Life's Seasons Speaks

Salt in the Wounds - Secondary Wounding

March 22, 2023 Tina Episode 112
Life's Seasons Speaks
Salt in the Wounds - Secondary Wounding
Show Notes Transcript

Salt in the Wounds - Secondary Wounding

Secondary wounding is the injury that happens after the trauma.  It’s the damage that is done by the people who were supposed to care, help, support, and provide for all the needs that the trauma left.  

This might be our friends, family, clergy, counsellors, police, doctors, nurses, legal professionals, etc.  Anyone who is supposed to be helpful, has the potential to cause more harm, by the way they respond to someone’s trauma.

Today we talk about what Secondary Wounding is, how it happens, the avenues of receiving it, and what to do if you've hurt others in this way.


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Welcome back.  I’m glad you’re here.  I want to talk about something important today.  No, that doesn’t mean everything else we’ve discussed is not important.  But I’ve been thinking about a couple lines from two different episodes that have been released just lately.

In the episode, “Have a Word with Yourself”, I said, “you can love someone who has really hurt you”.  Remember that?  We were discussing conflicting thoughts and feelings.  We said that it is normal to have different thoughts and feelings at the same time that seem to go against or disagree with one another.  Go back and have a listen if you need to.  And the other line I’m thinking about today was from last week’s episode, “Wearing too many hats?  Here’s another one for you”.  And the line was this – “shut up”.

Interesting little combo there, eh?  “You can love someone who has really hurt you” … and “shut up”.

But this is the topic that those two lines evoked in my mind… Secondary Wounding.

Have you heard of this?  It’s a big deal.  We need to talk about it.

It directly relates to being hurt by someone you may love, or at least trusted to help you.  And the line, “shut up” directly relates as well… as you’ll see… how we respond to someone who has experienced a trauma has great impact.  And if our response is going to cause more harm than good… well, maybe we just need to shut up instead.

You’re going to hear familiar circumstances today, that you’ve either experienced as a trauma survivor or possibly as the person who inflicted more pain when they were just trying to help.  This isn’t an episode intended to cause more pain, or guilt… It’s intended to teach us more, so we understand and normalize our thoughts and feelings if we’ve been hurt, or so that we can do better going forward if we’ve hurt others. And the chances that we’ve said some hurtful things to someone hurting, well, it’s pretty high.  Because we just don’t know until we know.

Today is all about knowing more, about something really important to us believing and showing that everyone matters and deserves to know and feel it.

Secondary wounding is such an important topic, that its intentionally part of the trauma work we do with people in our counselling agency.  

And why?  Well because, secondary wounding is the injury that happens after the trauma.  It’s the damage that is done by the people who were supposed to care, and help, and support, and provide for all the needs that the trauma left.  

This might be our friends, family, clergy, counsellor, police, doctors and nurses, legal professionals, etc.  Anyone who is supposed to be helpful, has the potential to cause more harm, by the way they respond to someone’s trauma.

Now let me say this, if you think there is no way you’d ever be someone who would or could inflict secondary wounding on another human being…

In all the ways it is done, it’s seldom just out of cruelty.  It’s normally with the intention of minimizing pain, that we create more pain.

Because minimizing is not the same as healing.

Let’s look at one way secondary wounding occurs, and that’s by denying the facts presented.  It’s hearing someone’s story, which we know is so important to do, and then questioning their validity.

Imagine you have courage to say out loud what happened to you, what shook and changed your world forever.  You muster enough up to vocalize what terrorizes your memories, and someone says;

“Are you sure it happened like that?  I don’t think it could have happened like that.  Are you sure you didn’t imagine it?  Or at least parts of it?  That sounds like maybe you just had a bad dream.  But you think it really happened.  Are you maybe blowing it way out of proportion?  That is not how it happened at all, I’m sure of it.  What you’re saying doesn’t make sense”.

If we’re honest, we may have said a few of those lines, not to be cruel.  But really, the story we were hearing was so farfetched.

