Secondary wounding

I didn’t know there was a name for secondary wounding until I joined an internet forum not too long ago and saw it mentioned. It’s really nice that I’m finally able to put a name to it.

What is secondary wounding in a nutshell? The cruel, ignorant, or insensitive things people say when they find out you were abused. For example: you tell your friend or family member what happened, and they tell you they don’t believe you, they think you’re too sensitive or an attention whore, they say that the sexual assault you suffered was your fault for wearing revealing clothes or getting drunk, or they tell you it wasn’t that bad and you need to just get over it. It’s very common for children to get called liars when they disclose that they are being molested–I cannot imagine the pain that leads to. And people also don’t understand why those in abusive relationships don’t just up and leave their partner right away, not understanding how they trap you financially and mentally wear you down so it’s very hard to leave. Well-meaning people often make minimizing statements out of their sheer ignorance of trauma, because it can be hard for them to grasp that it’s not something you can snap your fingers and “get over” in an instant. Believe me, if we could easily get over it we would! I have even found that some people with a trauma history of their own exhibit a poor understanding of how trauma affects other people and show little empathy. And of course, some people will minimize abuse deliberately. In some cases, this is how they avoid taking responsibility for their part in it.

As I’m doing more research on secondary wounding, most of what I’m finding applies to rape/sexual abuse survivors. But I think it can happen to people who’ve been through all of the other kinds of abuse, too: emotional, spiritual, physical, psychological, and bullying. And I believe those who’ve been through emotional abuse are especially at risk, because so many people think emotional abuse is normal and nothing to get upset about, and that it was only abuse if you were beaten up with closed fists.

Secondary wounding by various well-meaning people has really hindered my progress in healing, created a lot of anger, and made me feel like less of a person. I have been told that I should be grateful that at least my rapist wasn’t beating me up, that I shouldn’t have “let” him sexually assault me, and also that the verbal abuse wouldn’t have happened if only I was more confident and had stood up for myself. In my experience, trying to stand up for myself only made verbally abusive types angrier and more determined to win the fight. While I was being bullied as a child and adolescent, I got told that this was happening to me as a consequence for not being “positive” enough and frowning too much, even though I don’t think any forced facial expression would have made a difference in how much I was tormented. I have also gotten minimizing statements implying that I’m deliberately “hanging on” to my pain from the past and because it was years ago, I need to not discuss that sad old stuff from long ago. My partner, who was sexually abused as a child and could not tell anyone until adulthood because he knew that as a child he would’ve been accused of lying, has also suffered terrible secondary wounding. For instance, a person in his family told him stories about little girls making false sexual abuse allegations (hinting that he was making it up), and then accused him of being attracted to his abuser for money. I think we both harbor about as much anger over the various instances of secondary wounding as we do over the primary abuse.

More information about secondary wounding in the context of sexual abuse can be found on Aphrodite Wounded and Pandora’s Project for those who are interested.

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One thought on “Secondary wounding

  1. Mary says:

    Thank you for addressing this issue which likely keeps so many of us silenced!

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