Christian Women: Trauma and Abuse with Cassandra Austin
1. How would you define trauma and abuse?
Trauma is the experience of emotional, mental and/or physical damage caused by an outside source which can result in lasting adverse effects. Abuse is the mistreatment of another human being, caused by another human being, albeit if it’s emotionally, physically, mentally or sexually.
2. Would you share some of your testimony? What advise would you give to women
about forgiveness in the ability to move forward? Sure. In short, I was raised in a very dysfunctional, abusive and hostile environment. My dad was an abusive alcoholic whom used to beat on my mother physically, mentally and emotionally. When my mother was away at work, which would usually be no less than 10-12 hours per day, my dad would do the same to me; beat on me physically, mentally and emotionally. Not only did I have to endure the effects of living in that type of environment, but I would also experience other forms of abuse by other family members as a young girl. When my mother would go to work, occasionally my dad would take my younger sisters and myself to his parent’s house, where several other family members were at as well. My grandparents were older, and therefore it was quite difficult for them to keep their eyes on everyone at the same time. Consequently, I was sexually abused (molested) by both male and female older cousins. By the time I was the age of 10, I had been abused emotionally, mentally, physically and sexually.
First and foremost, I had to acknowledge the aforementioned occurred and I could do nothing to change it. It was not until a little over 4 years ago, where God convicted my heart about forgiving those whom had wronged me. He made me realize that I did not have to accept their hurt and pain that they inflicted upon me; it was theirs and it did not belong to me. My job was to forgive them all; recognizing that they were hurt and broken themselves, and in turn hurt me. I have wholeheartedly forgiven each and every single one of them, knowing that I too need forgiveness at times. By forgiving them, I have peace, joy and love within myself. Forgiveness is the key to healing and becoming whole. I would suggest that anyone struggling with forgiveness see life through the lenses of the ones who hurt them to change their perspective and realize they too are hurt.
3. Many times women experience trauma but don’t understand that they have gone through it and often continue to relive the trauma in various ways. Why do you think that is? How can we stop the cycle?
I know for myself, I relived my trauma by acting out in anger, not knowing how to articulate my feelings and emotions, getting involved in unhealthy relationships and at times even being physically violent toward others, along with other ways of reliving my trauma. Those were normal behaviors to me and came natural for me at those moments because that’s all I knew. It wasn’t until I began being serious about my healing, and went to see a therapist, that I began to unfold the layers, and understand what happened and what to do from there. I would attribute that to a lack of awareness. This is why education, forums, support groups and other forms of informational settings are paramount; in order to make society aware of what trauma is, what causes trauma, the effects trauma has on individuals, and how to move forward from trauma. Without knowledge and awareness, one is simply left with their experiences and feelings; but no answers as to what is happening to them as a result and how they can heal. In addition, particularly within the black community, mental health treatment and going to see a therapist is a taboo subject for most. We must embrace these resources while realizing they too serve a purpose, and support one another in undergoing these services for the betterment of ourselves. I truly believe this would be the beginning of breaking those cycles.
4. What are some of the beginning steps to recovering from a traumatic experience?
Some beginning steps to recovering from a traumatic experience are first, to acknowledge that the experience occurred, and to not suppress it as if it never happened. I used to pretend “I was fine” and did not want to admit that I had unfortunate experiences happen to me which contributed to the mess that was brewing on the inside of me. Next, if forgiveness needs to take place, forgive. This is an essential component to any process in healing, especially when there is a victim involved. Also, talk to a trust worthy family member, friend, significant other and/or a therapist to express your thoughts, feelings and reactions to the events that occurred. Pick up a hobby or interest of choice, to begin making new and happy memories. As I began my healing process, I started running again (I ran track as a youth), and eventually ran in half and full marathons. Take things one day at a time, and don’t get discouraged by setbacks. And most importantly, pray and seek God earnestly at all times, and He will be with you every step of the way.
5. We all have had trials and tribulations that occur in lives. How has some of the events that occurred in your life tested and strengthened your spiritual relationship with God?
I knew since I was a little girl God had His hand upon my life. I used to cry out to God quite often as a little girl and continue to do so as an adult. My trials and tribulations tested my relationship with God in that I used to wonder why He would allow such terrible things to happen to a defenseless girl and not make it stop. I would beg and plead for God to take my life and make the pain go away. Yet, as my relationship with God flourished, and He began to heal me and transform me, God revealed to me that all things would work together for my good. That He would turn my tests, into testimonies and I would be a victor, not a victim. God showed me, that by me surviving, healing and being transformed, I had a purpose on this earth to reach out and help other women do the same. I once shunned my purpose; I now embrace it. I know that without God, I would not have made it this far and I could have turned out a lot worse; things can always be worse. I’m closer to God more than ever now, because in the midst of my pain and tears, He heard my cry and He touched me. My life will never be the same, and I am truly indebted to the Most High.
6. What signs should we be aware of that indicates a loved one is being abused?
Some significant signs to watch out for are: isolation, erratic and odd behaviors, depression, wearing extra clothing to possibly cover up marks, bruises and/or scars (especially during warmer seasons), frequent bruises and/or injuries, extremely apologetic, talking about or attempting suicide, and low self-esteem, to name a few. There are obviously several more, but I believe these are some of the more obvious indicators of abuse.