My coping strategies worked against me

I was reading an article recently about two women who were sexually abused as children by the same man. He was the brother of one woman and the uncle of the second.

What I found really sad about the experience of these two women was how the law failed to support them and how little understanding there is in the community about how trauma presents.

One of the biggest hurdles is finding the courage to tell someone. Few cases of sexual abuse are reported at the time. In fact it can take decades for an abuse victim to tell anyone. There is little understanding of how shaming and disempowering the abuse is. There is little understanding of what a victim has to go through to be able to speak out. Often, having taken the courageous step to speak out, their stories are dismissed or brushed aside.

If the abuse was within the family, the victim may find themselves estranged from their family when the family choose to support the perpetrator instead of them.

For a child seeking justice for sexual abuse or an adult seeking justice for rape the legal system is incredibly traumatising. Court cases are often delayed, victims have to repeat the details of their experience several times to the police, courts, in cross examination. They can be required to give specific details and their behaviour, appearance and past experiences may even be examined by the defence team.

It is a difficult situation. There is a need to protect the small minority of innocent people accused of sexual crimes they haven’t committed. But what about the genuine victims of actual crimes? Research by a criminologist comparing historical sexual abuse trials to current ones. It found that victims, in particular female victims, were more likely to be asked about their behaviour, what they were wearing, history, appearance, family background. Boys tend to be asked for the facts and are never asked about their clothing.

Another worrying finding was that cross examination of victims is much longer than in the past. Even child victims are questioned three times longer than in the past.

Even just reporting the abuse is hard. The older woman in this article told how she put on a brave face so she appeared okay but physically she felt her heart was going to burst out of her chest.

It took two years for the charges to be laid and the brother to be charged. Then there was the court process. Talking to the police was a cause for great anxiety. But there long periods of time when nothing was happening was also a time of great anxiety. She found she could never relax.

When the committal hearing started it was even harder. The prosecutor was new and did not know her. Whereas the police she was in regular contact with realised she appeared stoic and calm with small signs like redness in her neck to indicate her extreme distress, this new prosecutor had no idea.

This coping strategy of appearing outwardly calm was something this woman had used since she was first abused as a child.

In addition there were aspects of the assault that she found so confronting that she was unable to relate them to the court. Her mind shut down and she dissociated. She felt she wasn’t really there. When she was asked questions she knew the answer to, she couldn’t answer due to her distress. Instead she said she could not remember. She was so angry with herself over her inability to speak in court. Good counselling and a good understanding of how normal her reactions were would have made a big difference to how she felt about herself after the hearing.

Her case never made it to court. The Office of Public Prosecutions decided she was not a strong witness so they dropped the case. Good counselling and support would have helped her to give her story.

Her niece was able to give evidence when her case went to court, although she found it confronting having to describe in detail to a room of people – some strangers- things she had never told anyone. She described it as feeling she was being undressed. She was well supported by family and ultimately found it empowering to be able to give her evidence.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse learn many strategies to cope with the trauma of the abuse. The older woman in this story learned to “put on a brave face”. She learned to keep an outwardly calm demeanour while inside her body was in flight mode. She also learned to dissociate, something she probably did during the abuse.

She is not alone in those coping strategies. They are really common ways to survive with an overwhelming trauma. It is also not uncommon for adult rape victims to have similar coping strategies.

People do not understand these coping strategies. To the person using them, there is full awareness of their level of distress. But to someone watching they appear calm. It is not surprising that uninformed people watch this calm exterior and decide the person is completely unaffected.

If you are in that situation, be kind to yourself. The trauma you have been through is terrible and you are doing the best you can. It helps for people having to face court cases over sexual abuse to understand their coping strategies and identify ways to work with those strategies. If you can use a remote witness box do that. It is less confronting giving evidence that way.

You may decide to not take your sexual abuse to court. Whether you go to court or not, counselling is essential to help you heal.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with past trauma, please contact me on 0409396608 or

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here:

The Journey of Demeter

In a matter of weeks I will be running a grief and loss group in my rooms in Buderim. As I prepare the material, I have had time to reflect on the passage through grief and loss and the experiences of those who have previously completed the course.

I have a collection of reflections on loss from the people who were part of the group. Today, I would like to share them with you. Maybe you will find them helpful.

J.K. wrote that grief is more than missing someone. He felt it was an unrelenting ache for reality to be different and for the impossible to come true.

So true. This really struck a chord with the rest of the group.

Suzie just said that not a day goes by without saying “I Miss You”.

Jacky wrote that of course we grieve the person we lost. But she felt there was more to it than that. She felt those who have never grieved don’t understand there is so much more that is lost. When her partner died she found that everything they had together and shared together was gone. Those things were still there, but they were not the same. All those things they had looked forward to, the marriage of their daughter, the birth of the first grandchild, retirement together and so much more. There was a future they had planned to have together. That togetherness was all lost.

Max reflected on Paul McCartney’s song “When I’m 64” and how Paul McCartney never got to experience that with Linda McCartney. He wondered how Paul McCartney felt about losing that future. He agreed with Jacky. The lost future is so hard to come to terms with. It had never occurred to him before his wife died that the future was another loss.

Paula looked at this lost future from another perspective. She considered it to be a double whammy. You lost the person you love and they are no longer in your life. You feel so alone and lonely. But she also grieved for the things her partner, Pam, was missing. It hurt to realise Pam was missing the things she had so looked forward to. She felt so guilty enjoying the things Pam was missing.

Larry wrote that he had just seen grief as a sad time following the death of this person you have loved. He had considered all you had to do was push through the grief until you reached the other side. That is certainly what our society teaches us.

Larry came to the course because he could not find the other side and he was expecting to find the other side. Now he was realising that there was no other side.

He realised you didn’t battle on and push through. There was surrender to the all-consuming grief. There was adjustment to the new reality. There was acceptance of what was now.

He wrote that he saw that grief was not something to complete. Some task on a to do list that you finished and moved on from. Grief was something he was finding he had to endure. Grief had become part of who he was. It had changed who he was and how he saw the world. He had come to realise he was a different person now, and always would be.

There was a new reality now.

Kyle’s reflection was particularly poignant. He was angry when his daughter died. He was angry at the unfairness of death. Why was something he constantly asked. He had questions, doubts and fears. He asked death and was met with silence. When he wasn’t angry he was so broken. He felt his heart would never mend. He struggled to accept the reality of losing his daughter. He found the anger had passed, but he would never be okay with his little girl’s death. He found that his love for her was tinged with the pain of grief. He wrote that the anger had passed and all he was left with was the overwhelming wish to have her here.

So powerful.

A vivid description of the tumultuous nature of grief.

I find these reflections so powerful and pertinent. So often I have people come to see me who are finding it really hard to deal with these things that the group participants talked about. It is such a struggle particularly to accept the things your loved one will never get to do. It can feel like a betrayal when you enjoy these new things and they can’t.

That is a really difficult thing for people to learn to live with.

The other thing that so many talk about is the loneliness. It is not a pleasant loneliness. It is a loneliness that cries of loss and pain. A loneliness that is really hard to be with. It doesn’t matter if the loved one was a partner, parent, child or friend. That loneliness. That feeling of not wanting to be alone. That is very real and very present for many people.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief journey, please contact me on 0409396608 or

“Demeter’s Journey” my grief and loss group, will be running with limited numbers in May. More information will be posted in the next few weeks.

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: