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Someone’s Gotta Say It

 

This Month: Try the Walking on Sunshine Challenge

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

This is for all the helpers out there.

Those who step up to support others, but struggle to act for their own well-being. If the concept of making time for yourself feels like an indulgence, or a sign of selfishness, please keep reading. The whispers to keep juggling it all, to stay constantly busy, to never be still (and chill), to measure your worth by your productivity – they are old tropes. Maybe your super-hero cape is tied too tight. Your compassion for others is legendary, but do you extend the same grace and kindness to yourself?

Research psychologist Kristin Neff, PhD, a pioneer in self-compassion, has shown the practice not only benefits your physical and mental health, it also increases your capacity to care and share. It’s a win-win. I encourage you to learn more at Self Compassion website.

Someone’s gotta say it, so let it be me: You are not your best when you are running on empty. You’re not fooling anyone – maybe just scaring them a bit.

The truth is, excelling in your endeavors – whether in work, volunteering, school, raising children or caring for senior relatives – requires you take periodic breaks and be as kind to yourself as you are to others. You’ve heard this before: You can’t drive on an empty tank/battery. You can’t bike far on deflated tires. You get the picture.

This is also true: You will not lose your compassion and commitment to helping by experiencing lightness and joy. Indeed, you NEED the lightness to be reminded WHY the work is worth doing.

You, dear reader, are cordially invited…

to join me in the Walking on Sunshine Challenge – a personal action plan to rediscover the lighter side of life to recharge your awesome self. This is supposed to be fun – no pressure to fit one more thing into your overflowing schedule. Instead, let’s focus on simple wonders, humor, and joy that lift us up rather than weigh us down.

Here are some simple ideas to get you started:

Embrace Nature:

  • Take a leisurely stroll through a nearby park or nature reserve without listening to an audiobook, podcast, or music. Gwinnett County has many parks with varied walking trails. See if you can visit all of them this summer!
  • Listen to the birds chirping (how many do you hear?), feel the sun warming your skin, and marvel at the beauty of the natural world.
  • Find the moon every night for 30 days.
  • My favorite: walk barefoot on the grass, lie down and gaze at the clouds.
  • Rainy day? Get out there, jump in a puddle, and laugh.

Humor Journal

  • Start with one week: make a note (yes write it down) of every amusing observation or experience. It could be something you over-hear at a restaurant, store, or restroom. You may even start thinking about things that make you giggle – write it down. After one week looking for it, you will find humor all around you. (I take pics of signs that amuse me). If you enjoy it, keep going. This can be a private hobby, or you can invite others in on your secret humor investigations.

Get Creative:

  • Write fortune cookie messages with friends,
  • Channel your inner Julia Child or Joe Randall or Ming Tsai or Jamie Oliver and prepare a dish in your kitchen as if you are on a cooking show. Set up a video cam or photo of an audience to keep you on task.
  • Go to an art museum, botanical gardens, or art galleries. Drink it in. One birthday I went to Atlanta Botanical Gardens by myself. I wandered as I pleased, stopped and smelled the roses, and used all my senses to be alone with beautiful nature and my thoughts. It was lovely.
  • Go listen to live music or a theatre show or comedy or spoken word show. Seeing other humans express themselves creatively is a gift.
  • Create a new playlist of music that makes you happy or lifts you out of your seat to jam.

Friendships:

  • Connect with friends you’ve been meaning to see. Go old school and make a phone call. Have your calendar ready. Make a date for coffee/tea, a bite to eat, a walk in the park.
  • Get a friend or two to do the Compassion Challenge with you. Each at their own pace. Some of these ideas you may choose to do together.
  • Host a Movie Night: Gather your friends or family (in person or virtual) for a movie marathon featuring your favorite comedies. Laughing together can be incredibly therapeutic, easing tension and fostering connection.

By making time for humor and joy, even in the midst of life’s challenges, you can replenish your mental and emotional reserves, returning to your tasks renewed and refreshed. So go ahead, give yourself permission to unplug and unwind. You deserve it. And everyone around you will appreciate it.

