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

From the Editor

Welcome to the September edition of Breaking Free.  This month we publish the first part of our two-part series which looks at our sense of self, our identity and how we relate to other people and to the world around us.

Our Self Care article explores the Window of Tolerance, and the different states of arousal that can be experienced when we are outside of our window. If we learn to recognise the signs, we can engage strategies to help us return to our Window of Tolerance, the zone in which we function most effectively.

Guest contributor Bec Moran shares her findings from her study which looks at lessons learned from the Australian Child Abuse Royal Commission.  Her interviews with survivors who made submissions to the Commission have provided valuable insight into how those participants felt, with many attesting that it was one of the most healing and meaningful experiences of their lives.

We are also pleased to announce tailored half-day Power, Threat, Meaning Workshops for survivors to be held in Perth.  These workshops will be delivered by Professor David Pilgrim free of charge for mental health consumers and survivors of complex trauma.  Places are limited so we recommend booking now. 

Blue Knot Day is on the 28th of October and there are lots of ways that you can get involved, share the message, and show your support.  This year marks the 10th anniversary of Blue Knot Day, so we encourage you to be a part of this important milestone, and join us as we continue to “Untangle the Knot of Complex Trauma”.

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


8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery – take charge strategies to empower your healing by Babette Rothschild, 2010

Babette Rothschild is the author of 5 books, including the bestselling ‘The Body Remembers’. She travels the world giving professional lectures, trainings and consultations. Babette is in Australia this month, many of the Blue Knot community – staff, trainers, counsellors are attending trainings delivered by her.

The 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery is a very practical book, filled with common sense ideas steeped in clinically proven methods. Rothschild's approach is very much "try it and see if it works - if it doesn't then stop!" It isn't dogmatic or prescriptive but offers several key principles that can make the process of trauma recovery safe and effective. This is brief book and therefore accessible to a wide audience. It can be used as a self-help book to be used on your own, for people in counselling and therapists as well. The book directly targets safe, successful recovery in a way that compels and convinces the reader to give their ‘keys’ a try, as tools which can help them steer their own road to recovery. 

In the introduction to each ‘key’ Rothschild invites readers to ask themselves: Does this concept ‘make sense to you?’  If so the reader should complete the exercises.  If the concept described in the chapter makes no sense, - or the reader feels at all distressed Rothschild suggests to either simply read through the chapter, postpone further reading or skip to the next chapter.

QUOTES from the book:
“The best trauma recovery program for you will be the one that is tailored to your individual needs” p5 
“Take care with what you say to yourself, as it actually affects you, particularly when it is about trauma. p59

8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recover can be purchased here.

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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 
Adelaide  29 February 2020 
Launceston      14 March 2020 
Canberra 23 May 2020
Darwin 20 June 2020

Click here for more information and to book your seat.

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

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IN THE NEWS

The truth about childhood trauma: healing takes years of work

Dealing with childhood trauma is not a matter of willpower. An adverse childhood experience, whatever a child considers to be overwhelming, can be deeply damaging if it’s not resolved. Read more


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Government urged to help victims of child abuse resolve trauma

A victim support group has urged governments to invest heavily in specialist services for child abuse survivors including better training for GPs, counsellors and therapists, estimating changes could save taxpayers billions of dollars.  Read more


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Blue Skies for Abuse Survivors

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Blue Knot Day, our national day of awareness and support for adult survivors of complex trauma.  Read more


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Forty-five years jail - landmark decision on basis of courageous testimony

Forty-five years jail for father who sexually abused daughter to the point she developed thousands of identities. Read more


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Landmark sentence helps shatter myths around D.I.D and survivor truths

A woman who was sexually assaulted by her sadistic dad for seven years has stared him down as his horror crimes were laid bare. Trigger Warning. Read more


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George Pell takes fight to High Court

Disgraced cardinal George Pell has filed papers to appeal his conviction for child sex offences to Australia’s High Court. This is what he’s arguing. Read more


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Time for Coordinated Action on Complex Trauma is Long Overdue

The federal government must ensure that a complex trauma strategy is a “pillar” of the nation’s mental health policy moving forward, says Blue Knot Foundation.  Read more


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Power, Threat, Meaning Workshops

Survivor workshop announced in Perth



These unique events will be delivered by Professor David Pilgrim straight from UK. David Pilgrim is Honorary Professor of Health and Social Policy, University of Liverpool and Visiting Professor of Clinical Psychology University of Southampton.


