will help them overcome their problems.”

If memories, or a previous suspicion of childhood abuse, have already been established, then the therapist is not necessarily incorrect in making this statement. It is true that a person can overcome suffering by remembering and facing their unresolved trauma, but a person cannot heal from a false memory.

If uncovering memories of unprocessed trauma is the path to a new life, then I would think any reasonable human being would embrace such a concept. With competent help, the person suffering will eventually overcome each phase of healing. With determination and patience, a survivor will turn the memories into something that can no longer hurt them consciously, physically, emotionally, or in relationships. Anne Hart put it wonderfully, “After the information is made conscious, it can enter into normal declarative memory and fade into the past, rather than being stored as symptoms.”

“She wasn’t sexually abused, she has a ‘personality disorder’.”

“Borderline personality disorder” and “personality disorder” have a direct link to severe childhood abuse. A study done on 290 inpatients that had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder found that the patient’s bpd was caused by having been frequently abused as children and that the abuse lasted more than a year. Other key reasons were that the person was vaginally or anally raped as a child, that the perpetrator used other kinds of violence, and the abuse was carried out by a primary care-giver, often including more than one perpetrator. These are all commonly reported factors in cases of repressed sexual abuse memories.

The National Trauma Consortium says eighty-one percent of adults who have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder were abused as a child. Common sense tells us that if a person displays signs of a personality disorder, shows symptoms of having been abused, and says they have recently remembered being abused, then the chances are excellent that they were a victim as a child –not suffering from some kind of chemical or hormonal imbalance. However, child abuse alters chemicals and hormones in the brain and body of the victim.

The symptoms of personality disorders are commonly experienced by both those with continuous and repressed memories of child sexual abuse. Women are two to three times more likely to have a PD, and it is associated with having been a victim of incest as a child. Whitfield refers to the long list of physical, psychological, and emotional problems which stem from PTSD and sexual abuse. He points out that they are the result of what the trauma does to a child, not a ‘defect’ in their personality.

Complications of the mind that are labeled as a “disorder” are actually due to external influences projected onto a child by parents, siblings, and other significant people. The human mind has the ability to alter chemistry and hormones. Tagging people with all kind of deficiencies can be detrimental to their ultimate well-being. Doing so causes many people to accept the diagnosis as ‘just a part of themselves,’ and they mistakenly feel that medication or ‘learning to live with it’ is the only way to go forward.

“She is suffering from therapy induced delusions”

Several rebuttal studies show that memories are usually not brought on by therapy and that the majority of memories are recalled outside of therapy. The Elliot study reveals that those who suffered full memory loss of their traumatic experiences reported that psychotherapy had been the least common triggerfor the memories to return.

In one study, 108 therapists reported on 690 clients who had experienced repressed abuse or other traumatic memories. Thirty-two percent of the clients began to remember their history of trauma before they began therapy. Thirty-five percent remembered traumas other than sexual abuse, and sixty-five percent had repressed sexual abuse. Seventy-eight percent of the recollections started before any memory work began or before the person sought therapy at all.

Leavitt found that hypnosis played a significant part in remembering child sexual abuse in only four percent of therapy patients. This study indicates that there is no “worldwide epidemic of hypnotic delusions” involving repressed memories.

Another study done in 1999 revealed that forty-five percent of participants who experienced total repression for sexual abuse, and forty-eight percent for physical abuse, “were not involved” in therapy or under any psychological care when they first began to remember the abuse. Out of twenty-five percent of the participants in the category of having sexual abuse memories, twenty-one said that no suggestion had been made to them or played a role in their memories.

Out of the twenty who had remembered physical abuse, seventeen said no one brought up abuse prior to their remembering it. Twelve out of twenty-five people who had reported sexual abuse memories had remembered for the first time while at home. One had been at work, one did not know, and nine were placed in a category of “other.” Only two were in therapy when the recall occurred. Thirteen of the twenty-five were alone when the memories came back. One participant had a dream that was considered a memory and one had been under hypnosis.

A California attorney who has represented well over one hundred cases of adult survivors of child sexual abuse, says that most of her clients who dissociated from the memories (about twenty-five percent), began to recall the abuse before they sought therapy.

I displayed multiple emotional and psychological symptoms of abuse prior to beginning therapy and experienced several physical problems commonly found in abuse victims long before I recalled any abuse during hypnoanalysis therapy. People can remember child sexual abuse during a period of time in which they have been a therapy patient, but the therapy itself does not always bring up the memories. Psychotherapy is merely an avenue of strength to finally face buried childhood pain, and a vehicle to penetrate the subconscious mind.

More information on the subconscious mind of an abuse victim can be found in this article:

Mind of a Sexual Abuse Victim: The Subconscious Often Keeps the Memories Hidden

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Full references available, upon request, for this article.

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4 Responses to Unprocessed Trauma and Emotional Pain Cannot Be Ignored

  1. little nel says:

    Excellent post, Alethea.

    Now that I’m in therapy for my own “unprocessed” childhood trauma the nightmares have ceased. They have been replaced by dreams of me attacking my childhood abusers and telling them what worthless pieces of garbage they are for hurting me the way they did and then covering it up and changing the facts so they would not suffer any consequences of their behavior towards me.

    The intense feelings of rage towards them scare me and often I wake up feeling afraid to acknowledge my inner rage even though it’s so intense.

  2. Anonymous says:

    My name is Angie,somehow i had blocked out the severe sexual abuse from my stepfather before the age of nine for forty years.I only remembered from nine until sixteen.However only the past year after coming into contact with both my half brothers;the memories came flooding in and i took a couple of sleeping tablets every couple of hours for three days. With that i went to see someone about what i had done.My very first memory was at the age of three.I just did not want to believe that it happened.Now i am getting use to the fact that it did.With time i am getting better but the memories don’t stop. Angie.

    • Alethea says:

      Dear Angie,

      The first thing that struck me is that you said you went to see someone about what “you had done.” You didn’t do anything wrong. Whatever happened, it was your step-father who did it to you. You were a victim 100% and hold no blame for anything that took place. You were an innocent, vulnerable child.

      I am so so sorry that your memories are so intrusive. Unfortunately, the memories don’t stop until everything that emotionally or psychically traumatized you comes out. I hope to get my book published online soon. I think it might help you. I will post when it goes up on Amazon.

      No matter what, the physical, psychological and emotional affects of memories that are repressed is far worse than having the memories come out. Hopefully you are seeing someone who is not forcing your memories, as that is not okay. The memories need to be coming out naturally, in their own time.

      All my best,
      Alethea

  3. Tara says:

    This was so excellent. All of it. Thank you for sharing, Alethea.

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