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In the last section, we discussed survivor guilt and other
self-destructive behaviors arising from it such as: self-mutilation,
substance addiction, and eating disorders.
In this section, we will examine the three levels of victimization
regarding shattered assumptions, secondary wounding, and victim thinking. We will present PTSD resulting from sexual abuse and natural
3 Levels of Victimization
♦ #1 Shattered Assumptions
The first level of victimization is shattered assumptions. Often,
such traumatic events as tornadoes, hurricanes, or flash floods upheave conceptions
that clients once had about themselves and their lives such as invulnerability,
an image of an orderly world, and a positive self-image. Most
clients grow up with the idea that something terrible could
never happen to them.
When a crisis does occur, however, this assertion
is thrown out the window. When the assumption of an orderly world is
challenged, clients conclude that life is meaningless and
incomprehensible or that fate singled them out for punishment.
a PTSD client I was treating, suffered from the loss of her orderly world. From
the age of 8 to 11, Sheryl’s uncle had sexually abused her. When
she finally told her parents about the abuse at the age of 16, they considered
the abuse unimportant and her uncle’s wife accused
Sheryl of lying and trying to break up the family.
Years later, at 20,
Sheryl was involved in a traumatic car accident which her aunt attributed as
her punishment for her lies. A member of Sheryl’s church also saw
the accident as Sheryl’s punishment for having orgasms
during the incest and for not forgiving her abuser.
suffered from a loss of positive self-image and considered herself a dirty
and unworthy person who even God hated. At the end of this section I will
explain how the Primary Effects technique was beneficial to Sheryl.
♦ #2 Secondary Wounding
The second level of victimization is secondary wounding. Secondary
wounding results from the negative effects of other people
in the client’s life. Such attitudes that encompass secondary
wounding are: "You weren’t injured enough to be
entitled to benefits" or "It happened weeks or
years ago. You should be over it by
now." These attitudes augment the pain already
suffered by trauma survivors.
Recall the story of Sheryl that
we related earlier on in this section. Her parent’s apathy towards
her abuse, her aunts attacks, and her friend’s belief that she deserved
the accident are all examples of secondary wounding.
are three forms of secondary wounding:
-- 1. Disbelief, Denial, or Discounting
first, disbelief, denial, or discounting, occurs when others belittle the
effects of the client’s trauma. After Hurricane Katrina, Ronaldo,
a concert pianist, was told that three of his fingers were
to be amputated. He began to cry, but the nurse told him, "Hush
now, you big crybaby. Look around you. Bed number one lost his
arm and bed two has to have both legs removed. Count your blessings."
-- 2. Blaming the Victim
second type of secondary wounding, blaming the victim, is
much like what happened in Sheryl’s story in which her friend blamed
her for the accident.
-- 3. Stigmatization
The third type of secondary wounding, stigmatization,
occurs when others judge the client negatively for normal
reactions to the traumatic event.
These judgments can take several forms:
a. Condescension toward the survivor;
b. Misinterpretation of the survivor’s psychological
c. Implication that the survivor’s symptoms reflect
his or her desire for financial gain, attention, or unwarranted sympathy;
d. Punishment of the victim rather than the offender.
♦ Technique: Primary Effects of Secondary Wounding
To help Ronaldo and Sheryl cope with the effects of their secondary wounding,
I asked them to complete an exercise in their journals that I call "Primary
Effects of Secondary Wounding."
I asked both of them
to answer the following questions concerning the various situations in which
they encountered secondary wounding:
- Did it alter your views of you social, vocational, and
- Did it change your attitudes towards certain types or
groups of people and/or certain government and social institutions?
- Were your religious or spiritual views affected?
- Did it affect your family life, friendships, or other
- Did it alter your ability to participate in groups or
belong to associations or your attitudes towards the general public?
- Now, review the attitudes you just listed and ask yourself, "Which
of these attitudes do I wish to retain? Which of
them are in my best interest to reconsider? Which
ones would I like to discard because they hamper my life
in the present?"
♦ #3 Victim Thinking
In addition to shattered assumptions and secondary wounding, the third level
of victimization is victim thinking. This occurs when
a client acts and speaks as though they are still a victim when in fact the
danger has been removed. States Dr. Barry McCarthy, "The third
level of victimization involves the person adopting a lifelong label as
In essence, the traumatic event and its aftermath
becomes the central theme in the client’s
life, negating all other experiences. The feelings
of hopelessness, helplessness, defilement and betrayal embody victim thinking.
are four sources of victim thinking:
- Intolerance of mistakes in others and in self. During
traumatic events, even the tiniest of mistakes can result in death or injury. Those
suffering from victim thinking begin to adopt this mindset and may soon
develop into perfectionists.
- Denial of personal difficulties. Those working
in such fields as medicine, combat, or rescue work come in contact with
traumatic events day after day. Because their occupations demand solid and calm
thinking, they develop a mindset that any display of emotional weakness renders
them incompetent for their job. As a result, they start to downplay
- All-or-nothing thinking. Clients
suffering from PTSD that are encased in this mindset begin to see issues
as good or bad, friends or enemies. Children, teens,
and young adults tend to suffer the most from this mindset.
- Continuation of survival tactics. Because some clients
are still stuck in the emotional victim gear, they continue the
survival tactics they utilized during the trauma in their everyday lives. For
instance, if their survival tactic was anger, a PTSD client
with a victim thinking mindset of continuation of survival tactics will
use seem easily irritated or angered.
In this section we discussed the three levels of victimization: shattered
assumptions, secondary wounding, and victim thinking.
In the next section, we will present the effects of triggers
on PTSD clients and also various types of triggers: anniversary triggers,
current stresses, and bodily triggers.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Assink, M., van der Put, C. E., Meeuwsen, M. W. C. M., de Jong, N. M., Oort, F. J., Stams, G. J. J. M., & Hoeve, M. (2019). Risk factors for child sexual abuse victimization: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 145(5), 459–489.
Boysen, G. A., & Prieto, L. R. (2018). Trigger warnings in psychology: Psychology teachers’ perspectives and practices. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 4(1), 16–26.
Callahan, J. L., Maxwell, K., & Janis, B. M. (2019). The role of overgeneral memories in PTSD and implications for treatment. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 29(1), 32–41.
Komarovskaya, I., Brown, A. D., Galatzer-Levy, I. R., Madan, A., Henn-Haase, C., Teater, J., Clarke, B. H., Marmar, C. R., & Chemtob, C. M. (2014). Early physical victimization is a risk factor for posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms among Mississippi police and firefighter first responders to Hurricane Katrina. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 6(1), 92–96.
Nguyen-Feng, V. N., Baker, M. R., Merians, A. N., & Frazier, P. A. (2017). Sexual victimization, childhood emotional abuse, and distress: Daily coping and perceived control as mediators. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64(6), 672–683.
What are the three levels of victimization?
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