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#320240 - 01/26/10 01:19 PM Delayed reaction for trauma
Ken Singer, LCSW Offline

Moderator Emeritus

Registered: 08/24/00
Posts: 5781
Loc: Lyons, CO USA
Abusing Not Only Children, but Also Science
NY Times

Published: January 25, 2010
Given the vested interests lurking all over the current medical landscape, it is no wonder that the scientific method is so often mauled a little in transit. Cases of data ignored or manipulated to serve an agenda are like muggings in a bad neighborhood: you hear about them all the time, but in fact relatively few are ever openly examined.

And so even readers with no personal or professional connection to the sexual abuse of children may be edified by “The Trauma Myth,” a short tale of one such particularly fraught episode.

For a graduate research project at Harvard in the mid-1990s, the psychologist Susan A. Clancy arranged to interview adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, expecting to confirm the conventional wisdom that the more traumatic the abuse had been, the more troubled an adult the child had become.

Dr. Clancy figured she knew what she would find: “Everything I knew dictated that the abuse should be a horrible experience, that the child should be traumatized at the time it was happening — overwhelmed with fear, shock, horror.”

But many carefully documented interviews revealed nothing of the sort. Commonly, the abuse had been confusing for the child but not traumatic in the usual sense of the word. Only when the child grew old enough to understand exactly what had happened — sometimes many years later — did the fear, shock and horror begin. And only at that point did the experience become traumatic and begin its well-known destructive process.

Dr. Clancy questioned her findings, reconfirmed them and was convinced. Her audience, when she made the data public, was outraged.

First, her data flew in the face of several decades of politically correct trauma theory, feminist theory and sexual politics.

Second, Dr. Clancy found that the world had little appetite for scientific subtlety: “Unfortunately, when people heard ‘not traumatic when it happens,’ they translated my words to mean, ‘It doesn’t harm victims later on.’ Even worse, some assumed I was blaming victims for their abuse.”

Dr. Clancy reports that she became a pariah in lay and academic circles. She was “crucified” in the press as a “friend of pedophiles,” colleagues boycotted her talks, advisers suggested that continuing on her trajectory would rule out an academic career.

All that fuss about one little word — “trauma” — and a change in its timing. Why should it matter one way or the other?

Dr. Clancy suggests several reasons her data aroused such passion. For one thing, a whole academic and therapeutic structure rides on the old model of sexual abuse; her findings had the potential to undermine a host of expensive treatment and prevention projects.

Meanwhile, she argues, it is her model that may really help victims. Adult survivors of childhood abuse are commonly mortified by their own behavior as children. By not fighting back or calling for help, they blame themselves for effectively colluding with their abuser. It can be intensely comforting for them to hear that their reaction, or lack thereof, was completely normal.

Dr. Clancy’s model also makes some sense of the whole sticky question of repressed memory. Most traumatic events are likely to be vividly remembered. But if instances of sexual abuse are simply among the many confusions that characterize childhood, they are perfectly forgettable: “Why should a child remember them if, at the time they happened, they were not particularly traumatic?” Only when reprocessed and fully understood do the memories leap into focus.

Even without all these practicalities, the moral of Dr. Clancy’s story is clear: science should represent truth, not wishful thinking. When good data fly in the face of beloved theory, the theory has to go.

Dr. Clancy writes with the precision and patient repetition of a good teacher on complicated terrain. Her prose could not be clearer, and her points are restated many, many times over. But at, an outraged customer-reviewer has already pounced.

“It is appalling,” the reviewer wrote, “that ‘experts’ like Susan Clancy can get away with having a book published with a title that is not only false, but one that tells sexual perpetrators, ‘Go ahead, sexually abuse children, they like it, and they aren’t going to be traumatized by it.’ ”

Science is sometimes no match for conviction, and often, evidently, good writing is not either.

Blissfully retired after 35 years treating sexual abuse

#320252 - 01/26/10 02:21 PM Re: [Re: Ken Singer, LCSW]
Freedom49 Offline

Registered: 12/30/07
Posts: 2724
Loc: Washington State

Edited by Freedom49 (05/21/10 01:37 AM)

#320257 - 01/26/10 03:15 PM Re: Delayed reaction for trauma [Re: Freedom49]
kidneythis Offline

Registered: 11/08/09
Posts: 1558
Nice post Ken,
I think she nailed it on the head and that probably explains why I've degenrated into a childlike state over the last few years.
I'd like to point at my life previous to the remembrance of fall 07. I was quite damaged and symptomatic and even though I could point at my brothers raping me when I was 12-14 it never fit for me that those problems were related to that episodic abuse since they predated it.
The problems I had which I now can clearly relate to the newly recalled abuse and thought were my own still exhibited themselves even though I didn't know what they were from. I can't find a way to fit it into this concept of the full consequences showing up at time of realization in adulthood.

