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Sex Addiction Addictions Family, Friends and Partners Seeking Help

 

For most people, sex addiction is not actually driven by sexual desire but by issues related to intimacy, the need to numb emotional pain, assert control, avoid emotional connection, balance moods or reduce anxiety. It’s a very real and rarely discussed disorder which can have a devastating impact on individuals, relationships and families.

For those of us grappling with sex addiction, it can feel like an overwhelming and unstoppable impulse, and because sex addiction is often hidden from family and friends in a shroud of shame or denial, it has the capacity to endure and escalate over time. 

“People who present for treatment because their lives are in chaos due to problematic sexual behaviours, are suffering in similar ways to an alcoholic or gambling addict who seeks treatment after a ‘rock bottom’,” says Jane O’Keeffe, Holistic Psychologist and Consultant with South Pacific Private.  

However, many people who are struggling with sex addiction do not reach out for help due to secrecy, shame, guilt and fear, which can all feel like insurmountable barriers. These feelings can be compounded if the addiction occurs alongside infidelity or confusion over sexuality and/or gender identity. 

“It is the seeking - the suspense, anticipation, obsessive search for sexual stimulation which ignites many different neural pathways, releasing a cascade of emotions that sex addicts can become addicted to prior to the acting out behaviour,” explains O’Keeffe. “Feelings of remorse, despair, shame are often experienced after acting out and so the addict returns to the preoccupation stage again to block these unpleasant feelings,” she adds. “As the addiction progresses, people will become secretive and lie to conceal the extent of their compulsive behaviour.”

Sometimes described as hypersexuality, porn addiction or sexual compulsive disorder, sex addiction – is actually very common.

Sex addiction is a process addiction, which means people are addicted to a mood-altering experience. A person alters their mood by engaging in behaviour which brings about an obsessive, trance-like state because they are in sexual fantasy,” explains O’Keeffe.

“The typologies can include compulsive consumption of porn, fantasy sex, (compulsive masturbation, intrigue, obsession), voyeurism, spending long hours at strip shows, anonymous sex, cruising behaviour, exhibitionism (eg driving a car with pants down waiting for someone to notice), compulsive paying for sex (including phone and cybersex), frotteurism (non-consensual behaviour of rubbing oneself up against an unsuspecting person), inappropriate sexual talk during a conversation, pain exchange- sex where physical pain is involved and or being humiliated (self or others), illegal behaviour and exploitative sex.”

Seeking help for sex addiction

According to O’Keeffe, it’s important to seek treatment because compulsive sexual behaviour is not healthy sexuality. “It is progressive over time, as are the emotional, financial, social, occupational and cognitive consequences that can accompany addiction,” she says. “Untreated, people can stay in the cycle of addiction for decades. Often, other substances may be involved and depression and anxiety can increase.” 

She says if a person is not emotionally available to themselves, they are not emotionally present to others, including their partners, children, friends and colleagues. “This makes it impossible to have emotional intimacy with others.”

South Pacific Private has pioneered the treatment of sex addiction in Australia. Clients are met by trained therapists who understand addiction and have lived experience. “It’s important to take a multi -faceted approach to treatment. For long-term recovery to occur, one must deal with the presenting issue (sex addiction and other co-occuring symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, or other addictions) as well as underlying issues (developmental trauma),” explains O’Keeffe. 

“Clients receive education about the cycle of sex addiction, including the learning about the neural pathways in the brain involved in the addiction,” she adds. “It is important that they identify their arousal template. To identify this, clients need to specify what their ideal fantasy would look like with the purpose of tracing back to the origins of the original arousal experience. For example, a client who only feels aroused when they are engaging in sex that causes them (or others) physical pain may trace the origins back to being a child who grew up with a violent alcoholic father.”

Partners of people with sex addiction

Those of us who have partners battling sex addiction, will understand the feelings of despair, anger, stress and betrayal. “If infidelity occurs, the breach of trust can create deep despair, a lack of safety and impact on the self esteem and sense of the value for the partner as the sex addict lies or manipulates (gaslights) their partner to enable continued compulsive acting out,” says O’Keeffe. 

As a partner of someone with sex addiction, it is perfectly normal to feel angry, fearful, upset and helpless. It’s important to take time out for self-care and seek help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

If you’re concerned you or your partner may have a problem with sex addiction, you can schedule a free, confidential, professional phone assessment with our team on 1800 063 332.

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Addictions South Pacific Private

We believe change is possible

Impulsivity is one of the key behavioural issues most closely associated with addiction, with a range of impulsive control disorders commonly co-occurring alongside addiction. The inability to self-regulate emotions and behaviours can be a major factor in why some individuals turn to addictive substances and behaviours to self soothe, and why they escalate as tolerance builds up. The same is true of individuals experiencing relational issues, mood disorders or developmental trauma, which also occur with high prevalence alongside addiction.

