April 19, 2007

Witnessing violence, like the students at Virginia Tech did this week, can wreak havoc with our bodies. Typical initial reactions are feelings of not really being here, feeling disbelief, floating or spacey or detached. These are feelings of shock. It’s very important to actively work our way out of shocking incidents, even if we only saw it on television; otherwise, it can cause us trouble later. Post traumatic stress syndrome, suffered by so many Vietnam and Iraqi vets, is the medical term for what can happen when we store trauma in our bodies.

There are 4 steps you can take to alleviate the effects when you’ve been exposed to violence:

(1) Talk about it. That actually releases the stored violence from the body.

(2) Touch your own body or have someone else give you gentle, reassuring touch. The violence is surreal, and feeling our own bodies helps us reconnect to reality again and to realize that we are safe.

(3) Connect with nature, like sit on your lawn or pet your dog. This reconnects us back to our bodies, which we sort of leave when we are frightened.

(4) Say to yourself,I want to be here now. This counters our unconscious desire to leave our bodies when we are faced with danger. When we are not in our bodies, we are at risk for accident and disease.

I would worry about post traumatic stress symptoms showing up for the Virginia Tech students when they go back home in three weeks. While they’re still at school and connected to one another, they’ll probably be okay. It’s after they get home that they may experience phobias or insomnia or digestive disorders or substance abuse. These are all indications that they haven’t yet successfully processed the violence out of their bodies. It’s really important that they address the trauma they took in as soon as possible.



April 18, 2007

What was going through his head? What drives a person to commit this kind of mass murder? What did his writings reveal about his personality?

Were the shooter’s actions triggered by just one traumatic event or did he suffer several traumatic events that he internalized, which over time lead to this blowout?

The shooter most likely had been through some kind of major trauma or loss during his life and, instead of dealing with the trauma in healthy way, he stored his own hurt, pain, and loss as bitterness and rage and plotted revenge on anyone and/or everyone. His writings reflected an obsession with violence, which indicated that he relished the idea of shocking and repulsing people.

When someone has been through trauma, they feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness and they can strike back to regain power and control. The shooter had perceived the world as unfair and he was determined to have power over the world he believed had injured him.

By students reports, he was a loner; he had detached himself from any positive social contact. Instead, he was absorbed in his fantasies and plans for revenge.



March 15, 2007

Replays from “To Catch a Predator” are everywhere on the news today, no doubt due to the fact that its creator, Chris Hanson, launched his book,To Catch a Predator: Protecting Your Kids from Online Enemies Already in Your Home, this week.

Does his sting operation deter child predators?

My professional experience would lead me to say “no.” I’ve worked extensively in my private practice with both victims and perpetrators of child sexual abuse. Perpetrators often feel a compelling urge to engage in
this activity, for reasons they can’t fathom. Fear of being caught simply isn’t a strong enough deterrent. The sad fact is that almost inevitably perpetrators were similarly abused themselves, but have no memory of it,
and, unconsciously, they feel compelled to recreate it.

The solution is openness and education: our society needs to be able to address it frankly. It is still not acceptable conversation in most circles. All of us, and especially parents and children, need to be able to discuss it freely. Children need to know that the most likely predator is a family member. The more light that is brought to the subject, the more it is removed from darkness, the faster we can eliminate this tendency from our cellular memory, from our collective unconscious.

Worse,To Catch a Predator teaches values that are dead wrong: we are encouraged to enjoy watching the entrapment of human beings, wrong as their actions are. The creator seems to take particular pleasure in watching his quarry squirm, which teaches us all to tolerate, even enjoy, the pain and agony of others.

The logical next step has already occurred: it is being reproduced and parodied on YouTube.

Any good that is accomplished by To Catch a Predator is overshadowed by its tendency to make the perpetrator more desperate and drive his/her activities more deeply underground and make the rest of us numb to the afflictions of others.make the perpetrator more desperate and drive his/her activities more deeply underground and make the rest of us numb to the afflictions of others.


“Deliver Us From Evil”

“Deliver Us From Evil”

November 16, 2006

I recently had an opportunity to see the documentary Deliver Us From Evil. This chilling film chronicles the story of Father Oliver O’Grady, the notorious pedophile priest who sexually abused children, including a 9-month-old baby, in a string of towns in Northern California in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Each time complaints were raised to his superiors in Los Angeles, the bishops of the Archdiocese would simply move Fr. Ollie to another parish 50 miles or so away. Finally, in the 1990s, complaints were made to the local authorities and Fr. Ollie was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned. Upon his release seven years later, he returned to his native Ireland where he lives unsupervised and in contact with small children.

What might surprise some is the fact that Father Ollie actually went to his superiors a number of times, asking them to help him with his “problem,” but shockingly, they disregarded his pleas for help and simply moved him to another parish. In the documentary, he seems to be enjoying the attention he’s getting by being interviewed on camera. He doesn’t seem to be fully aware of what he had done. The interviews show just how disassociated he really was from his own behavior; a victim of sexual abuse himself, both by his own family and by priests during his childhood, he convinced himself his actions of rape were simply being affectionate.

Filmmaker Amy Berg does a masterful job of documenting this excruciating topic. It’s clear from reading interviews with her that this documentary was difficult for her to make, but she felt the story had to be brought to light. Berg talked to O’Grady as well as to the victims and parents of victims in a series of interviews that are at times painful to watch. She also interviewed one courageous priest who dared to disagree with his superiors and travels far and wide in his efforts to shed light on this prevalent problem and bring healing to victims.

Most shocking of all is the footage of Cardinal Roger Mahony testifying about the O’Grady scandal. Mahony is accused of knowing that O’Grady was a pedophile as early as l984, when he was his bishop, but promised police he would be removed from contact with any children. Instead, O’Grady was reassigned to a parish 50 miles away. Shortly after that, Mahony was promoted to archbishop of Los Angeles, the largest Catholic diocese in the country. In the film, O’Grady states that “Mahony was very supportive and very compassionate and another situation was smoothly handled.” Mahoney denies ever knowing that O¹Grady was a pedophile.

Cardinal Mahony, the most important figure in the Catholic hierarchy in the US today, does not exhibit the kind of truthfulness or compassion one would expect from a high religious authority; instead, visibly shaken, he continued to cover up O’Grady’s crimes, giving inconsistent answers and stonewalling the attorneys representing the victims. (More significant still is the fact that Mahony is now the focus of ongoing investigations in a number of other similar cases.)

As someone who was abused by a Catholic priest, I know that for this problem to be healed, the truth must be told, no matter how soul-wrenching it may be. The Catholic Church has to remember that its primary responsibility is to the congregation—it’s nothing without its members—and the members, as well as the rest of the world, deserve to know the truth. I applaud the courage of all those who were willing to participate in this documentary and lend their faces and voices to this crucial issue.

I urge you to see this powerful and revealing film.


Remembering 9/11

Remembering 9/11

Sept. 11, 2006

People are starting to move on from the horrific events of 9/11. There are still moments of silence here and there, and announcements about those who have fallen, but folks are moving on. Should we feel guilty? No. It is a normal, healthy process, depending on how close we were to people who were killed or injured and how close we were to the actual events themselves. We are reminded every day about the 9/11 events in the heightened security we experience in airports, office buildings, everywhere… but let’s focus on the good that came out of the horror: our heightened sense of connection to others.

Everyone handles grief differently – what’s right for me will be different for you. I may grieve for years, you may pass through the process in months. It can take a lifetime to process some traumas out of our systems. But we want to honor our dead and our memories of 9/11 without becoming retraumatized. When you have a fresh wound on your arm, it hurts and the pain is acute, but over time it begins to heal. Pretty soon the memory of it and the pain fades, as does the scar. Our bodies and psyches react the same way: they too heal over time.

Americans’ anxiety levels are higher now than ever. One in every eight Americans suffers from some sort of anxiety disorder; that’s nearly 20 million people! We all took in those vivid images from Ground Zero, and continue to compound them with daily images of war news from Iraq, Osama bin Laden tapes, plus violent movies and video games. We can still honor our dead and our memories of 9/11 without taking in more violent images.

I travel the country, putting on Truth Heals™ seminars where I help people find the root cause of their problems, and I often find anxiety at the heart of it. Typical symptoms of anxiety are trouble sleeping, feeling edgy or irritable, tiring easily, or have trouble concentrating. Being active physically is one of the best antidotes to anxiety. Getting back into nature, something as simple as petting your dog or planting a flower, can really help to reduce anxiety. Anything that helps us reconnect to one another, to our pets and to nature.

Those who have disturbing flashbacks to 9/11 or become very uncomfortable around the anniversary, or turn to alcohol or drugs to cope, they’re suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. The key to recovery is to have a really strong support system: stay close to your friends and relatives, and get professional help right away.

The best way to remember 9/11 is to remember our neighbors, and do something special for them today. And think big when thinking of neighbors; we’re all connected, so your neighbor could be on the other side of the globe. That best commemorates the spirit of New York during 9/11; we want to take that incredible positive image of neighbor helping neighbor forward into the future with us.