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How Trauma Shakes Up the ‘Puzzle Pieces’ of the Brain

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

A transcript of an interview Mosaic Georgia’s Director of Mental Health & Wellness, Kendall Wolz

Can you tell us a little about your background?

My name is Kendall, and I am the director of mental health and wellness services here at Mosaic, Georgia. I hold a LPC, which means I’m a licensed professional counselor. So I get to not only oversee our program, but also provide direct services to clients.

 

How long have you been in this field?

I would say I’ve been in the helping profession since 2010, so gosh, 14 years. But specifically as a counselor, I’ve been seeing clients since 2018. I’ve been with Mosaic Georgia for a year and a half. It’ll be two years in October. I joined the staff and helped launch the Mental Health and Wellness Services in October of 2022.

 

So that launches us right into what is now upon us – Mental Health Awareness Month, which is of course the big topic. Let’s talk how trauma affects the brain. People tend to forget that the brain is an organ that has its own way of acting, the way any other organ would in the body. There are some scientific elements in terms of how the brain might react, or behaviors that might show up, that people who have not experienced significant trauma may not understand. Can you talk a little bit about how the brain typically records memories and then how that process could change when the body is in a mode of fight or flight?

I always talk about the brain as an organ of our body that is designed to protect us, to keep us safe, to keep us alive. Many of our organs have that role. And when they’re not threatened, when they’re not sick, when they’re not facing challenges, they usually work properly and do just that. However, when we experience something like a traumatic event, it sort of rattles our systems and they don’t function as they do in other circumstances.

If we think about the brain in its neutral or baseline state where everything is fine, memories are encoded using all parts of our brain. There’s the sensory pieces of memories that get recorded so we can recall how we felt when certain events happened, what something may have smelled like or tasted like or felt like to touch; we can recall maybe what thoughts we had. We can also recall those narrative portions of that event. We can tell the story of ‘this is what happened’ and ‘that is what happened’. So I compare it [the brain] to a puzzle. In that neutral state, we have access to all the puzzle pieces and that memory is getting stored as a complete puzzle.

However, when trauma happens or a traumatic event occurs, those memories don’t get stored as a full puzzle. Instead, it’s like someone shook that puzzle up or tossed all the pieces up in the air. And that memory is getting stored with some of the puzzle pieces and maybe not all of them. And the way that that typically looks is that when a person has experienced a trauma, they have difficulty accessing some pieces of that memory.

 

How does this show up when someone discloses abuse?

It may mean they can’t tell us that narrative portion of ‘I did this, and ‘then I did this, and then this happened’, or give us that complete storyline that we desire. Instead, what they may recall is what was playing on the TV in the background for example. There’s a very strong sensory aspect of the memory. They may recall how something smelled and can tell you in great detail what that was like, but it wouldn’t be fair for us to expect them to be able to give us the full puzzle of that memory, because that’s just not how the brain stores what has occurred.

Very rarely when a trauma occurs is a person going to think about, let me jot down, let me remind myself what time it is when this happened or what day it occurred. And especially when there’s chronic or long-term trauma events that occur multiple times in multiple settings, it’s difficult. The brain isn’t thinking, ‘what time is it, what day is it?’ Instead, the brain is thinking, ‘I’ve got to survive’.

People unfortunately can tend to question why someone would wait a long period of time to disclose abuse. Can you talk a little about how common that is and how it affects the healing process?

Some studies have shown and some organizations have stated that the average age of disclosure for childhood sexual abuse is the age of 55. And so if that length of time has passed since a trauma occurs, what we typically see is that – let’s say a person never received any form of treatment for a trauma and many years have passed – it is challenging.

Typically that trauma, that may have been a single event, becomes more complex because of the symptoms they experience, the ways that they may try to self-soothe or to cope, and the way that other people respond to them. Often we see that there’s this pattern of multiple hurts and harms over their lifetime,

but it’s never too late to begin therapy and it’s never too late to heal.

We have many, many studies and I have a lot of personal experience from my work where I’ve seen people who didn’t disclose as kids and are now adults, they work through their trauma and are able to find that joy in life again that was stolen when the trauma occurred.

 

The Hand Model of the Brain

I’ll sometimes use Dr. Dan Siegel’s hand model of the brain. The way that that works is you ball up your fist and think of it as your brain. The front part of our brains behind our forehead is our prefrontal cortex. Not only is it the last thing to develop – our executive functioning–decision making, reasoning, higher level thoughts – but it’s also the least important when our lives feel threatened, or a traumatic event is occurring.

If you open your hand and lift up the four fingers, then you would see your lower brain and your midbrain. For survival, we need all the energy in this part of our brain. This is where our stress hormones are released. This is where our body goes into that fight or flight response which is what keeps us alive and keeps us going.

Sometimes we’ll talk about when a kid gets dysregulated, their ‘lid is flipped’. They can’t access the front part – the executive functioning piece, the thought process, the reasoning. It’s the same way when a trauma occurs, we’re not going to have time to think about ‘what am I going to do?’ Instead, we just go into the automatic responses.

It’s just really what our brain does. It’s what it was designed to do, But it’s not exactly what society wants from people.

 

Is access to the more episodic information, like dates, times and locations gone forever?

A lot of times people are expected to give that full puzzle memory quickly–right away. But really their bodies are still in that hyperarousal state, that fight or flight response. If we just give them some time to be able to regulate and feel safe again, then sometimes they are able to access more of those pieces of the puzzle.

I think the expectation or the hope is that they can provide that information right away. And sometimes it’s just not reasonable for us to expect that.

Do you think that most responders who are dealing with those types of situations and listening to disclosures understand the challenges in recalling information, or do you think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in creating more awareness around it?

I think there’s definitely room for more awareness. However, we have come a long way from where we were a decade ago and definitely, for example, three decades ago. There has been improvement. There is more awareness and understanding from a science perspective of what happens with our brain. But I think it takes a while to shift attitudes and long held beliefs about expectations of how a survivor should act after trauma.

An eye-opening animated video using a real-life scenario, effectively illustrates how trauma affects the brain.

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Other Helpful and Informative Resources

Mosaic Georgia 24/7 FREE Crisis Line: 866-900-6019

Watch as Dr. Seigel explains his hand model of the brain

Read more from Kendall Wolz about trauma and the brain

Read about the trauma brain in Psychology Today.

