Be Kind. September 27, 2018 9:44am

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I saw her at a football game. We were standing in line for popcorn.  Disbelief grabbed me when I read the back of her shirt.

Everyone your meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.

Fortunately, in the medical community as elsewhere, eyes are opening to recognize this battle. And as the world cries out for trauma-sensitive care, many are being healed. Memorize the statistic that one in five girls and one in ten boys are sexually abused, so the next time someone is rude to you, understanding will come.

Hold these numbers in your head and your heart because more than likely the person annoying you has spent a lifetime of being yelled at, or worse, much worse.

My experience with the abused informs me that the estimate of one in five girls and one in ten boys is low. Fifteen or twenty years ago, I began an experiment by asking friends and family if they had been sexually abused.

Some said, “Yes, I guess so”’

Then I asked, “How do you answer that question when asked at your doctor’s office?”

“No,”they answer, surprised at the question.

“I don’t think they meant what happened to me, that was showering with my basketball coach. Well, sometimes he did finger me on the way home from practice but he was a family friend and my parents trusted him.”

Or, “I only made out with my choir director. He was married and lots older, I guess, but we never had intercourse.”

“My father didn’t actually abuse us, Dr. Burns. He just made us take off our clothes then made movies of us dancing naked but that’s not abuse, is it?”

“My older cousin made me make out and watch porn.”

“My brother and I had sex but he said we were practicing for marriage and that it didn’t count.”

“My teacher kept me in for recess if I forgot my homework or talked too much. She fondled me but that’s not really sexual abuse, is it? It’s not like we took our clothes off. I remember liking the way it felt and hating it too, so confusing. I wonder if that’s why I’m promiscuous? I don’t have boundaries when it comes to sex and I can’t be faithful. Do you think it’s related?”

“My husband never physically abused me. It was only verbal abuse. One time he did hold a gun to my head for over an hour but he never hit me.”

Only once or twice in thirty-five years of work as a trauma healer has a patient; child or adult, walked into my office and asked for treatment for abuse–physical or sexual.

Typically, they seek help for anxiety or depression and only after months or years of therapy; do they remember an incident with an abuser and gain knowledge about how their symptoms relate to the trauma. How the panic they feel when they smell donuts isn’t about food but about what they did with their perpetrator just before sex.

They aren’t afraid of donuts but they are carrying neuological memories of trauma–stored and ready to unload.

Be kind. Always. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Sometimes they know nothing about it also.

Julia W. Burns, MD

4 comments

  1. Your posts always make me resolve again to do whatever I can to help people who have suffered and to prevent it from happening. This one made me cry. And of course it extends to the hearing we all watched this morning. Thank you Julia

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    1. Yes it does extend to the hearing in ways many would never imagine. Where & how do 17 year old boys learn to cover someone’s mouth or block a door from the inside or laugh at another’s terror? The Catholic school they attended?

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  2. Beautiful, life-affirming post! Being kind, even to those who aren’t, is one step we can take to show understanding and compassion for others. When I used to evaluate parents in families where sexual abuse was suspected, two questions I would ask were, “Were you sexually abused as a child?”, and, if so, “Who did you tell?” (because telling someone is a mediating factor in emotional healing). More than half of those who reported being abused said that they hadn’t told anyone previously because “no one ever asked.” Given the high rates of child maltreatment, I think is important for all primary physicians to ask as part of wellness check-ups, no matter the age of their parent.

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    1. No one ever asked or “I did tell & no one believed.” How many times have we heard this from victims? You’re right! Let’s ask, let’s tell & begins to believe. Thank you, Jeanne

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