The Common Thread Found In Primary and Secondary Abuse and Its Consequences

The Common Thread Found In Primary and Secondary Abuse and Its Consequences


Annette Oltmans

All forms of abuse involve bullying. Bullying is the common thread found in both Primary and Secondary Abuse and their consequences, which include endemic and culturally biased responses. Bullying, as a stereotype, is usually seen as schoolyard misbehavior – such as physical confrontation taking place mostly between boys, from toddlers to teens, or cruel taunting and relational bullying between girls. It can also be seen as a drunken husband unleashing physical abuse upon his wife. To conceptualize bullying in a cliché way, or to separate it into discrete categories to make it ‘manageable,’ is to make the mistake of obscuring its true nature and its profound layers of impact and repercussions. As we will see,

  • Bullying is not limited to schoolyard “antics;”
  • Bullying is not only teasing or social media persecution;
  • Bullying is not only manipulation and intimidation between adults; and
  • Bullying is not only sexual harassment.

The essential understanding for gaining clarity about bullying is recognizing the harm done to the victim. Damage to victims is most often exceedingly greater than the ‘hurt’ a bully may experience at the time of proper intervention; including confrontation, accountability, repentance, education, reparation and restoration. Whether the bully is enacting behaviors that are unconscious or conscious, deliberate and premeditated, or spontaneous and resulting from the harm done to them, the significance about bullying comes in its focus on the harm being done to victims. Dr. Henry Cloud (2011) wrote, “There is a big difference between hurt and harm. We all hurt sometimes in facing hard truths, but it makes us grow. It can be the source of huge growth. That is not harmful. Harm is when you damage someone. Facing reality is usually not a damaging experience, even though it can hurt” (p. 21).

With regard to bullying, it is important to keep in mind the following realities:

  • Bullying IS a display of inhumanity in its cruelest form, because bullying employs covert emotionally abusive behaviors meant to confuse, control, undermine confidence and manipulate outcomes.
  • Bullying IS sometimes also combined with overt behaviors such as physical and/or sexual assault that can be used to control and intimidate in similar ways.
  • Bullying IS found in covert behaviors, usually stemming either from intentionality to harm or defensiveness to avoid authentic communication and/or responsibility.
  • Bullying IS a disguise of motives behind covert abusive behaviors that may be activated exclusively or intermittently between hiding and dominating.
  • Bullying or covert emotionally abusive behavior IS acted out within the spectrum of abuse towards adults and children, whether in deprivation, neglect, domestic violence, sexual harassment, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, sex trafficking, and all other forms of primary abusive experiences.
  • Bullying IS pervasive, insidious, and difficult to describe, quantify, and objectively name which therefore makes it often unsuccessful in gathering support to stop.
  • Bullying IS significantly damaging to victims.

Clarity of this information provides victims with the defining characteristics of their bullying experience and highlights the similarities of maltreatment across all victim groups. This serves the purpose of helping victims, bystanders, and every kind of first responder. Clarity identifies the complexities and controls within bullying behavior. Clarity highlights the cultural blind spots, prejudices, and institutional preferential treatment that add a secondary layer of bullying and covert behaviors or, Double Abuse®. Clarity is the first necessary step that leads to healing and empowerment.

The second step leading to change and healing involves empathic understanding of the victim. The survivor’s trauma and the accompanying shame is most certainly exacerbated when her pleas are ignored, when she is rejected, or when she is judged. It is also compounded when passing interactions over-spiritualizing her unspeakable pain, or when superficial statements, even those exonerating her guilt, are used to disengage from her. The victim knows she is being put at arm’s length when what she needs is acceptance, connection and compassion. In the Interventions and Preventions section, The Healing Model of Compassion will provide a way to avoid doing further harm. Additionally, it is vital to accept their story as true. Numerous reputable studies show victims’ truth telling to be reliable over 90 percent of the time (Kelly, Lovett, 2005, Lonsway, K.A., Archambault, J., Lisak, D, 2009). Don’t criticize or try to find fault with the victim. Don’t say that it takes two people or the victim has a part in it. Abuse or bullying is a choice; it may be a mistake, but it’s not an accident and it’s never the victim’s fault. Since abuse is widely understood to escalate over time (see Johnson, 1995), it makes the case for early intervention. You can help a survivor find their voice faster by providing a glossary of terms that define confusing covert behaviors (provide this list to victims without labeling the terms as abusive at the onset).