Ready to heal?
Our Wholeness Collective offerings help facilitate a mind-body connection that encourages personal growth, healing, and resilience.

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Someone’s Gotta Say It

 

After Awareness, the Empathy Begins: Tools for Being a Good Ally

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

Monthly ribbons are visible reminders of important issues, yet they fail to capture the depth and complexity of challenges faced by survivors and advocates.

Once we’re aware, what happens next?

In this social media culture where people share photos of their meals (photo first, then eat!), it feels like people in the US over-share. And yet… as open as we may appear, some personal matters are difficult to talk about, even with loved ones: life-threatening illness, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual harassment and assault, scams and sextortion. These conjure feelings of fear, shame, self-blame and vulnerability. When these emotions simmer amidst life’s daily challenges, social connections and feelings of belonging are often threatened.

Why is the person who experienced harm – be it medical, physical, sexual, financial – often reluctant to tell those closest to them? The most common reasons are embarrassment and fear of the response(s) they will receive. The questions: why were you…? what were you…? I told you…

Teens and young adults are especially fearful of disclosing abuse.

To Be An Ally, Begin Before Something Happens

It all starts with knowing yourself. You don’t have to be a superhero – just being there is often enough. An ally is not responsible for fixing anything. Resist the urge to “problem solve.” A safe, calm presence is most important.

And if crisis situations aren’t your thing, that’s okay. But it’s worth thinking about how you might handle them in advance.

Let your friends and family know that you’re there for them, no matter what. Make it clear that you won’t judge or lecture. Remember, just like the pickpocket is responsible for lifting a wallet, the person who harasses, assaults, or abuses is responsible for their actions. So, avoid questions like “What were you wearing?” or “Why didn’t you do ‘this’?”

The best allies:

  • Are trustworthy.
  • Listen more than talk.
  • Respond, don’t react: Remain calm, absorb their heavier energy to help release traumatic stress.
  • Keep information confidential. “It’s not my story to share” is a good reminder.
  • Are patient. Recognize that it takes a lot of time to work through what’s happened. It is different for each person.

First Things First

1. Believe and Validate

When someone opens up to you, start by letting them know you believe them and that you’re there to support them. For example: “I believe you, and I’m here to support you in any way I can.”

2. Listen Without Judgment

Listen actively, reflect their feelings, and let them share at their own pace. Avoid pressuring them to disclose more than they’re comfortable with. For example: “It sounds like you’re feeling scared/angry/sad. Is that accurate?”

3. Respect Their Autonomy

Offer options, respect their choices, and empower them to make their own decisions. For example: “What do you want/need right now?” “There are different paths you can take from here. Let me know how I can support you in your decisions.”

4. Offer Practical Support

When communicating, remember that it’s not just about the words – body language and tone of voice matter too. You might: remind them of importance of sound sleep; offer a place where they can feel safe to sleep undisturbed. Encourage hydration; the body needs water to be healthy – physically and mentally. Offer to accompany them to appointments, provide resources, and help with everyday tasks to ease their burden.

5. Educate Yourself

Learn about trauma, understand available resources, and offer informed support. For example: “I’ve researched some local support services that you might find helpful.”

6. Practice Self-Care

If you are a partner, parent, or roommate, this experience will impact your daily life. Set boundaries, take breaks, and seek support for yourself when needed.

Remember:

When someone trusts you enough to share their experience of abuse or assault, it’s crucial to listen without judgment and validate their feelings. It’s not about having all the answers or offering solutions; it’s about being a compassionate presence and letting them know they are not alone.

Calm can be just as contagious as fear and stress. So, breathe deeply and keep yourself steady.

By being a supportive ally, you can make a real difference in someone’s life. So, let’s stand together and create a culture of empathy, support, and understanding for all survivors.

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Making Room for Grief After Trauma

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

One of the often-overlooked responses following a trauma like child sexual abuse or sexual assault is the pervasive grief. For many survivors of sexual violence, their life looks different after an outcry or disclosure of their experiences. It is vital in our care for survivors and their families, that we make room for grief and provide a safe space where the losses are acknowledged. 

When a child discloses childhood sexual abuse, that outcry is not usually accompanied by an understanding of what will happen after they tell someone. Many times, children are only questioning if the perpetrator will follow through on their threat of what would happen if they did tell. If I had known what losses I would endure in the aftermath of my disclosure at 13 years old, I’m not sure I would have had the same courage to tell. Not only are there personal losses, but media has revealed how negligently disclosures are handled.  

Disclosures are costly, but they are worth it. The response to a disclosure is very important as it makes a significant difference in the experience of the survivor.  

What are the losses a survivor may need space to grieve?
 

Relationships

RAINN estimates that 93% of juvenile victims of sexual violence know their perpetrator.1 Many perpetrators do not act “all bad” within the family unit. In fact, they are often loved and trusted by family members. Following many disclosures in which law enforcement and child protective services become involved, the perpetrator and other family members are separated. In my family, my mom, siblings, and I moved from the home we shared with my abuser into a bedroom at our grandparents’ home. Despite the horrific crimes my abuser committed, he had been a constant in our lives for over seven years. My siblings and I loved our cousins/aunts/uncles/grandma on that side of the family. In what seemed like an instant, those relationships were irreparably damaged. While the relational loss to my abuser was absolutely necessary and what we needed, its rationality did not squelch the pain of losing family.
 

Environment 

In situations where the offender is a member of the household, the victim and their non-offending family member may not be able to return to the place they once called home. On November 10, 2004, my siblings and I went to school in the morning, and we never returned to the place we had called home with our stepdad for years. We moved away from a very rural area with plenty of land to run around on and pets, including a potbelly pig. We moved into a bedroom in our grandparents’ home in a neighborhood and were unable to bring them with us. We never saw our pets again after we went to school that morning. We were incredibly grateful to remain together and live in a home full of love; however, it was a major adjustment for us during a very stressful time.
 

Financial 

Financial losses occur when the perpetrator is a contributor to the household’s income. Not only might families experience the loss of an income, but they also incur new expenses including mental health treatment, absenteeism from work due to appointments, housing expenses for relocation, and civil court expenses in addition to others. Families may no longer be able to engage in previously normal leisure activities like eating at a restaurant or going to the movies. The increased financial burden creates additional stress and leaves families grieving the life they once had.
 

