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October 2019Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via eMail Share on LinkedIn

From the Editor

Welcome to the October edition of Breaking Free.  This month we publish the second of a 2-part article focussed on issues of identity and belonging with which many survivors struggle. It can help us all to understand the reasons behind these struggles and to know that with information, support and connection, survivors can find a stronger sense of self and develop the skills needed to engage with others, including family, friends and communities. 

We also feature the second part of Guest contributor Bec Moran’s findings from her study which looks at lessons learned from the Australian Child Abuse Royal Commission.  Specifically, this article looks at the challenges that survivors had in ‘fitting in’ with the format of the Commission when providing their submissions and testimonies.  While many survivors found the experience of the Commission affirming and empowering, some were re-traumatised by the experience.


On Thursday 31st October, the 2019 updated Practice Guidelines for Clinical Treatment of Complex Trauma were launched.  This update addresses the extensive clinical and research evidence that has been undertaken since the 2012 Guidelines.  Again, these guidelines have been widely endorsed and acclaimed by global leaders in the complex trauma and dissociation field.

The 10th anniversary of Blue Knot Day was held on 28th October, and we would like to thank everyone who were involved in events, spoke to the media or contributed their Blue Sky Moments across social media.  It’s wonderful to show solidarity and support for survivors, and let them know that they are not alone on their journey of recovery.


Until next time, if you have any comments about what you have read in this issue, contributions for the My Story section, or suggestions for future issues, please contact the editor at newsletter@blueknot.org.au

Warm regards
The Blue Knot Team


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Book recommendation


In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness

**Unravelling Trauma in the Body, Brain and Mind--a Revolution in Treatment**

This book from Peter Levine, the developer of Somatic Experiencing®, a body awareness approach to healing trauma, follows on from his international best seller, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. In this substantial work, Peter A. Levine draws on his broad experience as a clinician, a student of comparative brain research, a stress scientist and a keen observer of the naturalistic animal world to explain the nature and transformation of trauma in the body, brain and psyche. In an Unspoken Voice is based on the idea that trauma is neither a disease nor a disorder, but rather an injury caused by fright, helplessness and loss that can be healed by engaging our innate capacity to self-regulate high states of arousal and intense emotions. Enriched with a coherent theoretical framework and compelling case examples, the book elegantly blends the latest findings in biology, neuroscience and body-oriented psychotherapy to show that when we bring together animal instinct and reason, we can become more whole human beings.

“In this masterpiece Peter Levine has captured the essence of trauma as residing in the ‘unspoken voice’ of our bodies. Combining a thorough study of animal ethology, brain research, and indigenous healing rituals with vast clinical knowledge, Levine provides a marvellous and original perspective on how trauma results in injuries that can be transformed and healed by attention to the natural healing powers of that reside deep within every human being.”
—Bessel van der Kolk, MD, medical director and founder of the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute, director of the National Complex Trauma Treatment Network, and professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine

"With this book Peter Levine secures his position in the forefront of trauma healing, as theorist, practitioner, and teacher. All of us in the therapeutic community—physicians, psychologists, therapists, aspiring healers, interested laypeople—are ever so much richer for this summation of what he himself has learned."
—Gabor Maté, MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

Peter Levine demonstrates in a very accessible way how trauma sticks in the body in this YouTube clip 

For further information, visit www.somaticexperiencing.com



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Survivor Workshops

This full-day educational workshop, informed by current research, provides a safe space for people who have experienced abuse or trauma in childhood, to learn more about abuse and other traumas and how trauma experiences can affect people, at the time of the trauma, and afterwards.

It will raise awareness about survivors’ strengths and resilience, the role of coping strategies, how the brain responds to stress, and, most importantly, research which shows that recovery is possible. 

There are still places available for Survivor Workshops in the following cities:

Townsville 30 November 2019 
Launceston      14 March 2020 
Darwin 20 June 2020

Click here for more information and to book your seat.

Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide sessions are now full.  Please email training@blueknot.org.au if you would like to be added to the waitlist.

