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The Secondary Wounding of Self – When wounding words come from within.

February 13, 2012

TLC Guest Blogger: Cherie L. Spehar, MSW, LCSW, CTS

The pain of secondary wounding in a traumatic situation can cause long-lasting effects that may feel even more painful than the event itself. Secondary wounding, not only a minimization of a victim’s pain, also becomes an attack on character, on integrity and ultimately on self- worth. When secondary wounding occurs, it also has the potential to feed the private logic a person develops around the event, creating not just a perception about the event, but an entire belief system.

Secondary wounding is most often thought of in the context of how others engage in these behaviors toward victims.  But what happens when the victim turns on herself? I’ve started to recognize these effects in my work with adult women. Along with my work with children, I have been using the adult Trauma Intervention Program with traumatized women in my practice, and of the many who have completed the program, I have noticed 98% of them have experienced a condition I have loosely termed “Self-Secondary Wounding.”

Secondary wounding of self seems to be far more intensive than simple negative self-talk. A complex extension of the private logic they may have developed as a child, this directly impacts their feelings of self-worth, their confidence, and their perception of ultimate value in a far more pervasive way.

What does SSW look like? It is not at all uncommon for me to hear these statements from adult women:

  • “I know I just never should have been there. I gave in to my needs to have a night away, and I paid for it. I was selfish and stupid. Now instead of being a calm mommy, I am a freak who can’t even go to sleep without locking the door a hundred times.” – A overwhelmed woman who went out alone to dinner and a movie and was raped on the way back to her car.
  • “I’m an idiot for thinking this could never happen to me.” – From a woman who was attacked while taking a short cut home.
  • “It’s just the way I am built. I was built broken and I was an easy target. I always will be.” – From an adult survivor of child abuse and later, domestic violence.
  • “I’m a horrible human being. I caused my mother pain by telling what happened. I will never forgive myself for being so selfish to tell her what happened to me.” – From an adult survivor of sexual abuse from her father.

Another aspect of Self Secondary Wounding is that it even occurs when external sources of secondary wounding are not present. In other words, some women experienced positive support and healthy environments in which to heal, but still created their own Self-Secondary Wounding.

Unraveling and healing the feelings associated with any secondary wounding is a challenging task. As we begin to learn more about the experience of secondary wounding of self, we invite you to notice and watch for these experiences in your own life and with the people you serve. If uncovered, it may be well worth your time to integrate some supplemental healing therapies, such as Mindful Self Compassion, into the trauma recovery process. These can be gentle ways to supplement the redefinition of self as not only a survivor, but a person of incredible, irrefutable value.

Cherie L. Spehar, LCSW, CTS

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