How Mosaic Georgia Helps 

At Mosaic Georgia we recognize the long-lasting impacts of sexualized violence and strive to provide meaningful support by acknowledging the losses and alleviating some of the burdens. When any person walks through the doors at Mosaic, we seek to build safety and trust, and to be a positive force in that person’s life. We provide opportunities for survivors to build their support system with others in the community through our Wholeness Collective offerings. While we are not able to reclaim homes, we purposefully create warm environments in our offices that we hope promote safety and comfort. To alleviate the financial burden our clients face, we provide free supportive services including advocacy, counseling/therapy, and legal services.  

Grief after trauma encompasses much more than the loss of relationships and people in our lives. It is vital that anyone who works with trauma survivors creates a space for grief as part of the healing process. 

My abuser was someone I loved, trusted, and wanted to know and be known by. He was someone I saw every single day. My family accepted him and welcomed him.

If you’ve followed my blog or read previous posts, you know the excitement I expressed for the popular television show, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. I literally could not wait for the show to air in 1999. We only had antennas and two televisions in the trailer where I could watch the show. One television was in the living room but that is where my siblings often did their homework in the evening. The other television was in my mom and stepdad’s bedroom. When my stepdad invited me to watch the show, it seemed like the best of both worlds. Time with the person I trusted and loved AND I got to watch what I believed would be the best show ever.

It seems strange to label sexual abuse as gentle, but from a physical perspective, it was, in the beginning. I didn’t leave the room that first night in any kind of pain. But emotionally, I was filled with ambivalence.

I LOVED the show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

I ENJOYED getting the undivided attention of my stepdad.

I TRUSTED my stepdad would never do anything to harm me.

I was DISGUSTED by the evidence of the abuse on me.

I was CONFUSED by the passive threat he made before I left the room.

I FEARED someone would find out about our new secret.

At eight years old, these were strong, complex emotions that totally overwhelmed my system. I could not assess what was true, right, or healthy. As a result of the ambivalence, I had to rest on my default belief which was based on a general trust of people older than me. I needed those people to survive. If I could not trust them, how would I make it in the world?

Kids should be able to long for and love quality time with a parent. It is normal and healthy for a child to desire those things. My need for that perception of love was normal. I chose what was normal over and over- quality time with my stepdad and getting to watch my favorite show. Though it came with other hard feelings, the desire for love and acceptance won, over and over again.
So, ambivalence kept me quiet for a long time. And it keeps a lot of kids quiet.

When you hear a child disclose abuse, please know they have likely fought through the power of ambivalence. It is an incredible step of courage and bravery to go against the defaults to tell their story. Please accept that the ambivalence will not disappear overnight. Healing takes time.

Kendall Wolz heads up the Mental Health and Wellness team that provides individual, family, and group therapy to those seeking care at Mosaic Georgia. As a survivor herself, she has a unique insight into the challenges of living with past trauma, how it impacts lives daily, and what the process of healing truly looks like. Her personal website, Brave Girl, Speak unpacks some of the complex issues that come along with being a survivor of sexual violence. Visit Kendall’s site to read more about her personal journey healing from trauma and peeling the layers to reclaim her true self.

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Someone’s Gotta Say It

 

Out from the Shadows: The Battle With Taboos and Stigma

 

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

If you have circled the sun’s orbit at least a dozen times, you’re likely familiar with the double-edged sword of social taboos. Lucky are the few who have skirted the jagged edges of stigma; for many this isn’t the case.   

Every culture wraps certain topics in an invisible cloak of discomfort and prohibition. These are our taboos, ranging from the mundane – like talking on speakerphone in public places – to the deeply personal, like discussing sexual violence. Originating from the Tongan word “tabu,” meaning set apart or forbidden, taboos sculpt our beliefs of what is socially, morally, or religiously unacceptable. They wield the power of social stigma as their enforcer. This invisible yet palpable force maintains social norms but at what cost? 

In the U.S., everyday taboos might include not cleaning up after your pet, belching at the dinner table, or checking your phone during a job interview. Yet, it’s in the realm of “polite company” where the deeper taboos lurk, shrouded in euphemisms or silence — topics such as puberty, menstruation, and our very genitalia become unspeakable. Here is where stigma casts a long shadow, marking some people with shame and disgrace over certain circumstances often beyond their control.   

Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. A powerful social force, stigma thrives on the fear of exclusion, of becoming “othered.” It embeds itself within our social networks and hierarchies, adapting by leveraging dominance to instill fear or using prestige to demand respect. The stigma of rape and abuse are very prevalent in American society and people don’t often realize that their comments and reactions humiliate sexual assault victims. 

Taboos give birth to euphemisms, those linguistic gymnastics we perform to skirt around the discomfort of reality. Euphemisms are generally used to make phrases more positive than the actual word. Consider how we soften the blow of death with phrases like “passed away” or tiptoe around illness by saying someone has “caught a bug.” These linguistic detours are our society’s attempt to navigate the uncomfortable, yet they also serve as early beacons of our implicit biases. From childhood, we’re taught to cloak our bodies in euphemism, learning about “pee” and “poop.” Why are some body parts easy to say and learn – eyes, ears, nose, elbows, knees, and toes, yet penis, vulva, and anus are given other names? We receive messages early in life that some parts of our bodies are taboo. Thus our implicit biases begin. 

But what happens when these dynamics intersect with the most vulnerable moments of our lives, such as disclosing an experience of sexual abuse or assault? 

Will You React or Respond?  The Choice is Yours 

The way we react to someone – whether a child, teen, adult, or senior – when they disclose an experience of abuse or assault can significantly shape the survivor’s healing journey and willingness to seek further help. The responses, influenced by a blend of societal norms, personal beliefs, and psychological factors, can either pave a path toward healing or exacerbate an already profound trauma.  

Understanding these reactions and how to navigate them is crucial for anyone who might find themselves in the position of a confidante or first responder to such disclosures. Here’s a nuanced look at common reactions, along with practical advice for fostering a more supportive and healing-oriented response. 

Embracing Support and Belief 

The ideal response involves offering unconditional support and belief. This positive reception stems from empathy, awareness, and an absence of judgment. It is crucial to affirm the survivor’s experience, validate their feelings, and assure them that the abuse or assault was not their fault. 

Tips for Being Supportive: 

  • Listen Actively: Let them share as much or as little as they wish, without pressing for details. 
  • Affirm Their Courage: Acknowledge the bravery it takes to tell you.  
  • Offer Resources, Not Directives: Find and share information on professional support services (like Mosaic Georgia), empowering them to make their own choices.  

