Before we look at the feeling of powerlessness of trauma victims,
let’s look at where trauma originates. Many of us have heard it that
one in three to four women and one in four to five men have been
sexually abused/assaulted by the time they reach 18-years-old. What we
may not know is that sexual abuse and assault account for only 38% of
trauma. The implication being, there is more trauma being experienced
in other ways.
The traumatic nature of an event is usually the element of surprise.
We are jolted from feeling safe, secure and comfortable to feeling
shame, vulnerability, and pain. Traumatic events can include a sudden
death, a car accident, witnessing a traumatic event (secondary
trauma), a natural disaster, diagnosis of an illness, or abandonment.
Certainly, there are sometimes when we can prepare for the actual
crisis itself, such is the case with some natural disasters, but there
was a moment when you went from being at rest, to having to cope with
the reality of a trauma event or crisis in your immediate future.
So, we have been surprised and are thus beginning the trauma reaction.
The person realizes they are unable to remove themselves from the
traumatic or abusive situation, which begins the feelings of feeling
hopelessness, helplessness, and powerlessness. These feelings will
intensify if the trauma is repeated and consistent. The victim will
feel the rush of cortisol running through their brain and body as they
attempt to determine what the next course of action will be. The
flight-or-fight response system has been activated, but proves
unhelpful as the trauma continues. Now the victim begins to dissociate
to cope with their feelings of powerlessness. The more powerless they
feel, the less hope they will have, only leading to feeling more
Trauma victims need to see how they are not powerless and learn to
lean into healthy relationships for healing and hope. While they were
unable to stop the traumatic event from happening, they are not unable
to stop all negative things from happening to them.