Let me know how you are Walking on Sunshine this month. Email me at marinap@mosaicga.org with Walking on Sunshine in the subject line. There may be a prize for the experiences that really impress! Photos are bonus points.

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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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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…

Nurturing Gratitude: A Lighthouse in Stormy Waters

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

“Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”
Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture)

Finding peace of mind in a world filled with interpersonal violence is not easy. With the constant barrage of multi-media journalism, pretend-news and social media, it’s a challenge to stay informed about current events without overdosing on images of man-made tragedies.

People often ask, “How do you and your team deal with all the horrible things done to people who come to you for help? I don’t think I could handle it.” To say it’s a calling minimizes the effects on the helpers. Without an intentional counterbalance, the natural response can be to become numb and jaded about people, systems, and life. And truth be told, I wrestle with frustration about our collective refusal to invest in measures known to prevent violence.

For all of us, the cultivation of gratitude is a powerful tool and a psychological anchor holding steadfast in the turbulent seas of human suffering. The practice of gratitude builds mental resilience, and it has sustained my actual life and all the goodness in it for decades.

More Grateful than Thankful

Gratitude is nuanced, existing on a plane deeper than mere thankfulness. Consider thankfulness the immediate reaction to positive outcomes or narrow escapes — the meeting concluding early or the unlikely absence of traffic on I-85. Gratitude, however, is richer and more conscious — an appreciation that lingers and proliferates. It’s the recognition of ongoing goodness and the contributions of others, generating warmth and solidarity that extend far beyond the self.

For example, I am grateful for all the people who donate blood and platelets; they kept me alive for over a year. That gratitude arises each time I see a blood donation event in the community.

Gratitude, like love, is a practice as well as an emotion. It requires a conscious effort to see beyond the immediate, the loudest distractions. Observing and appreciating the positive facets of life develops mental resilience, even when overwhelmed with fear or pain. I called upon it in my darkest moments (sometimes teasing it out with some macabre humor).

The Science Behind Gratitude

Research within positive psychology corroborates the benefits of a grateful mindset. Studies indicate that practicing gratitude consistently contributes to mental well-being, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. By acknowledging the good, individuals combat the natural negativity bias, which, while evolutionarily protective, can be debilitating.

This shift is not about wearing rose-colored glasses but about recalibrating the mind to appreciate moments of kindness, success, and love that do exist amidst the chaos.

Exercise that Gratitude Muscle 

For personalities with higher levels of pessimism, the practice of gratitude may feel unsettling at first. Start simple: First: over a meal with another person or group, share one lowlight of the day and then three highlights. Invite others to do the same. When you spend more time and thoughts on the positive elements of the day, the meal will be tastier and you will leave the table more satisfied. Second: when you are in bed with the lights out, before you go to sleep, speak three things you are grateful for from the day. Let your mind rest for the night with those thoughts.

Gratitude allows those confronting or experiencing human suffering to maintain their humanity, find contentment, and continue their indispensable work. It is a choice to seek light and create an inner sanctuary of peace, from which we draw our strength.

Think of gratitude as more than a personal practice; it is a gift we share, through our continued hope and our belief in a better tomorrow. You’re welcome!

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True Love After Trauma – Safety Tips for DV Survivors Seeking Healthy Relationships 

Ashia Headshot

By Ashia Gallo
Wholeness Collective Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia

Domestic violence (DV) is a soul-wrenching issue that affects millions of people worldwide, leaving lasting scars on both an individual’s physical and emotional wellbeing. While escaping an abusive relationship is a necessary and courageous step towards safety (click here for local resources from the Gwinnett County Family Violence Task Force), survivors often encounter significant challenges when trying to form new, healthy relationships later on.

Recovery is a complex journey that survivors of DV face in their pursuit of the loving and secure connections they deserve. Finding love after experiencing domestic violence can be challenging, but there are several important steps and solutions to consider before taking that next step:

Self-Healing

Prioritize your own healing and wellbeing first. Seek trauma therapy or counseling to address any emotional scars and trauma from the abusive relationship. Some of these scars may be well hidden, even to yourself. Healing takes time, and it’s essential to be in a healthy emotional state before pursuing a new relationship.