When you are a witness to someone’s story tough, you are just that.  A witness.  Not a judge or an interrogator or investigator.  Someone’s perception of the events they experienced, is their traumatic experience.  Their perception is their reality and that is what we are bearing witness to and caring for.

And you know what, it is very often just as they said it was, but they are telling the story to someone who has never experienced anything like that so they cannot comprehend it and therefore try to change the story into something they can comprehend, and that is not ok.

It is not helpful to the victim, and it causes more harm.  Another wound.  It is traumatizing the trauma. 

Besides denying the story that is shared, closely related is discounting the experience.  It’s telling the victim that other people have been through what they’ve been through, and it didn’t affect them like that.  Other people didn’t react and act like them when they went through it.  Other people got over stuff just like that way faster than this.  This certainly doesn’t seem to be the big deal its being made out to be.

If you haven’t said it, can we at least admit that we have though it?  

Or maybe it’s been your experience.  You’ve had these phrases said to you.  They are belittling and shaming and so harmful.

You know, often, denying and discounting happens because the person we are talking to loves us so much they are making the event smaller so they can handle it, in their minds and in their hearts.  Parents often inflict secondary wounding because of their immense love.  

But that is an explanation, not an excuse.  And no child is thinking that as it is happening.  Nor will any child feel ALL BETTER if we just explain this.

Secondary wounding is literally a new trauma that happens as a result of sharing the previous trauma.  We cannot give people more reasons to stay silent and suffer alone.  That is killing people.

But we cannot expect them to speak up if it means to be harmed all over again.

A huge reason why people stay quiet is because blaming the victim is a massive issue that happens in our society.  It is another form of secondary wounding.

Have the courage to talk about your sexual assault so you can heal, and then be blamed for wearing what you had on, or for drinking, or for walking through that neighborhood at that time of night.

Honestly, tell me again why people should trust us to speak about the most horrific experiences of their lives, if that’s how they will be responded to.

“I’m sorry he beat you, but you know he’s stressed when he just gets home from work.  You know he needs time to relax before you start on him about a problem”.  

“Why did you think it was a good idea to argue with your mom while she was drinking?  Now she’s getting charged and our family didn’t need this.  If you would have stayed away from her you wouldn’t have gotten hurt”.

“Can’t believe you picked that route.  You know the traffic is terrible.  Now look what has happened”.

Do you know how much false guilt and remorse we fight, when someone has been a victim and believe it was their fault somehow?  It’s so hard to fight that when it’s being reinforced by the people you love and the professionals you need to help you.

I remember years ago, when dealing with a stalker, calling the police as I had be INSTRUCTED to, whenever there was contact because it was a violation of their parole, yes, parole, because they had already been to jail for it… and I said I was getting threats through my Facebook messenger.  Their response was, “why in the world would you have Facebook if you have a stalker?”  And as I started to explain that I hadn’t had Facebook before but now had to because of my job, they said I should have used a fake name.  I explained I couldn’t because I wasn’t using a fake name within that job.  And as the police officer argued with me about it, I thought, “wow, I am defending myself when all I did was go about life, working and making a life for me and my family”.  So, I ended up saying, “never mind, hope you don’t take a call today from someone who’s been sexually assaulted.  Cause it will no doubt be their fault”, and I hung up. 

Now maybe that wasn’t the best response from me either, but that’s the thing with secondary wounding.  It hurts and you either recoil and hide and or come out defensively swinging for protection.  But then, often get blamed for either of those two responses as well.

When you are being wounded again after a trauma, it feels like you just can’t win.  Because you are first encouraged to speak up, and then encouraged to shut up, or shut down or calm down.

I want to believe that much of the injury and wounding happening by people who are hearing your story is out of ignorance.  It out of just not understanding the experience.  Not being able to relate.  It’s good if you can’t relate.  I’m glad if you have never had that experience, but that again is an explanation – not an excuse.