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Fact Sheet

Identity and Belonging


This fact sheet explores how complex trauma can affect our sense of self and identity as we grow into adulthood.  Depending on the age and stage in which complex trauma occurs, sense of self, capacity to regulate levels of arousal, emotions and behaviour can also be significantly affected.  It is important to understand this when engaging with a person who has experienced trauma in their childhood.  Download the Fact Sheet here to learn more.


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IN THE NEWS

Trigger warning

What survivors of complex trauma want you to know

Marie Claire spoke to two survivors of complex trauma to get a better understanding of the ongoing pain, recovery and impact on their lives. Read more


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Mother of five leaves history of family and domestic violence behind

To other women still struggling to leave abusive relationships, Samantha says it’s important to “have a vision”.  Read more


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Scarlett started seeing a psychologist at 3. It took years to join the dots.

Scarlett Franks shares her story in order to improve understanding about complex trauma among the public, health professionals, and the legal and child protection systems. But most of all, to help other survivors feel less isolated.  Read more


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Assistant Minister for Children and Families, Michelle Landry, highlights the importance of Blue Knot Day

Assistant Minister for Children and Families, Michelle Landry, today highlighted the important role of Blue Knot Day in providing hope and optimism for Australians who continued to battle the ongoing impacts of trauma that they experienced as children. Read more


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Institutional child sexual abuse trauma remains part of a ‘hidden public health crisis’

One year on from the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, the complex trauma experienced by survivors remains part of a hidden public health crisis. Read more


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Mental Health awareness week - understanding complex trauma

Two thirds of people presenting to public and private mental health services have experienced sexual or physical abuse. Read more


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Blue Knots Promote Healing

The Kimberley Stolen Generation Aboriginal Corporation (KSGAC) recognised Blue Knot Day through healing art activities with members and friends.  Read more


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Identity and Belonging – Part 2

This is the second of a 2-part article focussed on issues of identity and belonging with which many survivors struggle. It can help us all to understand the reasons behind these struggles and to know that with information, support and connection, survivors can find a stronger sense of self and develop the skills needed to engage with others, including family, friends and communities. 

Your self-esteem is made up of a set of personal beliefs and messages that reflect how you value yourself. Self-esteem might be regarded as on a continuum from low to high and reflects the nature of beliefs and perceptions we carry. Many people who were abused or otherwise traumatised in childhood develop a sense of low self-worth as they take on the messages from the adults who abused them. You may have done this, and unknowingly incorporated some of these negative thoughts into your personal belief system.

As a child you may have felt powerless to stop your abuse, or any attempts you did make to stop it, may have been met with little or no success. For many people and maybe for you, this may have resulted in feelings of shame, helplessness, and hopelessness. Many people carry these feelings into their adult life, which can contribute to low self-esteem and self-worth.

Many people blame themselves for being abused and you may have done this too. In fact you may still feel this way – it’s very common for people who have been abused. If you still blame yourself for what happened to you, you may be contributing to your low self-esteem in the present without realising it. That is, initial self-blame – which may be the product of what we were made or encouraged to believe by an abuser who threatened us into silence – continues into present time. This may result in core beliefs that we (the survivor) are unlovable, unworthy, or defective when none of this is true. 

Sometimes subtle messages from others can reinforce these beliefs as well.  For too long we have seen society blame the victim around sexual, physical, and other forms of abuse, rather than placing responsibility for the abuse where it belongs -, with the perpetrator and those who were complicit in enabling it or covering it up. Psychological abuse such as name calling, put downs, humiliation and insults can also erode our self-esteem, not only as a child but also as an adult. Many of us come to believe what we are told about ourselves both directly and indirectly. When negative messages become ingrained, it can be very hard to develop a sense of our own self-worth. 

Over time, we not only internalise these undermining messages but often play them back in our heads, over and over again. As a result, our negative feelings about ourselves are reinforced. This can fuel destructive behaviours which can further lower our self-esteem. Internalising negative messages and putting ourselves down becomes what is called `negative self-talk,’ which contributes to feelings of depression, anger, or frustration. The messages come from our past and the abuse may have ended, but our own negative self-talk continues a sort of self-abuse by which we continue to victimise ourselves. In this way the cycle is perpetuated. It’s important to recognise this dynamic and take steps to address it, which will enhance both our self-esteem and our relationships with others. 

