While the publication and dissemination of stories and survivor experiences help to ‘break the silence’ and secrecy around child abuse, doing so can also raise a lot of issues for many, especially for survivors. The Court of Appeal has set the 5th and 6th of June to consider Cardinal Pell’s appeal for his conviction for the abuse of two choirboys in the 1990s. Given this case is so high profile it is anticipated that emotions will run high and that there will be a lot of reports in the media and accompanying commentary.
Reading about this case as well as other increasingly frequent media reports can bring past traumatic experiences and feelings to the surface. At times, it can threaten to overwhelm us. This is completely understandable for us all but especially for people who have experienced their own abuse or other traumas.
To help support you to manage the possible negative effects of media reporting about abuse or trauma, we asked our Blue Knot Helpline counsellors for their thoughts.
From this, we have collated some self-care tips and strategies we hope will be of use.
Firstly, what is a trigger? For survivors, triggers are anything in their daily life that reminds them of prior abuse, violence or trauma. While sometimes a survivor can connect the trigger to their abuse, at other times the connection is less apparent. The person may experience bad and upsetting feelings in response to something in the present, but to which their reaction is not easily understood.
If the person is unable to connect their present reactions to a past situation or events they may feel as though they are going ‘crazy’ or that something is wrong with them. This can be scary and confusing and can lead to feelings of fear, anxiety and shame, emotional numbing, social withdrawal, nightmares, eating problems, self-harm and suicidal ideation. If this happens to you, it is important to remember that you are not going ‘crazy’ but that you are experiencing a “normal response to abnormal events.”
If you have been ‘triggered’ by a story or an event in the media, consider the following suggestions to see what might help you feel more grounded:
• Stop what you are doing and try to tune into what is happening in your body and/or mind. See if you can identify the trigger.
• Pay particular attention to your senses – to images, smells, tastes, sounds and tactile experiences that remind you or your body of the original traumatic experience. Can you see a connection between the present event and past experiences?
• Remember to breathe and stay connected to your body. Focus on calming yourself. Tell yourself some reassuring things. Check that you are taking slow and deep breaths. Relax your body. Do whatever works for you.
• Reconnect with the present moment. Make an effort to notice what is around you, touch things, notice smells, and see where you are and who you are with.
• Remind yourself that what you are doing and experiencing now is different to what happened during your abuse or other distressing experience.
• Create a safe area in your home – a place you can go when you are feeling frightened or upset. Make an agreement with yourself that you will stay in that space until the feeling passes, one breath at a time. You may also set up objects in your safe area that calm and soothe you. Your safe space may be at a window seat, in your bed or in a comfortable chair.
• It is important to know that you do have a choice and that it is OK to switch the television off or to avoid reading the newspaper and scrolling through social media. You may decide to limit your exposure to the news or to avoid it altogether particularly if you are already feeling overwhelmed.
• Find a trusted person to whom you can talk. It may be a relative, friend or neighbour or consider speaking to a trauma-informed counsellor on the Blue Knot Helpline by calling 1300 657 380 9am – 5pm Monday to Sunday AEST. The counsellor can support you to help you identify and understand your possible triggers, to feel safe and develop ways of additional ways of coping. They can also help you with a referral for ongoing support if you feel you want or need it.