At South Pacific Private, we believe it’s vital to identify and address impulse control issues and other underlying issues as a core element in a comprehensive, trans-diagnostic approach to addiction treatment. Indeed, a growing body of research continues to demonstrate that addiction and its comorbidities – including impulse control disorders – often share common, deep roots in developmental trauma and Adverse Childhood Events. 

Trauma, abuse, neglect, parental addiction and less than nurturing developmental environments are therefore key drivers of addiction and concurrent conditions, and must be directly and effectively addressed in treatment to promote sustained recovery. 

Our treatment program is built around this understanding, and calls for a comprehensive, multidisciplinary clinical team including psychiatrists, group therapy facilitators and experienced psychotherapists. We follow an adapted interpretation of Pia Mellody’s Model of Developmental Immaturity, a model which traces dysfunctional and maladaptive adult behaviours and thought processes to childhood experiences and parental deficiencies. 

As well as delivering detox, rehab, group therapy, psychotherapy, family therapy, mindfulness training and psychiatric treatment, we teach the model directly to patients in educational lectures. We find that educating clients directly through the framework of the Developmental Immaturity model aids awareness, understanding and commitment to clear recovery plans. It helps clients understand where they came from, how they got here and the path needed for long term recovery. 

This comprehensive and holistic approach, which includes an integrated focus on teaching meditation and mindfulness techniques, is designed to address underlying issues including impulse control disorders. 

We work with clients to identify the key triggers of impulse control problems, help them understand that neural pathways have been entrenched by the repetitive nature of addiction, and assist by encouraging the practice of repeated, alternative options to promote emotional regulation. Our integrated Family Program, which brings parents, partners and close friends into the treatment process for several days, is designed to reduce relational triggers and build out a broader network of support and understanding. 

Taken together, we are firm believers that this comprehensive, trauma-focused, holistic approach to addiction treatment offers the strongest model for sustained, long-term recovery.

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Addictions Family, Friends and Partners

How Friends and family can support recovery

The family network – whether it be our biological family or chosen family of friends and mentors – is a critical part of everyone’s recovery.

We can help those in recovery by modelling healthy behaviour, providing emotional and social support, and keeping our loved ones accountable throughout their recovery journey. But when relationships are strained, communication is lost or trust has been eroded, we – the support network – can end up feeling hurt, helpless, frustrated, overwhelmed, manipulated, burnt out or isolated. 

Many addicts in recovery cite the pain associated with interpersonal relationship breakdowns as a leading trigger for relapse, says Leanne Schubert from South Pacific Private, Australia’s leading rehab centre for addiction, trauma and mental illness. “Nobody gives you a manual or teaches you at school how to help a friend, partner or relative through addiction or mental illness, so you can be forgiven for feeling like you’re flying blind sometimes,” says Schubert.

Figuring out how to best support a loved one on their journey to recovery can be a complex and difficult process, but you’re not the first person to go through the experience. As those who’ve helped loved ones through addiction and mental health issues before will tell us, sometimes we need guidance on communication and boundary setting skills, and support in our own journey of healing.

“Often the person that comes into treatment feels like they’re the problem, wrong and unworthy, but then they make shifts and attempt to return to the family system who are still there with the person prior to treatment. They are still left with the anger and hurt,” says Schubert. “This is just one of the many reasons we see it as important to involve the family in recovery.”

Those of us who are closest to a person with addiction, trauma or mental health conditions are often drawn into behaving in ways and doing things that we’re conflicted and uncomfortable about. Schubert says it’s extremely common for family members to believe that they are helping their addicted loved one, but, in reality, they are unwittingly enabling the addiction. “The family might be suppressing feelings, accepting excuses, trying to protect them and the family image, justifying their dysfunctional behaviour or lending the person money to get them out of trouble. It comes from a place of love and care, but I’ve worked with many families who haven't set boundaries and it allows the addiction to continue. They often find it challenging to set these boundaries, but it’s important to long-term recovery.”

Healing broken relationships

Our relationship to our family system is complex and in order to heal, it’s important to unravel the elements that do not serve us without laying blame or causing further damage. It’s also important to gain a greater understanding of how we grew up in our family system. “We might not have recognised when we were younger the stressors that were placed on the family system and how we adapted - did we thrive or survive? When a family system is under stress, our needs may not have been met,” says Schubert. “Or perhaps we grew up in a dysfunctional family system where the rules were - don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel. We may still be feeling fear or shame from this.” 

At South Pacific Private, many clients find the three-day family program to be one of the most profound and transformational experiences in their recovery process. According to Schubert, to move forward families must learn new ways of relating to each other and communicating effectively. “Here in treatment at South Pacific Private, we encourage families to be functional by sharing how they feel - without anger or casting blame. This helps build intimacy and strengthens the relationships. We want families to be supportive and the client to be successful in recovery.” 

She says approaching conversations with honesty and compassion, and being mindful of language is key. 