Belonging

As human beings we are inherently social creatures. In short, we need one another. The need to belong, bond and attach to others is critical to our survival. As infants, we are entirely dependent on our caregivers. When they nurture and protect us, we develop a sense of security which enables us to learn important lessons about ourselves, others, and our place in the world. This is part of the socialisation process by which we become social beings. 

A child who is being abused and/or neglected may develop core beliefs and a relational model that others are unsafe, untrustworthy, only look out for themselves, and will harm if given the chance. Experience of adults who could be trusted contributes to the sense that people are “good enough”. Whatever our relational models are, they form the basis by which we make judgements about the people we meet. This means we avoid some people who we perceive as unsafe and approach others.

For children with absent, erratic or harmful caregivers, this profoundly affects their ability to learn and explore and to become attuned social beings. When this happens, children stay focussed on survival at the expense of developing other qualities and life skills. The good news is that these additional skills can be developed later in life. Positive, safe, and caring relationships at any time can help us shift our core beliefs, and develop or strengthen our prior models of relationships.  Current and future relationships of all types can be improved as a result. If they are positive, even the most apparently trivial interaction can help challenge prior negative experiences and the beliefs we acquired which are subject to change.

'Relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love'  Bruce Perry


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Professional Training Calendar for 2020
Now Available

Blue Knot Foundation is excited to announce our professional development training calendar for Feb-Jun 2020.  Blue Knot’s trauma training is informative, interactive and engaging, and is facilitated by experienced clinicians and trauma trainers around Australia.  The following training programs will be running publicly for the first time:

Trauma Informed Care and Practice: Working with People with a Disability 
Trauma Informed Care and Practice: Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 

Professionals may claim CPD hours/credits/points as a pre-approved or self-directed learning activity.

Download the 2020 Training Calendar here

If you have any questions please email training@blueknot.org.au


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Blue Knot Foundation Launches Practice Guidelines 2019

In 2012 we launched our Practice Guidelines for Treatment of Complex Trauma and Trauma Informed Care and Service Delivery. The publication was highly endorsed and acclaimed by clinicians, researchers, academics and people with a lived experience of complex trauma alike. Downloaded over 25,000 times the 2012 guidelines still stand and provide a helpful introductory guide for practitioners who are new to this work, as well as to people living with experiences of complex trauma and those who support them.


Between 2012 and 2019 there has been a lot of new clinical and research evidence around complex trauma. For this reason we have developed a new set which although they stand alone, also build on those from 2012. Although these are primarily written for practitioners, they will be of interest to many people, including people who are directly affected by complex trauma, and want to understand more. Again these guidelines have been extensively endorsed and acclaimed by global leaders in the complex trauma and dissociation field prior to their release – ‘truly remarkable – masterful - ground-breaking - milestone’.  They provide practitioners with an integrative guide intended to help them work with people affected by complex trauma and dissociation in a safer more holistic way. 

In addition a companion guide to the 2019 Guidelines has been released – combined Complementary Guidelines which provide an overview of the differences between working with complex trauma clients and standard counselling approaches as well as a guide to therapist competencies for working with complex trauma and dissociation. 


Thursday 31st October is the official launch of the 2019 Guidelines.  To find out more and to download or purchase go to our website.




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A Safe Place to Tell: Part 2
Accessibility and 'fitting'

Lessons from the Australian Child Abuse Royal Commission

Rebecca J Moran, PhD Candidate, University of New South Wales School of Social Sciences

To protect their privacy and anonymity, all of the survivors whose words are provided below have been given a pseudonym. 

As part of a PhD research project at University of New South Wales, Bec Moran interviewed 26 child sexual abuse survivors who made submissions to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Australian Royal Commission). This is the second in a 3-part series exploring the lessons from Rebecca’s interviews.