I mean; my recent breakdown is probably exactly what her theory predicts. But what about the symptoms I could only think were me all my life that I see now are clearly symptoms/effects from the abuse that I didn't recall?
A lot of them are physical so that isn't dependant on memory, but my anxieties, my unexplained fears when I had nothing to be afraid of, the confusion when I shouldn't have been. The inability to concentrate, remember names, faces, appointments, etc... and a host of other psychological things which I periodically overcame when I felt loved or wanted. Sadly this only provided ammunition to my detractors that I was just lazy and wanted somehting for free. They never left fully but certainly were in abeyance when I felt safe in the world. How did they exist w/o me knowing what happened?
You can post openly if you like as it might help others.

Edited by kidneythis (01/26/10 03:18 PM)
As Mark Twain once quipped, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

#320259 - 01/26/10 04:18 PM Re: Delayed reaction for trauma [Re: kidneythis]
LandOfShadow Offline

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 684
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
Thanks for posting, very interesting.

I've wondered a lot about how sexuality develops in children normally. Because it seems there is a path of sexual development that early sexual experiences hijacks in a lot of ways. Too much, too early. It's later the abuse causes a train wreck.

Et par le pouvoir d’un mot Je recommence ma vie, Je suis né pour te connaître, Pour te nommer

And by the power of a single word I can begin my life again, I was born to know you, to name you

Paul Eluard

#320272 - 01/26/10 06:43 PM Re: Delayed reaction for trauma [Re: LandOfShadow]
sono Offline

Registered: 07/19/09
Posts: 1069
oh yes.


the family
the perp

#320309 - 01/27/10 01:13 AM Re: Delayed reaction for trauma [Re: sono]
michael banks Offline

Registered: 06/12/08
Posts: 1755
Loc: Mojave Desert, Ca

I think as you are being abused as a child you are as traumatized by what is happening as you will ever will be. But as a child we do not have the strength or emotional resources to deal with what has been done to us. As a csa survivor the child is trying to survive physically and not until a few decades removed from the abuse is he even able to begin to grasp the emotional impact of what was done to him.


To own one's shadow is the highest moral act of a human.
-Robert Johnson-

"IT ought never be forgotten that the past is the parent of the future" John C. Calhoun

WOR Alumni Sequoia 2009

#320437 - 01/27/10 11:51 PM Re: Delayed reaction for trauma [Re: michael banks]
pufferfish Offline

Registered: 02/26/08
Posts: 6875
Loc: USA
Delayed yes. We must think seriously about terminology here.


pufferfish whistle

#320439 - 01/28/10 12:05 AM Re: Delayed reaction for trauma [Re: pufferfish]
stopchildabuse Offline

Registered: 01/28/10
Posts: 1
The myth is that there is no trauma. Clancy claims the child is "confused" and not traumatized. Yet, almost all of the research in the field contradicts this. Child abuse trauma: theory and treatment of the lasting effects By John Briere;q=&f=false

She also claims that recovered memory doesn't exist. Yet, many studies show that not only does it exist, but that it is often accurate. There are legal cases that back this up, including the recent Paul Shanley case decided in Massachusetts.

Websites citing journal articles proving the veracity of recovered memory include :

#320525 - 01/28/10 08:55 PM Re: Delayed reaction for trauma [Re: stopchildabuse]
Logan Offline

Registered: 04/05/03
Posts: 1368
Loc: NY
this is very interesting.
Thank you, Ken, for sharing it with us
This is also particularly helpful for me trying to figure out why the hell I seemed so complicit to it!

Edited by Logan (02/23/10 04:57 PM)
"Terrible thing to live in Fear"-Shawshank Redemption
WOR Alumnus Hope Springs 2009
"Quite a thing to live in fear, this is what is means to be a slave"
-Blade Runner

#320543 - 01/29/10 01:22 AM Re: Delayed reaction for trauma [Re: Logan]
ericc Offline

Registered: 01/04/08
Posts: 1986
I find this interesting as well and thanks. In my case I remembered about five years or so after it happened. I really slipped into trauma at that point. But not all was well before that either. Looking back I can see that I was troubled and full of anxieties and I am sure my knowledge of what took place was just below the surface. But yes, at the time I don't I even think I had the capacity to identify what it was doing to me. Thanks again for the informative post.


P.S. I had to add after looking the woman's name up and reading part of the post again, I don't believe what happened to me was so not different than the rest of my experiences that I just sort of not paid attention to it. I am quite certain it caused distress and anxiety and my mind pushed it aside as a means of preservation. Whether it was true repression or just "out of mindness" I don't know. In high school I started smoking lots of dope, drank like a fish and created all sorts of personal chaos through behaviors and getting into trouble. Maybe I was just masking things or numbing myself. All I know, when I recalled what took place is was pretty shattering. Seems to me like I remembered but who knows. I do think what happened played a significant role in fueling many of the negative aspects of my being.

Edited by ericc (01/29/10 01:39 AM)
Edit Reason: added P.S.

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