Murder by Depression

Depression has the frightening ability to take away lives. It is not just feeling sad or blue. Depression takes away your happiness, your purpose in life, it takes away what you love and sometimes even makes you feel so numb towards everything and everyone. It sucks the life force from you. Whilst it can be managed so that recovery is possible and people can lead their lives, it is also one of the greatest serial killers, claiming many lives.

Suicidal people are in great psychological pain; they want to end this not take away their lives but they can’t see any way of ending the torment without doing this. They may have exhausted their options, therefore depression drives them away from life.

For those clients that may have lost a loved one to depression, the grieving process is rendered complex. Suicide is seen as a taboo and is rarely openly talked about.

The client may even be afraid that we as counsellors may not be able to handle hearing such a deep and distressing topic and worry about our ability to deal with this. They may be aware that it may make us uncomfortable and that we may be unable to hear the horrors or pain of their story. As counsellors, we need to be confident that we can sit with clients pain whatever they may bring because clients can sense our discomfort and this will affect their ability to heal and talk things through. Trust and safety are therefore paramount to the client.

It is important that as counsellors we are okay with hearing this and can be strong and stay with the client to support them. It is also important we practise self-care and that we take this into supervision should it make us feel uncomfortable. Clients can sense our discomfort and this can prevent them from healing.

A client may also feel unease talking about this due to the existing, damaging myths that surround the victims that are seen as weak or selfish for doing what they did. They want to preserve the dignity of the person, they want to protect them from having their character scrutinised and protect their lost ones from harsh judgement. They may be conscious that the counsellor may believe in certain myths about suicide.

Depressed people do not kill themselves, rather they are killed by depression, at their own hands but forced and taken over by this host and illness that drives them to do something that, in a better state, might not be conceivable. The aim is not to take away their lives but to take away the pain of living.

Let the truth be known, suicidal people are not selfish, bad or weak, this is so untrue and inaccurate as well as hurtful and disrespectful. This detrimental and negative form of judgement and labelling is far from the truth; the truth is that victims have been strong for so long before suicide seems the only way. Suicide generally does not occur because of a precipitating event but because this event occurred in the context of a chain of numerous other negative events that are interpreted by the individual in despairing ways. Unhappy and traumatic events can push an individual further into depression or to feel suicidal but, generally, there is a build-up of many painful events and unresolved issues that the individual has been fighting for many years, and of which at times an event can be the trigger that leads to the fatal act.

Victims are not selfish, they feel like a burden and perceive that others would be better off without them. The paradox is they are wanting to prevent others from the pain of seeing them suffer yet the pain and suffering is left when the person that feels like a burden removes themselves forever.

Who are we to judge? To not allow choices when pain is too great? Suicide isn’t a sin, it is an act of desperation to end unbearable psychological suffering.

It is fundamental that we challenge any prejudices and beliefs that we may hold about those who complete suicide and replace these with helpful and accurate ways that reflect the truth about suicide and those that have lost their lives to it through depression.

This is the reason that suicidologist Edwin Shneidman, coined suicide as ‘Psychache’. He described it in the following terms: “unbearable psychological pain – hurt, anguish, soreness, and aching”. His theory also suggested that suicide stems from thwarted or distorted psychological needs as every suicidal act reflects some specific, unfulfilled psychological need. Therefore, unresolved psychache results in suicidal behaviours. Fulfilment of being in the world is the antidote to psychache.

This would make perfect sense if we consider that our emotional needs are just as important as physical needs for survival such as food and drink and warmth. In fact, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs covers this important aspect. Unresolved needs in themselves create a lot of pain and inner conflict, and when the need becomes greater than the want then it makes us vulnerable to many things.

Suicidal people do not want to harm their loved ones, they just want to find the peace they crave. They are not bad people or criminals for taking their lives. There is nothing right or wrong. Our aim is to save people, but if a person decides to end their pain in this way, there is nothing anyone could have done if the individual makes that decision.

In the book Waking Up Alive, Dr Richard Heckler (1994) discusses additional causes of suicide, including the following:

  • Penetrating hopelessness – the person’s state of mind is such that feelings of hopelessness penetrate every or almost every aspect of his or her life
  • Inner chaos – the person experiences so much ambivalence about so many aspects of himself or herself and feels so indecisive in matters large and small that he or she feels without identity and unable to relate to others
  • Unbearable or unending pain – an emotional or physical condition of so much agony exists that death seems like the only remedy
  • Acknowledgement – the person hopes to find in death the recognition and appreciation he or she did not receive in life
  • A desire for peace and calm – the person has exhausted his or her ability to cope with stress and see’s death as a means of obtaining love, peace, and relief from current exploitation and suffering.

We can start helping and preventing loss of life by encouraging a culture where expressing emotions is deemed as healthy and courageous, where the act of talking about emotions and feelings is supported. A place like counselling allows people to feel those darker or more negative emotions. By breaking societal gender roles that prevent men from being the natural emotional creatures they are, we can allow them their humanity and allow them to cry and not feel weak or shame at experiencing depression or painful emotions.

We need to eliminate all the detrimental myths that surround depression. It is the shame experienced by victims that can silence them, that can add further hurts and pressures to smile and act as if they are happy in order to mask depression.

Depression isn’t always recognisable; functional depression can hide behind the greatest humour and smiles. These individuals find ways to function like any other person without depression, yet the inner turmoil means they are at great war within themselves. When this happens it can come as a greater shock that we never saw it coming or would never have known the extends of the raw pain and the depths of it that was living buried in the person we lost to suicide.

Loved ones often blame themselves, feel angry at the abandonment, find it hard to grieve when it is surrounded by such stigma, and have a sense of shame. Feelings are complex, and complex grieving is often experienced. Left unattended the consequences can be detrimental.

Clients will benefit from the person-centred approach offering the core conditions and resolving issues such as feeling rejected, feeling abandoned, blame and guilt, being unable to say goodbye, loss and grief, shock, shame and pain. Depression can form a multitude of emotions and feelings, engulfing them.

Some people may struggle to talk about suicide as it would seem that it is not always met with sympathy, empathy or the respect it deserves. This outlines how it’s made to feel shameful as the person-centred approach will be ideal and recommended to combat this element of shame.

I think it is important to be open about talking around difficult issues such as suicide because silence is destructive and by not talking it leaves those left behind silenced in their pain feeling isolated and ostracised. It makes grieving harder if it is surrounded by shame, silence and stigma. In order to heal, we must feel able to talk about it, able to name our experiences for what they are and feel supported and safe in doing so.

By talking about it, we make suicidal people feel less alone, supported and able to ask for help. We set depression free from the stigma it carries. If we want to reduce the rates we need to offer support, understanding and show care and love.

Suicide doesn’t just take away the life of the person who does it, it takes away a part of the lives of those left behind. Suffering is passed on. Depression is serious, it’s not a matter of being lazy when you can’t get out of bed. It’s a constant dark cloud, swallowing your world. It takes away all you have and this can include your life. Depression is a killer and deserves as much attention as illnesses such as cancer.