Because the scope of all public inquiries needs to be limited to make it manageable,  certain groups and individuals are excluded. It was no different in the Child Abuse Royal Commission and failure to be included within the Terms of Reference was understandably upsetting for many survivors. For survivors whose experiences do fit within the Terms of Reference, that Inquiry's failure to enable survivors to work with the Inquiry can also result in exclusion. Despite the Royal Commission being flexible and responsive, the  complexities of people's lives and abuse experiences at times made this challenging. 

In an interview conducted as part of the PhD project Charlie described the impact of not fitting within the requirements of the Australian Royal Commission. Charlie explained the ways that this mirrored the dynamics of her previous experiences of abuse, marginalisation, and institutionalisation. She found the process of making a written submission extremely distressing, due to the ongoing impacts of abuse and trauma, as well as the daily challenges of living with physical disabilities. She found the explicit questions on the Royal Commission's written submission template very triggering, and she started to feel that she would not be believed by the Australian Royal Commission if she could not provide enough clear and accurate detail. 

Charlie talked about her difficulties in separating out her multiple perpetrators in her memory to fit the structure of the form. Remembering traumatic events can be complicated: survivors might have been hyperaroused,  dissociated and 'spaced out' at the time of the abuse. The extreme stress experienced at the time of the abuse can affect the brain's ability to store memory in the form which enables the person to provide a clear chronological narrative. Often, survivors’ memories are vague, generalised, fragmented, sensory, and behavioural, and not available to conscious recall and therefore difficult to retrieve (Blue Knot Foundation 2018; Freyd 1994; van der Kolk 1995; Bremer & Marmar 2002). Remembering can be so painful that survivors need to dissociate to manage the distress, making it extremely difficult to present a neat, time-lined account of abuse experiences.

Charlie's experience serves as a reminder that the impacts of trauma can provide significant barriers to participation and highlights how crucial it is for survivors  to access appropriate support.

Everything with all of my experiences were extremely traumatic and mixed. They wanted us to put it into one institution, one abuser, one perpetrator and one of everything. Then the whole form was set up in that way. So if you were trying to explain multiple perpetrators and multiple institutions, and multiple dates, and multiple issues, the form wasn't set up in the way it could accommodate that. It made the form impossible to fill out.

Charlie felt unsupported by the Australian Royal Commission and was re-traumatised when trying to complete the form on her own. Although deeply distressed and physically unwell, Charlie was supporting a number of family members who were also trying to fill out their forms before the final deadline, placing her under even greater strain. Some are living with the impacts of institutionalisation, such as homelessness, and problems with reading and writing. Charlie finished her written submission despite these difficulties, only to be told that she had missed the deadline and it would not be accepted. 

It was just impossible. It just became that way for me, and then I couldn't even fill it out. There was no support to get it done. It was almost like it just traumatised me so much that I became so unwell from doing it that I couldn't even get it in on the due date. I couldn't even function well enough to know when the due date was in the end because I was so traumatised by the whole process of having to be asked such intense questions and dig up so much trauma. 

…being told, "No, we're not even going to accept your submission." That was like for me, I went through a lot of self-hate around that. It just compounded all of the trauma. Because there won't be another Royal Commission, it's done. Do you know what I mean? There's not going to be another way to do that truth telling. And in a safe way.


Nathan also felt that he didn't fit with the Australian Royal Commission's requirements, which meant that he too felt unheard. Nathan was disappointed that the Australian Royal Commission couldn't find a way for him to speak from his experience as an abuse survivor, and as someone with significant professional expertise in the area of institutional responses to abuse. Nathan wanted to have two private sessions, where he could separate his experience as a survivor from his experience working in religious institutions. 

Nathan sent many emails to the Australian Royal Commission, because he wanted to share what he believed was valuable information and experience, but he felt that this information was not recorded or used in a respectful way. Emails allowed Nathan to work around the continuing impacts of early childhood abuse on his thinking and communication. Nathan was frustrated because he felt the Australian Royal Commission's expectations of what survivors would be like, and what survivors would wish to contribute, did not have a space for him. 

