Breaking Free – May 2023

Identity and Belonging

Man and Woman talking outside

This month we revisit our previous article on Identity and Belonging 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 have been taken away from their 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.

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.

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 to change.

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, play 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. Caregiving, 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.

We Need Your Support. Help Us Change Lives.

At Blue Knot, we believe in the strength of community and the transformative impact it can have on individuals affected by complex trauma. Join us in making a difference.

Over 5 million adult Australians are living with the lasting effects of complex trauma. Chances are you or someone you know is directly impacted. That’s why Blue Knot is dedicated to reaching and supporting as many people as possible on their journey to recovery.

Our survivor and supporter workshops, as well as our engaging webinars, play a crucial role in this healing process. Participants describe them as life-changing experiences. To ensure accessibility for all, we provide these workshops and webinars free of charge. We believe every survivor deserves the opportunity to begin their healing journey. The heart-warming feedback we receive reinforces just how vital these workshops and webinars are:

“To normalise trauma experience and past trauma struggles is huge in the recovery process – so making these workshops freely available to people as community members makes healing accessible and possible in our communities when trauma is so rarely understood or discussed.” – Anonymous

“It is so incredibly empowering to be able to access this workshop for free. The practical help and the information are immediately helpful. I feel valued affirmed and equipped. I feel proud of myself in a way that I never have before.” – Anonymous

Since the launch of our free workshops and webinars, we have supported close to 1,000 participants from around Australia. The demand continues to grow, and so do the waitlists. But we can’t meet this increasing need alone. We need your help.

By making a tax-deductible donation before the end of June, you can help us continue running these life-changing workshops and webinars. Every dollar you give directly supports this essential program.

Thank you for your support. Together, we can make a difference.

Donate Now

In Conversation: The National Centre and Professor Ben Mathews

What can we learn about the prevalence and nature of child sexual abuse?

In this webinar, Professor Ben Mathews, Lead Investigator on the Australian Child Maltreatment Study (ACMS), and leaders of the National Centre discuss the data and insights learned from the ACMS with a particular emphasis on child sexual abuse. They explore how this information can inform policies and practice to reduce child sexual abuse and improve responses to it.

Joining Professor Mathews are National Centre Board Members Dr Joe Tucci, Chair and CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation, Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, Deputy Chair and CEO of the Blue Knot Foundation, and Fiona Cornforth, Board Member and CEO of The Healing Foundation. The session is moderated by the National Centre’s CEO, Dr Leanne Beagley.

Watch the video here

When the Camera Stopped Rolling

when the camera stopped rolling

Help Raise Money for Blue Knot by viewing this powerful limited-release documentary.

This powerful feature documentary portrays the triumph of love and creativity over the pain of complex traumatic disruption.

When the Camera Stopped Rolling documents the trailblazing mother-daughter filmmaking team of Lilias Fraser and Jane Castle and the intergenerational trauma that was its shadow. Narrated by Jane with unflinching honesty and set against stunning visuals, the film is a testament to the potential for post-traumatic growth and reconnection. Balancing meticulous archival research with gripping narrative, the filmmaker interweaves both characters’ struggles and triumphs with clarity and compassion.

Intimate yet universally relatable, When the Camera Stopped Rolling invites audiences to witness and share in this courageous journey of healing, demonstrating the power of expression to help us make sense of experiences that are too often shrouded in silence and shame.

Help raise money for BLUE KNOT by viewing this multi award winning documentary. For one week only between 23-30 June 2023, When the Camera Stopped Rolling will be available on Vimeo for $8.99 per view. As a valued Blue Knot supporter create a free Vimeo account and use the code BlueKnot to receive 25% discount via this link Proceeds will go to Blue Knot Foundation to help us support survivors of complex trauma.

Please share the link with family and friends to generate deeply needed dialogue about social inclusion, family cohesion and post-traumatic growth.

Date: 23-30 June 2023
Cost: $8.99 (25% deducted at checkout using BlueKnot discount code)

Your Reference Ain’t Relevant – Help Change Legislation

your reference aint relevant

Your Reference Ain’t Relevant is a campaign founded by Harrison James & Jarad Grice; two survivors and advocates calling on the NSW Government to amend Section 21A (5A) in the Sentencing Procedure of the Crimes Act of 1999. Their goal is to remove from legislation any room for leniency for convicted sex offenders to submit a good character reference to help reduce their sentence. They need your help in supporting their petition to enact this change.

There has been a lot of public discussion about character references amongst the survivor community after the Corfe case in Melbourne. Their hope is that changing this legislation in NSW becomes the starting point for an eventual nationwide push.

Passing this legal loophole is the right and fair thing to do and will help to achieve 3 very important things:

1. It will send a message to perpetrators that if you commit sexual crimes again children, you will be held to account for your crimes to the fullest extent.

2. It will inspire survivors like Harrison and Jarad to seek help, report their offender and have more confidence in the justice system and court process.

3. Help to better protect our children.

Find out more by watching the video here

Sign the Petition

Blue Knot awarded ISSTD Therese O Clemens Advocacy Award

This award is given in honor of and dedicated to Therese O Clemens who served as the ISSTD Executive Director for nine years, helping to stabilise the organisation after financially challenging times and ensure the future of the organisation. This award is presented to the lay individual or organisation outside of the field of psychiatry or psychotherapy who, through their continuing efforts and dedication, has advanced the Mission and Vision of the ISSTD.

Find out more about the award and Blue Knot’s recognised work here

In the News

Failure to defrock Peter Hollingworth undermines Anglican church’s credibility, abuse prevention groups say

State governments forced to indemnify church bodies for child abuse due to insurance ‘market failure’

Hiding Behind Tombstones: The new legal tactics blocking justice for survivors