Navigating Skepticism and Disbelief 

Often, our initial reaction to surprising news is disbelief. “No way!” we might explain. In instances of sexual violations, skepticism can be a reflex especially if cognitive dissonance arises from knowing both parties involved. (e.g., He’s such a nice guy; I can’t believe he would do such a thing).  It can be a struggle to align this new information with their existing perception. Check these impulses, recognizing the courage it takes to disclose such experiences. 

Tips for Managing Disbelief: 

  • Educate Yourself: Learn about the dynamics of abuse and the varied ways survivors respond to trauma. There is no “right” way to respond to trauma.  
  • Challenge Your Biases: Reflect on any preconceptions you have about abuse and its survivors. 
  • Prioritize Empathy: Focus on the survivor’s emotional state and needs, rather than your doubts

Avoiding Blame and Victim-Shaming 

Language plays a role in either perpetuating stigma or moving towards understanding. Even well-meaning family or friends ask questions like “what were you wearing/drinking?” or “were you flirting with him?” to try to make sense of what happened.

But these questions reflect deeply ingrained societal norms that wrongly hold individuals responsible for preventing their own victimization.    

These questions shift accountability of the perpetrator and create emotional distance between you and the person you care about. This reaction is harmful and isolates the survivor. 

Would you ask these questions of someone who was mugged or car-jacked? No, because the offender is responsible for their actions.  

Tips for Avoiding Blame: 

  • Avoid Judgmental Questions: Do not question their actions, attire, or decisions during the event. 
  • Challenge Victim-Blaming Myths:  Remind yourself that the only person responsible for the abuse or assault is the perpetrator. 
  • Focus on Support: Center the conversation around the survivor’s feelings and what they need from you.
     

Dispelling Denial or Minimization 

Sometimes people respond with comments like, “It wasn’t that bad” or “At least…” or “You don’t look / act like you’ve been raped.” These are not helpful to the survivor. Denial and minimization serve to protect the responder’s worldview or the reputation of the accused, but they invalidate the survivor’s experience.  

Tips for Confronting Denial: 

  • Acknowledge the Survivor’s Reality: Honor their story as their lived reality, validating their feelings and experiences.  
  • Educate Yourself on Trauma: Understand that minimizing their experience can compound their trauma. 
  • Encourage Professional Support:  Recognize when the situation is beyond your capacity and encourage engagement with professionals and specialized services (like through Mosaic Georgia).  

Harness Expression of Anger or Desire for Retribution 

For a parent or a partner of one who has disclosed abuse, this is especially for you: express your anger away from your loved one. While a natural response, reacting with expressive anger about the assault/abuse will only add to the stress for the person who shared with you. Many children and youth report a reason for not telling a loving parent is fear the parent will respond violently against the perpetrator. “I don’t want my dad to go to jail because he wants to defend me.”  

Seeking retribution without the survivor’s consent can further disempower them. 

Tips for Managing Anger: 

  • Process Your Feelings Separately: Seek your own support system to deal with feelings of anger. 
  • Respect the Survivor’s Wishes: Align your actions with what the survivor feels is best for their healing. 
  • Promote Agency: Support the survivor in making their own informed decisions about seeking justice or other next steps. 

We can’t control what happened, but we can choose to respond rather than react.  

How you react to the news can profoundly affect the person who was harmed by abuse or assault.  When you start by supportive listening and acceptance, you facilitate a path toward healing.  

Breaking down the stigma surrounding sexual violence begins with challenging our implicit biases and reframing the language we use to discuss these issues. By focusing on the perpetrator’s responsibility and recognizing the courage it takes for survivors to come forward, we can hold offenders accountable and create a safer, more supportive society for all.  

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Someone’s Gotta Say It

 

Drunk Sex or Sexual Assault?

Challenging Perceptions: The Drunk Sex Defense Reconsidered

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

How often have you said or heard “It’s 5:00 somewhere” as a signal to relax from work or studies? From moonshine, wine and beer to the latest spiked seltzers, alcohol has been a social lubricant for many millennia. But its effects on decision-making and behavior are far-reaching and complex.

It Has a Name: Alcohol Myopia

Alcohol myopia – a state where the drinker’s mental and emotional focus narrows. Alcohol decreases the number of social and environmental cues the drinker can focus on; it enhances their focus on immediate gratification and impulsive decision making. The combination of impaired judgment and lower inhibitions can lead to risky behaviors.

Alcohol affects several areas of brain function:

  • reduces activity in the frontal lobe, which governs attention, motivation, and learning.
  • reduces effectiveness of the pre-frontal cortex, which moderates behavior and aggression.
  • triggers the brain’s reward centers and increases feelings of euphoria.
  • enters the amygdala and makes the drinker less likely to feel threatened or afraid.
  • enters the cerebellum, which governs coordination and balance. That is why drunk people often stagger and stumble.

Alcohol myopia explains why someone under the influence may overlook the cues of rejection from another person. It’s like wearing blinders, where only the immediate experience matters, and everything else (including the other person’s wishes) fades into the background. Or the cues they do receive trigger an aggressive response.

To be clear: alcohol DOES NOT CAUSE sexual assault. Most people under the influence of alcohol are not aggressive and DO NOT assault other people.

Consider three common harms by intoxicated people:

Drunk Driving

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 37 people in the US die in drunk driving crashes each day. In 2021, 13,384 people died in alcohol-impaired driving traffic deaths – a 14% increase from 2020. Society rightfully condemns this behavior, recognizing the immense danger posed to oneself and others. No one asks for it.

Fighting While Drunk

Alcohol consumption is associated with aggressive behavior, consistent with lower inhibitions and impulsivity. Now, picture a heated altercation erupting between two guys at a bar, both under the influence of alcohol. Despite their impaired judgment, society does not hesitate to assign blame and hold them accountable for their violent behavior.

Sexually Assaulting while Drunk

When a drunk person sexually assaults – whether groping, fondling or worse – the responsibility narrative shifts. The assaulter’s behavior is neutralized by victim-blaming and excuses such as questioning consent and their responsibility, with the perpetrator often escaping consequences under the guise of “drunk sex.” “She was drunk, too.”….“She’s just embarrassed”….minimizing the harm to neutralize accountability. “He made a mistake. One error in judgment shouldn’t cost him his future.”