As counsellors, many of our clients who feel depressed may be expressing suicidal thoughts or idealisation. It’s okay to have these, it’s assessing any plans made and any wishes expressed to act upon these thoughts that require immediate action to be taken to prevent this and confidentiality to be broken for the protection of clients well-being.

We can all make a difference not only to depressed people but in potentially saving lives.

Understanding Domestic Violence/abuse

Domestic violence is such an epidemic that at one point or another it is inevitable that as counsellors we will come into contact with a survivor. Therefore we need to be prepared and have the understanding of the dynamics at play and the complexity of all that is involved in domestic violence. Lack of knowledge can limit us in terms of recognising and correctly interpreting behaviours associated with domestic violence. We have the potential to revictimise a client if we are not educated enough, interfere with any recovery made or support the healing, the latter being what we aspire to do. Societal misconceptions must be challenged as these falsely influence our understanding. Examples can be: domestic violence is a rare occurrence, a private matter or the woman is somehow responsible for her abuse.

In the arena of domestic violence, victim blaming is applied with a vengeance against survivors who stay with a primary aggressor beyond the first obviously violent or controlling episode. This disregards the right of anyone to be in a relationship of his or her choosing without abuse. Staying where there has been abuse does not constitute consent or permission for the abuse. Submission is not the same as consent.

It is important that we challenge our own beliefs about this subject and open our eyes to the truth, leaving behind what we have been conditioned to believe by societal misconceptions.

It is also important to stress that domestic violence can happen to any gender, any person of any sexual orientation, people of all backgrounds, class, occupation…we are all humans, we all have needs and we all have vulnerabilities or start out young and naive, we all can be manipulated and abused. It is never the victim’s fault.

Survivors either escape through eventually leaving or being left. In the case of being left by the abuser, the following cycle takes place.

  • Love bombarding or idolisation
  • Devalue
  • Discard

What happens in these situations is that love bombarding sets the stage, it is basically grooming which is the process of manipulating and manoeuvring the victim into a position to create trust and vulnerability whereby this then allows the abuser to break down boundaries and defences. It makes the victim feel adored and amazing and special to the abuser, the intensity can be experienced as a feeling of being in love and that a special bond is had. In fact abusers make their victims ‘fall in love’ because this is a greatest human bond that can be had, it makes manipulating for later abuse easier and for boundaries to be softened.

This takes us to the next stage which is devaluing the victim, here is where abuse and exploitation take place, the abuser gets what they intended on getting and use the victim for their own interest. Here abuse will take place in any form: emotional, sexual, physical, financial or combination of these.

Finally, the abuser will discard the victim, this can mean they either leave and move on to next target or they move on to next target and the victim has to deal with having been betrayed, cheated and abused. This situation is traumatic; the only advantage is that the victim is freed from their abuser.

When the abuser doesn’t leave, the cycle of abuse framework developed by Lenore E. Walker (1979) is a guide to try to understand and explain the dynamics. This cycle consists of:

  • The honeymoon stage
  • Tension building stage
  • Explosive stage
  • Reconciliation stage

In the honeymoon stage, this feels like any loving and healthy relationship. The abuser is love bombarding and showing this through ‘loving’ behaviour such as showing kindness, compassion, devotion, consideration, support and persuades the victim that their bond is one of love, whilst the aim of abuser is to desensitise the victim. No abuse takes place, if this cycle has already been repeated the victim feels that the abuse never happened, is a one-off and things will get better.

In the tension building stage ‘minor’ events such as yelling, criticising, blaming occur, hostility and anger are felt and the victim is literally walking on egg shells, not knowing when the trigger will be pulled, when the bomb will explode. The victim tries to be complacent to avoid being hurt or setting off the abuser.

The explosive stage is when abuse of any kind takes place; the abuser may rape the victim through coercion (emotional duress, blackmail, manipulation, using drink and drugs to paralyse victim) or physical force. The abuser may use physical violence, they may become emotionally abusive and tear the victim down through words and emotional violence, and they may use more than one type to abuse. This is when the abuse takes place.

The reconciliation stage is when the abuser profoundly apologises, usually not because they are genuinely sorry for their actions and hurt caused but because they don’t want to be exposed, suffer the consequences and get caught. They promise it will never happen again, they cry, plead and beg for forgiveness. The victim is in shock making them vulnerable to accept the apology and want to deny and minimise the abuse themselves. The abuser may even blame them for the abuse.

The cycle then begins, the honeymoon stage gets less with continued abuse, the abuser no longer needs to hide behind the mask, the more they gain power and control the less they have to pretend to be who they are not.

Types of abuse

Emotional abuse

  • Jealous and possessive (accuse you of sleeping with others…)
  • Criticism and insults
  • Isolation (from friends and family – to gain control and power)
  • Humiliation, mockery, subtle jokes, embarrassing
  • What to wear, how to do your hair, speak…
  • Blaming the victim for things going wrong and their own abuse
  • Instilling further fear (smashing objects)
  • Threatening to leave or commit suicide if partner leaves
  • Threatening or intimidating to gain compliance
  • Checking up, stalking, looking at emails or phone
  • Yelling and screaming
  • Making victim feel trapped and no way out
  • Threatening to end relationship
  • Telling the victim that they are worthless on their own, without the abuser
  • Psychological abuse

Since abusers know their targets intimately they don’t always have to resort to physical force, they often use the victim’s secrets and vulnerabilities to control their targets. They don’t need to use force, very often emotional blackmail and other forms of manipulation are enough to get compliance and submission and to work on blame and guilt therefore creating the confusion.

Emotional blackmail is used and achieved through FOG, which stands for fear, obligation and guilt. (coined by Psychologist Susan Forward).

Forward and Frazier identify four blackmail types; 1) The punisher’s threat = Do this or I will harm you (or others), 2) Self-punisher’s threat = Leave me and I will kill myself. 3) Sufferers threat = After everything I have done for you and the sacrifices I have made for you. 4) Tantilisers threat = Sleep with me and I will not leave you. Hence give you ‘love’.

Other means of psychological abusive tactics used by abusers include the following:

  • Gas lighting – distortion of the victim’s sense of reality and perception making them doubt own reality and judgement – crazy making.
  • Reactive abuse – provoking a reaction from a victim to then claim the victim is the abusive one. Pushing the victim to the edge to get a reaction.
  • Manipulation – A favourite manipulation tactic is for the abuser to make the victim fear the worst, such as abandonment, infidelity, or rejection. Then they refute it and ask the victim for something they normally would reply with “no.” This is a control tactic to get the victim to agree to do something they wouldn’t.
  • Guilt trip – People often feel obliged to comply with guilt trip demands as a way of receiving others’ approval. Keeps victim feeling bad, in a submissive position. Creating a guilt trip in another person may be considered to be psychological manipulation in the form of punishment for a perceived transgression
  • Covert and overt threats – abusers feel very threatened when their sense of entitlement is challenged in any way. Their reaction to victim setting boundaries or having a differing opinion from theirs is to threaten the victim into submission.
  • Projection – the act of placing unacceptable feelings or unacceptable wants or desires onto another person. The goal of projection is to shift responsibility and blame from ourselves onto someone else. An example is an abuser will accuse the victim of being unfaithful when in reality it is themselves that are engaging in infidelity.
  • Hoovering – abusers tend to “hoover” their victims back in with sweet promises, fake remorse and empty words of how they are going to change, only to abuse their victims even more horrifically. In the abuser’s sick mind, this boundary testing serves as a punishment for standing up to the abuse.