There are two versions of the workshop tailored according to whether you are a mental health consumer and/or survivor of complex trauma, or whether you work in the sector.  Please choose the session most relevant to you.


PROFESSIONAL WORKSHOPS - Sydney & Perth

This full day workshop is for those working in diverse professions across different sectors:

This workshop will introduce people to the Power Threat Meaning Framework, produced in the UK by a group of psychologists and service users from a strong evidence base drawn from research. The Framework offers an alternative to traditional psychiatric diagnosis. The Framework offers a way of exploring what has happened to people, how they responded and what meanings they attached to their life experiences. This workshop also attracts CPD points for practitioners.


This workshop will facilitate a group process for professionals to apply the framework to their own role and influence from a non-diagnostic approach inclusive of culturally specific perspectives and practices.

Learn more about Professional Workshops here
    

CONSUMER/SURVIVOR WORKSHOPS - Perth

This half-day workshop is for mental health consumers and/or survivors of complex trauma

The Power, Threat, Meaning Framework fosters respect for the many ways in which distress is experienced, expressed and healed across the globe. This can help people create more hopeful narratives about their lives and difficulties they have experienced. This is a workshop that acknowledges the power of lived experience, trauma and adversity whilst offering a framework for understanding self, healing and recovery. 

If you are a mental health consumer or survivor who has already registered for the professional workshop please contact the Blue Knot Foundation on
(02) 8920 3611 or admin@blueknot.org.au


If you are a professional please do not register for the consumer/survivor workshop, as places are limited. It is important that as many people with lived experience can benefit from this free event.

Learn more about Survivor PTM Workshops here



 


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Identity and Belonging – Part 1

This is the first of a 2-part article which explores some common challenges many of us have, regardless of life’s journey – our sense of self, our identity and how we relate to other people and to the world around us.  

Feeling comfortable in our own skin and in our different communities can prove particularly challenging for people who as children, and, as adults, have experienced repeated abuse, violence and/or neglect, or been taken away from our home, family and place.If you sometimes feel like this, or even often, it can help to understand how different life experiences and circumstances can leave a person feeling ashamed and unworthy.  In understanding more about how trauma can affect people, many survivors who have long lived blaming themselves for what happened to them, when they weren’t to blame at all, can start to let go of their sense of self blame. 

With the right information and support, we can become more patient with ourselves and show ourselves the compassion we needed and deserved as a child.  This can help us learn to change the way we see ourselves and others, to feel safer in ourselves and with others, and to build relationships of trust over time.  

Let’s think about children. Babies, children and young adults all depend on the people they are living with to help them feel safe and secure, nurtured and protected. When this doesn’t happen, and children aren’t safe and don’t feel safe, they put all the energy a child usually devotes towards learning and exploring to simply surviving (Perry, 2009). Depending on the ages and stages at which this happens, different parts of a child’s development can be disrupted. This includes having a secure basis from which to develop a strong every-day sense of themselves and to learn how to build healthy connections with other people around them. 

If this has happened to you and you facesome of these challenges, this article and part 2 in the October newsletter might help you understand more about them, what you can do, and the support you might need to make positive change.

Identity and Our Sense of Self 

As human beings, we have grappled with philosophical questions about identity for thousands of years. But there is more to identity than how we look and sound. Our identity has a lot to do with how we steer our way through the world. The debate over whether nature or nurture determines who we become (a debate which is now more focussed on nature and nurture) can distract attention from the interaction of our biological make-up with our environment in the context of our relationships. That is, the processes of attachment and socialisation - how the world responds to us and how we respond to it – which play a big part in how we develop and grow.