It must be asked: Why do we hold drunk individuals accountable for some actions but excuse them in another?

Confronting Double Standards

While some harms, like robbery, are readily condemned, others are met with doubt or denial.

If a man is mugged on the street and robbed of his watch and wallet, would he be asked:

  • Why were you wearing expensive clothes or a flashy watch?
  • Why were you out late?
  • How much had you had to drink?
  • Haven’t you been generous with needy people on the street before?
  • Did you say “no”? The suspect said you consented and gave him the watch and wallet without a struggle.

No, because in cases of robbery, the focus is rightfully on the perpetrator, not the victim.

It must be asked: Why in cases of sexual assault do we immediately shift to questioning the victim’s behavior?

Consider the “drunk sex defense,” where intoxication is an excuse in cases of sexual assault.

In too many cases, she reports that he raped her and he says she consented. All too often, survivors are subjected to scrutiny and blame while his behaviors are neutralized by deflecting and raising doubts about her.

Even though false reports of rape are among the lowest of all crimes (2-8% based on several rigorous studies), many investigations end after a preliminary interview with the victim and suspect. Without an offender-focused investigation, what he said she said is believed more than her own words. It’s no wonder that reports to law enforcement have declined in recent years to just 21% of all rapes.

Who is Aggressive when Drunk?

Predictors of who sexually assaults while inebriated include hypermasculinity, impersonal sex orientation (preference for sexual satisfaction without emotional connection or relational bonding), antisocial behavior, and low self-control. Males with unhealthy attitudes regarding sexual violence are much more likely to perpetrate sexual assault, have higher rates of alcohol use, and are much more likely to experience long-term alcohol-related problems. Alcohol is weaponized for physical and sexual aggression.

To make our community safer for everyone, each of us must confront our biases and cognitive dissonance surrounding the varied perceptions of drunk driving and sexual assault while under the influence. Until there are real consequences for all interpersonal violence, the aggressors have no incentive to change their behavior. Let’s confront these disparities and insist on a more equitable and just approach to addressing sexual violence.

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A Day in the Life of a Counselor at a Child Advocacy Center

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

When I was in graduate school, I regularly heard my peers talk about their dreams of owning a private counseling practice, working in a school system with students, or working on a behavioral health unit of a hospital. I do not recall anyone talking about opportunities to work as a therapist/counselor at a Child Advocacy Center.

A Child Advocacy Center (CAC) is a child-friendly, safe and neutral location where law enforcement and other investigators conduct and observe forensic interviews with children who are victims of crimes. The center is also a place where children and non-offending caregivers receive support, crisis intervention, and referrals.

Working as a therapist/counselor at a Child Advocacy Center is a unique opportunity that requires dedication, patience, and a willingness to walk with people through their significant traumatic experiences. Some days are filled with sadness for the child who has been hurt, outrage at systems and policies that still fail children, and anger towards perpetrators that have grossly harmed little ones. Amid the hard days, there are many glimmers of hope and celebrations. Our “why” reignites when we hear how a child effectively managed a trauma trigger using coping skills practiced in session. Our hearts are filled with joy when a child completes their trauma narrative signifying, they are ready to graduate from therapy. Each time a child shows up to session, willing to do the work of therapy, we are reminded of the resilience and strength children possess.

So, what is a day like for a therapist/counselor at Mosaic Georgia?

We rarely have two days that look the same in a given week at Mosaic Georgia. Our therapists manage a caseload of individual clients and schedule weekly sessions with each of them. We also facilitate various support groups during the week for non-offending caregivers and adult survivors of sexual trauma.

We participate once a month in multi-disciplinary team (MDT) meetings which allow us to interact with our partner agencies to ensure the clients we serve are receiving the assistance they need. Child Advocacy Centers work within a multi-disciplinary team of law enforcement, child protection agencies, district attorney’s offices, and other organizations involved in cases where child maltreatment has been disclosed. Multidisciplinary teams are integral for trauma-informed responses to children and their families. One way the MDT serves children and their families is that the intergroup communication prevents a child from having to tell their story multiple times to each agency involved in the response.

Our team of therapists/counselors also provide crisis counseling intervention when a child or adult comes to the center and needs immediate mental health support. Between sessions with clients, leading support groups, and meeting with the rest of the Mosaic Georgia staff and partner organizations, our team is busy building treatment plans for clients, attending trainings to increase awareness of best practices, and building resources for clients and the community.

Did you know that there are 47 Child Advocacy Centers in Georgia?

Throughout the United States there are Children’s Advocacy Centers providing critical services to children and families after outcries of abuse. If you know someone pursuing a career in the mental health field, I encourage you to share with them and make sure they are aware of the opportunity to provide therapy/counseling to children at a Child Advocacy Center.

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Mosaic Georgia Support Groups: Healing Through Community

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

Interpersonal violence, including sexual assault, often decimates a person’s ability to trust others. The violation of personal boundaries and trauma associated with sexual assault often leaves survivors questioning whether another person will hurt them the same way. One may even question their own ability to discern who is trustworthy and who is not. In the aftermath of interpersonal violence, individuals may feel more isolated than ever before.

At Mosaic Georgia, we value the role community plays in healing from trauma. To demonstrate this value, we offer multiple opportunities for survivors to connect with others who have experienced similar harms. Joining a support group or beginning group therapy is intimidating for many. In this article, we will strive to provide a better understanding of what one can expect from the different groups offered at Mosaic Georgia.

Support Group or Group Therapy- What’s the Difference?

Mosaic Georgia offers both peer-led support groups and clinician led group therapy. The goal of a support group is to enhance interpersonal relationships and to connect with others who have experienced similar harms. Participants will learn from one another with lived experiences. Support groups may follow a curriculum or a script so that participants experience consistency in the format of the session. At Mosaic Georgia, group therapy sessions are led by a licensed mental health professional. They typically follow a therapy model that may be focused on psychoeducation (teaching) or processing (experiencing). Our psychoeducational groups have focused on skill-building to help survivors cope with the distressing symptoms they may experience after trauma. Our process groups provide a space where participants can identify and discuss the present moment impacts of the trauma.

Open Group or Closed Group- What’s Right for Me?

Whether a group is open or closed informs when and how a participant can join the group. Open groups, like our Finding Hope Support Groups, allow individuals to join at any time during the year. A participant does not have to commit to attending a certain number of sessions to be accepted to the group. This type of group is perfect for someone who wants to participate as they are able, build relationships with other survivors, and have a safe space to learn coping skills and identify how to heal from trauma.

