Silva Neves

Silva Neves
Psychosexual, Relationship and Couples Therapist

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The global trauma of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris

The global trauma of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris

After Friday 13th November, we are all traumatised. It is a global trauma, because the world has suddenly changed and it won’t be the same again.

Surviving a terrorist attack is traumatic. Knowing someone who has died in a terrorist attack is traumatic. Witnessing it is also traumatic. The Paris attacks have been so significant that the world is a witness to this traumatic event. The news is reporting traumatic stories and showing pictures of the attacks on the loop. Now it is all about the next terror, which city is going to be hit next. London is one of the targets, we are told. We see pictures of victims. We see pictures of perpetrators. We are on high alert. We are traumatised.

What do we typically do when we are traumatised as a witness of trauma? We become sad, sometimes depressed. We become angry. We want to fight. We blame. We become jumpy and suspicious. Unfortunately, some people stay in this state for a long time.

It is important that we take our own responsibility to look after ourselves. This may mean to limit the amount of time we spend watching the news or our Facebook newsfeed. It may mean that it is an opportunity to turn to our loved ones and express our gratitude to have them in our life. It may mean to open our arms rather than clutching our fists.

It reminds me of one of Peter Levine’s theories on war:
Even when competing with their most basic resources- food and territory – animals typically do not kill members of their own species. Why do we? (…) Trauma is among the most important root causes for the form modern warfare has taken. The perpetuation, escalation, and violence of war can be attributed in part to post-traumatic stress. Our past encounters with another have generated a legacy of war, separation, prejudice and hostility. This legacy is a legacy of trauma fundamentally no different from that experienced by individuals – except in its scale. Traumatic re-enactment is one of the strongest and most enduring reactions that occurs in the wake of trauma. (…) When we are traumatised by war, the implications are staggering. (…) There is no avoiding the traumatic aftermath of war; it reaches into every segment of a society.’ (1997, page 225-227).

What Peter Levine is saying is that the terrorist attacks in Paris, an act of War, violence and hatred, traumatised the individuals involved, and traumatised all of us around the globe. As a result, we are more prone to re-enact this and continue to fight. When I think of what happened in Paris, my first reaction is to clutch my fists and not open my arms. But, after a while, I decided to open. I made a Facebook statement that I will offer free trauma therapy to anyone who has been affected by the recent events in Paris. This was one of my ways to open my arms. I invite each and every one of you to do one thing to open your arms. You do not have to forgive terrorists. You do not have to stop being angry or sad or disgusted by what happened. But you can turn to a loved one - your partner, your child, your friend, your neighbour, your mother, your parents-in-law, your community - and give them a hug, and tell them you love them. It is a small gesture that goes a long way in healing the global trauma that we have all suffered after the Paris attacks.

Those that have survived the terrorist attacks can experience symptoms of PTS (Post-Traumatic Stress) or PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

The symptoms for PTS are:
1-      Re-experiencing the traumatic event in a range of sensory forms. This phenomenon is called a flashback.

2-      Avoiding reminders of the trauma by avoiding or numbing emotions. In some cases, we call it dissociation.

3-      Chronic hyperarousal of the nervous system. This is called disregulated arousal.

It is important to note that these symptoms are normal to experience immediately after traumatic event. If some of these symptoms persist one month after the traumatic event, a diagnosis of PTS can be formulated.
It is also important to remember that not everybody who has survived a traumatic event will develop PTS. Some people never do. 

When the symptoms of PTS are chronic, they can lead to psychological disturbances such as:

1-      Acute anxiety and panic attacks.

2-      Sleep disturbances.

3-      Loss of appetite.

4-      Sexual dysfunctions.

5-      Difficulties with concentration.

6-      Difficulties with relationships.

PTSD is a specific psychological condition. It manifests with the same symptoms as PTS but it is more severe causing a high level of daily dysfunction.

If you or someone you know suffer from the above symptoms, it is important to know that there is help available. Both PTS and PTSD can be treated with specific psychological trauma therapy.

I wish you all well.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The discovery of infidelity

The discovery of infidelity

Discovering that your partner has been unfaithful is always distressing. Most often, it is more than distressing, it is traumatizing.
We call it a relational trauma: It is a trauma particularly inflicted on one person by another, and is characterized by a “violation of human connection.” (Herman, 1992). 
Relational trauma occurs when one person betrays, abandons, or refuses to provide support for another person with whom he or she has developed an attachment bond.

If you have recently discovered that your partner has been unfaithful, it is likely that you might suffer a trauma after the initial shock of the discovery.

The discovery can have a varying degree of traumatization. It depends on a number of factors:

1-    How the discovery was made. Was it a friend telling. Or finding out through texts or e-mails on electronic devices. Or walking on the act. All of these will have varying degree of intensity and varying degree of traumatizing effects.

2-    The drip by drip effect: what is often more traumatizing is not to make the discovery at once. It is common that after an initial discovery, the unfaithful partner will confess of their infidelity and ask for pardon, but he will not confess all. Only when you think you can start to recover, that another disclosure surfaces. And then another. These compound on the trauma.

