Book Review: A Secret Safe to Tell by Naomi Hunter

A Secret Safe to Tell is Naomi Hunter’s first book. This beautiful children’s picture book is designed for children of any age, and each page has been carefully illustrated by Karen Erasmus.


A Secret Safe To Tell by Naomi Hunter

The book is a short story about young girl who find herself confused and worried about the ‘games’ her new friend wants to play with her. The story gradually unfolds, and without any direct mention of sexual abuse or pedophiles, it passes on the message that it is okay to tell an adult about sexual abuse, and what to do if that person does not believe or listen initially.

It is an interesting, enjoyable book to read and by concentrating on feelings rather than details of body safety (or abuse) it should not distress any child it is read to, or who reads the book by themselves. Although the topic is clearly child sexual abuse, it is general enough for almost everything to apply to physical abuse as well. I particularly liked the emphasis on grooming and innocent friendship at the start of the book, and the lack of judgement of the person carrying out the abuse. This is important because a child will often be attached to an abuser, and will be less likely to disclose if the abuser is presented as ‘bad’.

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Viewing life through the filter of trauma

If you or someone you know has experienced trauma then you may find some of these familiar:

  • can’t trust anyone[1]
  • intense or prolonged distress caused by reminders of the trauma [1]
  • others will betray my trust [2]
  • the world is competely dangerous [1] and unpredictable [3]
  • I’m completely incompetent (in coping with this dangerous world) [3]

Mental Filters

Each of us, whether we have experienced trauma or not, have mental filters (schemata) as a result of our past experiences, and these affect how we view the world in the present. Trauma affects these mental filters, even in people who do not develop PTSD symptoms. Our past experiences affect our perception of the present –

You are here in this current reality, reacting to events as they occur, and at the same time are influenced by your past reality.

Your past not only filters your interpretation and reactions to current events, but also serves as a template for expectations, assumptions, and a whole array of emotional and physical reactions.
Healing From Military Sexual Trauma, Katz & Hammerslough (2014)

A past which includes maternal abuse or neglect, or awareness through others of the long-term impacts of this, is likely to heighten your awareness of indicators that someone may be experiencing abuse or neglect in the home. But many people in society choose to deny or minimize the reality that some mothers are abusive, and generalize about the positive qualities of ‘all mothers’.


Rose-colored Glasses – a Defense against Reality?

Common defenses against trauma help with coping in the short-term, but cause more damage in the longer term. These defenses are not only used by the trauma survivor: but also by their families and friends, the media and society.
Common psychological defenses include:

  • Denial – nothing happened, I’m fine
  • Minimization – it wasn’t that bad, other people went through worse, victim-blaming and self-blame
  • Dissociation – e.g., emotional numbing, amnesia for some of the trauma (PTSD symptoms) or dissociative amnesia
  • Avoidance – avoiding trauma reminders (a PTSD symptom), or avoiding emotions like anger or rage (e.g., premature forgiveness), or avoiding any awareness of trauma (e.g. on the news)

The popular film Black Swan, about a rising but naive ballet star who “just wanted to be perfect” contained many psychological and dark themes. Which did you recognize?
Did your mental filter consider the possibility of mother-daughter incest?
Incest survivor Faith Allen gives her views, seen through her mental filter: Black Swan: A movie about Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse (


  1. DSM-5 PTSD criteria
  2. The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress. Mary Beth Williams (2002)
  3. Prolonged Exposure Therapy for PTSD: Emotional Processing of Traumatic Experiences Therapist Guide. Edna Foa, Elizabeth Hembree, Barbara Olaslov Rothbaum (2007).

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Over-Responsibility and Self-Blame

 The powerlessness of trauma had left me without a sense of autonomy. For too long I had mindlessly enacted the relational templates of my upbringing, unable to choose when to say yes and when to say no, and enmeshed in a destructive morass of compulsive care-giving alongside chronic self-neglect. I said yes to everyone else, andno to myself. Other people mattered; I did not. And so, breakdown.

Carolyn Spring, Boundaries

Responsibility and Overresponsibility

Responsibility and blame can be tricky for people who have experienced traumatic experiences, especially in childhood. A neglected child may grow up having to take responsibility for caring for themselves, and possibly other siblings or a parent. The basic emotional and practical needs include regular food, clean clothing, medical care, being shown how to manage their own emotions and being comforted when hurt or sad. Adults responsibilities are pushed onto a neglected child; instead of being gradually learning small responsibilities in an age-appropriate way. Accepting responsibility for too many things can then become automatic, and saying “no” to things becomes very difficult.


Many children (and adults) who have been abused also feel a lot of self-blame, and shame. An abuser (or abusers) may compound the effect of abuse with statements blaming their victim, such as “it was your fault”, “you made me do it”. Others who are told about or become aware of the abuse may struggle to accept it, and engage in “victim-blaming“. The only person responsible for the abuse (or another poor behavior) is the person who carried it out.

Trauma victims commonly blame themselves. Blaming oneself for the shame of being a victim is recognized by trauma specialists as a defense against the extreme powerlessness we feel in the wake of a traumatic event. Self-blame continues the illusion of control shock destroys, but prevents us from the necessary working through of the traumatic feelings and memories to heal and recover.”
Sandra Lee Dennis

Posttraumatic stress disorder’s diagnostic criteria also recognizes that trauma can cause distorted thinking (cognitive distortions) which result in inappropriate self-blame. Working towards facing the self-blame means facing the very painful reality of being totally powerless during the time of the trauma(s). But it is often recognized that challenging and working through feelings of inappropriate self-blame allow survivors of trauma to heal.

Pedophiles groom both the child and the family

Did you know that pedophiles groom families as well as children?

Read more … Some secrets should never be kept book cover


This excellent post comes from the author of Some Secrets Should Never be Kept, a beautifully illustrated children’s picture book to keep kids safe from sexual abuse.


Pedophiles groom families not just kids - quote from a pedophile

Mindfulness protects adults from physical, mental health consequences of childhood abuse, neglect

ACE study – Mindfulness helps protects adults from the consequences of childhood abuse & neglect
Find your Adverse Childhood Experiences Score at

About the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

Adverse Childhood Experiences Pyramid

ACE pyramid

This blog is based on the following research

Whitaker, R. C., Dearth-Wesley, T., Gooze, R. A., Becker, B. D., Gallagher, K. C., & McEwen, B. S. (2014). Adverse childhood experiences, dispositional mindfulness, and adult health. Preventive Medicine, 67, 147–153. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.07.029

Full paper

ACEs Too High

Aeye2Fact #1: People who were abused and neglected when they were kids have poorer physical and mental health. The more types of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) – physical abuse, an alcoholic father, an abused mother, etc. – the higher the risk of heart disease, depression, diabetes, obesity, being violent or experiencing violence. Got an ACE score of 4 or more? Your risk of heart disease increases 200%. Your risk of suicide increases 1200%.

Fact #2: Mindfulness practices improve people’s physical and mental health.

Now, says Dr. Robert Whitaker, a pediatrician and professor of pediatrics and public health at Temple University, there’s one more important fact: People who are mindful are physically and mentally healthier, no matter what their ACE scores are.

This study, to be published in the October issue of Preventive Medicine, is the first to look at the relationship between ACEs, mindfulness and health. And it…

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