Closed groups often meet for a limited number of sessions, and participants must be approved to participate. Our clinician-led groups are closed groups, meaning one has to be accepted by the facilitator before attending. Then facilitator will assess the individual’s needs ahead of time and determine if that group would be an effective mode of therapy for them.

It’s Normal to Feel Anxious About Attending Group Therapy

Whether you choose to join a support group or clinician led group, it is normal to feel anxious about attending. At Mosaic Georgia, we recognize the bravery and courage it takes to attend a group session. We are happy to answer any questions you have about the different groups and can help you decide what the best option for you might be. Below you will find a list of groups that will be offered in 2024 at Mosaic Georgia.

Finding Hope Support Groups

This is an open peer-led support group for adult female survivors of childhood sexual abuse. We have sessions offered in English and Spanish. This group meets twice per month. Read more about Finding Hope and view the upcoming dates, or register for this support group.

Non-Offending Caregiver Support Group

This group is designed for non-offending parents/caregivers of children who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. This is a closed group that is offered at least twice per year in both English and Spanish.

Mosaic Empowerment Group

This is a closed, clinician-led psychoeducational group for adult female survivors of sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse. This group is offered at least twice per year.

Mosaic Trauma Processing Group

This is a closed, clinical-led process group for adult female survivors of sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse. This group is offered at least once per year.

Please inquire here about joining one of our closed groups.

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Someone’s Gotta Say It

 

Teen Years in a Cyberworld Requires Parent Re-boot

 

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

A friend who is helping raise his grandkids asked me why I keep saying it’s important to start conversations with tweens and teens about relationships, dating, and sexual health. “We’re old school and learned the old-fashioned way (from the streets and Playboy magazine).”

Yep – when car wheels had hubcaps and whitewalls, CDs were Certificates of Deposit, and family rules like “what goes on in this house stays in this house” reigned. We had pen pals. We had 3 local TV stations and were thrilled when MTV and CNN came along. There was no internet, social media, on-line “friends” and “likes” or doorbells with cameras & microphones. Our developing brains could process these advances due to the tolerable pace of change.

The teenage years are a time of incredible transformation and growth. As parents, understanding these changes can empower us to guide our children through this pivotal developmental stage in today’s environment.

Here is a refresher on the intricacies of the adolescent brain, the impact of hormones, societal pressures, and the role of technology and media in shaping our teens’ development. We’ll also explore how teenagers learn about love, relationships, self-worth, and address the pressing issues they encounter, such as the normalization of sexualized violence and the risks associated with teen dating abuse.

1. The Adolescent Brain and Hormonal Shifts

Human adolescence is marked by significant brain development, influencing decision-making and emotions. Did you know the brain continues its development until 26-28 years of age? Hormonal changes add an extra layer of complexity to this journey, affecting mood and behavior. It’s essential for us, as adults who care for youth, to recognize these biological transformations and approach them with empathy and understanding. When you ask “what were you thinking?” and they say, “I don’t know” they are telling the truth.

2. Navigating Complex Social Structures and Expectations

Today’s teens are navigating more complex social structures and grappling with mixed societal expectations. “I live in two worlds – my home sounds, smells, and tastes (insert parents’ country of origin) and then at school, I want to fit in. I switch back and forth and it’s hard sometimes.” Many kids split their daily lives between two homes when parents separate; they adjust to different rules and norms before they head to school. They’re learning to find their place in the world while forging their individual identities. Social cliques have implicit and explicit rules of attitude and behavior, and peer pressure is strong.

3. The Digital Age: Impact of Technology and Media

I remember when call-waiting was a big deal – with five teens in the house and one landline, competition for connectivity was fierce. My kids got flip-phones (without internet) and I thought they were so spoiled; but we needed to be able to reach each other. Today’s teenagers have “smart phones” with more capacity and access than our first computers. With constant connectivity, they’re exposed to a myriad of influences, including easy access to explicit content, and marketing strategies that often promote unrealistic standards. This continuous exposure shapes their views on relationships, self-worth, and sexuality.

4. Learning Through Observation: Love and Relationships

Children listen and observe MUCH more than we realize. Teenagers gather insights about love and relationships from various sources, primarily through family interactions. Adults around them set the norms. Do they hear arguments followed by calm resolution? Yelling, blaming, and name-calling? Emotional, physical, or financial abuse of power? Relationships on social media, TV shows, movies, music videos run the gamut from rom-com silly to outright violence. In American society, violence has become normalized over the last 30 years. Violence is regarded as currency in some “real man” sub-cultures.

5. Nurturing Self-Worth and Potential

A teenager’s sense of self-worth and how to engage in the world is shaped by their family dynamics and peer groups. All kids hear how the male adults in their lives talk about women and girls and learn 1) this is how to treat them; and 2) this is what to expect from men in my life. Do they cat-call? Comment on their physique or outfits? And expectations of males are also modeled – studies show positive reinforcement from male adults can boost their confidence and help them recognize their inherent value.

6. Challenging Unhealthy Belief Systems

Several belief systems perpetuate unhealthy relationships, including gender stereotypes and misconceptions about consent. It’s crucial for parents to actively challenge these beliefs and initiate conversations about respect and healthy sexuality.

7. Pornography and Media as Educators on Sex

Unfortunately, pornography has become a primary source of sex education for teenagers. Since the advent of high-speed internet around 2007, free porn sites have become accessible to anyone with internet access. Pornography that attracts the most views entails violent sex acts against women and disregards the importance of consent and mutual pleasure. Porn addiction rates have sky-rocketed in recent years and represent the leading cause of erectile dysfunction among males age 20-40. The little blue pill does not help because the ED is caused by neurological changes in the brain.

Social media is full of erotic images that are edited and unrealistic; and reinforce insecurities of teens and adults who try to fit in. This presents a distorted view of sexuality, often fixating on unrealistic body images. Parents must be aware of this influence and provide accurate, age-appropriate sex education.

8. Confronting the Normalization of Sexualized Violence

Terms related to sex, music, video games, and online content often normalize sexualized violence. For instance, teens see sexist and pro-rape comments in men’s magazines and popular music. Objectifying women and glamorizing violence trivializes or normalizes inappropriate behavior. When adults recognize and address this issue with teens, they provide opportunities to discuss the importance of healthy relationships and respect.