Support System

Building a strong support system with friends and family who can provide emotional support and understanding during your healing process is essential. This can understandably be a difficult step. One of the primary challenges for survivors of DV is the profound erosion of trust – trust of self and others. It’s because of this that having a solid support network is crucial for your recovery. Identify your people and confide in them.

Therapy or Support Groups

Consider joining support groups or attending therapy sessions specifically designed for survivors of DV. These environments can help you connect with others who have had similar experiences and provide valuable guidance. Mosaic Georgia offers Finding Hope Support Groups for women 18+ who are survivors of sexual abuse specifically. If this fits into your DV experience, you’re always welcome to join us.

Educate Yourself

Learn about healthy relationships, boundaries, and red flags for potential abuse. Knowledge is power, and that sense of empowerment can help you make better relationship choices in the future.

Take Your Time

There is no rush to enter a new relationship. Sometimes the potential comfort of a new emotional connection can feel like an easy fix – but moving on too quickly after a traumatic DV experience will likely not turn out the best for you long term. You don’t want to risk accumulating more trauma during your healing journey. Take as much time as you need to mend and build your confidence before seeking love again.

Set Boundaries

Clearly define your personal boundaries in a new relationship and communicate them openly with your partner. No hanging out in intimate spaces for six months? No kissing or physical affection until you initiate? Your dating rules are up to you, and anyone who truly cares for you will happily follow them to ensure your comfort. Boundaries help establish a healthy and respectful dynamic.

Trust Your Instincts

Listen to your gut feelings. If something doesn’t feel right in a new relationship, don’t ignore it. Rely on your instincts and take action if necessary. You’ve walked away once, and you can always do it again.

Online Dating Safety

If you choose to explore online dating, be cautious. Share personal information sparingly, meet in public places initially, and inform a trusted friend or family member about your plans to meet up. Also, pace getting to know the real identity and intentions of this stranger, and not just what they are presenting to you.

Legal Protection

Sometimes moving on can incite controlling ghosts of your past. If necessary, consult with legal professionals to explore options for restraining orders or legal protections against your abuser.

Finding love after domestic violence is possible, but it should be secondary to your journey of self-care, healing, and personal growth. Prioritizing your well-being and safety is paramount throughout this process.

It’s also very hopeful to know that you will smile again, date again, and love again. Our most beautiful connections sometimes exist on the other side of darkness. Wishing you so much luck in the quest for yours!

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Toxic Wellness? How Mosaic Georgia’s Wellness Program Breaks Stereotypes

Ashia Headshot

By Ashia Gallo
Wholeness Collective Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia

WELLNESS falls among the countless misused (and misunderstood) ‘buzz words’ in our culture slowly losing their meaning. In a climate of extremes where you’re either a ‘narcissist’ or a ‘spiritual guru’, it became essential for Mosaic Georgia to do wellness thoughtfully when its Wholeness Collective programming launched in 2022.

The Wholeness Collective offers survivors of sexual assault, child abuse, and other traumas a space to explore healing modalities like art therapy, yoga, hiking, dance, and more through a rotation of free wellness activities. These events are complementary, not a replacement to the mental health services of our incredible Mosaic Georgia counseling team. The vision has always been to offer wellness programs as an additional support in the recovery toolkit of survivors on their journey back to wholeness.

The wellness industry, which boasts a multi-billion-dollar profit worldwide, often targets those seeking these types of psychological and spiritual supports. With its allure of holistic health, personal growth, and enlightenment, the wellness industry has captivated the masses seeking healing and a better quality of life. However, beneath the glossy exterior lies a disturbing reality – the toxic underbelly of the wellness industry.

What exactly is toxic wellness? And how does Mosaic Georgia work to combat these stereotypes?

Unrealistic Ideals and Body Image

The wellness industry at large often peddles an unattainable standard of beauty and health. I learned to practice yoga for the first time from a cis-gendered, able-bodied, thin white woman on YouTube (no shade, Yoga with Adriene is awesome!) in my early 20s to cope with the stresses of newly adulting. While Adriene is incredibly respectful and relatable on many levels, she also represents the typical, palatable aesthetic that we see repackaged over and over in many yoga, meditation, and fitness videos that rule the wellness media sphere – though they derive from historical, indigenous practices.