3-    Breach of trust: if the partner was never suspicious and thought they were in a good marriage, it can be devastating. Even if there were doubts and the relationship was rocky, it is distressing. The breach of trust is traumatizing because it is the foundation of feeling safe. Not feeling safe is distressing.

4-    Sexual wound: if the betrayed partner was exposed to some sexual acts that their spouse were doing with someone else either seeing pictures, videos or reading about it on a text, it can create a sexual wound in the partner. The symptoms for this are: feeling non-sexual, wanting to avoid sexual feelings. Or feeling more sexual than usual. Feeling physical pain. Feeling intense anger and sadness. Feeling disgusting, ugly, undesirable. 

5-    Questioning who their unfaithful partner is. It can be unsettling to have fundamental questions and doubts such as: ‘who did I marry?’ ‘I never knew he would be capable of this’. ‘Was our relationship a lie? A charade?’

There are many symptoms of relational trauma on the partner:

1-    Questioning self: 'why did he do that?' 'Am I not enough?' 'What's wrong with me?' ‘How did I not see this coming?’ etc... The partner’ self-esteem and self-confidence is shattered. The intensity will depend on the nature of the infidelity. Partners will react differently if the infidelity was a love affair or an anonymous sexual encounter. 

2-    Intense anger is common. Wanting to hurt the unfaithful partner. Wanting to shout at everybody. Wanting to harm yourself.

3-    Intense low mood. Crying uncontrollably. Low energy. Wanting to stay in bed all day. Feeling helpless. Feeling hopeless. Feeling like the future that you had in mind for your relationship has been destroyed.

4-    Becoming a detective: Trying to watch every move of the unfaithful partner. Trying to read texts on their phones or ipads when they’re not in the room, scanning their facial expression ‘who is she thinking about now?’. Trying to install spying softwares on computers to monitor usage. Etc… This type of behaviour feels like it is helping regain control of the bad situation, but it only serves to make the betrayed partner exhausted.  

5-    Sleeping problems. Often, the betrayed partner will lose sleep, wake up in the middle of the night, have nightmares.

6-    Eating problems. Partners can lose appetite to the point of serious malnutrition. Or they can do the opposite: comfort eat more than usual to the point of putting on a lot of weight.

7-    Sexual problems. This is very common. Partners may either want to avoid any types of sex or sexual feelings because of the sexual wounding effect of the relational trauma. Some may experience pain with intercourse or experience sexual dysfunctions such as erectile dysfunction. Some partners may experience the opposite: feeling more sexual than usual. Wanting to have sex with their unfaithful partner much more than usual, in an attempt to reclaim their sexuality or to try to persuade them not to have sex with others.

8-    Acute anxiety. Some people experience serious anxiety such as panic attacks. For some, the anxiety is not so obvious, but can be just as serious. It can be a generalized anxiety about not feeling safe in their relationship and in their home. ‘Did he have sex with someone in our home?’ ‘What am I going to come home to today?’ ‘I don’t feel at home anymore’. ‘I don’t feel comfortable anywhere anymore’. ‘Who am I?’. ‘What if she is having sex with someone right now?’. ‘Perhaps I should be there with my spouse all the time to stop him from sleeping with someone else.’ Etc.

9-    Negative cognition. Having negative thoughts about ourselves is a common lasting symptom of trauma. ‘Why did I not see it coming?’. ‘I'm stupid’. ‘Only an idiot would have married this person’. ‘I must have been blind’. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ ‘I must be bad in bed’. Etc.

If you have recently discovered that your partner has been unfaithful, what are the first steps to recovery?

1-    Get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The NHS sexual health clinic 56 Dean Street and Dean Street Express based in Soho offers fast and confidential services.

2-    Self-care: speak to a therapist specialized in this area. Speak to a trusted close friend. Eat and sleep properly. Take some time off if necessary or engage in work more if work provides a good sense of self-esteem.

3-    Look after your children. Don't pretend nothing is happening, but don't tell them the full story if they are too young.

4-    Don't become a detective, and don't ask too many questions even if you really want to. Wanting to know everything is a common response because it makes you feel you can regain control. But in fact it does the opposite: it traumatizes you further. Once you know facts, you can't un-know them: sexual acts, what she was wearing, what she looks like, etc... All of these will become triggers for anger, depression and anxiety only. It is not helpful.

5-    Don't make any decisions about your relationship for 3 months. Just look after yourself. Make a decision when there is less intense emotions to be more rational. Think it through, seek advice, including legal advice if you are thinking about a divorce.

Looking ahead:
A lot of couples can recover from an infidelity, and even from multiple infidelities. It can be an opportunity for growth, and to transform the relationship. Couples therapy is necessary for that. Please find an appropriately trained and experienced therapist specialist in this area. You can find a list of therapists on the COSRT website: .

Some couples do not recover from infidelity. A proper plan when both partners can remain respectful is important. Couples therapy is also highly recommended to help the process of separation. Seek legal advice too. Speak to children ahead of time to prepare them properly and reassure them. A specialist therapist can guide you through this.

Infidelity in a committed relationship is distressing and traumatizing. It is important to remember that there is help available from specialist therapists. And it is important to know that recovery and healing from an affair or infidelity is possible, either for yourself as an individual or for the relationship, or both. 

Silva Neves © November 2015