9. Teen Dating Abuse: A Growing Concern

Alarmingly, a significant number of teenagers experience abuse in their dating relationships, which can manifest as physical, emotional, or digital abuse. As parents, understanding the causes and recognizing the signs of teen dating abuse is essential to protect and support our children.

10. Fostering Healthy Teen Relationships

Parents play a pivotal role in nurturing healthy relationships among teenagers. This includes modeling effective communication, respecting their privacy, and encouraging positive social interactions. A checklist for maintaining a healthy teen dating relationship can serve as a valuable resource.

Empowering Teens for the Future

As survivors of the teenage years, it’s our duty to guide and stand by our tweens and teens during these transformative years. By recognizing today’s environment, promoting open and honest communication, and providing resources, we can help them navigate this critical phase successfully. Hopefully, they can pay it forward to the next generation.

Remember, your voice and support can have a profound impact on your teenager’s life. For additional resources, explore websites such as That’s Not Cool (http://www.thatsnotcool.com), Do Something (https://www.dosomething.org), Love Is Respect (http://www.loveisrespect.org), and others dedicated to fostering healthy relationships and empowering young people.

Feel free to reach out for more details or to arrange a customized training session designed for parents/adults or your youth groups/clubs. Get in touch with us at training@mosaicga.org for inquiries.

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Someone’s Gotta Say It

 

When Following Becomes Obsessive: Stalking

 

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

“He just won’t accept that our relationship is over. I’ve blocked him and he texts me from odd numbers and has friends text me and comment on my IG. He’ll show up outside my dorm or classroom and just stare at me, no talking. It’s creepy and I’ve changed my routine to avoid him. I’m on pins and needles – not sure what he’ll do next. I wake up with nightmares and it’s messing up my life. I didn’t know what he’s doing is against the law.”

Stalking is an insidious, deeply unsettling, harmful and dangerous behavior done to millions of people worldwide. It’s a crime that often goes largely unreported, in part because socially acceptable tools and behaviors are used in obsessive and threatening ways. Even when it is reported, victims find responses vary by police and the courts. This article aims to shed light on stalking, exploring who is at risk, and offering essential steps to protect yourself if you find yourself the target of a stalker.

What is Stalking?

Legal Definitions

While Stalking is a crime in all 50 states, the legal definition varies. In Georgia (OCGA § 16-5-90), “A person commits the offense of stalking when he or she follows, places under surveillance, or contacts another person at or about a place or places without the consent of the other person for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person.” An overt threat of death or bodily injury is not required to be made.

For academic institutions, per Title IX and the Clery Act, stalking involves engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or suffer substantial emotional distress. This definition is included in every student code of conduct policy. This means that the behavior does not need to be adjudicated in the court system to be an infraction.

Stalking behaviors span from unsettling or creepy to downright frightening, even escalating to violence or worse. In some cases, stalking serves as the “warm up” crime and the stalker escalates to property damage, physical assault, rape or murder. In other cases, stalking occurs after a physical or sexual relationship ends.

Stalking behavior is coercive and controlling. Victims usually don’t realize what is happening immediately. Stalking often accompanies gaslighting. Gaslighting is a common form of psychological manipulation that triggers self-doubt of the victim’s own perceptions, memories, and even sanity. This self-questioning creates a state of emotional turmoil and uncertainty.

After a sexual assault, even seemingly friendly contact can be traumatic and unsafe for the victim. Sometimes a perpetrator utilizes stalking techniques to try to prevent the victim from reporting the sexual assault. In fact, 43% of college student stalking victims do not identify their experience as “stalking.” Stalking offenders are diverse in gender, age, or background; and anyone can become a victim.

Understanding Stalking

Stalking is characterized by a pattern of unwanted, disturbing, and/or threatening behaviors. Initial unwanted contact may appear harmless to outsiders but have threatening meaning to the victim. Continued rejection or ignoring of contacts can trigger escalated tactics. There are many ways a disturbed person can stalk others. Here are the most common types. It’s important to know that these have serious impacts on the targeted person. Any one action is typically brushed off by the victim and their friends/family. But collectively, these are not only harmful, they are dangerous and costly.

Surveillance is the most common method of stalking. Technology is used to monitor, watch, contact, control, threaten, sabotage, isolate, and frighten victims. They also use technology to damage the victim’s credibility or reputation. From hacking accounts and changing passwords, keyboard tracking, location tags and apps, using smart home technology, and more. Some stalkers engage others to monitor the victim and report back.

Life invasion methods range from repeated unwanted contact to showing up at places when the victim does not want them to be there (i.e., victim’s work, gym, church), sending unwanted “gifts”, using social media to monitor or harass, or spreading sexual rumors. Some have impersonated the victim to change their personal accounts.

Intimidation methods of stalking include threats to publish or share sexual images or information to employers, family members, on social media, etc. This includes creation of fake sexual images through photoshop, artificial intelligence, or deepfakes. Persistent blackmailing of the victim in exchange for sexual activity, photos, or videos is also common.

Interference through reputation sabotage or inciting others to attack the victim. Some create fake profiles pretending to be the victim, then make statements or comments to sabotage their victim’s reputation. This can be done through spoofing (call, text, email appears to be coming from someone else), doxing the victim (publish private information publicly online often encouraging others to harass),

stealing and/or sharing sexual photos/videos without consent (e.g., “revenge porn”).

Gangstalking, also known as organized stalking, involves a group of people covertly targeting an individual with consistent harassment, surveillance, and psychological intimidation. These actions lead to their victim being sabotaged, discredited, and isolated.

The Mind of a Stalker

Stalking is a complex behavior driven by various factors — none of which make harms acceptable. Stalkers may be motivated by obsession, desire for control, or revenge for being rejected. Some enjoy the adrenaline rush of pursuing someone and causing their discomfort, and eluding authorities.

Mental health issues, isolation, or low self-esteem are factors. Regardless of their reasons, stalking is illegal and can cause severe distress and fear for victims.

Stalkers devote a fair amount of time and energy to this behavior. Two-thirds of stalkers pursue their victims at least once per week, using more than one method. 78% of stalkers use more than one tactic. Weapons are used to harm or threaten victims in 20% of cases.

Stalker’s Relationship to Their Victim

No one is immune from becoming the object of a stalker.

