American Association of Therapists Treating Abortion Related Trauma
Professionalizing the treatment of abortion related trauma
Bridging the gap between research and practice
Bridging the gap between research and practice
As a therapist who has been working with clients who present with an abortion in their history since 2004, I have often been curious about how previous trauma in a man and woman's life may impact "The Choice" they have to make when they find out about an unplanned pregnancy. In addition, how is both a man and woman affected in a traumatic way by finding out about that unplanned pregnancy, often in a way that is quite shocking and by surprise? I began to ask the question, "How are each affected psychologically and physically?" I began to wonder why this information is not taken into account when viewing a person's thinking, behavior and ultimate decision? Was this just another example of how our culture views men and sometimes woman based on externalized behavior versus the trauma that might be behind that behavior? These are a few questions I want to address this month. In the end, I believe that a reframe needs to happen, where men and women are not immediately viewed and judged by their behavior, especially as it relates to an abortion decision, but possibly by how previous trauma in their lives affected that decision. The fruit of this reframe could be a new level of empathy and understanding for both partners that ultimately can lead to forgiveness based on that lens of empathy.
In my previous blog last month I mentioned these statistics:
7% of Americans have had or will have PTSD (Kessler,1995)
61% of men and 51% of women have experienced one traumatic event in their lifetime (Kessler,1995)
24.7% of females by the age of 18 will have experienced sexual abuse (Adverse Childhood Experience Study,1998)
16 % of males by the age of 18 will have experienced sexual abuse (Adverse Childhood Experience Study,1998)
56 million abortions in the U.S. since 1973, (O’Bannon, R.K., 2015)
Based on these statistics, many men and women will have experienced previous trauma prior to a decision regarding an unplanned pregnancy. That means their brains biologically are already wired based on that previous trauma. For example, their limbic system may be highly reactive which may trigger a fight or flight response, at the same time they may experience a decrease in prefrontal cortex rational thinking. What a woman may experience as abandonment by the man in the decision, may actually be he is acting on a fight or flight response that is highly reactive because of some previous trauma. The woman may have abandonment trauma that has affected her attachment style as an adult. She may fear abandonment by her partner and may go along with her partner's decision to abort, denying her maternal instinct that is developing within her.
Finding out about an unplanned pregnancy can be traumatic in itself even if there existed no previous trauma in the man and woman's life. Being caught off guard, fearful, panicked, needing to make a quick decision, to name a few. These are all symptoms that can affect both the man and woman in the midst of trying to make a rational decision. If they are young, it is also possible that the prefrontal cortex has not fully developed, thus making it more difficult to make a rational long term decision that could have long term implications.
In both scenarios above I have found that the limbic brain is crying out for relief. This is not unlike an addictive brain that is crying out for relief. It goes into somewhat of a survival mode. Like a person running out of a burning building, the goal is to escape and find relief. Often times an abortion decision is based on this premise...finding relief from the "firestorm" both the man and woman find themselves in. The unfortunate part is later, once the prefrontal cortex kicks back in and the limbic system kicks out, many will experience the title wave of regret and often ask themselves the question, "How could I have done this"?
One of the greatest resources I have found in providing marriage counseling, is the resource of empathy that can often then lead to forgiveness. When a man or woman are able to look not just at their partner's behavior but what is possibly behind that behavior, is usually where they can begin to move beyond hurt and anger to empathy and forgiveness. For example, a man may have an addiction that began in childhood as a result of abuse. It is my belief that if men and women could look whats behind "The Choice" and not just the act of the choice, then maybe there would be more people able to heal from the hurt and pain and move to a place of forgiveness.
Is it also possible that we as a culture could move beyond our judgement of men and women based on their behavior, and look behind what may have lead to that behavior? If it is possible, perhaps the crazy cycle of conflict around the issue of abortion could end. We could begin to talk not only about the hurt and trauma that fuels that cycle, but begin to reframe our understanding of both sides of the issue in a new way. This cultural reframe could lead to healing and forgiveness on a macro level. Perhaps a greater understanding of trauma prior, during and after an abortion decision holds the key.
Gregory Hasek MA/MFT is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Oregon.