Financial abuse

  • withholding economic resources such as money or credit cards
  • stealing from or defrauding a partner of money or assets
  • exploiting the intimate partner’s resources for personal gain
  • withholding physical resources such as food, clothes, necessary medications, or shelter from a partner
  • preventing the spouse or intimate partner from working or choosing an occupation

Spiritual abuse

  • using the spouse’s or intimate partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate them
  • preventing the partner from practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs
    ridiculing the other person’s religious or spiritual beliefs
  • forcing the children to be reared in a faith that the partner has not agreed to

Sexual abuse

  • sexual assault: forcing someone to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity
  • sexual harassment: ridiculing another person to try to limit their sexuality or reproductive choices
  • sexual exploitation (such as forcing someone to look at pornography, or forcing someone to participate in pornographic film-making)
  • Excessive jealousy, accusing partner of having affairs, holding their sexual past or history against them
  • Denying protection to get victim pregnant, agreeing to use a condom and then taking it off without consent, putting a hole in the condom, saying on the pill when not. Forcing a family when the other partner is not ready, purposely passing on an STD

Force doesn’t always refer to physical pressure. Perpetrators may use emotional coercion, psychological force, or manipulation to coerce a victim into non-consensual sex. The abuser will use the relationship to generate guilt and generate a sense of obligation. This stems from their belief, that they are entitled to sex.

Some perpetrators will use threats to force a victim to comply; I’ll leave you if you don’t!

The partner won’t necessarily rape his partner in the literal sense of using physical force although some do.

Coercive sex

With coercive sex the abuser manipulates the person being abused to the point where they believe they initiated or concurred with the abusive acts)

When people think about forced sex, they picture physical assault so when it is forced through pressure, manipulation or sleep deprivation, the victim doesn’t know what to call it and may blame themselves and unable to label it keeps them trapped and suffering a trauma that cannot be named yet feels as real as it is.

Your partner should not use force or threats to make you have sex. They should not make you perform sexual acts with which you are uncomfortable. They should not criticise your performance. If they do any of the above, they are using sex to assert their authority and control you. They are in control of your sex life and body not you. Nobody should be having control over these things but you. This is sex on demand not consent, if you are afraid to say no because of repercussions then this is not consent. A fabricated yes, a yes under emotional duress or when no ignored is not a yes or consent, submission isn’t consent this is sexual assault.

Victims of sex abuse can be coerced, tricked, pressured and bullied into having sex in many ways, all of which are demeaning and unpleasant.

Coercion can be categorised into four types:

  • Social coercion (obligation and duty of wife – religion)
  • Interpersonal coercion – having sex on demand in the face of threats – infidelity, leave them…can be devastating and traumatic even if no physical force used.
  • Threatened physical coercion – the victim will get hurt if they don’t cooperate or killed even.
  • Physical coercion – striking the victim to get them to comply.

“Exploitive, rough, coercive sex is similar to physical violence in its effects, and can be worse in many ways” (Lundy Bancroft)

We and victims in order to understand how anyone can perpetrate the unimaginable, try and make excuses for abuse these can include things such as:

  • Bad childhood
  • Stress
  • Drugs or alcohol (Abusiveness and addiction are separate problems requiring their own solutions)
  • Provocation
  • Previous relationship they were mistreated and as result like this
  • It’s because of how strongly they feel towards me
  • Loses control/anger issue

Note: Abuse is never justified!!!!!! It is never the victims fault!!!!!!

We need to remember that an abusers emotional problems do not cause their abusiveness, many who have had a good childhood still abuse, the problem lies within socialisation. Men’s violence against women is not a separate incident. Feelings do not cause abuse, beliefs, controlling behaviours, values and habits are the driving forces. Reasons for the abuse are just excuses to shift accountability and responsibility away. Abusers like to generate confusion on the abuse itself, they do all to confuse victims so they comply, stay, tolerate and the abuse becomes ‘normal’. If you have never experienced it before or all you have experienced you may not know better.

So this takes us to the question all victims are asked: Why didn’t you leave? So why don’t they leave? Let’s look at this. There are many reasons why a victim would not leave; these are only some of the numerous reasons to explore.

  • Fear
  • Threats/murder
  • Financial instability (many become homeless and in the streets women face more exploitation and abuse with trafficking and prostitution and again murder). Financial abuse may also have contributed to financial difficulties
  • Nowhere to go. Abusers isolate victims to have greater power and control over them. That means taking them away from contact with family and friends, rendering the victim isolated and cut off from these relationships
  • No support when victim does disclose perpetrator uses smear campaign and seduces others)
  • No justice from law, courts and the police
  • Genuine love (wants behaviour to stop), the victim is not sick to love an abuser, it is sick to abuse someone and tell them you love them.
  • Low self-esteem – often destroyed by abuse
  • Traumatic bonding

Research and statistics state that on average two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a partner or ex partner. Half of all female domestic murders occur at the point of leaving a relationship or afterwards and more than 70% of victims to experience post-separation harassment.

The question, therefore, isn’t why don’t they leave? But why do we allow abuse to continue and how can we fight to stop this and how can we support victims? We can see that may things are at stake for the victim when they try to leave and that includes the possibility of losing their lives.

As counsellors we can help in the following ways:

  • We can teach our client, the abusers tactics and manoeuvres. This will keep them from being a victim of mental abuse.
  • Teach elements of the Freedom Programme by Pat Craven. The dominator = the sexual controller, king of the castle, the liar, the jailer, the bully, the head worker, the persuader, the bad father.
  • Show them the power and control wheel – aka the Duluth model.
  • Myth couple counselling – this can be dangerous as an abuser will blame the victim and the victim may blame self for the abuse and take accountability or they will not feel safe to talk. The problem is not with the relationship but with the abuser being abusive and so an individual problem.
  • Person-centred modality – UPR eliminates shame, empathy fuels understanding and trust, congruence builds rapport.
  • Work on shame, the difference between this and guilt.
  • CBT – rebuild self-worth and self-esteem.
  • Rights and boundaries.
  • Assertiveness techniques.
  • Autonomy – give client back control.
  • Grounding techniques, relaxation for panic attacks and dissociation.
  • Strategies for future confrontations, know the limitations of the abused and have an escape plan in place.
  • Frame the clients copying behaviours as means of survival.
  • Respond with belief and validation.
  • Frame questions in a none judgemental way (no whys).
  • Let them know that the way they survived was their way of resisting what was happening to them and saying no, even if it did nothing to stop the person behaving abusive.
  • Check discussions feel safe and not overwhelming (pace of client).
  • Do not force information.
  • Understand how cultural perspectives may influence the therapeutic relationship.
  • Understand trust issues are to be worked around not personal.
  • Don’t ask what is wrong but what happened?
  • See client as more than their symptoms.
  • Reinforce client isn’t bad, what happened to them was bad and that they are more than what happened to them.
  • Accessing the potential danger to a victim by the abuser and to self.