South Pacific Private is Australia’s only hospital to integrate a dedicated Family Program within our treatment plans. Our range of workshops and programs dedicated to families, friends and partners are designed to equip everyone with the tools and strategies necessary to set clear and effective boundaries, communicate effectively and to care for your own mental health and resolve prior trauma.

How to seek help

If you or anyone you know needs help:

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Family, Friends and Partners Trauma

Dealing with the Trauma of Domestic Violence

The impact of domestic and family violence

Those of us who have experienced domestic violence know the life-changing impacts it can have on us and our families. These impacts can extend to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stresssubstance abuse and addiction. We may spend significant amounts of time in denial, or engaging in self blame, so it’s important to remind ourselves: Everyone has the right to live in a safe environment without fear.

Witnessing or experiencing domestic violence is a form of complex trauma and can trigger a range of emotional and psychological responses in us. If we’re constantly feeling unsafe in our own home or around the people who are supposed to love and care for us, it can lead to many challenging and distressing thoughts and feelings.

We may feel upset, scared, angry, ashamed, anxious or powerless, or we might feel like we’re in a constant state of fight, flight or freeze. We can find ourselves unsure of reality and with twisted perceptions of ourselves. These are all very common responses.

“We often see patients who have had a personal experience of trauma or witnessed domestic violence as a child between their parental figures,” explains Alyssa Lalor, Program Director of South Pacific Private.“Children exposed to violence in the home are especially vulnerable and can experience profound impacts on their physical, psychological and emotional health and wellbeing. Research suggests that the younger the child, the more harmful the traumatic experiences can be in terms of brain development.” 

When we’re in the thick of a domestic violence relationship, it can be difficult to make good judgments and see the reality of the situation clearly, Lalor says. We may be in denial, or we may blame ourselves. “Victims of domestic violence have been systematically programmed to believe that they cannot and will not survive without the abuser,” says Lalor.

Logistical and practical challenges can also present an issue. “They may have no means to support themselves or their children, no safe place to go or be in fear of retribution by the abuser so they are literally stuck,” she says.

Long after the family violence has occurred or after the abusive relationship has ended, we may continue to encounter triggers which leave us reliving experiences and re-experiencing our trauma responses and coping mechanisms. This has the ability to affect other relationships and lead to long-term psychological difficulties. According to Lalor, this is one of the many reasons why it’s important for survivors of domestic violence to seek support to unpack these experiences with a trained clinician.

Survivors of domestic violence may struggle to regulate strong surges of emotions such as fear or shame, here at South Pacific Private we aim to help them learn how to deal with these in a healthy and affirming manner through interpersonal work in our group therapy programs, as well as within our broader therapeutic community,” Lalor says. “Our aim is to help build a victim's sense of self and personal agency and safety by harnessing and growing the belief that they are 'good enough' and worthy of love – and do not deserve to be abused and hurt.”

The signs of coercive control and domestic violence

Domestic violence occurs predominantly between intimate partners, and is often gendered, committed primarily by men against women, but also in same-sex relationships, against children, and against other vulnerable individuals. It is a repeated pattern of behaviour that may include physical acts of violence, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse in intimate or family relationships. It can happen to anyone and be inflicted by anyone, regardless of their religion, culture, sexuality, gender, age or socio-economic status. 

Domestic violence is often also closely tied to a dynamic of coercive control, which refers to a pattern of controlling behaviours that create an unequal power dynamic in a relationship. “These behaviours give the perpetrator power over their partner, making it difficult for them to leave,” says Lalor.

Whether domestic violence is present or not, indicators of coercive control should be bright red warning signs in any relationship. They include:

  • Isolating you from your support system 
  • Monitoring your activity throughout the day 
  • Denying you freedom and autonomy 
  • Gaslighting 
  • Name-calling and putting you down 
  • Limiting access to money 
  • Reinforcing traditional gender roles 
  • Turning your kids against you 
  • Controlling aspects of your health and body 
  • Making jealous accusations 
  • Regulating your sexual relationship 
  • Threatening children or pets 

Getting out of a Domestic violence relationship

Unfortunately, many people feel trapped in their situation, facing both logistical and emotional hurdles. We may fear for our safety, the safety of others or may genuinely feel as if there's no way to address the issue within the relationship, or live without our abuser outside of the relationship. 

In all cases, it’s important for victims to seek support from someone trustworthy, to build outside connections and to start taking steps toward freedom and autonomy, even if they may be small or modest at first. “Sometimes it can feel like a game of chess," Lalor says, "as they start to move pieces of their lives around without being detected to lay the groundwork for more autonomy -- the last thing we want is to set off the abuser."

For more advice, and to reach out for help in ending a domestic violence situation or to seek support for yourself or others in dealing with the trauma:

If you or anyone you know needs help:

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Trauma

Childhood Trauma and its Life-Long Impacts

Long term impacts

Psychological trauma can come in many forms, and it describes the lasting damage inflicted as a result of distressing events which overwhelm our bodies’ natural ability to resolve and heal from those events. From a soldier returning from war to a victim of child sexual abuse to the partner of an abusive spouse, trauma can impact all of us at any point in our lives. 

