Healing trauma through violence

Mac McClelland, journalist and badass, has a jarringly honest, deeply powerful, and potentially triggering piece over at GOOD about how violent sex helped her deal with post traumatic stress disorder. Here’s an excerpt in which she talks about her obviously insightful therapist’s views on trauma:

‘Being aware and understanding what’s going on in your system and then literally working it through your body, like retraining your body how to calm down, is really useful,’ Meredith says. For many of her trauma patients, it’s a long and intense process. And if it goes untreated? ‘A lot of people don’t heal, and it manifests in a lot of different ways throughout their lives. There’s a study they did with Vietnam vets who’d had—clearly—a lot of trauma during the war. Twenty years later, they measured their levels of pain before and after they showed them intense footage from Vietnam. Pretty much across the board, after they saw this really intense, violent footage from the war, their levels of pain went down. Because when trauma doesn’t get to work itself through your system, your system idles at a heightened state, and so getting more really intense input calms your system down.’ Which is why, she explains, ‘A lot of folks who’ve survived trauma end up being really calm in crisis and freaking out in everyday life.’

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3 Comments

  1. Posted June 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m not going to lie, reading Mac McClelland’s entire article made me really uncomfortable. It’s really hard for me to think about violent sex being therapeutic. Roughly 2 1/2 years ago I was violently raped by an ex boyfriend. In the moment of the event, I really thought he was going to kill me. It was the most overwhelming experience in my life to date. I still have a hard time coping with it and although I haven’t been professionally diagnosed, I’m almost certain I have PTSD. Reading her article and reading the events and internal dialogue that led up to her needing the violent sex to cope with all she’d experienced is really hard to read and think about. But the idea that someone would need violent sex to cope with past events makes me really uncomfortable. I don’t really understand.

    But I do find the end of that excerpt very true, “A lot of folks who’ve survived trauma end up being really calm in crisis and freaking out in everyday life.” I’m very much so like this. In crisis situations I’m almost catatonic I’m so calm, yet in daily activities I often times freak out as if my nerves are always on edge.

    • Posted June 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      “A lot of folks who’ve survived trauma end up being really calm in crisis and freaking out in everyday life.”

      Huh. I’m also like this, a number of family and friends have remarked upon it.

      As for the article, I understand rough sex, I understand fetishizing knives or even guns as tools of power and for the physical sensation/visual stimulation of them. There’s a certain rush to being with the one I truly love and loves me, knowing there’s this trust and this matchedness, that we’re ready to take on the world if it messes with either of us, but an tenderness exists between each for the other. It’s like the employment of darker aspects of sexuality or visual markers of violence get removed, a million miles away from rape or abuse I’ve experienced in reality in my life. This roughness belongs to US. Fantasizing about or acting out non-consensual activity though—no, that we just won’t do.

    • Posted July 2, 2011 at 4:09 am | Permalink

      @Nicki I’m glad you said this.

      I’m glad it helped her but it is important to point out that she *herself* was not a survivor of rape. I believe she was traumatized but I think that it would be a much different situation regarding what she needed for healing if she had gone through the physical experience of being raped.

      I would really advise survivors to be cautious and not readily try something like this. There’s a lot of potential to be re-traumatized by things when you have PTSD.

      I do not doubt at all that she was traumatized through secondary trauma of witnessing such pain and that its just as real. I think that she could have done a better job of making it clear that she was not a survivor herself, because I think it does affect why this worked for her where I doubt it would work for many survivors.

      As for her quote, it was one of the best succinct descriptions of PTSD I have ever heard.

      I have healed from PTSD and am somehow able to live a normal daily life where I worry about all the stupid little things that you used to worry about before you were traumatized.

      That said I personally would never be able to handle the kind of violent sex that the author described. I would never even trust the person again if they were willing to treat me in such a manner even if I requested (I wouldn’t), I hope they’d absolutely refuse. I think even if you heal from PTSD resulting from sexual violence I think a lot of survivors would not want nor be able to handle remotely violent sex (particularly ones who were not into BDSM before). Maybe some do but even what she described did not sound like what I’ve heard come out of the BDSM community.

      I was a little concerned to read that they didn’t have a safe word. If she suddenly changed her mind in the middle how would he have known that she was no longer consenting and be able to tell apart her consenting to really intense physically violent sex and her genuinely withdrawing consent? In BDSM they make sure there is a very clear way to tell the difference. I think this is where the article was quit difficult for a survivor of sexual violence to read, the lack of clear guidelines on how consent could be withdrawn in a violent situation like that.

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