It is also important that we ask the right questions which can be hard with such a sensitive subject, yet having the knowledge of how to ask questions about domestic violence may make the subject more approachable. E.g. No closed questions: are you being abused? Rather ask specific questions, are you being hit, slapped, hurt in anyway? Are you being forced to have sex against your will? This leaves no room for misinterpretation. Other statements that can be used are: “sometimes when I see injuries like yours, the person has been hurt by someone close. Is this happening to you?”

In conclusion, abused individuals are not weak, submissive victims. It takes huge strength to live with an abusive partner. Victims of abuse have to be strong and resourceful, adopting all kinds of coping strategies to survive each day. They are not self destructive or masochists, they do not deserve it or for staying, abuse is wrong and it is never the victims fault.

Survivors need us, our love, understanding and support. They need us to listen to them and to fight with them to end this epidemic.

Why ghosting can be considered a form of emotional abuse

Mental health experts now believe that ghosting is associated with negative mental health effects on the person on the receiving end of the ghosting. Ghosting has also been described by some mental health professionals as a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse or cruelty.

This is because ghosting shatters self-esteem, and the hurt can be as sharp as physical pain. This is also due to the fact that the same areas of our brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. Therefore, being ghosted can feel like a knife through the heart or a punch in the chest that leaves us feeling winded.

So what is ghosting? It isn’t going on a hunt to spot a ghost. Ghosting is a form of emotional abuse using “the silent treatment.” It means disappearing without a trace or cutting all responses without a reason and with no warning. Even when the “ghostee” tries to contact the person who ghosted them for an explanation or for closure, they receive no response.

Ghosting therefore deprives the “ghostee” of any chance to work through what went wrong in the relationship or to get closure of any kind, and because of this, it’s all too easy for the rejected person to blame themselves and draw troubling conclusions to try to understand why they were ghosted.

Ghosting can seep into other wounds of abandonment one may have and in doing so, may contribute to their sense of worthlessness, aggravating their emotional pain and strengthening core beliefs such as “I’m unlovable,” “I’m not enough,” or “I’m worthless.” It can therefore give a strong voice to a self-critical part of ourselves.

Ghosting can be harder still when we may have been hurt, ignored, or disrespected by more than one person or when we may already feel that we are alone and forgotten. We may feel like we are living a life where we already may feel like a ghost — unseen. Considering this, ghosting can feel traumatic and open old wounds or create new wounds we need to sew back together. It can most certainly affect a lot of people who carry unresolved childhood attachment wounds from narcissistic caregivers, who have been bullied at school, or who have felt unseen, unheard, or ignored.

Ghosting can happen in any form of relationship, even if many may just think of the ghosting in the dating arena. Whilst this is true, ghosting can also happen with friends, family, and even work relationships.

Ghosting can be equivalent to emotional cruelty because it is just that. The “ghostee” is left feeling powerless and silenced — unable to make sense of the experience or have the opportunity to express the feelings that will then need processing. The effects it leaves can be long and lasting.

Some people consider those who ghost to be emotionally immature or to have fears of intimacy, but ghosting is also a tactic used by abusers and manipulators who tend to have narcissistic traits and seek power and control over others. This is because ghosting goes hand-in-hand with another form of manipulation common among abusers: gaslighting, or making someone doubt their sense of reality. It is for this reason that extreme ghosting can be considered gaslighting.

If you are ghosted, it is important that you don’t blame yourself and that you practice self-care and show yourself a lot of self-love and self-compassion. It is OK to feel pained — that pain is real, it pain belongs to you, and it is valid.

Ghosting doesn’t refer to going “no contact” — when someone has no choice but to cut off an abusive person. In this case, going “no contact” is an act of self-preservation for one’s own mental health and is not the same as ghosting someone.

As we have seen, rejection and emotional abuse can be painful, and it can have the same effects as physical pain. The impact of ghosting is real, so let’s not downplay emotional abuse and how ghosting can affect people’s mental health. Ghosting may be normalized, but this is frightening. When will forms of abuse stop being normalized, and when will emotional abuse be recognized for the detrimental effects it has?

If you have been ghosted, please remember your worth isn’t defined by those who cannot see it.

A wider definition of trauma needed and looking beyond the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory.

There are people who suffer from mental health who deny trauma. I think it’s due to people’s idea of trauma, lack of awareness in general and how limited it’s definition is in our world. This leads to some thinking it has to be this extreme and horrific and unimaginable forms of abuse in childhood only, a single event, or some catastrophic event and natural disaster, which of cause it can. However, the world view of trauma denies the more subtle and hidden forms and the societal injustices that are part of the lives we live, which whilst some are more privileged, nobody is immune to a diseased and corrupted world and fellow human beings. It means that much trauma can remain unrecognisable or not validated and even denied by those it many have affected as they may not be aware of what is trauma, even if their bodies carry, hold and have responded to it through diseases or mental health.

This societal definition is at the root of other’s feeling they have to deny their own trauma or feel they have to compare it to those who “have it worse”. Nobody say’s don’t be happy because someone is happier or as more to be happy about. Pain is pain, trauma is trauma. We should not live in a world where we have to be made to prove our pain, or to experience horrific things to be made worthy of our pain. What’s important isn’t the traumatic event that matters most, but the individual’s perception  (consciously or unconsciously) of the severity. In Peter Levine’s book: Healing Trauma he asserts that “trauma is trauma, no matter what caused it.” These small things can be having nobody to turn too as child, having good parents but who were not able to emotionally be attuned or supportive…it can be bullying, divorce, unemployment…these things can be traumatic and can lead to our mental health being affected. It takes just one event to lead to a mental breakdown, addictions or suicidality.

It’s not about people making it all about trauma, it’s being trauma informed and aware, one can’t deny that the whole environment we live in is a traumatised one.

Also, many have been made to believe that mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance, however, this is a myth. Although some research links chemical imbalances in the brain to depression symptoms, scientists argue that this is not the whole picture .In fact, no experiment has ever shown that anyone has an ‘imbalance’ of any neurotransmitters or any other brain chemicals. The entire theory was hypothetical. Over the last ten years, independent research has continually shown the chemical imbalance theory to be false.