One form of trauma which research has identified as inflicting particularly serious, long-term damage is known as ‘complex’ trauma, commonly referred to as childhood trauma. 

“While childhood may be the most common period, the reality is that complex trauma can be inflicted at any stage in life where we’re particularly vulnerable,” say’s Tori McCarthy, Senior Therapist at Sydney’s South Pacific Private rehab center. “That vulnerability is often due to a relationship where someone is senior, or where we’ve become dependent, either emotionally or physically.”

Instances of trauma may range in severity. It can include divorce or parents playing favourites at the lower end of the severity scale, to cases of child abuse, sexual abuse or parents struggling with addiction at the other end of the scale.

Complex trauma is distinguished from other forms of trauma because it is often:

  • Repetitive, prolonged and / or cumulative over a period of time
  • Interpersonal in nature, involving direct harm, exploitation, and mistreatment. This may include neglect, abandonment or indifference from a parent or parental figure
  • Occurring at developmentally sensitive or vulnerable moments, especially in early childhood or adolescence

“Because this form of trauma by definition occurs at developmentally critical moments, it’s impacts can be deep and far reaching,” McCarthy says. “Identifying the trauma and connecting its impact to current behaviours, and helping people become aware of this connection, is the first step in addressing longer-term impacts.”

Why is childhood trauma so damaging?

Because this form of trauma occurs at developmentally important times in life, it has the capacity to disrupt a person’s self-perception and can lead to a repetitive, negative internal dialogue.

Given that complex trauma is inflicted in relationships where there’s a power imbalance, or in which the other party is a parent or caregiver, it can also interfere with an individual’s ability to form healthy, secure relationships and attachments. If other authority figures ignored, minimized or dismissed the trauma, it may have compounded the damage, and made it even harder to trust others and reach out for help.

The impacts of childhood trauma in adults and children may include: 

  • Distrust of others 
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Episodes of feeling detached from one’s body or mental processes
  • Being overwhelmed and immobilised by feelings of isolation, guilt, shame, fear and pain
  • Often feeling there is something wrong with you
  • Difficulty building and maintaining healthy relationships
  • Helplessness and feeling hopeless
  • Becoming preoccupied with revenge or, conversely, giving total power to the perpetrator
  • Self-harm, self-mutilation
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Addiction and struggling with moderation
  • Feelings of worthlessness or strong negative perceptions of self

How to heal from childhood trauma

Resolving childhood trauma can be a challenging task, but McCarthy says that successful treatment can be life-changing. “Seeing people’s progress as they work through this is one of the most rewarding things about working at South Pacific Private,” she says.

McCarthy says a successful approach will normally start with raising awareness of how people’s responses and coping mechanisms in adulthood may have been shaped by trauma in childhood. “People often come to rehab at South Pacific with an addiction or depression or anxiety, and in the process of treating them we realise that complex trauma is a driving factor,” she says. 

Treatment includes equipping patients with healthier coping strategies and mindfulness techniques to lessen the impact of symptoms, as well as education on how complex trauma works. 

“Those who experience complex trauma often internalise the experience and blame themselves, leading to intense feelings of guilt and shame,” McCarthy says. “That can lead to having a very distorted view of yourself, leading you to feel unworthy, beyond your own control and completely hopeless.” 

Ending this cycle of internalisation by sharing the experience with a trained therapist, or in group therapy sessions, therefore, can be an integral part of the healing process. In South Pacific Private’s family programs, both clients and their loved ones – including partners and chosen family members – are brought into the recovery process as well. 

“If prior trauma has been impacting your relationships negatively, it’s important for you to be aware of that, but also for your loved ones to learn how they might have also been impacted by the problem – or unwittingly exacerbating it,” McCarthy says. 

Comprehensive treatment will aim to help individuals develop healthier relationships, have a more balanced approach to their self-worth and build increased resilience. “For both clients and therapists and family members, this can be a real journey,” McCarthy says. “But when you reach that better place, there’s no doubt it’s worth it. 

To learn more about South Pacific Private’s comprehensive approach to trauma treatment, contact us now on 1800 063 332 or take one of our tailored self-assessments.

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South Pacific Private

Supporting LGBTQIA+ Clients in Treatment and Recovery

 

South Pacific Private’s Cultural Safety Officer, Emma Mansell, share’s why for her, ensuring we offer comprehensive support for LGBTQIA+ clients is more than just a job.

As someone who’s been fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights for over a decade, I’m proud to be advocating and supporting LGBTQIA+ clients during their stay at South Pacific Private. I identify as ‘gender fluid’ myself, which means that over time I evolve my gender identity and gender expression. I work in a place where I am proud to be who I am and support others who are discovering themselves. For me, this work is personal.

