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Breaking the Silence

By Lara Mekhitarian, LMFT and Heather Gilmour, AMFT

Following the chronicling of the “Me too” movement by Pulitzer Prize winning, Ronan Farrow, the millions of voices of sexual abuse and harassment survivors was harrowing. Sexual abuse. The words alone invoke shame, fear, anger, and disgust. However, for the first time in history, survivors began to speak up and bust through the stigma of shame. What followed was solidarity and a collective voice of men and women around the United States who finally broke free of their shackles of shame and owned their truth. 

The statistics of sexual abused by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center state that:

·     One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives

  • In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime

  • 51.1% of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance

  • 52.4% of male victims report being raped by an acquaintance and 15.1% by a stranger

  • Almost half (49.5%) of multiracial women and over 45% of American Indian/Alaska Native women were subjected to some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime

  • 91% of victims of rape and sexual assault are female, and nine percent are male

  • In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator

  • Eight percent of rapes occur while the victim is at work

Sexual abuse takes many forms and while sexual abuse happens frequently, the topic carries so much shame that it makes healing all the more difficult for the survivors. Speaking up, however, can be one of the best ways to face and recover from those experiences. 

Sexual abuse causes deep psychological wounds that are made worse by the fact that the damage to survivors is unseen. Survivors often experience lasting effects such as anxiety, depression, and difficulty trusting others and maintaining relationships. Additionally, survivors may experience difficulty concentrating, challenges with sleeping, flashbacks, intrusive memories, weight gain or weight loss, hyper-vigilance, avoidance, and disassociation. 

While the experience of trauma will never be forgotten, therapy can help survivors learn to manage the psychological and physical fallout of abuse by talking through the experience and learning techniques to regain control over the body. 

Trauma recovery includes understanding that the incident is over and in the past as well as understanding that it is possible to move forward in life without the effects of the trauma running the show. Some of the key ways to heal with trauma include:

·     Psychoeducation about trauma and the impact it has had on your mind and body

·     Learning coping strategies that can help you stay present, feel safe, and help emotionally regulate the ups and downs of the aftermath

·     Understanding the reason why you are the one left with the guilt and shame of someone else’s actions

·     Discovering the way trauma has impacted your body as well as your mind and developing ways to help you connect back to your body and help your body feel safe

·     Telling your story and understanding that you are a survivor 

·     Making meaning of these experiences and developing a new identity where trauma isn’t the core of you or your story

·     Thriving 

The key take away for survivors is to remember that they are just that—survivorsof a terrible incident who have made it through. 

One of the greatest resources out their for survivors is trauma therapy. Trauma therapy is about helping survivors realize that they are resilient and can be supported in their healing journey.  Trauma therapy is different in that the therapist is an expert at helping survivors regain their sense of control and help them learn to free themselves from an experience that has become the core identity of the survivor. Trauma therapy includes traditional talk therapy, somatic therapy to help heal the physical affects of trauma, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), and other treatment models designed to help in trauma recovery. 

The first step you can take is learning more about what resources are available to you and finding the right resource to help you cope, process, and heal. Take the chance and call a trauma specialist who can give you more information and help you discover what road to healing you want to take. Breaking the silence is just the first step. 

If you or a loved one have suffered from sexual abuse or harassment, please know that we are here to support you in your healing and recovery. Feel free to reach out to us anytime at Lara@HealTheHurt.comand Heather@HealTheHurt.comto let us help you break your silence.  

September 4th, 2019

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10 Steps to Overcome Imposter Syndrome 

By Lara Mekhitarian, LMFT

We all face self-doubt on some level. However, that self-doubt can really reach a whole new level the more accomplished or successful we become. There is an actual term for those who are unable to internalize their accomplishments. In 1978 psychologists, Suzanne Imes and Pauline Clance, coined the term Imposter Syndrome to define those who continually doubt their own accomplishments and have a constant fear that they will be “found out” or exposed as a fraud. No matter the amount of accolades or accomplishments, those who suffer from Imposter Syndrome are convinced that somehow their success is sheer luck & undeserving. They believe others are more capable and more intelligent than they are and at any moment the truth will come out.  

