an After abortion

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Thursday, September 2, 2004

Trust After Trauma: A Guide to Relationships for Survivors and Those Who Love Them by Aphrodite Matsakis has been on my nightstand for a few months.

When someone has a negative emotional experience of abortion, there's a continuum of intensity of those negative emotions. For some it is a low-level but chronic sense that something isn't right. On the other end of the scale, some of us are emotionally shattered by the abortion. For us it is a profound trauma. We measure life in "before the abortion" and "after the abortion", and "after the abortion" looks like a trainwreck.

Of those who experience regret and an uneasy soul after abortion, I don't know what percentage of us are also psychologically and spiritually shattered. For us, though, it can be helpful to learn about trauma reactions in general. This can give us new insight into additional areas for recovery, and a better understanding of what we experienced during those years (or in some cases, decades) of pure hell.

Although I've only managed to read the first few chapters, this book resonates with me thus far in two ways.

First, Matsakis defines trauma survivors as "men and women who, at one or at many points in their lives, were rendered helpless and trapped in situations of great danger. A traumatic incident is one in which there is a real potential for loss of life or serious injury to one's self or others." This is how many of us experience a crisis pregnancy. We feel absolutely trapped and as if we have no choice. When women say "I truly felt like abortion was my only choice", they are referring to this profound sense of a trapped helplessness.

A second section that caught my attention was when Matsakis says that trauma victims often have a very reduced sense of self-esteem. This is so common among those who regret abortion--a very deep sense of shame and worthlessness. I hadn't realized that it was also a common thread among traumatized people in general. Matsakis describes what might lead to this:

A first and deepest level of shame originates when you are abused or ordered about, even if you have no choice but to accept it. This is the shame of being denigrated. The resulting humiliation is so deep that it requires a great deal of therapy to alleviate it. Not only sexual assault survivors, but survivors of other kinds of trauma also experience the shame and humiliation of being exploited.

A second level of shame is caused by having to violate one's ethical code, which may be required in order to survive. In other words, to be traumatized, you have to be trapped in a situation where there is no way out or where all the ways out are very difficult or morally undesirable.

Even in captivity, a person can retain some pride if he/she can act according to internal moral standards. Too often, however, the perpetrator, whether it be an abusive relative or a corrupt superior, demands that the victim betray his/her moral standards. At this point, the victim ceases to be a victim and becomes an unwilling accomplice to the abuse, a perpetrator; thus compounding the guilt, shame, and confusion.


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