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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 email@example.com
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:
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
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
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
Forty-five years jail for father who sexually abused daughter to the point she developed thousands of identities. Read more
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
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
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
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.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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:
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.
Monday 28th October 2019
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.
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 email@example.com
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