As we grow up, regardless of our circumstances, different events and experiences shape and influence our core basic beliefs about:

Ourselves
Others
The world

Our core beliefs then become a framework according to which we process our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviours. They are the lens through which we see and interpret our world.  We often hold on tightly to our core beliefs, even if they are upsetting, distressing, and even when they seem to others to be against our best interests.

The good news is that just as past events including traumatic experiences affect our core beliefs, so too new and different events and experiences can also affect them. Sometimes new experiences firm up our core beliefs, but at other times they might cause us to question them. In fact, when we experience more and more positive experiences, we might question our negative core beliefs so much that they may start tochange.

From birth, experience actively shapes and formulates a child’s developing self. This process involves complex interactions between the child and their family, all of which occur within their home, community, culture and society. A child’s interactions with their caregivers, particularly their emotional interactions, plays a big role in this process. When the people who are caring for a child or with whom the child is living, are attuned to the child, they model how to relate in a healthy way. This forms a model for positive relationships for the child with themselves and others. 

Other family or household challenges can also affect a child as they develop. When a caregiver has their own experiences of trauma and victimisation (Bromfield et al., 2010), they may continue to face major challenges in their own lives. This can affect their ability to meet their child’s needs, particularly their emotional needs, and make it harder for them to connect securely with their infants or children. This in turn can affect the way a child attaches, bonds or connects to their caregiver and to others over time. 

There is little doubt that emotional and physical security, consistent affection, validation, support and guidance help a child develop a sense of autonomy and set them on a healthy developmental path (Cozolino, 2012; Shonkoff, 2012). 

Developing a Sense of Self and the Capacity for Healthy Relationships

A caregiver who responds sensitively to a child’s feelings and needs helps equip the child to cope with life’s challenges. Care-giving, like all relationships, cannot be perfect but it needs to be `good enough’. But it is not all about what caregivers or parents do and don’t do. Struggles with poverty, being socially isolated or not having stable housing (Bromfield et al., 2010) can further compound life’s challenges for both the caregiver and their children. 

People who have experienced single-incident trauma i.e. a one-off traumatic event - often say that they want to get back to the way they were before (i.e. with the sense of safety and wellbeing the trauma has eroded). This is very different from survivors of childhood trauma, who often have no sense of having ever functioned well and many of whom cannot recall ever having felt healthy or happy.

The good news is the people can and do heal from trauma, including childhood trauma. The process of building self-esteem and a stronger sense of self is a gradual one, but forms an important part of many people’s healing journey. The fact is that the reality of having survived is testament to a person’s strength and resilience. Recognising and acknowledging this core strength and building on it can develop through a range of practices. These include mindfulness, therapy/counselling, and support from family and friends. Safe relationships of trust, self-compassion and a range of different strategies and tools can help survivors understand how the trauma they experienced affected their body, mind, and emotions, and how these different parts of them did or didn’t work together. 

With support and processing, survivors can also understand how they coped and how they are coping now. This understanding can help survivors to recognise their triggers and reactions, that these are to be expected, but that it is possible to learn a range of skills to help manage them better. As safety builds, many survivors can start to challenge their negative core beliefs over time.

Part of this includes embracing a sense of hope and optimism, and the possibility of a life no longer overwhelmed by trauma and its impacts and reactions.  It also includes a growing sense of themselves in the world and a new story for their life’s journey; a story which can include trauma as part of life’s journey.   

“Today you are you, that is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
-Dr. Seuss

 


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Blue Knot Day

Monday 28th October 2019

 

Blue Knot Day is Blue Knot Foundation's national awareness day celebrated in October every year. On this day, we ask all Australians to unite in support of the 5 million Australian adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse.

The tangled knot in the Blue Knot Day logo symbolizes the complexity of childhood trauma, with blue representing the colour of the sky and a clear blue sky providing the space for new possibilities.