The National Institutions of Health state: “that if depression were solely due to chemical imbalances, treatments that target neurotransmitters, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), should work faster. This doesn’t mean that medication cannot be helpful nor is it to say, that mental illness isn’t deliberating or real, of course it is and it’s torturous, brain changes are real and people have lost their lives to it, but we have not been given the right information. Again, I want to make it clear that debunking the chemical imbalance theory is not to dismiss that biological factors play an important role in serious mental illness, including but not limited to major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia but that this isn’t the cause of them. The Psychiatric Times has an article that talks about this, named: Debunking the Two Chemical Imbalance Myths Again.

Mental health is complex and multifaceted, and numerous factors can affect a person’s mental well-being.

I believe awareness, education and debunking myths is such an integral part in healing and recovery. I really get tired of the world telling trauma survivors to be resilient instead of changing the systems that need to be changed or challenging things that need to change. We are constantly learning and it’s important we are able to learn and de-learn and learn again.

Resources online:


The Myth of normal by Gabor and Dan Mate

Healing Trauma and Waking the Tiger-healing trauma by Peter Levine

Resilience that causes harm

Resilience can be useful and even help us in the face of adversities, it means being able to adapt to reasonable levels of stress and make reasonable changes it does not mean, adapting and tolerating toxic behaviour or environments or events, so whilst helpful in this way, to simply claim that all we need to do is to be more resilient or expected too in order to recover or overcome obstacles can be damaging and here’s why.

It’s not always a matter of strength, we need the right conditions in order to thrive and survive.

Poor people who are strong but have no food means they will likely die of starvation no matter their will to live. Having no medical resources means you will be unable to heal no matter your body or mental strength.

Trauma that has gone untreated for too many years, leads to brain changes and affects other systems in the body, leading to diseases that can be fatal. A lack of connection can kill the soul and those who have experienced relational trauma or attachment wounds will find safety in the very loneliness that kills them.

Can we stop thinking we can control everything? Can we please not glamorous resilience by telling people to be resilient without making those who hurt and victimise others accountable?

Can we stop suggesting those who don’t make it are cowards and weak instead of looking at who hurt them so badly to make them feel they had no other escape route?

Can we stop with the toxic positivity and just hold people in their pain and recognise the reality of pain and human experience.

Can we stop shaming? Can we stop forcing healing rather than stand with those in pain? Can we just allow people not to be okay?

We don’t know the future, we can’t promise anyone how their life will plan out, it’s not guaranteed. It is a cruel world that can be hard to navigate. So, let’s just sit with them in their pain.

Just because someone survived something once doesn’t mean they can again. In fact, sometimes this can make the wounds greater. If a bullet has missed you once or not killed you doesn’t mean another bullet will not and this is the same with psychological injuries and attacks to us.

What doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger, it makes you vulnerable, it makes you feel unsafe, it can be deliberating.

Stop pressurising people, this just shames those who keep finding it hard to heal through no fault of their own. Life throws things that are not always surmountable. It can fatally wound us. We are mortals, nothing to do with power or strength. To claim we just have to be resilient to all adversity can actually kill us not save us. Even adaptive methods can become maladaptive when taken to the extreme.

There is nothing wrong in learning tools that help us deal with challenging or difficult emotions and to self regulate and self soothe, but to suggest that one needs to be resilient to everything, leading one to have too much resilience is expecting someone to be tolerant of adversities and things they should never have to tolerate or not rightly be affected by and this in my opinion is dangerous and invalidating. Victims and survivors have been invalidated enough.

Those that suffer from the effects of mental health, PTSD, oppression, violence, abuse, war…are strong and have been strong for too long. A bone is strong and yet if you bash a bone hard and consistently enough, it will break. We all have our limits, we are not objects or robots. We need to create an environment that doesn’t judge, that meets human needs, that functions on compassion and empathy, that has the right help, support and tools easily accessible for everyone and hold those who hurt others accountable.

When we believe others just need resilience to get them though, we don’t check on those we see as ‘strong’ as if someone can’t be strong and hurting at the same time.

We keep saying that children are resilient, again an excuse to dismiss the pain and consequences of things, if children were so resilient, having to face things that they are unable to handle, how come so many grow into adults who need therapy? who are emotionally or mentally struggling? We are not objects or robots, we are sentimental beings and the world needs to remember this instead of hurting people further with unrealistic expectations.

Resilience is being able to be allowed to sit with our pain, accept it, have support, have the necessary conditions to thieve, this is what gives us the ability to be resilient.

You can be resilient and still hurt, still feel like you want to die, still find things overwhelming and difficult and need support and help. You can be resilient and still not make it, this doesn’t make you weak or a failure, this world with it’s dysfunctional myths and messages and unrealistic expectations, oppression… failed you. You are strong no matter what, you can be strong and vulnerable, strong and hurt, strong and be weakened. To many believe that they have to be resilient which means they must do it alone, ‘toughen up’, be able to ‘deal with it’. No, you shouldn’t, you should be able to be seen, heard, validated and supported.

Understanding Suicide

  • The Suicidal brain 

The suicidal person is in survival mode, this means that when someone is feeling suicidal they are desperately trying to survive the excruciating pain leading to the fight mode, this increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is regulated by a part of the neuroendocrine system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. 

The aim for the sufferer of mental anguish is to fight against the pain in the only way they know how, to end the pain. The fight response is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. The individual isn’t giving up, they are fighting to win in their battle to end pain in the only way the know how. When we are in survival mode, overwhelmed by stress and intense emotions that feel impossible to regulate, it activates the sympathetic nervous system where the amygdala which is the size of a walnut and acts like an alarm to detect danger, fear and threat is activated, just like a fire alarm would go off.

Our back brain is now activated and fully online, whilst the the front part of our brain called the pre-cortex; the region whose job it is to think logically, think clearly, make decisions goes offline, impairing this ability. Impulse control is also deactivated, meaning that one is more likely to act out of impulsive.

Like firefighters, the brains ultimate aim is to then put the fire out no matter what it takes, even if this as to be death itself. The aim is to kill the pain not oneself, but one feels no other way around this mental torture than to kill off the body; the source that feels, holds and experiences the never-ending excruciating pain. Just like when we would suffer from intense toothache and had no access to a dentist or medications would not work, we would seek to remove the source of the pain.

During suicidal mode, the front right brain that deals with emotions also affect empathy meaning that the sufferer cannot find empathy for self or not in a position to think how loved ones may be affected.
This all means that brain activity in people that are suicidal or having suicidal ideation may be different, logically contributing to a different state of mind than when one is regulated and in their window of tolerance (state of calmness and peace, experiencing no mental pain).

When the fear of living in this mental torture becomes greater than any fear one may have of death then mental anguish will be the one that kills the individual. People do not kill themselves, pain does. 

  • Is mental illness the cause of suicide? 

Dr. Mark Gouldston, a psychiatrist who has also worked with Dr. Edwin Shneidman, mentions in his article: Why people kill themselves – Part 2 – it’s not Depression, concludes what I have echoed, myself and that is, that whilst mental illnesses can contribute to a loss of life, it is des-pair and not despair that is at the core of things.