Progress has been made across industries to increase visibility and recognize contributions of diverse cultural and ethnic identities, but there’s still a way to go. It’s also not the existence of these stereotypically picture-perfect influencers and business-savvy “healthy lifestyle” gurus that are the problem – their dominance as the face of wellness culture is where the issue lies.

The Wholeness Collective aims to push back against these industry norms by offering a variety of activities, modalities, and facilitators who match the diversity of the survivors we serve. The originators of so many of the marketed wellness solutions we offer were not majorly white, young, nor skinny. So, most of our facilitators and teachers aren’t either!

Harmful Practices and Pseudoscience

Within the wellness industry, pseudoscience frequently masquerades as genuine health advice. From dangerous dietary trends to unproven alternative therapies, individuals are bombarded with conflicting information that can be not only ineffective but potentially harmful. Detox diets, for instance, promise to cleanse the body of toxins but lack scientific backing. “Spiritual teachers” advise clinically traumatized people on the types of books or retreat packages they should purchase to alleviate their emotional pain. The industry’s tendency to vilify conventional medicine can lead individuals to neglect necessary medical interventions in favor of untested remedies.

The Wholeness Collective believes that science is real and that our survivors’ safety comes before our goals or a desired number of participants. Our carefully chosen facilitators are trained in their crafts to teach in a trauma-sensitive manner, work with children, make sure all bodies are safe during movement activities, etc. All folks who need clinical-level intervention are referred to trauma therapists and/or other clinical professionals most appropriate for their needs. We are a support, not a substitution.

Promotion of Anxiety and Perfectionism

Rather than alleviating stress, the wellness industry can exacerbate anxiety through its emphasis on personal responsibility for one’s well-being. The constant pursuit of an idealized state of health and happiness can lead to a sense of failure and inadequacy when these goals are not met. The relentless pressure to optimize every aspect of life by yourself can result in burnout, anxiety disorders, and a perpetual cycle of dissatisfaction. Unproductive thoughts can include:

“Why am I not further along on my healing journey?

“If I’m not at peace yet, I must not be trying hard enough.”

“Why am I not able to keep motivated with exercise? I’ll never lose the weight…” 

“I cannot make it to these groups being offered. I’m alone and just not strong enough.”

The “wholeness” in Wholeness Collective represents our values of community support and nonconditional acceptance. We do everything within our power to eliminate barriers that many survivors face when trying to get help: hybrid group activities, transport assistance, childcare support, multiple forms of communication about events, etc. Though we do offer some affinity spaces (support groups for female sexual assault survivors only, youth-focused activities, etc.), inclusion is always our goal. You are accepted regardless of age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, race, or any other historically rejected identity. We are on this journey together.

Conclusion

While the pursuit of wellness is a noble goal, the emergence of toxic wellness threatens the very essence of well-being. At Mosaic Geogia, we seek to offer balance, authenticity, expertise, and self-compassion to survivors of trauma working to gain their sense of agency again. By raising awareness, promoting empowerment vs perfection, and prioritizing mental and physical health, the Wholeness Collective program works to mitigate the detrimental effects of toxic wellness and pave the way for a more genuine and holistic approach to well-being and trauma recovery.

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Kevin McNeil: Daring Men to Ditch the Mask

By Ashia Gallo
Wholeness Collective Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia

An interview with Child Advocate Kevin McNeil and Wholeness Collective Coordinator Ashia Gallo, MPA

Kevin McNeil wears many hats: former SVU detective, husband, author, businessowner, and motivational speaker and advocate against child abuse. Kevin is very open about his experiences of sexual abuse as a young man. His organization, The Twelve Project, aims to bridge lack of awareness around abuse with people’s desire to learn and to protect their children.

June is Men’s Health Month, which aims to encourage men to take charge of their overall health by implementing healthy living decisions. Kevin’s journey to healing his trauma and building a healthier view of his own masculinity made him the perfect Tesserae feature as Mosaic Georgia recognizes the unique struggles, coping mechanisms, and deadly silence of male trauma survivors.