The third step necessary for the wholeness required for healing is in the correct protocols for confronting, assessing and accessing appropriate interventions for the perpetrator. Dealing with physically violent perpetrators, in some cases, may be beyond the scope of this particular article. The focus here is on the ways to confront the emotionally violent perpetrator and hold them to account in ways that can avoid escalation to physical violence and further injury to anyone. Working with perpetrators is complex, and just as with victims, there is a powerful argument for naming bullying behaviors to perpetrators as well. Those who are able to tolerate understanding how their defensive responses are harmful are more likely to swiftly and voluntarily seek meaningful steps to change. Describing bullying behaviors and early interventions can turn around families and even entire communities. In contrast, those who bully from a stance of entrenched faulty beliefs, image management, or entitlement will require protocols specifically designed for abusers. This is partially why there are Batterers Intervention Programs adopted nationally through the legal system and why couples’ therapy is strictly contraindicated in these situations.

There are suggestions for an Accountability Model for addressing perpetrators in the Intervention and Prevention section later in this article. On The Mend Project Website, there are many additional suggestions for victims, their families, clinicians, clergy and perpetrators seeking authentic change. Having understood the three fundamental steps above, we now turn our attention to understand the environment in which bullying thrives.

Covert Emotional Abuse

Covert emotional abuse is considered one of the most destructive forms of abuse. The reason for this is because of how it harms one’s perceptions and memories. In so doing, it significantly prolongs states of stressful cognitive confusion, emotional disorientation, physical compromises, and immunological collapse. In overt emotional abuse, the verbal assaults or concrete manipulations can be much more obvious to the victim and others. When the two are combined the effect is even more harmful. Most victims characterize the emotional abuse as causing profound self-doubt in their ability to discern, and forces the victim to question reality. Most interpersonal trauma survivors have developed a “sixth sense” and accurately intuit the numerous complexities of power imbalances. Survivors notice contradictions and the gaslighting behaviors of the perpetrator. In her groundbreaking work Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman (1995) cautions that a victim’s assessment of power realities may be more realistic than a clinician’s.

Such abuse may be intended to exert control over another or entrenched defensive posturing in order to hide, or a combination of both. Its effects can cause a bewildering inability to sort out the traumatic experience. The harm of this experience, particularly if prolonged, cannot be overestimated. At the same time, it is too frequently underestimated by family members, employers, school administrators, and even by religious communities. Professional counselors who witness it inadvertently participate as it plays out in the prolonged process of weekly (contraindicated) conjoint therapeutic sessions in family and marital counseling. Similarly, educational systems ignore protocols by incorrectly placing the bully and the victim together in a room to discuss the problem.

While a single covert behavior in a repeated pattern is enough to be destructive to an individual or relationship, multiple patterns are exponentially harmful in terms of a victim’s ability to decode what is happening. In the Protocols for Response section, we will discuss the harm when (contraindicated) conjoint counseling protocols are ignored. There are substantial risks of becoming a breeding ground for more harm without identifying and naming the specific covert behaviors, firmly confronting the alleged perpetrator with clear boundaries, and modeling an unwavering voice in the presence of both parties. After nearly one hundred interviews with victims of Intimate Partner Violence, I found that victims too often reported their trauma was significantly exacerbated in conjoint counseling because the pastor or therapist was unable to define and identify singular covert behaviors or the numerous complicated patterns of covert emotional abuse. The perpetrator was able to skillfully redirect the focus onto the victim, while the victim was over confronted and left for months or even years, confused and under-informed. The perpetrator was applauded for naming his or her feelings, no matter how displaced. Their faulty beliefs and thinking were not confronted or even addressed. How can we stop what does not have a name? Dr. David Hawkins (2017) and Lundy Bancroft (2002) each show that perpetrators need confrontation of specific behaviors along with a multifaceted accountability to assist them in changing their faulty thinking, beliefs and entitlement. This needs to occur before a perpetrator’s feelings are processed. The victim’s feelings need to be the prioritized focus.

