It’s tragic, but even after women find safety from hidden abuse, trauma may still resurface causing fear, pain, and grief.
How can victims find safety, peace, and strength – even when carrying trauma from hidden abuse?
Shannon Thomas, Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse and Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon joins Anne Blythe on the free BTR podcast to offer empowering and practical tips for women when they re-experience trauma from hidden abuse. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR podcast for more.
Healing Hidden Bruises: When The Scars Start Aching
Even when a woman has done the incredibly courageous work of healing from hidden abuse, her trauma may resurface at times. This can be frustrating. Some women wonder if they will ever truly heal.
The truth is that healing from hidden abuse doesn’t mean that there will never be reminders or that the trauma will never resurface – in fact, healing is evident when women can slow down and care for themselves when the “scars” start to ache
Do Our Bodies Effect Trauma From Hidden Abuse?
Whether it’s a broken bone, deep cut, broken heart, or hidden bruise, any old injury can have a tendency to resurface from time to time, especially when a woman’s body experiences hormonal changes.
Just like that broken bone that aches when a storm is brewing, Shannon says a woman’s healed trauma can make an unscheduled appearance when a hormonal storm is brewing in her body.
Hormone changes impact women differently and individually. Some women who experience postpartum definitely know that perimenopause can be a more challenging time for them because they do swing with the changes that are going on within their bodies. Trauma survivors and those that are prone to more anxiety or depression can also really feel those shifts in hormones. From a mental health perspective, this sneaks up on us.Shannon Thomas, author of Healing From Hidden Abuse
Getting bloodwork done is one important self-care tip for victims of hidden abuse. Sometimes it’s a simple lifestyle change that can help women process and work through trauma more easily.
Anxiety Mimics Trauma From Hidden Abuse
Victims of hidden abuse know all about anxiety.
It’s important for women to understand that:
It may not be old traumas that are resurfacing, but the anxiety starting to kick back in because of the hormonal changes. We know how much that impacts brain function and emotional state.Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
Trauma can effect women emotionally, physically, sexually, and mentally. However, when discerning what kind of care you need, it’s important to learn to differentiate between trauma and anxiety or depression.
Being Gentle With Yourself: The Key To Managing Trauma From Hidden Abuse
If we were skiing and damaged our leg, we’re always going to know it happened. There are going to be really good days and there are going to be painful days because it’s no longer what it was before. Some trauma therapists believe that, once you’ve processed all of it, that none of that pain is going to come back up. I just don’t believe that. Just like if we had a reconstructed body part, there will be good days and there will be days that it hurts.Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
Victims can try to remember that healing from hidden abuse and maintaining that healing is a process – there is no timeline, there is no right or wrong.
As women choose to be gentle and patient with themselves, they can manage their trauma more easily.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Hidden Abuse
The pain and trauma that abusive men cause women can be long-lasting and frustrating to deal with. At BTR, we understand the deep desire for relief from the sorrow, fear, and anger that accompanies the trauma of hidden abuse.
It is essential that every victim has a safe and supportive network to turn to as they process trauma, express difficult feelings, and share their stories.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group offers victims of hidden abuse validation, compassion, and connection with other victims who get it. Join today and begin your journey to healing.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery. This is Anne.
I’m continuing the conversation with Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse, today. If you did not hear last week’s episode, please go listen to that first and then join us back here.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, is all online, offering multiple sessions a day, so you can get the help that you need immediately.
Now, we’re going to catch back up with the conversation with Shannon Thomas. I start talking by explaining our demographic here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery. That we, specifically, focus on wives and ex-wives of porn users. Porn use is an abuse issue.
Healing Hidden Bruises By Teaching About Hidden Abuse
Anne: On this podcast, I speak in a gender-segregated way because our audience at Betrayal Trauma Recovery is solely for women victims of male perpetrators. I recognize that there are some abusive women out there and there are women who use pornography. I don’t want to discount that. But because this audience is specifically for women victims of male perpetrators, the pressure that they’re under to hold things together is crazy.