Veronica and Jay both also felt that they didn't quite fit, due to the nature of their abuse experiences, and the identities of the people who had hurt them. Veronica felt that her experience of being sexually abused by a woman went against the Australian Royal Commission's expectation that perpetrators would be men – a feeling that Veronica has had throughout her life, especially when trying to access counselling and support. 

Jay talked about the difficulties of separating abuse within the family from abuse (and responses to disclosure) connected to institutions. This caused Jay to feel that some parts of her experiences were unimportant, as they were not of interest to the Australian Royal Commission. 

I felt a little bit like I was taking up someone else’s place…that because the large majority of my abuse was the family and the paedophile ring, even though the paedophile ring did have like, a GP and whatever, but within the terms of reference, I felt that, because mine was so little, in terms of the terms of reference, that I was taking up someone else’s spot, who’d been abused by the church for the whole entire time of their abuse history. 

Jasmine described a similar frustration.

In my opinion, not only did they need a Royal Commission into institutional abuse, they need to do a Royal Commission into family stuff. You can talk about ‘that’, but you can’t talk about ‘that’. And I guess as well, because I was trying to show them that there is sometimes collaboration between those two worlds.

Participants like Larry who felt like they had been able to tell their whole story, in a setting where they fitted and belonged, described this as one of the most meaningful aspects of their experience. 

The fact that I'd been to the Royal Commission for me was like my red badge of courage, if you like. "Here, I've been, I've done that" and I could tell the other guys about it and would feel that in some ways vindicated but also supported because I'm like the rest of you. I have nothing to hide here now. I've told my story. I'm just as ordinary as everyone else here. My story is just like yours. I am the same as you. And I found that really terribly reassuring. That was a wonderful experience for me. I didn't see myself as an odd person. All my life I'd seen myself as an odd person, as a loner, an outsider, someone who wasn't really acceptable. But, strange as it may seem, being acknowledged by the Royal Commission made me part of a group of survivors that I felt good about. And I felt as though I now belonged somewhere. I now belonged to a group of people who have become survivors, who will now live their lives in a different way. Yeah, so it was ... So that sense of belonging was really quite an important aspect for me.

However, many of the 26 survivors I interviewed said that they had trouble fitting everything they needed to say into the time allocated for a private session. Understanding that this was just a practical issue did little to ease the feelings of not being properly heard. Some participants asked for more time and were allowed to talk for longer, but others did not know more time was an option, did not feel able to ask, and left their private sessions feeling they had not said everything they needed to, which undermined the healing potential of the Australian Royal Commission for them. 

Understanding the complexities of people's lives and abuse experiences, creating ways for participants to make complaints or requests, and providing flexibility wherever possible can go a long way toward delivering a fair and accessible Inquiry. The impacts of abuse often mean that survivors feel like they do not fit, matter, or belong. It is crucial that an Inquiry charged with responding to child abuse does not repeat that message.

References: 
Blue Knot Foundation 2018 The Truth of Memory and The Memory of Truth: Different types of Memory and the Significance for Trauma Stavropoulos P.A.& Kezelman C.A. Available here 
Bremner, J.D. and Marmar, C.R., 2002. Trauma, memory, and dissociation, American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
Freyd, J.J., 1994. Betrayal trauma: Traumatic amnesia as an adaptive response to childhood abuse. Ethics & Behaviour, 4(4), pp.307-329.
Van der Kolk, B.A. and Fisler, R., 1995. Dissociation and the fragmentary nature of traumatic memories: Overview and exploratory study. Journal of traumatic stress, 8(4), pp.505-525.


For further information about this study please email Rebecca at rebecca.moran@student.unsw.edu.au



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Disclaimer - Blue Knot Foundation makes every effort to provide readers of its website and newsletters with information which is accurate and helpful. It is not however a substitute for counselling or professional advice. While all attempts have been made to verify all information provided, Blue Knot Foundation cannot guarantee and does not assume any responsibility for currency, errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the information provided.

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