Reflections on Trauma and Healing
A Child Held Captive: Gabriela
Over 50,000 unaccompanied children were encountered at the U.S. southwest border during the 2016 fiscal year. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
Growing up in a Mayan village in Guatemala, Gabriela was abducted from her family as a young girl. She was held in captivity in complete isolation for a decade, and never saw her family again. She survived unspeakable sexual, physical and psychological abuse, and bore children before adolescence. Her only way to survive this relentless trauma was through the mechanism of dissociation: distancing from her emotional and physical experience in an attempt to reduce terror and pain. Years later, Gabriela continues to struggle with extensive episodes of dissociation during which she is unaware of what surrounds her, and does not recall what she has done when she returns to awareness. She is frightened by these lapses in consciousness and memory, and feels lost to herself.
Her only way to survive this relentless trauma was through the mechanism of dissociation: distancing from her emotional and physical experience in an attempt to reduce terror and pain.
Gabriela’s healing has included careful attention to the dissociative survival mechanisms which now compromise her safety and wellbeing. Through the gradual rebuilding of emotional safety in the therapeutic relationship, she has been able to begin putting the pieces of her fragmented narrative together, to form a more cohesive and integrated story. Thanks to the processing of her trauma and the gradual reconstruction of her sense of self, Gabriela’s recurrent suicidality has abated, and her chronic migraines have become less frequent. Though she never had the opportunity to attend school, Gabriela has been able to learn to read and write in Spanish, and is learning English. Thanks to improved literacy, she is better able to orient herself in her new environment. Gabriela has also reunited with her children, and is beginning to rebuild the sense of family which was taken from her so long ago.
Learn more about Gabriela and other PTR clients here.