The psychological damage that it does, because not only is their addicted husband abusing them, but their clergy, therapists, and others, are abusing them by proxy by buying into this whole “let’s help him get better and you need to be patient and you need to expect relapses” and all that nonsense.
BTR Is Targeted Toward Women Who Have Been Abused By Men
Shannon: Exactly. I think it’s perfectly fine when podcasts and therapists and authors and other people are very upfront about the work they do, and your work is to women who have been affected by this specific toxic behavior. I think there’s lots of room for other people to do the work with abuse survivors that gender identifies differently.
I don’t think there is any problem whatsoever with segregating by gender. We just have to make sure that we also know that it happens across a wide range, as you do, but we get to specialize in whatever we are called to do. That doesn’t negate anybody else’s abuse experience.
We have this sort of competing as we have to all be talking about every person who experiences abuse. Well, maybe we’re called to a very specific group of people? That is perfectly fine.
Hidden Abuse Is Difficult To Identify (As Its Name Suggests)
Anne: Yeah. I actually think that’s probably why I get a lot of heat. It’s because people are like, “Well, some women use porn.” I’m like, “Yes. I know that. But that is not our specific audience.” If there is someone else who wants to take over that other demographic then shine on, but this is our specific one. We’re also here because I think, at least in our case, there is so much misinformation for wives and ex-wives of porn users that I felt like we really need something specifically for this demographic.
Shannon: It’s pretty much how I feel about hidden abuse. I very much focus in on those abuses that are hard to describe and those abuses that are not as widely recognized. That’s why I ended up writing Healing from Hidden Abuse, because I wanted to talk about hidden abuse that’s not gender-specific. That is, talking about the behaviors of hidden abuse but not based on which gender the perpetrator might be so that we can just educate broadly. That’s what I’m called to do, not those abuses that are very obvious that we as a culture are really starting to identify, but those abuses that are hidden, regardless of the gender.
Becoming Educated About Hidden Abuse Helps You Identify it
Anne: Whoever you are, it’s going to benefit you to become educated about abuse because, if you don’t become educated about it, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It is existing in and of itself, and when you get educated about it, you’re just able to identify it better and talk about it in a way that helps you progress your healing.
Shannon: I think that’s a great point, if I could touch on that. I have clients that come in who have read the book or have heard me on a podcast or seen my social media post, and their story doesn’t fit psychological abuse. It fits not a healthy relationship, something that they want to assess whether they want to stay in or not, but it doesn’t fit the criteria and the model of what psychological and emotional abuse is.
Become Educated About Hidden Abuse
What I always say to them is, “You don’t want to go for cancer treatment if you have a cold.” Just reading a book, listening to a podcast, and educating yourself [doesn’t mean you’re in an abusive situation], but if your situation doesn’t fit it’s going to be very obvious. It just doesn’t fit.
It’s just like going and getting lab work. The doctor looks at it and if it looks a certain way, it looks a certain way and if it doesn’t, it just doesn’t. I think that’s one of the misnomers that people complain a lot about is, “Oh, well, you’re going to that therapist,” or, “You’re reading that book and now you’re going to see abuse.” That is just not the case at all. It’s either there or it isn’t. It resonates or it doesn’t.
Healing Hidden Bruises By Seeing The Hidden Abuse
Anne: As a trauma therapist, you work with women who have experienced trauma through intimate betrayal. What do you see as the biggest challenge to healing from this specific form of trauma?
Shannon: I think the biggest challenge is being able to recognize that it’s real. That hidden abuse, that abuse while a partner is or was going through porn addiction can be traumatic and having to recognize that the trauma is real.
Hidden Abuse Is Like Being In A Cult
They can get it and they can feel it. It’s like sand in their hands and then it just rushes through and, all of a sudden, now they’re back to despair, back to the self-blame, back to being twisted up within some of the stories that the abuser gave them.