He states: Des-pair is feeling unpaired with the reasons to live, these reasons are the following:

1. Hopeless — This arises when one loses all hope of a future that is worth living and when resources are not to be found, scarce or haven’t worked, along with things such as medication and therapy.
2. Helpless — This is when one feels unable to bring themselves out of the darkness that engulfs them.
3. Powerless — This goes alongside the feeling of helplessness, feeling like one as no power over their suffering.
4. Useless — this is when one may come to believe that they are a burden to self and others (even if others don’t see them as a burden and make this clear)
5. Worthless — Feeling like they don’t have an existence or seeing no purpose or worth in their existence
6. Purposeless — This is when the individual fails to feel and see a purpose in life, one becomes alienated from self and feel aimless and ashamed believing that their life has no purpose.
7. Meaningless — This is similar to purposeless and goes alongside it, in the same way helpless and powerless do. Meaningless is when all meaning to life and to live feels futile, one cannot find meaning in living because life just means pain, and excruciating none relenting pain at that.
8. Pointless — Unable to find a reason to not end their pain, they feel this is literally the only way it can be achieved.

We live in a traumatised world, as Dr. Gabor Mate says, where our human needs are not met and where we are expected to suppress them, in fact depression comes from the word, depress which means to push down. The world teaches us that it cannot handle our pain, that it is uncomfortable with strong emotions and even the erroneous belief that some emotions are negative. We live in an oppressive world, that causes injuries and trauma to the psyche, suicide is the result of the human condition, just like many mental illnesses are trauma responses.

We need to stop attributing suicide to just mental illness as if this is the course primary or only course, dismissing all other factors and the toxic environment that we live in that shames us and disconnects us from our authentic selves, that oppresses us, that places detrimental conditions of worth on us, racism, colonialism, detrimental gender stereotypes, that alienates certain types of people and groups, that sees so many charities trying to help others because our government is rooted in damaging beliefs such as patriarchy, capitalism and so much more contributes to a world where suffering is only going to get worse and naturally cause such injuries. We have poverty as a crisis, global warming, great violence to black people and ethnic minorities with the deadly virus of racism, a pandemic of violence towards women, a world that doesn’t do enough to include those that are not able bodied, that shames any disability that is invisible, the list is endless and so is it any wonder that so many find themselves not wanting to live life if this is the life they are subjected too? If life means having to spend eternity in excruciating pain?

Don’t shame suicidal people, it is not about you, it is about them. They are not intending to hurt you or anyone. They are not cowards, selfish, weak…whatever cruel, misguided judgement is made on them, they are suffering and if you have empathy, you will realise that nobody wants that kind of pain.

To those of you that have been suicidal, had suicidal thoughts, tried to end their pain, I’m glad you are here and hope that things will get better or have for you. If you have lost a loved one, my heart goes out to you. You are not alone and I hope that this has helped to explain things, end the stigma and get the conversation started/going.

Depression wears a smile when it has no other choice.

Is it any wonder depression is so high and hides behind a smile when we live in a culture that ignores, misunderstands trauma and silences feelings? It silences struggles or feelings it deems unacceptable, yet are natural and need to be felt and processed. Suppressing them only hinders healing and causes more struggling. We’re in a culture obsessed with toxic positivity because it’s uncomfortable with the natural human experience of feelings. Examples are children being told not to cry, that “big boys don’t cry,” girls praised when smiling through the pain, children conditioned to believe not crying when they feel or are hurt is a badge of honor.

Working with children, I see this when they see a peer crying and, from a young age, announce they fell and didn’t cry. When adults tell children, “You’re OK! It’s nothing! Stop crying! That’s enough!” It is any wonder feelings we have learned are seen by others as scary and “wrong” get bottled up or expressed through maladaptive ways of self-soothing through self-harm or addictions and manifests in depression? After all, depress means to push down, and that’s exactly what the message is.

It is any wonder when we live in a world that isn’t meeting our needs? The need to be understood, to be seen, to be heard. The need to feel and be safe. How can depression not manifest with social inequalities? When poverty is an issue, long working hours exploit people, lack of housing and unaffordable houses, flats, etc. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism and all other forms of oppression. It’s not enough to tell people to talk or reach out, we should be reaching out to one another.

Also, what’s the point in talking when many times others may silence us or dismiss, invalidate and minimize our experience and pain? When waiting lists for help are so long or we are not offered support if we are suicidal? When we fear being hospitalised and when this can increase greater distress if not met with the respect and support we deserve. When many still see those who are suicidal or attempt suicide or have lost lives to suicide as selfish, cowards, weak and “just mentally ill?”

Natural responses to trauma and adversity labeled a disease rather than a dis-ease, depression is a wound and is emotional as much as biological. Our minds and bodies are not separate from one another. Our emotions are held in our bodies and emotional pain can manifest in many diseases or bodily ailments. It deserves attention not stigmatization. Even the way we see emotional pain is problematic, someone struggling is expected to look a certain way or else their pain is either missed or dismissed.

Of course, we are going to smile to hide the pain when that pain is negatively perceived or received. Of course, we can still be functional and we need to be to survive and pay the bills even. Of course, we are going to put on a mask, in fear of being judged, not seen as brave, feeling we must be incompetent instead of feeling normal because it’s normal to bleed if we get injured, even emotionally.

It’s OK not to be OK; this has nothing to do with our character. How can we not feel or become depressed when we cannot be our authentic selves, when society doesn’t accept us for who we are? It tells us we are worthy only on conditions of worth. We need to be a certain way, look, act a certain way, be perfect, be who society wants us to be to feel accepted and right and feel we belong, or else we are ostracized. When we live in a superficial and judgmental world.

What is really being done to prevent and support mental health? We need to kill the stigma that kills so many struggling with depresssion. We need to heal the traumatized world we live in. We need to create a safe and equal environment free from oppression, a world based on empathy and respect. A world where authenticity, individuality and diversity is embraced, a world that doesn’t silence emotions and understands all our emotions are messengers, part of our humanity, that we can learn to manage them, that we have a right to them and to process them. That struggling is part of being human and we need to feel free to express it, we need our pain acknowledged and heard.

We can’t heal in a toxic environment

Survivors are told they are responsible for their healing.  I, as a survivor, say we as a collective world, society and culture are responsible for creating an environment that isn’t traumatised and causes intentional harm. One that isn’t oppressive in the first place.

A plant cannot thrive without the necessary conditions. An experiment was even carried out that showed how a plant responded to being verbally bullied by withering away and dying instead of thriving and growing. Humans are like plants, needing the right conditions to thrive. I don’t believe trauma should be divided into small or big T’s,  or abuse into “worse” and “lesser.” This isn’t helpful and only brings shame, and shame becomes toxic and blocks the healing process.

Survivors shouldn’t have to justify their pain or feel they are not worthy of help or support because pain and trauma is being measured. We shouldn’t allow abuse by acting only when it’s reached extreme measures, we should be saying “no” period. Abuse is abuse. We should be supporting all who hurt and bleed not only physically, but also emotionally. It can take years for the psyche to heal, and even then, healing doesn’t mean things will be the same, it means adapting to a new life, managing the pain and triggers and emotions, and the lessening of the struggle and pain. A fulfilling and happy life is possible, but we need to adapt and learn new ways to live and function in life and new skills to help us do that.