Our 10th annual national Blue Knot Day, a day on which Blue Knot Foundation asks all Australians to unite in support of adult survivors of complex trauma is fast approaching. This year, to help raise awareness around the foundation and embody the theme "Untangle the Knot of Complex Trauma" we invite you to participate:

By holding an event in your workplace or community
Sharing through social media
Purchasing Blue Knot Foundation merchandise
Making a donation
Fundraising on our behalf

Please go here to find out more information on how you can get involved.  We have developed a whole range of resources to make participating easy!

Sharing on social media is a great way to get involved and spread the word

In the lead up to Blue Knot Day on 28 Oct 2019, we’re asking survivors, partners, friends and family, and interested community members to post a piece of blue sky. Each and every post will embody a sign of hope and the possibility of healing to those with complex trauma. In particular, people struggling in their daily lives may have a glimpse of a blue sky moment which may resonate with them, letting them know that they are not alone.

Follow the #BlueKnotDay and  #EmpowermentRecoveryResilience hashtags

Go here for more information on how to show and share your support.

 

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Understanding the Window of Tolerance

As human beings when we are under threat or perceive that we are under threat our innate physiological responses of: ‘fight, flight and freeze’ kick in. When you have previously experienced trauma, especially as a child, these habitual survival responses are often far more intense and more readily triggered.


The Window of Tolerance is the zone in which we can all function most effectively in every-day life.  Being within our ‘Window’ enables us all to take effective action. It is here, where we feel capable, able to attend to the task at hand, and can interact meaningfully with others, while also attending to our own emotional state and needs. The Window of Tolerance allows for the ups and downs of emotions we all feel. 

When we are outside of our Window of Tolerance, however, our nervous system is in survival mode – fight, flight or freeze. We can either feel overwhelmed and go into hyper-arousal or we can shut down and go into hypo-arousal. Our Window of Tolerance can be narrow or wide and is different for all people and at different times in our lives. When we have experienced trauma our Window of Tolerance often shrinks and is narrower. This means that we are less able to tolerate the ups and downs of emotions of life and can become more readily overwhelmed.

Understanding about the ‘Window of Tolerance’ (WOT) is a foundation of trauma work. The Window of Tolerance is an emotional, physical, and social state which we can all inhabit. We can all feel more grounded when we bring ourselves back into our Window of Tolerance when we are distressed or traumatised. 

In these different states of arousal we can experience a range of feelings and changes including but not limited to: Hyper-arousal – tension, shaking, anger, racing thoughts, intrusive imagery. Hypo-arousal - numb, shut down, no energy, can’t think, can’t move.

It can be very helpful to recognise the signs, which tell us that we are outside of our Window of Tolerance, and to develop strategies to help us return to it. Different people find different strategies and resources helpful, so it is important to experiment and find what works for you. Our ability to regulate our emotions depends on our ability to be tuned into and aware of our levels of arousal. As we become more aware of our body and its reactions, and of our thoughts and emotions, we can learn to recognize when we are in our optimal zone of arousal or going into hyper or hypo-arousal. When we do, we can also learn how to respond to different levels of arousal. Over time we can learn to contain even intense emotional experiences without moving outside of our window of Tolerance. 

Grounding skills are useful skills to help us return to within our window of Tolerance. These include breathing practices, orienting exercises, practices which connect you back into your body. To find out more go to https://www.blueknot.org.au/Survivors/Self-care/grounding




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A Safe Place to Tell: Part 1
Hope, Trust, and Meaning

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). 

Many participants felt that their contact with the Australian Royal Commission was one of the most healing and meaningful experiences of their lives. 

Larry describes what a private session meant for him: 
I felt a sense of relief that I had been here. I've told them my story, and they haven't dismissed me. They haven't said, "oh, that's not important, it wasn't terribly…you've wasted our time." I had the feeling that when I started to talk that they would say, “oh, ho-hum, that's not terribly bad. So what?” But the fact that they gave me credibility, they accepted what I was saying, and put value onto what I was saying, I thought was wonderful. And that sense of relief that, yes, all those things that I feel have been vindicated. That, in a sense, I don't need to minimise this anymore. I can just let it be. I can just deal with it as it is.