We have to do a lot of deprogramming when it comes to hidden abuse because it’s much like being in a cult where, if you’re told something and you believe something and there is a trauma bond that has happened, it’s very difficult to maintain being grounded. I think that can be one of the biggest challenges is recognizing that this really did happen, this is the truth, and not slipping back into that self-blame and back into that cult-like thinking where it’s not the abuser, it’s the victim’s fault.
Healing Hidden Bruises During Life Changes
Anne: With this demographic, you’ve also written about the challenges of perimenopause that happen with survivors of trauma. Why is this time in a woman’s life extra challenging from a mental health perspective?
Before you answer this question, we have so many women that during this time is when they find out that they have experienced 30 years of psychological abuse. It’s just interesting that when the kids move out or it seems like it’s patterns. Women find out right after they had their baby, or once the kids have moved out, or when they’re going through these stages. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this specific group.
Shannon: Yeah. That’s really heartbreaking to know. I’ve heard this before, that a lot of these betrayals are coming out after just having a baby, which is this wonderful height. But also mind, body, spirit going through so much with becoming a mom, whether it’s the first time or fourth time. It’s still this head-to-toe experience and then being in the moment where you find out about the betrayal.
“Hormone Changes Impact Women Differently And Individually”
Or going through perimenopause where maybe they still have teenagers in the home, which has its own challenges and great things, or being an empty nester and finding out these are the lies that have been seeped into the walls for all of these years. You knew something wasn’t right but couldn’t quite figure it out.
I think perimenopause, in particular, as they move into menopause, is very difficult for trauma survivors. They call it the second puberty, where you end up getting a rush and a change of hormones. For some women, they’re not impacted by their hormones changing.
Perimenopause isn’t exceptionally hard on some people because their hormones are so radically different than others. It’s just that hormone changes impact women differently and individually. Some women who experience postpartum definitely know that perimenopause can be a more challenging time for them because they do swing with the changes that are going on within their bodies.
Pay Attention To Hormonal Fluxuations As You Heal From Hidden Abuse
Trauma survivors and those that are prone to more anxiety or depression can also really feel those shifts in hormones. I think, from a mental health perspective, that this sneaks up on us. Even as a seasoned therapist myself, you know hitting 48 and I’m 49 now and I’ll be 50 in the summer, I started having reoccurrences.
I’m also a trauma survivor. I put that out there in the books and in my writing. Right around 48 I started having a lot more anxiety, some panic attacks again. I was like, “Whoa. What is going on here? Nothing is warranting this right now.”
“It’s Also Rooted In Compassion”
What I came to realize though, and really it took about six months to a year of really getting it under my belt, was that these were the shifts, with the hormone fluctuations, that were causing old mental health, old anxiety, old panic to come up. It’s really off-putting. It’s really, really hard when you feel like, “I need everything I have right now, for what I’m going through, to feel good, and I’m on this rollercoaster.”
I think it’s also rooted in compassion. I think that that’s where I ended up. What I suggest for clients is once we come to realize, “Okay. This is what’s happening,” you know you get your first hot flash and you’re like, “Oh. I’m getting sick. I better go take my temperature.” And you’re like, “Okay. My temperature’s normal. So why am I sweating?”
Heal From Hidden Abuse With A Focus On Self-Compassion
It’s a really weird experience. Especially for those of us that—48 hit me like a real surprise. I’ve just been rocking and rolling and doing my thing. Having fun, feeling great, really not noticing that I’m aging, to be quite frank, because I hadn’t really focused on it. I’m just happy doing what I’m doing with books, my work, and life and things, so I don’t feel like I’m going to be 50 at all, so it was very surprising. Like, “Wow! I really am in my late 40’s. How did that even happen?”
