Psych Central

Archive for December, 2012

Tattoos After Trauma-Do They Have Healing Potential?

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Whether you have many tattoos or would never consider getting one, you may be surprised to learn that 40% of Americans between the ages 26-40 and 36% between ages 18-25 have at least one tattoo.

Once associated with marginalized, oppressed, victimized or transient groups in the population, tattoos are increasingly part of mainstream culture.

Americans spend $1.65 billion dollars annually on tattoos.

While the reasons for tattoos are as varied as the people who choose to get them, certain trends have been identified. One is the choice of a tattoo in the aftermath of trauma.

  • Across generations and wars, those in the military have used tattoos as tributes to fallen comrades.
  • In the aftermath of 9/11, civilians and firefighters throughout the world choose tattoos as an indelible reminder of the  terrorist assault, the courage of First Responders and the loss of so many.
  • Sociologists, Glen Gentry and Derek Alderman estimate that there are thousands of Katrina and New Orleans-related tattoos reflecting both horrific images of crumbling buildings and gushing floodwater, as well as signs and symbols of a beloved city.
  • In the wake of the unprecedented destruction from Hurricane Sandy, tattoos and tattoo fundraisers have emerged. The message of one seems particularly meaningful- “ Hold Steadfast.”

Do These Tattoos Have Healing Potential?

A close consideration suggests that both the reasons and the choice of tattoos reflect many of the factors associated with recovery after trauma.

Healing From the Body Out

  • Whether a traumatic event involves a car accident, escape from freezing floodwaters or the loss of a child, it is registered in our body in terms of the survival reflexes of fight, flight and freeze.
  • Encoded under these conditions, our memory of the traumatic event is not registered as narrative, but as fragments of highly charged visual images, bodily feelings, tactile sensations or sensory reactivity to reminders of the event.
  • As such, trauma experts encourage us to work from the body out in the course of recovery and healing—to attend to the sensations, senses, and images that carry the imprint of trauma.

The tattoo’s use of the body to register a …


Coping with the Holidays: Family Bonds and Family Binds

Friday, December 21st, 2012

While many may aspire to a Hallmark Holiday Season, the reality is that the holiday season involves real people in real families doing the best that they can do.

Most families are a group of related people of different ages with a mix of personalities, needs, feelings and expectations. They may be a nuclear family, an extended family, a reconstituted family or a blended family. In any case, they share an identity as family and, as such, consciously and unconsciously have an impact upon each other.

Their lives can be touched by the joy shared by one family member, the excitement of another and the heartache and loss of still another –sometimes all on the same day.

Most would agree that at times of pain and joy, families are the greatest source of support and the greatest source of applause. They can also be the greatest source of stress.

Holidays seem to turn the volume up on all possibilities.


Connecticut Catastrophe: How Do You Face The Loss of Children?

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Connecticut catastropheOne of our necessary beliefs is that children are safe in school with their teachers. One of the reassurances we make to our little ones is that nothing bad will ever happen in Kindergarten.

Today a small community in Connecticut saw those beliefs shattered as eight adults and 20 children were violently killed.

What do you say when children are killed?

The most realistic answer, I have found is given by author, Charlie Walton, a father who himself lost his two sons in one night. What Charlie Walton urges friends, family and loved ones to understand is that when children die – there are no words. Words are insufficient to explain what has happened.

In his powerful little book When There are No Words: Finding Your Way to Cope with Loss and Grief, he clarifies that in the first hours and days of such loss, there is nothing he could say to himself and nothing that anyone else could say to him to make it right. There is nothing right about the death of children.

While the violent loss in Connecticut has broken hearts and stolen words  – it does not take away the connections and power of loved ones to ease and help contain pain. We have learned through trauma outreach that the most viable sources of response are the familiar networks of support.

  • The family, friends, and neighbors who just show up to take care of the daily needs of those grieving.
  • The parents whose bond to each other helps them walk together through this nightmare
  • The Moms and Dads who in holding their big and small children closer, with or without words, reduce the horror of what was experienced, witnessed or even seen on the media.
  • The Spiritual Caregivers whose presence affords a safe haven for many.

In this early stage of excruciating and bewildering loss – we know that a crucial step to easing pain and to feeling some emotional safety is to know you are not alone.

This is an unfathomable tragedy of loss by so many. A nation watches in tears. A nation hopes that the families …


Why Do Married Women Have Affairs?

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

We have once again been faced with a high profile marriage scandal. This time the lovers included the CIA director, a married and much decorated military officer and his biographer, a married women, herself an Army Reserve intelligence officer.

What is predictable is the media focus on the man. In this case the articles addressed the question of military code of conduct, possibility of security breaches, the explanation of male infidelity in terms of power and narcissism, and the apology and compassionate sentiments to the betrayed wife.

What is curious is how little focus was given to the married woman in this affair. Other than a redundant account of her school success and running time, she was rarely seen as more than the idealizing audience to the man. There seemed little interest in her motives and even less in addressing the broader question- Why do married women have affairs?

The Reality

Perhaps we don’t ask the question because culturally we prefer not to know the answer.  After all, with matters of infidelity, the stereotype is of the married man in an affair with an unmarried female. In the case of married women the presumption is that women are more monogamous then men. They are – but not as much as we may want to believe.

  • In the largest most comprehensive poll of its kind in 1994, Edward Laumann and colleagues found that 20% of women and just over 31% of men in their 40’s and 50’s reported having sex with someone other than their spouses.
  • Frances Cohen Praver, author of Daring Wives: Insight into Women’s Desires for Extramarital Affairs suggests that estimates of infidelity range from 30-60% of women and 50-70% of men.
  • Young and Alexander in their 2012 book, The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction accept a rough estimate of 30 to 40 percent infidelity in marriage for men and women.

The Reasons

Having worked for many years with men, women and couples trying to hold on to marriages, recovering from betrayal or caught up in the pain and passion of an affair, I suggest …


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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