It’s people saying things like, “how can you be this affected by that event?  You weren’t even there?  How can you feel like this, you weren’t even in the vehicle.  Your friend was and they seem to be doing ok?  How can you have trauma from basic training?  Other people have gone to war and not come home this traumatized?  You only saw that school shooting on TV.  You don’t even know any of the victims”.

Well, if they knew anything about trauma, they’d know that trauma happens by being a victim, yes, but also by being a witness or by hearing about it, or by it affecting people our age, or our race, or our gender, or in some way that we identify.

We can be traumatized by relating to the event.  It is by ignorance that they believe it shouldn’t affect you.  Fine.  I get it.  But to vocalize it to the person affected, brave enough to share their experience, it is making little of the experience in a way that says, “you are wrong to feel what you feel”.  And that is a tragedy.

Generalization is another way we inflict wounds on to people who have already been hurt.  It seems to be a social consequence of being labelled a victim.  So much so that most of us hate that word, “victim” now.  Because by definition, it determines that someone was hurt, wounded, affected, and suffers as a result.  But society has labelled it as someone who is weak, frail, vulnerable, and powerless.  And none of that is true.

So, we are afraid to be a “victim” for what it NOW stands for, opposed to the truth.  And as people hear your story, they generalize your statements through the lens of a victim, as we now see them.

Your story is now not a story as such, but it can become about the narrator - the incapable, unstable, mentally unwell, victim.  And the story is now only half believed, and half considered.

And people listen for the basic story line.  Oh, this is about being a victim of racism.  We know what those people can be like.  Oh, this is about domestic violence.  We know what those people say.  This is about sexual assault, discrimination, something they say they now remember from years ago… ya, I know what those people are all about.  Because they remember the story from the news where someone else said the same thing happened to them.  And they were lying.  Or at least they couldn’t prove that they weren’t lying.  And the defendant’s attorney and social media ripped them apart.  And that was enough to plant seeds of doubt in our mind for the stories that would come after, sounding somewhat familiar.

And it’s another way we tell victims to shut up.  Suffer alone and suffer in silence.  Because you won’t be believed.  Not fully anyways.  And we will not listen as witnesses to your story.  We will interrogate and investigate to look for the holes, the half truths and the flat out lies.

If that is not actually your job, then it’s just not your job.  

And if you’ve listened today thinking oh man, I’ve said a lot of these things.  To people I love.  Well, today is a new day.  And you know more today, so you can do more today.  You can be witness to people’s stories now, like you never could before.  You can apologize for not knowing what you didn’t know to people you’re now afraid you may have hurt, when you didn’t know.

You can keep learning as you go.  Like we do.  We learn together and grow together.

And if you’ve listened today and connected with so many of the ways that people can hurt you when you’re telling them about your hurt… I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that we hurt you.  Even if it was because we just didn’t know better, you still didn’t deserve hurt on top of your hurt.  So again, I’m sorry.

You are not weak or frail or powerless.  You are a victim in the proper sense of the word.  Someone who has been hurt, wounded, affected, and because of all that, suffered.

That is validated here today.  It is your truth.  You don’t have to prove it or defend it to be your truth.  It just is.

What you went through mattered.  It mattered the moment it happened, and it matters today.  It doesn’t matter if it’s been 3 hours or 30 years since you experienced it.

Thinking you should be “over it” by now, is another form of secondary wounding.  Don’t do that to yourself either.

You have a story to tell.  And it will be impactful to many.  But some won’t respond well.  Not even out of cruelty, but out of not understanding secondary wounding.

So, let’s really work to wrap our heads around it.  So we aren’t doing it to those who come, trusting us with their stories.  And let’s tell others about it too so we all learn to love each other better.

We deserve that.  You deserve that.

I’m still cheering for you.  All the leaps and bound you make, and all the baby steps in between.  All of them matter.  Just like you do.

Thanks for spending another few minutes of your day with me.  I appreciate you, your stories, and strength.

Until next time, Tina is saying good-bye for now, and we’ll speak again soon.