April 7, 2003
Sexual Problems - Part 4: The Concepts of Working with Shock
Sometimes sexual problems in adulthood are a result of childhood sexual abuse. In many cases, this type of abuse causes an emotional and physical shock to the system that requires an adjustment in the healing approach used. In traditional primal work, we direct ourselves to fully feel and resolve the pain of repressed traumas. That is rarely the approach used with shock.
When we are violated by a situation so overwhelming that our system dissociates and goes into shock, a number of things happen. One, the body senses that it has no resources and feels drained and disintegrated. Two, attention is shifted away (dissociated) from the painful violation, which results in disintegrated memory imprinting. Three, the child is too shattered to construct strong trauma defenses required for "normal" neurotic functioning.
The powerlessness, confusion, disintegration, weak defenses, and incomplete memory that accompany shock become the main themes in the symptoms of adult survivors of sexual abuse. Knowing how shock affects the body, it is easy to see why this is so.
Since shock rarely allows children to create adequate defenses, the biggest defense that sexual abuse survivors have is denial. For them, denial/dissociation was, and is, a necessary survival technique. This is rarely understood - or appreciated.
"Normal" traumas are contained within emotional defensive structures for later release. Trauma victims are like a turtle in a hard shell. The path to healing trauma moves through the softening of defenses and eventual emotional release of the traumatic pain. A shock victim, on the other hand, is like a turtle with no shell. In general, a shock victim lacks adequate defenses.
The healing approach for most survivors of childhood sexual abuse is the same as that extended to all shock victims. Essentially, a new safe "shell" has to be created by a support person or group, followed by the development of new defenses and life skills by the survivor. Within this protective shell, the process of opening to communication and feeling expression can unfold in a slow, gradual, "unshocking" manner. Any attempt to force the process will simply reshock the person and may seriously impair the rate of healing.
In the early days of primal and other deep-feeling psychotherapies, a lack of understanding of shock resulted in serious problems for many clients - and therapists. Attempts to break through the imagined defenses of shock victims resulted in even more disintegration and dysfunction. Today, thanks to the pioneering efforts of many dedicated primal therapists, those suffering from the shock of childhood sexual abuse can heal and grow in safety.
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Sexual Problems - Part 1: It's a Feeling Problem