Covid-19 was a collective threat and trauma. It took the lives of many and we struggled with all we lost. Yet, sexual abuse and violence, domestic abuse and violence and racial trauma have been pandemics throughout endless history. And in the present, continue to threaten the lives and well-being of so many who have lost their lives to offenders or are driven to end their pain by ending their own lives.

I see adverts encouraging survivors to come forward, and those who struggle with depression not to struggle in silence and to talk. How many times do survivors need to talk? We have been talking, but oppression has silenced us. Society has victim blamed us. Justice never seems served, changes take endless years to occur and when they do, it’s thanks to survivors.

The world thinks they can know pain they have never experienced, as well as judge those who have lived it.

As humans, sometimes we think we know better and know it all until it happens to us.

Survivors don’t need to speak up, the world needs to open their ears to listen, to see change and put it in action. It’s not enough saying, “I’m not a rapist, I’m not an abuser, I’m not racist, misogynistic …” because most of us have been the problem even when we don’t realize it. We need to really challenge ourselves and look within and we need to get angry collectively, not only when things personally affect us or loved ones.

If you really are in support of mental illness, stop shaming, judging, voting for leaders with narcissistic tendencies. Start believing survivors, start listening to them. Fight for equality, fight for justice, fight for the end of cruelty to all humans and animals. Start respecting the environment and world you don’t own and are not entitled to. Stop destroying life and nature and then wondering why things happen. Stop doing this and thinking there will be no consequences.

If we live in a world that doesn’t meet human needs, that isn’t safe or feels safe, do we really think mental illness is just a disease? That suicide is just the result of depression? Depression is a symptom that manifests in a world that can render us to feel helpless and hopeless and alone. The world needs to change if mental illness is to get any better.  All these things are injuries to the psyche, and naturally, the psyche will bleed. Sadly, when it’s the psyche, many are left to bleed or told to stop bleeding. You see, struggling is a normal human experience and it’s hard to heal wounds when the environment that caused them doesn’t change.

Sexual Coercion – The invisible rape

We need to talk about sexual abuse/violence in all its wider spectrum and one form that isn’t discussed much and that has survivors suffering the aftermath and symptoms without being able to give language to their experience and feeling like they have no right to feel the way they feel, is coercive rape. 

Coercive rape is just that, it isn’t sex because the consent is fabricated, if you manipulate someone this isn’t seduction it’s exploiting them for your own gain, it’s getting them to change their behaviour and actions.
If saying no isn’t respected then a yes cannot be valid and if that yes is worn down, is given due to fearing someone will leave a relationship if you don’t give them sex or worse, if the yes is achieved under emotional duress, with constant pressure before or after refusal this is coercion. It is not enough for us to discuss the fact that no means no, we must also see how the yes is obtained and when the yes is invalid.

We need to start looking at freely obtained consent but more than that, a freely obtained enthusiastic yes and not arrogantly assume consent or put the responsibility on someone to tell us to stop or say no. If someone respects you, if they are attuned to you and your body language as they should be then they can see if you are uncomfortable and stop to ask or stop altogether to be safe. Looking away, crying, saying not now, looking distant and vacant and other signs are all no or signs for someone to stop.

Abusers use this tactic because it’s not spoken much off, because it goes ignored and because it’s not given the severity it deserves. They know they can get away with it. There is no law as of yet to tackle this.
Sexual coercion is abusive, and it can causes sexual trauma. In the same way, that attempted rape can be just as traumatic as if a rape itself took place.

Sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened, or forced in a nonphysical way. Coercion can make you think you owe sex to someone; it can be someone trying to get you tipsy or drunk so that it makes it harder for you to refuse them, it can be someone pressurising you when you don’t feel ready, not in the mood or to have unprotected sex. It can be verbally egging someone on or using social pressure such as: everyone is doing it, it has to happen sometime, you can’t be a virgin all your life, you’re old enough, what’s wrong with you? Others like it, others get off at this, come on, you’ll enjoy it once we get started, it’s not like we haven’t had sex before…it can be threats such as: I’ll leave you if you don’t, I’ll tell everyone about it…threatening emotional blackmail. It can be achieved through using guilt: If you loved me you would, come on it’s been so long, you’ve led me on, I’m aroused now you can’t just stop now…

Like emotional abuse it can be hard to identify or to pinpoint because it is not always blatant. As mentioned, it can be persistent attempts, or using a relationship to make you feel obligated.

It’s important to remember that no matter how it takes place, the bottom line is that you really didn’t want to have sex. You know it isn’t classified (by law) as rape since you “gave in”, or said yes (even when you didn’t want it but felt you should or had too) but you still feel violated. There is a reason why you feel violated even if you can’t explain it and that’s because of the coercive aspect.

Consent is enthusiastic not reluctant, and this is what we should be aiming for and accepting nothing less, it is not enough to have a “yes”. Sexual coercion leaves one confused after the experience. Sex doesn’t leave anyone confused when it’s wanted and enjoyable when it is not uncomfortable. In this situation someone isn’t respecting boundaries.

Sexual coercion is on the same spectrum as sexual assault and rape itself and I would go as far as classifying it as rape, because if a no is not respected a yes can never be valid and so consent is lacking. Even in cases where one can change their mind, from a no to a yes, it’s important to note that you can only change your mind and agree to sex when you know that both your yes and no are respected: without pressure, shame or guilt or fear. In the same way someone doesn’t pressure someone to change their yes into a no with sex, we should also accept no as a valid answer, we shouldn’t accept it as a right for someone to have to owe anyone sex.

Sexual coercion is damaging, and it can equally result in trauma and like trauma lead to PTSD, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, low self-esteem, affect sexuality as occurs with survivors who are physically raped, because abuse is abuse no matter how it is done.

It can happen to anyone, it is also important to note that adults can also be groomed, another subject that isn’t much talked off that can make adults feel alone or shamed. We are all vulnerable no matter who we are or how old we are.

Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with someone to earn trust with the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or even trafficking, again it’s a manipulative tactic of abuse.

The grooming process is much similar to how an adult grooms a child, it usually starts with a friendship in order to gain trust and then trying to take the relationship further by sexualising the friendship, it is believed to be known as ‘mate crime’ due to this. It can make it hard and confusing for a victim to identify the grooming from a romantic relationship and it starts with the abuser trying to disable their victim’s boundaries and eventually violating those boundaries and the victim. This is a slow process and can even take many years before the victim is hurt.
This can happen in person or with the world of the internet, now online. Of course, the motive isn’t always to sexually abuse someone, it can take other forms of exploitation such as material, financial, radicalisation.

The abuser will make the victim believe they have a ‘special’ bond.