When I came to realize, “Okay. This is what’s happening. I’m having some hot flashes and I’m having some night sweats, and now I’m starting to feel sort of some anxieties that seem to be clocking with different hormonal rhythms and things.” It’s like, “Alright, here’s where I’m at.” It’s just a very self-compassioned focused, not panicking, not realizing that, “Oh, my gosh, I’m having a nervous breakdown or something terrible is happening.” It’s a lot of gentleness.
Heal From Hidden Abuse By Practicing Radical Self-Care
Then also recognizing that it can be very empowering to say, “I don’t want to, and I can’t throttle at the level that I used to.” I think we take better care of ourselves when we start to get to a place where it’s like, “I don’t want to be exhausted. For me to not be exhausted I have to learn how to say no.” For me to go out and enjoy the company and enjoy social time, I really need to be around people because I enjoy their company.
It can also really trim some things in our life that maybe before we’d kind of been like, “Oh, it’s okay. I’ll just put up with that,” or, “Oh, it’s okay.” But when our bandwidth starts to become less, we start to value our time a whole lot more and our physical wellness. It gets to be, “You know what, those people stress me out.” They might be family or extended family or friends; it could be all kinds of things. It could be a job. But we get to step back and be like, “You know what, it’s time for me to make some changes because I matter.”
“I’m Going To Be Gentler With Myself”
That’s been the real positive side to it. I just don’t want people to be surprised when perimenopause comes because I’ve gone to my annual visits every year; I have a great OB-GYN. He asks me all the questions and every year I’m like, “Nope. Nope. Nope. Fine. Fine. Fine. Can I get out of here?”
Then, all of sudden, it was like these weirder symptoms started popping up that I wasn’t really paying attention to. Some of the traditional ones and then some that I was like, “I’m not sure if this is associated with hormonal changes,” and when I came to realize, “Yes. They are.” Then it’s like, “Okay, this is where I’m at in life and I’m going to be gentler with myself.
Because we can be very harsh with ourselves, even therapists. We can drive and push and expect more. You know what, we’re human beings and we get to treat ourselves with that compassion.
Healing Hidden Bruises: Resolving Resurfacing Trauma
Anne: Yeah. Speaking of that, when you’re thinking, “What is going on? Is it my hormones? Is it trauma resurfacing?” Trying to problem-solve, “what is happening with me,” what are a few suggestions you have for women who are facing the resurfacing of old trauma experiences or a sudden increase in anxiety and depression?
Shannon: The first thing I always suggest for folks is to go get blood work. Go make sure that thyroid issues aren’t popping up. Thyroid issues can definitely mimic depressive low energy. Get hormones checked.
In the beginning, for me, my hormones looked normal but I was getting hot flashes. I was starting to get some night sweats. The doctor described that that can happen where hormones are in kind of a normal range but you’re starting to get missed periods or other things are happening.
Listen To Your Mind And Body
I think some of the suggestions are going from a medical of go get some blood work done and let’s see, because then, when I went back this year, yeah, the blood work was starting to show that I was actually in perimenopause. It was actually a relief to be like, “Okay. This is really what’s happening and now I know why things have changed a little bit.”
I also think that it may not be old traumas that are resurfacing. It may be that the anxiety is starting to kick back in because of the hormonal changes. We know how much that impacts brain function and emotional state. That being very gentle, being able to do some journaling, recognizing that, if there are old traumas or old hurts that are resurfacing, being able to ask, “What work do I need to do?”
Be Patient With Yourself As You Heal From Hidden Abuse
Not in the work-through-it kind of way but what kind of processing do I need to do about this and why am I grieving this again, and how can I grieve it with just a lot of gentleness towards myself. I think it’s okay if we set a timer for five minutes or even ten minutes and say, “I’m just going to sit here in this for this a very small amount of time and then when the timer goes off, I’m done.”
You know, there are different philosophies around trauma. I am a certified trauma therapist, and this is a philosophy that I believe in, other therapists believe different things. I believe that, when we’ve gone through trauma, it’s kind of like being in a ski accident.