What are some approaches you take to caring for your mental, physical, and spiritual health?

Truthfulness plays an important role for me. I avoid toxic positivity as a coping mechanism as opposed to facing how I feel. Acknowledging and honoring feelings first helps me to stay mentally healthy. Meditation, exercise, and isolation (with limits!) works well.

I encourage others to choose what works for them effectively. Everything doesn’t fit everybody. But expressing versus sitting with feelings is important. Feelings are a guide to wisdom.

Men should learn to be truthful with feelings and why they’re expressing them. It shouldn’t be to make others act differently – but to be real, and genuine. So much of our unhappiness comes from pretending. There’s a reason the Bible says, “the truth shall set you free”. Teach people to fall in love with your authenticity.

You speak openly about the “dark years” when you attempted to self-medicate and overwork to avoid addressing your own childhood abuse – how would you describe your mental health during that season?

I wasn’t even conscious of my actions or addictions. I used to cope with avoidance, loneliness, and inadequacy by grabbing something to drown it. Alcohol, sex, long work hours, etc. I wasn’t in a state of clarity. Only thing I felt was the dark side saying I wasn’t good enough. Then, more shame from using those unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Looking back, that’s how you learn! My dark side aided and guided me. If you avoid your pain, you’ll never meet your power. Don’t judge your dark places, embrace them. The trauma is still there sometimes. And the culture says men cannot be vulnerable about that.

When we are honest among one another, it becomes sacred space. I compared myself to Clark Kent, until I learned to kill the superhero.

What was the final straw that made you confront your childhood trauma?

My breaking point was watching a young boy tell his abuse story while I was a detective investigating his case. I realized I needed help. Children hold so much wisdom. We have it backwards – men can learn from boys.

According to the CDC, men make up 50% of the US population, but nearly 80% of deaths by suicide. We have heartbreaking pop culture examples, such as the death of beloved Stephen “tWitch” Boss from the Ellen Show late last year. What are your reactions to this?

Many men are very secretive, especially high profile men. Many times they don’t have people around them to say “you need help”. Suicide is an act of silence. We must be so honest it disrupts what it means to be a man in our society.

We work to create our lives to be seen a certain way. Then when we make it, and reality doesn’t match up, depression follows. We end up needing constant distractions, and cannot be free.

I was in football, the military, and became a detective to hide behind the uniforms and shields. We hide behind the titles and groups of men. The public image we’re expected to live up to is very frustrating. Life becomes a task. Suicide is the act, but the person has been killing themselves slowly by withdrawing, stopping doing what they love, etc.

Men don’t express how they feel. Even on the way out, many times they don’t express why they want to leave. They just know they can’t take all the emotions anymore. We express distress in subtle ways. And the culture isn’t trained to listen to men’s pain, so we miss opportunities to help them.

“Children don’t get traumatized because they get hurt. They get traumatized because they are alone with the hurt.” -Dr. Gabor Maté, Canadian physician and author.

Thoughts on men in therapy?

We treat therapy like an “option”. If we had more therapy offices than churches, we would see more positive change. It should be a mandatory requirement. Then again, I do understand that people who are forced to go won’t want to…

“Mental health” is becoming trendy and consumeristic. [As a society] we market things we don’t want to deal with. Even Men’s Health Awareness Month cannot compartmentalize these issues. Therapy allows us to go beyond awareness and into action.

We are also often too quick to treat what we should be listening to. We look for superficial answers and try to ‘fix’ things as opposed to ‘listening’. You can’t make things go away that you don’t fully understand. Therapy is an opportunity to confront the person you are and shape that.

What is the #1 message you’d like young men especially to know about dealing with emotions and traumatic experiences in their lives?

You are human before you are male. Maleness is a prescribed title. If they are not careful, they’ll live their lives out being something that they don’t have the capacity to upkeep. But being human is natural. Meaning is the currency in which you purchase your happiness.

To hear more about Kevin’s story, check out his Caring and Courageous interview on Mosaic Georgia’s Facebook page.

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