Love bombarding is another form of grooming when the abuser becomes a partner and the early stages of a relationship. It is a manipulative tactic once again and emotional abuse but hard to spot because it involves flattery, gifts, attention, extravagant gestures to the point the victim believes to have met their perfect match and that they are deeply in love, yet the deeply in love is with an image and not the real person. It’s easy for us to fall in love with words and attention. It makes us feel special and that’s where the hook and appeal and being seduced comes in. It may sound or seem romantic but there is nothing romantic about love bombarding, it’s aim is for the abuser to gain power and control over their target.

Sexual coercion is sexual abuse, you should never feel forced into anything that you’re not comfortable with or don’ t feel like doing. Rape and sexual abusedon’t have to be achieved through physical means and physical force and it’s time that the world and people understood this and that we don’t accept anything that lacks respect or violates boundaries. It’s time we talked about this, we fight to make the changes, we change our own behaviours, and we address this.

For more knowledge, please consider purchasing the book: Shattering the myths of abuse: Validating the pain; Changing the culture.

When trauma is ignored or labelled

Peter Levine (Clinical Psychologist) states thatTrauma is the most avoided, ignored, denied, misunderstood and untreated cause of human suffering.”

Trauma being ignored can be traced back to Freud Sigmund (psychologist) who changed his theory to hysteria and false memories because his original work that exposed the trauma of sexual abuse experienced by many of his patients was at the time not received well because the world did not want to believe that incest was real. Therefore, trauma got ignored and covered up. An example of many how in the world, society, culture, trauma is ignored, and survivors are silenced.

Janina Fisher, PhD
 (Psychologist) talks about the legacy of trauma, by legacy she means the natural responses that trauma leaves survivors with, the healing of these trauma symptoms. It is the legacy itself of trauma that is not only ignored in general by society and individuals in it but also in the professional fields that should be supporting those who are traumatised. Psychiatry has had a history of treating people, by seeing them as just symptoms and not recognising the symptomology of trauma, therefore, they have tended to just throw labels at survivors, rather than looking at the history of a person. They have asked what’s wrong with you, rather than what happened to you? And by doing this, they saw individuals has having something wrong with them, instead of natural consequences or changes to the brain structure such as can occur with trauma. The approach hasn’t been one of empathy and not always an accurate one either.

This approach can still be found, and a lot of work needs to be done in the field to change this. Slowly with the awareness of trauma, new information and more discussion we can hope to see much needed changes. Trauma causes the inability to self-sooth and self-regulate, yet many have been misdiagnosed with bi-polar due to poorly regulated or dysregulated mood states or the popular diagnose that was thrown so easily to label survivors of abuse tended to be BPD(Borderline Personality Disorder) also known by the term Emotional unstable personality disorder, due to again having difficulties regulating emotions, mood instability (which can be caused by triggers in traumatised individuals) and self-harm (part of the survival response; the flight response).

The names themselves tend to suggest a defect in a person. Trauma and emotional dysregulation are therefore, easily labelled and can be easily misdiagnosed. This is also why some of these conditions have also be renamed: Multiple Personality disorder was renamed Dissociative Identity Disorder because the new term accurately focuses on the fact that dissociation is what happens. Again, this dissociation is a natural survival response to extreme abuse and trauma very often in childhood that forms as a creative and ingenious way for the mind to protect itself and survive horrors that no human should ever have to endure and would be too unbearable without this copying mechanism. It is evidence of trauma and of the adaptive brain and the ways symptoms and conditions form to protect our psyche. An extraordinary ability.

Another trauma response that gets misdiagnosed is ADHD, it is not rare for children who experience trauma earlier on in life to be diagnosed more than likely with ADHD, again psychological trauma is being labelled. These are traumatic reactions and not necessarily a mental illness, because symptoms overlap this error is easily made, however, if we start asking the right questions and see people as individuals who we take interest in and show curiosity we will less likely make the mistakes, as seeing people as just their symptoms or ignoring the legacy of trauma is not an empathetic approach or useful at that.  We do not want to unnecessarily medicate people with medication that can have bad side effects and bring them shame if they don’t respond to these and that can in return have individual feel that they are not only wrong, but something must be wrong with them if they are not responding to treatment or for their dosages to be increased when the issue is one of psychological trauma and emotional dysregulation which can be treated with a variety of modalities and where medication should not be the sole or primary modality.

Gabor Mate (physician and expert on trauma/addiction/stress/childhood development) states: “All of the diagnoses that you deal with – depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, even psychosis, are significantly rooted in trauma. They are manifestations of trauma. Therefore, the diagnoses don’t explain anything. The problem in the medical world is that we diagnose somebody, and we think that is the explanation. He’s behaving that way because he is psychotic. She’s behaving that way because she has ADHD. Nobody has ADHD, nobody has psychosis – these are processes within the individual. It’s not a thing that you have. This is a process that expresses your life experience. It has meaning in every single case.” 

Society itself is based on a culture of toxic positivity or statements that silence, dismiss, or minimise the human sufferings of others and the human experience. No emotion is good or bad, all emotions are to be felt and heard and allowed the natural process of being released and healed, instead of the process interrupted, emotions denied, having to be repressed and remain unheard and unresolved and stuck in the process of healing. Emotions are road maps to what is hurting, to what needs to be addressed to the wounds caused to our psyche.

Symptoms manifest and are natural responses just as we would expect a bone to break, the skin to tear and bled in injury, a ligament to rupture, we wouldn’t think this is abnormal and that it says something about someone’s personality. How can we not see that mind, body and soul are connected? That the mind and body is not separate but that what affects the mind will also affect the body? Research has shown from the Polyvagal Theory that all emotions and survival responses are experienced in our nervous system, and that when the back part of our brain is activated and in survival mode, our front part of the brain (logic/thinking) is offline. We automatically react to survive before we have time to think of our actions or thoughts because the brain part in control of logic and reasoning is offline when a threat is posed or felt and the fear response is activated to act and defend ourselves from danger (perceived or real). If we are in this hypoarousal (Freeze/collapsed) state or hyperarousal (Flight/fight) state, we will find it difficult to emotionally regulate ourselves and for those growing up with parents who were absent or unattuned or in case of abusive ones nobody has taught us these skills. Nobody is born with the ability to self-regulate themselves.

Traumatologist John Briere stated: “If CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) were ever given its due, the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) used by all mental health professionals would shrink from its dictionary like size to the size of a thin pamphlet”. What this understands is that the role of traumatised childhoods in most adult psychological disorders is enormous.

Other misdiagnoses are those of depression and anxiety.

Trauma and its legacy can of course co-occur with mental conditions, but many can be accurately described as the natural survival responses found in trauma, example ADHD and compulsive obsessive can be responses to the fight response, depression to the freeze/collapse response. Responses that were created to protect us at the time and served the role for our survival. It doesn’t mean our suffering is any less or real or that we can’t have biological conditions, but it means we need the right treatment and support and to accurately see these experiences for what they are.

This is such so important to always bear in mind and to know and I hope that others can find it helpful and useful.