When my wife and I decided to start a family, we realised at times we didn’t always fit in to the heteronormative mould. I was pregnant with our first child and at antenatal classes at a hospital there was only the discussion of ‘mums’ and ‘dads’. My wife was less than impressed with being allocated to the ‘dads group’. The discrimination we have faced is sometimes difficult to swallow. Often people will ask ‘how’ we had our children. I often reply by asking how they had theirs – they get the point.

Over time, my resilience has grown stronger, and having three kids who have adopted that resilience is a huge achievement. They often gloat to their friends how lucky they are to have two mums. Sometimes other kids’ parents come back to tell me how their child wants two mums!

My kids explain at school how they have a ‘donor’ who gave their mums a gift. We read them books about diverse families, teach them that some children are raised by a single parent, two dads, aunts/uncles or grandparents. All that matters is that they love each other. 

When it comes to seeking care and treatment within our healthcare system, often the system fails our community. Programs and facilities have been primarily built for heterosexual people, and  it’s an inbuilt assumption many healthcare practitioners carry. It only serves to further isolate us both individually and our community collectively.

In the LGBTQIA+ community, we have more than our fair share of those of us who have struggled with abuse, trauma and addiction. Many know what it’s like to feel fear and denial growing up. We often have been taught to feel ashamed for who we are by institutions, society and the media. 

Personally, I didn’t come out until my late teens, in fear that I would be rejected. Many close friends and family friends couldn’t accept the truth. I believe they were scared of knowing me and couldn’t see past my sexuality. Yet, this pain that we experience can be transformed to make us stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate to others. 

While LGBTQIA+ Australians achieved marriage equality in 2017, there is still more work to do. The abuse, stress, trauma and discrimination that LGBTQIA+ Australians endure continues to be disproportionate to our heterosexual and cisgendered peers. This continues to contribute to higher rates of mental health issues, addiction and suicide – so for treatment centre’s like South Pacific Private, it’s especially important to to provide an environment that is tailored, supportive, safe and effective for all clients, no matter what their background.

South Pacific Private: Proud To Be A Rainbow Treatment Centre

At South Pacific Private, we understand the importance in acknowledging and validating the complexity of people’s lived experiences as we work in partnership through their treatment and in recovery. Inclusivity is a priority for us. We recognise that gender is a spectrum, and wherever you are on that spectrum is respected by our team and the broaders community here. We also work to ensure all our therapists, nurses and doctors have a deep understanding of the many ways in which sexuality and gender can intersect with our experiences of mental health challenges, trauma and addiction. That includes how sexuality and gender identity can complicate our self-perception in childhood and adulthood, and how homophobia and intolerance from parents and other authority figures can impact our development. 

Quality of care is essential in helping every member of the community – and their families – find appropriate treatment. South Pacific Private seeks to provide a safe and open environment for treatment, with the aim that everyone feels able to openly share and discuss their experiences without fear of judgment. We pride ourselves on using respectful language, promoting awareness and training staff on gender identity, sexual orientation, and name and pronouns usage.

Supporting Rainbow Families

Health doesn’t operate in a vacuum, it exists within our society – and in many areas, especially outside of major metropolitan centres, there’s still much work to do to help build a more inclusive, thoughtful and caring society. That’s one of the reasons South Pacific Private is so proud to support initiatives like the Rainbow Families – an organisation devoted to supporting non-traditional families at every stage.

Rainbow Families was created to support any lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer people who have a child or children or are planning on having a children. The group seeks to provide support and resources so that every family can succeed and live their best and most colourful lives. 

Among many other projects, Rainbow Families created an antenatal class for LGBTQIA+ families. My partner and I attended when I was pregnant with our second child, and it was so comforting to see families that looked like ours and be educated in a way that was inclusive.  It was inspiring to meet gay and trans dads who went through moving countries, using surrogates and the struggles of adoption to create their family. 

We became involved with Rainbow Families and helped to create a ‘Resilience Camp’.  The Rainbow Families Resilience Camp is now run every year at The Sydney Academy of Sport and Recreation in the Northern Beaches. Families from all across Australia join to have fun together and make connections with others in a resilience building environment. This year, South Pacific Private is sponsoring Rainbow Families Resilience Camp. It will run 5th to 7th of November 2021.

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Trauma

Understanding Shame and Self-Blame After Sexual Assault

Internalising trauma

Sexual assault can be one of the most traumatic moments we ever experience. It involves serious, intentionally inflicted trauma, invades our most intimate boundaries and can destabilise our sense of self and our trust in others.

Sexual assault has a range of consequences for us that can extend beyond physical injury,” says Alyssa Lalor, program director at Sydney’s South Pacific Private, a mental health and addiction treatment centre which specialises in trauma. “We may experience high levels of anxiety, fear, depression – and often immense amounts of shame and self-blame.”

