One of the biggest hurdles for victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes from reporting or seeking counseling is their perceived responsibility. Throughout life, we are told what to do and not to do to prevent becoming a victim — don’t go out alone, don’t drink, don’t lead people on, don’t dress provocatively, etc. For many victims of sexual assault particularly, they blame themselves for getting into a situation where an assault could occur and then fail to react, fight, or scream. Shame, guilt, complete violation of person, and the social stigma surrounding victim-blame prevent many survivors from reporting. Many think they can simply “get over it.” And, many people suffer for decades because they cannot “get over it.”

This is normal. Everything mentioned above is completely normal for human beings. But, there are reasons for these behaviors and there is help in overcoming the trauma. At Inner Source, Dr. Beth Firestein has helped many Coloradans process their trauma and find the inner peace they deserve to recover their lives. Join us in today’s post as we offer a brief overview of the neurobiology of trauma in an effort to help you understand what you are experiencing.

Fear Responses

Many people understand the expression “fight or flight” as it relates to responding to dangerous situations. The body reacts physiologically to prepare for danger. The goal is to survive. Basic vital functions are preserved, while “luxury” functioning ceases to prepare the body to fight or escape. However, the initial stage of responding to danger is freezing. The freezing stage is typically short-lived and is meant to allow you to focus on the situation at hand and assess whether fight or flight is more appropriate. At this moment, if an assault takes place and you are overpowered, it can quickly be perceived as a lack of doing anything. For those who experience a single traumatic attack, this can be devastating and cause the victim to self-blame. If I had fought, if I had screamed, if I had done anything… This rabbit hole is a dangerous and counterproductive place to venture. Let’s get one thing clear — the assault was not your fault and you did not deserve it.

For those who are repeatedly assaulted — abused — the body will use survival tactics to reduce injury and harm. Sometimes this means using disengaging coping tactics to remove yourself, psychologically from the physical abuse. Additionally, sexual abuse victims are typically abused by someone close to them or in a position of authority, using grooming tactics or fear to promote compliance. Often times, this compliance can be misconstrued as consent, making trauma therapy for the adult survivor more difficult initially and promotes shame and guilt.

Ongoing trauma or unresolved trauma can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder where the body remains in a fight or flight status. A heightened sense of awareness and situational response leaves stress levels high and continues to keep those “luxury” bodily functions in pause mode. This can prevent the victim from processing food normally or thinking clearly. It can lead to chronic exhaustion, an inability to relax, problems sleeping, reduced problem-solving skills, decreased emotional responses, and feeling “shut-down.” This is not sustainable for living a productive life and alters neurons in the brain as well as bodily organs.

Moving Beyond Trauma

Trauma processing is a healing method that allows the victim of sexual assault or violence to process the psychological effects of the trauma to reduce the physiological effects of the stress. Trauma therapists often use a combination of tactics to help process the traumatic event as well as resulting triggers and other effects of the trauma. Most of these therapy tactics include brain re-condition and a neurobiological focus rather than strictly emotional counseling. Some examples of neurobiological therapies include:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Stress Inoculation Training
  • Neuro reactive medications

At Inner Source of Loveland, Dr. Beth Firestein employes a variety of methods and treatment options to yield the best outcomes for survivors of sexual assault and violent crimes. Visit us online to learn more about trauma counseling and contact us to schedule your consultation.

For more information about the neurobiology of trauma, visit these online resources:

Neurobiology of Trauma
Understanding Neurobiology of Psychological Trauma