  • Former Intimate Partners: Stalking often begins after the end of an abusive relationship. Perpetrators may feel a loss of control and resort to stalking to maintain a sense of power over their former partner.
  • Current or Former Acquaintances: Sometimes, stalkers are acquaintances who become obsessed or feel spurned by the victim. This can include coworkers, classmates, or even neighbors.
  • Strangers: In some cases, stalkers have no prior relationship with the victim. They become fixated on someone they’ve seen or heard about and may escalate their behavior over time.
  • Public Figures: Celebrities and public figures are at a higher risk due to their visibility. Obsessed fans or individuals seeking attention may engage in stalking behaviors.

Steps to Protect Yourself from Stalking

If you suspect you’re being stalked or subjected to unwanted attention, taking immediate steps to protect yourself is crucial:

  1.  Trust Your Instincts: Don’t downplay your feelings of threat or discomfort.
  2. Document Everything: Keep a detailed record of incidents (date and time) and save evidence like texts, emails, and voicemails.
  3.  Inform Trusted Friends and Family: Share your concerns with close ones for emotional support.
  4. Create a Safety Plan: Adjust your online presence, change routines, install security measures, and establish a support system.
  5. Seek Assistance: Contact Mosaic Georgia or your local sexual assault center or domestic violence organization for guidance and help. Victim advocates can assist with your options. Consult law enforcement and obtain a restraining order if necessary.
  6. Self-Defense Training: Boost your confidence and physical safety by enrolling in self-defense classes.

Stalking is a distressing situation that can happen to anyone. Understanding its signs, recognizing risk factors, and taking proactive measures are essential. You don’t have to face it alone; there are resources and support available to help you regain control over your life.

The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) offers many resources at www.stalkingawareness.org. Remember that your safety and well-being are paramount, so trust your instincts and seek help when needed.

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The Devastating Wake of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

Childhood sexual abuse leaves a continual path of destruction long after the crime has ended.

Most people acknowledge child sexual abuse is heinous, but when we educate others or use legal terminology to describe the crime, we rarely capture the devastation it brings. Many avoid reckoning with the long-term impacts of sexual abuse because it is uncomfortable, frightening, and a reality they do not want to believe. It is a lot easier to dismiss a victim’s story when you do not think about what the future holds for them.

Through resources Mosaic Georgia offers, such as our counseling services and Wholeness Collective healing programs, survivors will have the opportunity to experience brighter days and rebuild the various parts of their life that they may initially believe are permanently compromised. Each time they find spaces mutilated by an abuser’s crimes, it feels like they die another death. Mosaic Georgia creates a place of safety, while promoting the health of those impacted by sexual violence and pursuing justice alongside them.

I hope you will continue reading, despite the discomfort it may cause.

I hope when you hear about childhood sexual abuse occurring in your community, you will think about what the victim’s healing will involve before you think about what the perpetrator may lose.

I hope you will have greater insight into why victims cannot simply “get over it.” Victims do not choose this path- the perpetrators chose it for them.

Abuse Steals Imaginations

I will never forget the day I realized my imagination had been broken, destroyed. I loved playing with Barbie dolls as a child. I could spend hours with a hundred different narratives to play out. When my abuser forced me to do things that a child should never know exist, it altered the lens through which I saw the world. It was no longer a safe place. My playtime was interrupted by the new reality of what I believed (step)daddies and daughters were to do. When I looked at the barbies after the abuse started, I did not see a safe, loving Barbie and Ken doll to take care of and nurture the little Kelly doll. That narrative was no longer my reality. My brain literally could not move past the abuse to create an imagined healthy family dynamic. I stopped playing with my Barbies altogether. Children need to engage in imaginative play for healthy cognitive, relational, and language development. Abuse steals imaginations.

Abuse Defaces Self-Image

When I was an elementary student, I witnessed a man exposing himself in a nearby sauna while I swam in a hotel pool. This incident and my response clearly demonstrate how abuse negatively altered the way I saw myself and my responsibilities. Though I was still in elementary school, I wholeheartedly believed that it was my duty to enter that sauna to do the same things with that man that my abuser had done to me. Had it not been for my younger siblings in the pool with me, and my desire to protect them, sweat and tears would have poured from my face in that sauna. I struggled to see a future beyond what abuse required of me.  Abuse defaces self-image.

Abuse Maims Autonomy

As I moved into my teen and young adult years, it became evident that the rules I lived by because of the abuse dismissed my desires in relationships. It is without question that childhood sexual abuse causes difficulties in trusting others, but it also causes difficulty in trusting oneself. I was taught not to trust my gut. My gut instinct as a child told me that what my abuser did to me was uncomfortable and maybe wrong. But the prevailing belief was that adults do not hurt children. The only way I could reconcile these conflicting experiences was to reject my gut feelings. In later relationships, I did not trust my gut instinct because the abuse narrative would hijack my cognitive processes and pressure me to yield to the desires of others. I did not believe I had the right nor the authority to reject what others wanted from me.  Abuse maims autonomy.

Abuse Dismantles Felt Safety

I think one of the most disheartening impacts of childhood sexual abuse are the sensory triggers that survivors literally cannot control. Over the years, many of the triggers that once plagued me daily have been desensitized- thanks to time, distance, therapy, and medication. I can remember the days in high school and college when I would experience multiple triggers in a single day. These triggers were instances like seeing the same work truck my abuser drove or passing a restaurant where we used to eat together. Trauma triggers activate our sympathetic nervous system resulting in the perception of danger. Our fight or flight response takes over and our sense of safety evaporates. It sometimes feels like the abuse is happening again. In those moments, strong emotions of fear, sadness and anger become overwhelming and hard to manage. Over time, I have learned to identify many of my triggers, but I am not always able to prevent them, and I discover new ones each year. Triggers can disrupt a seemingly normal day at the most inopportune time. It is hard not to feel defeated because, in some ways, my abuser’s actions still impact me.  Abuse dismantles felt safety.

This represents just a few of the long-term impacts of childhood sexual abuse. I hope reading this has provided a greater understanding of how childhood sexual abuse affects a person long after physical freedom from the abuser has been granted. Putting the future of survivors at the forefront and recognizing the long and burdensome path they will travel toward healing, creates an environment where it is more likely for abusers to be held accountable for the choices they make that leave such a path of devastation.

Maybe then perpetrators will face heftier consequences for this crime. Maybe then perpetrators’ futures will not be considered more significantly than victims.

Maybe then, more disclosures will be met with belief and support.

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