Feelings of shame and self-blame can have long-lasting impacts because they distort our self perception and stop us reaching out for help. “Shame is the intrinsic belief that ‘there is something inherently wrong with me, I am wrong’, which means this toxic shame impacts our sense of self and self-esteem,” says Lalor.

In some cases, we may relive the experience with our self-blame centered on a perceived failure to act differently in the moment to stop the assault eg. “Why didn’t I fight harder?”, “Why did I let him do that?”. In other cases, we may focus our blame on a perceived, inherent character flaw about ourselves eg. “Why am I so naive?” “It’s because I’m weak and pathetic.” 

Why Survivors Blame Themselves

There can be a range of complex reasons why survivors may blame themselves.

In some cases, the perpetrator may articulate a reason for the abuse or attempt to justify the assault by blaming the victim, a pattern which risks becoming deeply internalised, especially if the abuse starts at a young age. If the abuser is a caregiver or someone we rely upon, blaming ourselves may also avoid us having to directly confront the reality that someone who is supposed to care for us is harming us instead. 

Self-blame may also arise from an attempt to find a reason for what may otherwise be a random, chaotic event – or from an attempt to answer the question “why me?” After experiencing a deeply disempowering, traumatic experience, blaming ourselves can also become an unhealthy coping mechanism – a way of telling ourselves that we’re in control, and always were in control. 

Sometimes, we may blame elements of our own masculinity, femininity or sexual identity, or a broader community that we’re a part of. In cases of assault where a survivor is also coming to terms with their sexuality, there can be a real risk of their perceptions of sexual identity becoming entangled with feelings of trauma, shame and distrust.

How to stop blaming yourself

All forms of shame and self-blame can be extremely damaging, Lalor says, because they stop us from reaching out for help and may make us believe we’re not worthy of recovery and happiness. “Silencing ourselves leaves us in a state of toxic shame, making reaching out in some cases near impossible,” she says. “Shame makes us want to hide, sharing shame allows us to connect.”

Speaking with a well-matched therapist or being a part of group conversations with fellow survivors can be a powerful part of the healing process, Lalor says. As much as we may want minimise an incident or pretend an assault never happened, sharing our experience in a supportive environment can often be the first step toward healing. “When shame is shared and we come out of the darkness, it no longer has power to control, and we are no longer hidden,” she says.  

For those of us with loved ones who have experienced an assault, it’s especially important to be aware that damaging feelings of shame can be reinforced by others. 

Cultural attitudes which blame victims for being inebriated or dressing a certain way can contribute to self-blame, as can responses from friends and family which include questions starting with “why didn’t you…” or comments like “I would have...”

“When someone tells you something significant about a traumatic experience, what they don’t need is advice-giving,” says South Pacific Senior Psychotherapist Di Young. “They need you to listen and empathise, they need unconditional support and love.”

Reaching our for help

With support and guidance, we can eventually acknowledge that the shame and blame shouldn’t be held by us; it belongs to the perpetrator. Another person has committed an act without our consent and they hold the ultimate responsibility, not us. 

Professional support is often an important part of the recovery process. Not only can it help us understand where our self-blame is coming from, but it can also help reduce the impact of shame and help us learn how to break free from unhelpful coping mechanisms. 

If we can’t find a way toward healing and empowerment, survivors run the risk of depression, anxiety, negative self-perception, social withdrawal, addiction and PTSD. With the right support, however, we can regain control, move toward healing and build resilience when encountering triggers. 

“You don’t have to deal with this alone, professional help and support groups are available,” Lalor says. “Eventually, we can move to a place of personal power and desire to take our control back and part of that is often in reporting and seeking justice. We move from 'victim' to 'survivor'.”

Sydney's South Pacific Private offers comprehensive, holistic treatment programs for trauma, addiction, depression and anxiety. To schedule an assessment or discuss treatment options, call now on 1800 063 332.

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Addictions Recovery Seeking Help

Understanding The Addiction Cycle

Patterns of Addiction

 
It’s no accident people sometimes speak of an “addiction spiral” – it accurately captures the notion that addiction is often experienced as a repetitive cycle, and that it escalates over time. 
 
“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of the brain – it hijacks our incentive systems and clouds our longer-term thinking, playing off our experiences of pain, trauma and neurological rewards,” says Di Young, an addiction specialist at Sydney's South Pacific Private.
 
While every person’s experience is different, Young says we tend to follow similar patterns when we’re experiencing addiction. This may include experiencing growing dependence, powerful cravings, withdrawal symptoms, a compulsion to keep using, increasing tolerance and escalations in frequency, substances, dosages or behaviour.
 
Whether we’re addicted to a substance (such as prescription medicationalcohol or drugs) or a behavior (such as gamblingsex or romantic entanglements) the addiction cycle often starts out as fantasy, often mixed in with denial that it’s a problem or justifications for getting a fix. Often, our triggers for this can be related to trauma and family or relationship issues.
“After fantasy comes obsession, when we can’t stop thinking about it or doing it,” Young says. "Then comes frustration, either because it’s not what we needed, we didn’t get ‘enough’, or because we need to escalate our behavior to get the same fix.
 