Let’s say we were skiing and we damaged our leg. Now we have rods and pins and all kinds of things that now keep it together. We’re always going to know that that happened. There are going to be really good days and there are going to be days that it hurts because it’s no longer what it was before.
“There Will Be Good Days And There Will Be Days That It Hurts”
Some trauma therapists believe that, once you’ve processed all of it, that none of that pain is going to come back up. I just don’t believe that. Just like if we had a reconstructed body part, there will be good days and there will be days that it hurts.
I think that we have to give ourselves the ability to say, “Today is a day that I’m hurting. How do I get through the day? How do I shorten my list? How do I do the things that I need to do so that I am still a functional adult, but where do I give myself the grace to say my nervous system, my brain chemistry, my body is different post-trauma then it was before and today is a day that I can give myself a break. I may feel much better tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m going to go full throttle and ski down that mountain and feel better.” But we have to remember that that trauma is still there.
Healing From Hidden Abuse Is A Process
Anne: I agree with you that the pain can come up and sort of cycle through. I appreciate you saying that because I think the “you’ll never feel it again” mentality that some people have adds guilt, if you do feel it again.
It’s like, “Wait a minute. I thought I’d done all of this work. I thought I was doing great but now here I am having a bad day.” Instead of the perspective that you may have issues from time to time is so much more compassionate because then it’s like, “Oh. I’m still doing it right,” or, “I’m doing okay.”
Shannon: It’s compassionate and it’s realistic. I personally think that there are some real flaws in the belief system that, “Once I process it, it’s never going to come back up. And if it has it’s, somehow, something that I haven’t done to work through it.” Or to forgive or to heal or to whatever that might look like. I don’t think that is true at all.
I think that we have to incorporate that the pain will come up. That we have these coping skills, we have this ability to work through it so it isn’t debilitating. But we have to give ourselves the recognition that there will be times that what we have gone through impacts us at a greater level than the day before. We don’t know why.
“We’ve Gone Through A Lot”
Sometimes, as a trauma survivor, you wake up and you can just feel it. I don’t know if it was a dream or you just didn’t sleep well or something just brought it up. You open your eyes and you’re like, “Hmm. Not as good of a day. What can I do to make it better? What can I do to be kind to myself?”
Sometimes, we have to remind ourselves that this body and this mind and this spirit has gone through a lot. Those aren’t excuses. That’s just truth. The sky is blue. The grass is green. We’ve gone through a lot.
Anne: Well, and with someone whose been in a debilitating car accident, it’s 20 years later, let’s pretend, and they’re limping a little bit because their knee is hurting. No one is going to look at them and be like, “Well, you should’ve just gotten over it.”
Shannon: Not at all. Great, great picture.
Anne: For my audience, it seems so misogynistic. Like women should be able to take a lot of trauma and just keep on. It’s cray-cray actually.
“Hidden Abuse Is Real”
Shannon: I would agree with you. I would agree with you wholeheartedly. I do think that there is a gender-specific pressure put on women to stop being emotional and get over things and move on. I can tell you there is no human being that’s just doing that, regardless of gender. But there is an extra special pressure that when women have bad days, or it’s just a harder day, that hormones get blamed or this gets blamed or they’re not forgiving or the whole litany of excuses.
I think the biggest takeaway is that hidden abuse is real. That it involves lots of different forms of abuse. That trauma is something that we can definitely get past, as far as functioning day-to-day but we must incorporate grace and compassion to ourselves for those days that are just harder. Because we will move through them quicker if we can adjust for a day or two or even an hour or two, or whatever we need. We will move through those harder moments quicker and get back to the vibrancy that we were feeling before.
Support the BTR Podcast
Anne: Thank you so much for coming on today’s episode. You can find Shannon’s book, Healing from Hidden Abuse, on our website.
For those of you who already support Betrayal Trauma Recovery, thank you. If any of you can we would really appreciate your support.
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Until next week, stay safe out there.