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CULTURAL FACTORS: A BRIEF NOTE

18 July, 2012

The symptoms of sexual abuse survivors are consistent across cultural and ethnic, including national, boundaries.  I once had a client who lived in a village deep in the Amazon rain forest as a child and who had been raped by her older sister’s fiance’.  At that time, she had absolutely no exposure to mainstream western culture but had the exact same symptoms as everyone else in the therapy group she was attending.  The same was true of a woman who had grown up in China and others from various national and cultural backgrounds. The only things that vary are the culturally-influenced ways in which survivors explain to themselves their symptoms.  Since very few consciously linked those symptoms with their histories of abuse, they engaged in other efforts to explain what was going on:  They were cursed; the difficulties were religious in nature … pestering by demons and such; the ever-present (primarily western) explanation that they were going (or were) crazy; and so forth.

The consistency of the syndrome across cultural and ethnic backgrounds was striking to me.  Whatever ‘explanation’ survivors gave themselves, the path to healing was cathartic connection between the symptoms and the history of abuse.  I don’t hold much with Jung.  It seems to me his explanations of abnormal psychology border on the whacky and were only more palatable because they de-emphasized sexual fantasies at the time.  Even so, there certainly is something akin to his concept of archetypes reflected in the cross-cultural nature of the PTSD syndrome described in these posts.  Applying Occam’s Razor, the similarity in how the human brain processes trauma and creates symbolism in symptoms seems more likely than Jung’s explanation.

I can’t leave that phenomenon without some comment on such things as the instinctive link with literary and film scenarios like the legend of vampires, Dracula being the prime figure.  Just consider the shadowy figure that appears in the dark of the night and takes advantage of the helpless female.  I, personally, think that’s why the image is so compelling.  The shower scene in Psycho is another, giving rise to my labeling of the shower phobias of survivors as the “Norman Bates syndrome”.

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