“Eventually, we get hit by the shame, guilt and remorse, often because the impacts of our usage are brought home to us by our thoughts or an event,” she says. “We’ll either promise we’ll never do it again or we’ll change how we ‘do it’ and the outcome this time will be different – but it won’t be, it’ll be worse.”
 
“Alternatively, we’ll start using again to avoid the shame and guilt - which will inevitably be followed again by the same out-of-control spiral,” Young says. “And around we go on the merry-go-round of denial, starting again with the fantasies. It can go on for years or even decades if left untreated. It continues until we break the cycle, which means we change our behaviour.”
 
 

The addiction cycle:

  • We fantasise about alcohol and/or drugs, gambling, sex, food, relationships.
  • We obsess – you will tell yourself: “I need them now”.
  • We become frustrated – you might ask yourself: “What will I do?”
  • We use – alcohol and/or drugs, gambling, sex, food, relationships.
  • We experience shame, guilt and remorse.
  • We promise – “I’ll  never do that again.”
  • Eventually, we end up back at the fantasy stage 

Breaking the Cycle

Just as addiction often follows a pretty regular process, so does breaking the cycle, Young says. Not only has she helped hundreds of clients through recovery, but she's been through it herself and is now decades into her sobriety. 

“The process for recovery also follows a pattern, but it can often be a fragile one. People often get to stage two or three but something happens or they lose their nerve and can slip back into the addiction cycle,” Young says. It can take us a few goes to get it to stick. It can take us time to settle into the recovery way of life – but if we stay with it, we can create a life so fulfilling that we don’t want to use again or numb our feelings. We are walking into freedom.”

 

The Recovery Process:

  • We contemplate changing – thinking about changing is terrifying for us.
  • We prepare to change – we take action to mentally and physically prepare to stop.
  • We take action – we reach out for help, to family, friends or professionals.
  • We create a new lifestyle – maintain what we have learned as we begin our recovery – this usually includes connecting with a 12-step program.

“It’s important to make sure you’re supporting yourself and getting the support you need during the recovery process,” Young says. “Bringing family members and loved ones into your recovery and sharing your learning can be an important part of that.”

Making a new lifestyle stick can be an enormous challenge, she says. We need to adapt to new habits, avoid old triggers, work out new forms of self-care and social support and maintain our connection to others who are also in recovery.

Young says it’s also important to realise that relapse happens, and it’s not the end of the world. “Any addiction treatment centre worth their salt will help you prepare a relapse recovery plan,” she says. “They’ll help you to avoid and manage triggers and identify the warning signs that the cycle might be starting again, and make sure you know what to do to get back on the recovery cycle as soon as possible.”

If you're seeking support to end the addiction cycle, South Pacific Private is here to help. As a fully accredited private hospital in Sydney's Northern Beaches, our rehab program provides comprehensive, holistic treatment for addiction, anxiety, depression and trauma. Visit our support page to learn more or call us now on 1800 063 332.

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Family, Friends and Partners Trauma

How to Respond When Someone Discloses Trauma

Knowing what to say

If a family member, friend or even a colleague confides in you by sharing their traumatic experience, it can be difficult to know what to say or how you should respond. 

Watching someone you care for and love struggle with trauma can be extremely difficult. It’s natural to want to take their pain away and support them through this challenging time.

Often a person who has disclosed a traumatic event, whether a recent event or a long time ago, wants to be heard,” says Di Young, senior psychotherapist at Sydney's South Pacific Private, a treatment center with rehab programs dedicated to healing trauma. “It takes courage to tell their story. They will hope that you can sit with their pain, many unfortunately can’t.” 

If this is a new experience for us, our instincts in responding may be off. We might seek to talk too much because we want to ease tension, or seek to minimise the experience as a way of avoiding our own distress and discomfort. 

Instead, Di says, we should take a moment to acknowledge the enormous trust placed in us by the person who has made the disclosure. The person sharing their trauma is often looking for validation and empathy, Di says. “They need you to listen and empathise, they need unconditional support and love."

 

Compounding Trauma: What not to say

For those of us with a natural inclination to try to fix things, holding back and just stitting with the moment can be difficult. "When someone tells you something significant about a traumatic experience, what they don’t need is advice-giving," Young says. Even if it's because we're genuinely trying to help, it can often come off as judgmental or minimisation if we offer unprompted advice like "have you tried this?" or "why don’t you do that?" 

Some of the worst responses are those which can compound shame and self-doubt, even if they're well-intentioned. Young says statements such as "you'll get over it", "it wasn't that bad" or "what's wrong with you?" can be particularly damaging. “They're not helpful for the person suffering with a significant mental illness and can actually make things worse,” Young explains.

