Below is an excerpt from the book Shame to Peace by Teo van der Weele, MD. In this one particular section it deals with the survivor of sexual abuse and how often has to hide in shame. In particular incest survivors and how many a time in both secular and non-secular mental health fields counselors have often missed the signs of sexual abuse either out of not knowing how to approach the situation or out of plain ignorance. It is interesting how the author uses the phrase “roof-tile construction” when referring to one trauma covering others. I guess it is like a domino effect?
The third paragraph from the excerpt also intrigued me. Interesting how us survivors developed coping strategies in order to carry-on. So much we have incorporated them into our lives today, which have become us! Besides my avoidance of the truth that I had a problem stemming from incest and growing up in a dysfunctional family, I coped with my trauma by entering what I have been referring to as my “la-la land.” A safe make-believe world of distraction. When I was in full denial I was a constant “cut-up.” I appeared to be in control and had it all together. Once I accepted I did have a problem and began to seek some good Godly counseling, is when I ‘truly’ realized the pain that I have stuffed so many years from my childhood was real and that I needed to be real in facing the trauma:
A person who suffered in a concentration camp or – more common today – has been the victim of a series of robberies, or a rape, can still expect some sympathy. But a survivor of sexual abuse often has to hide in shame, unable to talk. Some of them even decide to take their secret along with them in a premature death. Incest survivors face not only the burden of one major trauma, but they also carry the effects of living in an environment which has caused them many other kinds of traumas.
People usually don’t suffer only one trauma. There tends to be a kind of ‘roof-tile construction’, where one trauma covers the others. This tile construction of traumas is one reason why the most deeply-felt trauma of all–incest–often remains hidden from those trying to help. Both secular mental health workers and church workers have often missed the signals of sexual abuse, as we either didn’t know about it, or we didn’t know how to ask the right questions. Often we were not ready to hear what was being said and switched topics to other traumas which we could handle better.
Without the help they need, victims find their own ways to survive. I never cease to marvel at the insight and creativity which has gone into some of their escape mechanisms and survival strategies, as they learn to deal with these flash-backs in a variety of ways. Some slip into a fantasy trip, others into prayer and many just slip into a dark, moody silence. A constant alertness to avoid any memories of the past is another survival skill. This steely thought-control also influences the way they respond to other things. This can range from rigid personal habits to clowning around, just as long as they are in control of what happens, wherever they are. For all of them, one thing is sure: whatever happened then still actively influences behavior today.