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).

Related links

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

Do survivors blame themselves? Can they change this?

Do survivors of abuse blame themselves for being abused?

wiki ad survivors isolate breaking free

One survivor, who was sexually abused and exploited by a pedophile ring in Rochdale, England stated:

“Slowly, I’m beginning to realise that what happened to me wasn’t my fault, that I was taken advantage of by a group of vile, twisted men.  Girl A, Girl A: The truth about the Rochdale sex ring by the victim who stopped them.

Survivors of child abuse are even likely to blame themselves than survivors of abuse as an adult, in particular when they were groomed by an abuser. Psychoeducation can help reduce;  reviewing the events leading up to the abuse from a new, adult point of view can be key to shifting the self-blame.

 The experience of talking about my life in that period was really difficult. I started to remember how I had felt at the time but through the eyes of a now adult.

I felt very low and my self-esteem was at its lowest. I felt that what happened was my fault and that I deserved to be treated that way. I sometimes struggled during the interview process because I found myself getting upset and angry. I was upset because I could see looking back how easily I was led by people that I thought actually cared about me at the time. I can see now that they didn’t care about me. They wanted me for their sexual pleasure.”

‘Girl A’ from her victim impact statement, 9 men from the pedophile ring who abused her were jailed

Is posttraumatic stress disorder linked to self-blame and guilt?

One of the core symptoms needed for diagnosing PTSD is negative alterations in cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic events(s), beginning or worsening after the traumatic event(s).

The DSM-5 diagnostic manual breaks this down into several examples, some of which include the individual blaming himself/herself, and persistent guilt, shame, fear and anger.

Read more about PTSD.

Sexual Abuse and Child Sexual Abuse – How does it happen?

Child sexual abuse is not spontaneous or “accidental” in any way.
Breaking Free: Help for survivors of child sexual abuse, Carolyn Ainscough  & Kay Toon

Understanding how the psychology and pattern of behavior of an abuser before the abuse began can help alter this perspective by helping a survivor see this from a more neutral point of view.

What’s Trauma Bonding, is it linked to child abuse, complex PTSD and Stockholm syndrome?

Traumatic bonding

Traumatic bonding is shown when abused children cling tenaciously to the parents who hurt them, and victims of domestic violence repeatedly return to their abusive partner. (Herman, 1992) Perpetrators of sexual abuse may manipulate trauma bonds further by giving their victim the only sense of specialness, or being loved, that they have ever had. (Herman, 1992)

When a person is subjected to coercive control there are profound alterations in the victim’s identity. All the structures of the self−the image of the body, the internalized images of others, and the values and ideals that lend a sense of coherence and purpose−are invaded and systematically broken down. (Herman, 1992)

Coercive Control – Stockholm Syndrome

Favaro and colleagues (2000) found that PTSD and Stockholm syndrome both reflect the severity of the hostages’ experience, with Stockholm syndrome is predicted by the number of humiliating experiences and the level of deprivation experienced and PTSD being related to the number of violent episodes experienced by the victims. (Alexander, 2010) Stockholm syndrome does not always develop since it depends on specific preconditions. (Alexander, 2010) 

Child abuse survivor CW Seymore speaks on her trauma bond with her abusive father

I was just recently re-introduced to the “Coined” term The Stockholm Syndrome, for the undying loyalty and even compassion; I had toward my abuser, My Father. I had heard that term passed around quite often in the past and never really thought it applied to my life because I always associated it with the Concentration Camp Prisoners or Prisoners of war. I never really realized it is a Syndrome acquired by also being abused as a child; battered; an incest victim; in a cult or in a controlling or intimidating relationship. But after a conversation with a friend and a recent situation I was involved with, I have come to recognize that it is one of the main reasons I never talked about my abuse to friends or others in a position to help. I had this sick, undying loyalty to my father!

Read more… The Stockholm Syndrome and the Abused (

Breaking free

Male Abuse Awareness – survivors of abuse speaking out

How does abuse affect men?

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

Effects of abuse are devastating

“At night I no longer dreamed, nor did I let my imagination work during the day. The once vibrant escapes of watching myself fly through the clouds in bright blue costumes, were now a thing of the past. When I fell asleep, my soul became consumed in a black void. I no longer awoke in the mornings refreshed; I was tired and told myself that I had one day less to live in this world. I shuffled through my chores, dreading every moment of every day. With no dreams, I found that words like hope and faith were only letters, randomly put together into something meaningless – words only for fairy tales. ”
Dave Pelzer,  A Child Called “It”

Dave Pelzer - what childhood should be like

“Inside, my soul became so cold I hated everything. I even despised the sun, for I knew I would never be able to play in its warm presence. I cringed with hate whenever I heard other children laughing, as they played outside. My stomach coiled whenever I smelled food that was about to be served to somebody else, knowing it wasn’t for me.”
Dave Pelzer, A Child Called “It”

We must understand that those who experience abuse as children, and particularly those who experience incest, almost invariably suffer from a profound sense of guilt and shame that is not meliorated merely by unearthing memories or focusing on the content of traumatic material. It is not enough to just remember. Nor is achieving a sense of wholeness and peace necessarily accomplished by either placing blame on others or by forgiving those we perceive as having wronged us. It is achieved through understanding, acceptance, and reinvention of the self.
Cameron WestFirst Person Plural: My Life as a Multiple

“Chosen Ignorance” – people with the luxury of pretending abuse isn’t there

"Chosen Ignorance" - society's denials of certain types of abuse

“Chosen Ignorance” – society’s denials of certain types of abuse

In the 1980s, research on post traumatic stress disorder in Vietnam veterans was regarded as important, noble, and useful. When the same researchers looked at the same problem in children who had been sexually abused, a tremendous controversy ensued a controversy that persists to this day. There were those who disputed the extent and severity of the sexual abuse that had been uncovered.
― Patrick J. Carnes, Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred

You can travel the world but If you cannot let go of the past, you will never move on.

Gerald Freeman, Kill Daddy (child sexual abuse survivor)

I would give anything to be someone who this has not happened to

I would give anything to be someone who this has not happened to

I hope you see what you’ve done to me.  Matthew Little, Hell in a Basket (confessional poetry)

We are so used to our own history, we do not see it as remarkable or out of the ordinary, whereas others might see it as horrendous. Further, we tend to minimize that which we feel shameful about.
― Patrick J. Carnes, Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred

Recovery and Healing

“There’a a phrase, “the elephant in the living room”, which purports to describe what it’s like to live with a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser. People outside such relationships will sometimes ask, “How could you let such a business go on for so many years? Didn’t you see the elephant in the living room?” And it’s so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth; “I’m sorry, but it was there when I moved in. I didn’t know it was an elephant; I thought it was part of the furniture.” There comes an aha-moment for some folks – the lucky ones – when they suddenly recognize the difference.”
Stephen King, former alcohol & addict

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a tellar but for want of an understanding ear.”
Stephen King, Different Seasons

Even in its darkest passages, the heart is unconquerable - Dale Pelzer

Even in its darkest passages, the heart is unconquerable – Dale Pelzer

It is important for people to know that no matter what lies in their past, they can overcome the dark side and press on the a brighter world. ― Dave Pelzer, A Child Called “It”

Don’t judge yourself by what others did to you.
C. Kennedy