Even if you hope to encourage an individual to seek professional support and treatment, report an incident to authorities or take another course of action, the first step should always be to listen and empathise. “Only when the person has received an open, non-judgemental response, may they be open to practical support, possible treatment avenues and professional help,” says Young.

While talking about trauma can be painful and upsetting, the support of family and friends is often. Don’t insist on talking if they don’t want to, but if they are open to speaking about their experience or feelings, make sure you're there to listen.

 

 

A wide range of experiences have the capacity to inflict long-term trauma, from sudden, life-threatening events to longer-term, ongoing traumatic experiences, such as recurring abuse or parental neglect. However, any situation that leaves us feeling overwhelmed, desperate and isolated can result in trauma.

Just as physical trauma can leave lasting scars, so too can psychological and emotional trauma. While most of us might experience negative psychological responses following traumatic events, over time we can expect them to fade and disappear. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and its more common variant, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, are diagnosed when these symptoms persist or intensify for months or begin to interfere with our ability to function normally in our daily lives.

We may feel anxious, upset, numb, sad, agitated or overwhelmed. We may be filled with rage or emotionally-frozen, finding connection and expression near impossible. Often, these symptoms begin immediately or several weeks after a traumatic experience, but sometimes symptoms can take months or years to develop, which can be especially confusing and distressing. 

Take someone like Kate for example – not her real name – who has recently gone through a tough divorce and is now struggling with anxiety and depression. Growing up as the eldest child with a single mum who was an alcoholic, she always felt she had to be the perfect one, keeping it all together.

When her marriage ended, it triggered all her feelings from childhood – the shame, the sense of failure, that nagging feeling that something was wrong with her and she was responsible for it all. "More complex cases of long-running trauma like that can have a very significant impact on people's lives," young says.

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Recovery Seeking Help Sex Addiction

Surviving Valentine’s Day

Tips from an expert on love addiction

For those of us experiencing codependency and love addiction, Valentine's Day can be a challenging moment. Luke Jesionkowski, Primary Therapist with Sydney's South Pacific Private and an expert in love addiction, helps us understand why, and offers his advice.

Valentine’s Day has become an increasingly prominent and increasingly commercialised holiday, but the messages and pressures it throws up – which can be unwittingly reinforced by our friends and family – can be extremely unhelpful for those of us experiencing the end of a relationship, withdrawal, loneliness or the pangs of desire for a relationship. 

On Valentine’s Day, we may find ourselves confronted with the idea that to be seen as successful, we must find and experience romantic love. Love appears to be all around us as others celebrate and businesses cash in. Being alone could be seen as a failure. We may feel that we are alone on Valentine’s Day because we are not ‘worthy’, there is something wrong with us, or we are simply unlovable.

For anyone who’s sought treatment for love addiction, been to rehab or attended a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meeting (SLAA), you’ll immediately recognise these as the very worst thoughts we tell ourselves. The need to define and validate ourselves by either saving another, or being adored by another, is a key driver of the problems we experience. The amplification of those thoughts on February 14 is deeply unwelcome. 

On a day which is supposed to celebrate love, we can instead find ourselves feeling old, painful wounds. These are the types of statements we tell ourselves (usually beliefs developed in childhood if we have grown up with dysfunctional family relationships):

  • I’m unlovable
  • I’m going to be alone forever / there is something wrong with me
  • I am better off alone
  • Being in a relationship is too painful
  • I can’t live without this person
  • My partner isn’t good enough for me / my partner doesn’t love me like that 

Surviving ‘V Day’

Below are some of the top tips and tricks for self-care which I share with clients and groups.

If you’re in relationship:

  • Manage your expectations – Don’t live in the fantasy, live in reality.
  • Have a conversation with your partner about how you honestly feel about the day – Be sure to include fears and concerns.
  • Set internal & external boundaries – Declare what is acceptable/healthy for you and/or your partner and hold to the boundaries you set. 
  • Practice healthy forms of self-regulation – Mindfulness, meditation, connecting with nature.
  • Self-affirmations – Whether in the mirror, in a journal, or in your mind, affirm yourself that you are enough just the way you are.

If you’re single:

  • Practice healthy forms of self-regulation – Mindfulness, meditation, connecting with nature.
  • Self-affirmations – Whether in the mirror, in a journal, or in your mind, affirm yourself that you are enough just the way you areDo something loving for yourself – Have a nice bath, a walk-in nature, order your favourite meal. 
  • Connect with family, friends and social circles – To ensure you don’t feel alone and trapped with your thoughts.
  • Have some fun – Spend the day/time doing what you actually enjoy and don’t take the day or yourself so seriously. 
  • Attend a support group – There are hundreds of support groups out there in various forms; AA, NA, SLAA, group therapy etc.
  • Speak to a therapist or support line – Don’t be afraid to reach out and speak to a professional (Our supportive team at South Pacific Private is available every day on 1800 063 332).  

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