 Alison had a similar experience:
[The Commissioner] turned her chair towards me and just listened. She just looked at me and listened. And I wasn't interrupted and there was no objection and there was no, "Can we stop that there?" It was just these people who were part of our normal government system, and our normal judicial system, and who represent all of us, all of us in Australia, and who are doing this on behalf of the Australian government. It was like, I am sitting here and they are listening to me. They're listening to my story and they're acknowledging me. And I can't tell you, I just cannot tell you how, for me, what a pivotal moment that was. I felt like I could have worn a cloak out there that said "I matter" on the back of it.

However, other people had experiences that were disappointing, distressing, and for some, traumatic. Jay had hoped that the Australian Royal Commission was somewhere that she could finally be heard, but instead felt that she was dismissed as unimportant, and that her abuse experiences were minimised.

Because I feel that nobody has heard me. They've listened without hearing. They've heard it as sort of just waffle words. They don't hear it as anything important, or anything that they need to actually react to. And so, I am now investing enormous amounts of emotional energy into my latest attempt to tell.

Hope, trust, and meaning

Many survivors have historically been disbelieved, had their experiences of abuse minimised, and felt blamed for what happened to them. 

A number of research participants said that they expected the Australian Royal Commission would be a relatively safe place to tell their stories, without exposing themselves to frightening legal consequences, or the aggressively sceptical responses they expected from the criminal justice system, institutions and their legal teams. Larry figured that speaking to the Australian Royal Commission might be difficult and exposing, but in his assessment it was 'safe enough', and worth the risk.  

I knew that the Commission weren't going to attack me, but I knew that I was exposing myself and I felt a little bit vulnerable about that.
 
Claire said that she carefully considered what she knew about the Australian Royal Commission from the media coverage, and how this impacted on her decision to make a submission. 

I think we found that watching the Royal Commission on the TV or reading it on the Internet, we found that they were really honest and really just upfront with what shame does to a person or why shame is part of trauma, and I feel like they were really brave at putting those messages out there because really you don't hear about trauma in the media a lot and I think we felt really - I guess maybe encouraged in a way to actually face it head on because the Royal Commission were being so brave really and so professional in the way they approached all of everything they did.

Jasmine, who knows that her perpetrators can still hurt her, valued the option of anonymity. 

I think because my commission statement I had an option of being anonymous and sending it in, I had an option of giving information that was not necessarily going to damage me, but could kind of give a voice to some of the other kids that were involved that got hurt. 

Like many survivors who have been told by perpetrators and others 'don't worry, you can trust me, you are safe here' only to discover that this is not true, Jasmine struggled to figure out whether the Australian Royal Commission really was safe for her, especially considering the links her main perpetrator had within government and law enforcement. Telling her story was very important to Jasmine, but also very difficult and frightening. Jasmine was fortunately well supported by a psychiatrist she trusts and spent time in a private hospital while she prepared for her submission, and afterwards while she recovered from the impact of stirring up memories and fear. 

The decision whether to participate was often informed by the survivor's assessment of whether they will be safe enough, but also whether there is enough hope of a meaningful outcome – personally, and on the broader scale of systems change and better futures – to justify the personal cost. 

History is littered with examples of public inquiries that did not lead to meaningful change. Survivors are drawn to participate for a mixture of personal reasons such as needing to be heard and believed, and social or political reasons such as wanting to contribute to a safer future for others. If an Inquiry asks survivors to commit to the personal costs of making a submission, it is important that the Inquiry does not let them down. 

Many of the recommendations of the Australian Royal Commission have been or are being implemented by State and Federal governments, including changes to legislation, child safety, criminal justice, civil litigation and the National Redress Scheme. There is little doubt that this Inquiry led to meaningful change, although for many, that change has been too slow, too late and not comprehensive enough.

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.