Janof-Bulman and Frieze (1983) have studied the effects of victimization on those considered traumatized. When I compare it with my small trauma in 1971, I can really relate. It helps me make sense out of my psychological reaction.
They observe that much of the psychological toll derives from the shattering of very basic assumptions that victims have held about themselves and their world. The authors cite three types of assumptions, shared by most people, that are especially affected. “The three assumptions are: 1)the belief in personal invulnerablity 2)the perception of the world as meaningful and comprehensible; 3) the view of ourselves in a positive light.”
Most folks believe that we are protected from misfortune by being good, worthy people–that we get what we deserve and deserve what we get. The victim will have to reestablish a world that is meaningful. The victim will also have to regain a sense of self-worth, strength and autonomy.
My small “trauma” consisted of giving birth to a Down’s Syndrome daughter. I had already had 3 other “perfect” babies and in no way anticipated that this delivery would be different. I can remember being in a therapy group in which I spoke of the world suddenly being unpredictable; that maybe bad things were begining to happen to me. Seven days after giving birth to my baby I took her with me to attend a psychological marathon with other graduate psychology students. I recall saying that it felt like the only real things in the world were death and mongolism. A fellow student said that the milk and comforting I gave her were also real.
One of the things I did in trying to make sense of it included going to a psychic who told me good-feeling make-believe things like that my baby and I had known each other in a former life and she decided to be born to me in order to teach me, as a gift. –All of which of course I gobbled up, because I was so needy for meaningfulness. That temporarily made sense of “why me?” but did not really address why did this happen to my baby? Well, I thought and thought and finally figured out a rationale that I could live with. Since Down’s Syndrome occurs at the point of initial splitting of the first seed, my daughter never, ever had a chance of being a different person. It was all or nothing. She would either exist as herself or not be. At that point I decided that if her life was overall a happy one, that it would be okay she had been born a Downs. This helped me tremendously with my guilt feelings, which were not mentioned by the authors except maybe viewing ourselves in a positive light..
As an aside, when my father–who molested me as a child–died a couple of years later, I returned to the psychic, who was also a minister, and asked him to do a religious burial service which included some explanation from my father’s past life experience which prompted his molestation. The pastor was shocked and refused me. Apparently the psychic business didn’t mix with his brand of religion.
The article referred to was in Journal of Social Issues, 1983, 39, 2, 1-18.