So many people suffer with this daily and it causes severe anxiety, symptoms of depression, and can often feel very lonely and isolating. Small mistakes get treated like enormous errors in their minds and any criticism can feel as though they are about to lose everything they have worked for. Overcoming Imposter Syndrome isn’t easy, in fact it can feel impossible, especially when anxiety can be debilitating. 

1.    Check yourself before you wreck yourself!– When the feelings of imposter syndrome arise, we get lost in the worry and the anxiety that we will be “found out”, lose something, or “get in trouble.” The first step in changing these feelings is to identify that it is happening and where it’s stemming from. Acknowledging that it is happening in that moment will help bring it to consciousness and help you discover the root of what keeps your thoughts running in a direction you don’t want them to.

2.    What’s the word?– Self-talk and the messages that float in your mind are very powerful. They impact how you see yourself, how you see others, and how you see the world. If you are able to identify and break down those negative thoughts when your Imposter Syndrome is triggered, you can find ways to work through the distortions that prevent you from experiencing the kind of confidence you have been longing for.

3.    Reframe, rinse, and repeat!– Part of changing negative self-talk is replacing it with more concrete facts. That’s right - facts! You don’t need to add fluff to your reframe because you already aresuccessful. All you need to do is acknowledge where you are at this exact moment in your career and how that defies the negative self-talk that keeps creeping in.

4.    Review those receipts! – Chances are you didn’t end up with your success, accolades, or positive results by luck. Your training, education, and/or experience are what landed you there. Take a solid inventory. Look at all the different ways you have earned this success by listing all the concrete facts about your knowledge and experience. This way when you engage in a reframe (as mentioned above) you also have the evidence and back up to go with it.

5.    We all make mistakes. -Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Instead of beating yourself up for being human and making errors, get up, dust off your knees, and get back on track. Use the information to grow and be better at something.

6.    Challenge accepted!– Use these learning moments as a way to remember that part of the equation to great success is growth. You are ever evolving. Making mistakes are a part of that. When you use your mistakes as an opportunity for growth, you only become stronger, better, and more capable. And be sure to take a moment amidst those lessons to remember that you continue to stay successful because of your insatiable need to keep learning and keep growing.

7.    Why them and not you? –The feeling of deserving is no joke, especially when it comes to comfort foods. How often have you said to yourself, “I deserve this!” when it comes to chocolate cake or a juicy In ‘N out burger? So why is it we can’t look at our success in the same way? Ask yourself what makes others more deserving then you when it comes to succeeding for something you worked hard for. Then ask yourself how you would respond to a friend who was struggling with the same feelings. Would you judge them as a “failure”, “loser”, “unintelligent”, etc.? If not, then why do your standards change when it comes to yourself? What makes you so uniquely different that you don’t deserve to take the same compassion and matter-of-fact approach and turn it inward? The answer is that you absolutely do! You know you work hard to get to where you are and you know that you always strive to do better. Those two are key components to success and you’re already there!

8.    The Praise and Achievement Log– We get compliments all the time. Some are large accolades and some are small passing comments. One of the marked traits of someone who suffers from Imposter Syndrome is that they can’t take compliments. We over-explain, avoid, brush off, and make excuses to why it wasn’t just our own success that earned those words of praise. Keep an inventory and write those moments down in a journal. This way you can reflect back to it anytime you need concrete reminders of how truly amazing you really are. Because you are!

9.    Be the risk taker! – One of the challenges of Imposter Syndrome is that it can derail us from living our best lives and get in the way of going for the things we want. Write down your wants, how you plan to achieve them, and ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen if this didn’t work out?” The answer to this question is simple; you are exactly where you started. You can’t be worse off over something that hasn’t happened yet. However, going for your goal will help you feel good knowing you took a chance at a dream.

10. With a little help from my friends! – Nothing can feel as helpful as having a support system who can help you talk through and work out your thoughts, anxieties, and challenges. Having your tribe of trustworthy people can help give you the reality check that you need and remind you that you aren’t an island. You aren’t alone in your feelings by any means and often you will find that they too have moments where Imposter Syndrome creeps in.

If you or if someone you know is struggling with Imposter Syndrome, please feel free to reach out for support.  

PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ASK ABOUT MY UPCOMING GROUP IN SEPTEMBER CALLED “Facing Greatness: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome”.

August 20, 2019 


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