You Are Not the Only One: TheTruth About Trauma Trauma has been covered in a veil of myths over the years. Often, people do not want to believe that trauma
happens as frequently as it does. Let’s take a look at some common myths surrounding trauma.
Myth 1: Traumatic Experiences Are Uncommon The reported prevalence of trauma is startling, with over 70 percent of the adult population experiencing trauma at some point in their lives (Breslau 2002). The methods and definitions used in the research on the prevalence of trauma vary widely and can be controversial. However, it’s clear that traumatic experiences occur at a very high rate. Trauma used to be viewed as isolated events that are not typical of the normal human experience. We now know that trauma impacts many people every year.[Any thoughts or feelings coming up for you at this moment?]
Myth 2: If People Were Just Stronger,They Could Get Over Trauma Although the severity of problems or symptoms can vary from individual to individual, no one can completely avoid trauma or completely protect himself or herself from the consequences of traumatic experiences. The normal response is to experience some problems coping after a traumatic experience. These common responses are discussed in greater detail later on in this chapter.How serious these problems are after trauma depends on a variety of factors, including previous traumatic experiences, a person’s own natural abilities to cope with stress, the perceived severity of the trauma, and, importantly, what kind of support a person gets from family members, friends, and professionals following the trauma (Herman 1992). The issue of recovery from trauma is a complex one that continues to be an active focus of research.
Myth 3: Ever Trauma Survivor Will Need Therapy Why are some people, despite experiencing trauma, stress, and hardship, still able to overcome life’s difficulties and thrive after trauma? What skills or qualities do these people possess? The answers to this questionnare being researched every day. This is one of many topics we will face where two seemingly opposite ideas can be true. Despite the many common consequences of trauma, the bottom line is that trauma does not have to ruin your life. This doesn’t mean you are to blame for the problems you have encountered in dealing with your stressful life experiences. The idea of recovery is a personal one and will mean something different for each person who picks up this book.We believe that you have the power to make your life meaningful and satisfying through the choices you make. “Resilience” is a term often used to denote bouncing or springing back into shape, and it’s often used to describe those who seemingly bounce back from trauma. But the word doesn’t seem to accurately describe the human process of gradually returning to your previous level of functioning through a process of healing.Being resilient does not mean that the trauma is not difficult and upsetting or that it doesn’t impact you in many of the ways mentioned above; it simply means that despite these obstacles, you are willing and able to move forward in your life. In fact, we believe you can move beyond your previous experience to an even more satisfying stage of life. [Any thoughts or feelings coming up right now? What about changes in heart rate or breathing?]You already are exhibiting characteristics that indicate your ability to recover from your experiences as evidenced by the fact that you have picked up this book and are willing to work on changing your life. You were
to get help.
Exercise 1.1: Recognizing Your Own Strength In your recovery, it will be important for you tonotice and acknowledge all of the positive stepsyou are making. List some other steps you have been taking to move forward (for instance, taking the time to learn about the consequences of trauma). 1. ____________________ 2. ____________________ 3. ____________________ 4. ____________________ 5. ____________________ 6. ____________________ 7. ____________________ Myth 4: Traumatic Experiences MainlyHappen to Women A common myth is that noncombat trauma only happens to women. We know that this is not the case.According to the National Comorbidity Study (NCS),over 60 percent of the males surveyed reported at least one potential trauma, with many of them reporting experiencing two or more types of trauma (Kessler et al.1995). According to the NCS results and other studies, men were more likely than women to report witnessing someone being injured or killed, involvement in a life-threatening accident or natural disaster, or involvement in a physical attack or combat exposure (Breslau et al.1998; Kessler et al. 1995).
Myth 5: Men Are Rarely Victims of Sexual Trauma Our society repeatedly fails to recognize that men
and boys can be victims of sexual assault. Rates of sexual abuse of young boys or adolescents vary from 4 percent to 16 percent depending on the population studied, data collected, and the definitions of sexual assault or abuse(Dong et al. 2003). One study found that nearly 12 percent of new navy recruits reported a history of childhood sexual abuse (Merrill et al. 2001). Males are most often sexually assaulted by other men (although women can sexually assault men too), and the perpetrators are often authority figures or strangers.Furthermore, many men do not disclose their sexual trauma to anyone, which can fuel shame and isolation.
Myth 6: The Media Exaggerate theFrequency of Trauma In the context of more frequent discussions about traumatic experiences in the news, reality TV, and talk shows, some of our clients report experiencing a backlash of sorts, with individuals in their environment now assuming that this increased media exposure has led to an unwarranted and exaggerated public perception of the frequency and impact of trauma. However, data on prevalence rates about interpersonal violence against women alone proves otherwise.A national survey of adult women in the UnitedStates pointed out that nearly 13 percent of participants had experienced a completed rape, and approximately14 percent had experienced molestation or attempted sexual assault (Resnick et al. 1993). Studies have indicated that approximately one out of six women is raped in her lifetime (Brenner, McMahon, and Douglas1999; Tjaden and Thoennes 1998). Additionally, according to the National Violence Against WomenSurvey, approximately 25 percent of American women experience partner abuse in their lifetime (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).
.this page or elsewhere?] Myth 7: Abuse Only Happens in PoorFamilies The concept that abuse only occurs among the disadvantaged is typically applied in interpersonal violence situations such as rape, child sexual and physical abuse, and domestic violence. Somehow, people find it easier to believe that an unemployed alcoholic is hitting his wife than a well-dressed doctor. Yet, the evidence is that trauma happens across a variety of social and economic dimensions. Although the very experience of poverty, particularly living in crime-infested areas, can be similar to other forms of trauma (Kiser and Black 2005),traumatic events can happen to anyone at any time in his or her life, regardless of gender, ethnicity, education, or financial stability.
Myth 8: Post-traumatic Stress DisorderIs Rare Among Military Men and Women Military men and women often experience psychological difficulties as a result of the trauma they experience in combat zones. Approximately 30 percent of Vietnam veterans experience post-traumatic stress disorder (see description below) in their lifetime (Kulka et al. 1988). A recent study has demonstrated that rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety disorders are elevated among American troops who have been stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder were as high as 17 percent of military returnees from Iraq. Furthermore, military personnel who experienced the most symptoms were less likely to seek psychological services (Hoge et al.2004). Although many military personnel will return from combat and adjust well, a significant number of combatants will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (Friedman 2006).
Everyday Stresses People Would Benefit from Help There is no one truth that will be accurate for everyone. The question of whether only severely distressed people benefit from help remains one that is highly debated in the trauma literature. Traumatic experiences and the effects of trauma can happen to all of us, no matter how healthy, strong, and resourceful we may be. When people are still experiencing problems weeks and months after a trauma has occurred, there are many specialized treatments, such as this self-help book, that can help. Some people will find that the symptoms tend to resolve over time, while others will decide to seek treatment immediately. Part of our goal in this book is to help you to look at what is true for you and to choose a direction that fits your unique needs and goals.
Myth 10: We Have Become a Society of Victims The idea that we’ve become a society of victims is related to the second myth we listed. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to hear people say that individuals who claim to be traumatized are “just creating a mountain out of a molehill. If they really wanted to, they could pull themselves out of it. I personally or others I know have been through a lot, and we are doing just fine.”You may have heard such comments from others in your life or may have said this to yourself privately. It makes sense that such thoughts would pop into your head; it makes less sense to actually believe the thought.It is human nature to compare our experiences to those of others. Although this natural tendency, which is possible because of language (see chapter 6), may help us not feel so alone, it also has a very unhelpful side. We want to tell you at least three reasons why you may be better off not getting too caught up in comparing your experience with someone else’s.