Bullying by means of sexual or physical abuse is more obvious to any observer as well as the victim, even if they cannot intervene in the abuse. However, in covert emotional abuse bullying plays its devious and pervasive hand, often in the confusion and manipulations briefly described above. While no two situations are alike, and endemic cultural influences also play a part, here is a fuller list of covert bullying behaviors:

  • Blaming and reverse-blaming – always one-sided, (flipped around) and laid at the victim’s feet;
  • Broken promises — built on a foundation of lying and a lack of integrity;
  • Cover-ups –– a molehill of good to cover up a mountain of bad—e.g., giving gifts to confuse;
  • Crazy making behaviors –– a “cousin” of gaslighting — Distortions of reality that cause victims to doubt memory, subdue their ability to discern, and ultimately feel confused and “crazy;”
  • Deflection –– directly or indirectly preventing all possibility of resolving conflicts through blocking and diverting or stonewalling;
  • Denial — refusal to accept responsibility (acronym –Don’t Even kNow I’m A Liar);
  • Disavowal — the belittling and devaluing of the importance of one’s abusive behavior upon another;
  • Entitlement –– unrealistic demands (or double standards) at the expense of the victim;
  • Faux confusion/Abusive forgetting –– allowing abusers not to remember;
  • False accusations –– negative lies told to or about the victim often repeated frequently to build validity;
  • Gaslighting — alterations or denial of shared reality to make the victim doubt their own mind and experience;
  • Joking — Disparaging comments disguised as jokes always at the other person’s expense;
  • Lying — withholding or alteration of truth with a blatant disregard for shared reality;
  • Minimization – to make what the victim values unimportant;
  • Partial confessions to distract – for the perpetrator to gain undeserved favor to placate the other person (others) while protecting himself from actual consequences;
  • Retaliation –– deliberate harm as “payback” for imagined harm;
  • Refusal to take responsibility –– all abusive tactics as a measure to avoid responsibility and avoid change;
  • Scapegoating –– forcing the victim to hold the responsibility for the problem – sometimes influencing others to join in;
  • Withholding – perpetrator puts himself first in all circumstances, avoids, or uses silent treatment; Avoiders create doubt and confusion and are often termed as “Chaotics,” and
  • Undermining: withholding emotional support, eroding confidence, creativity and determination in the victim – intentionally plotting or habitually inadvertently sabotaging joy.

Additionally: all or nothing thinking, catastrophizing, dismissiveness, pathologizing, powering-over, rationalizing, sanitizing, along with abusive language, undeserved accusations, criticism, intimidation, judgments, name calling, threats, put downs, ridicule, teasing.

Informed by this kind of clarity, we can now turn our attention to the risks found within bullying and their accompanying requirements for intervention.

Consequences of Bullying

The experience of bullying evokes what are called “trauma states.” These states are made up of fear, helplessness, loss of sense of self or any sense of personal authority. These states evoke the loss of reputation, the loss of self-respect, and the loss of respect from others. Herman (1992) noted, “The damage to the survivor’s faith and sense of community is particularly severe when the traumatic events themselves involve the betrayal of important relationships. The imagery of these events often crystallizes around a moment of betrayal, and it is this breach of trust which gives the intrusive images their intense emotional power” (p. 55). While the victim is desperately seeking clarity and an empathic response, but remains without outside intervention, they are thrown into experiences of depression, acute anxiety, and stressful confusion regarding who is at fault, why the bullying is happening or what actually is happening. Suicidal thoughts often follow in quick succession. Without repair and successful, permanent intervention, the primary risk in bullying is the development of PTSD.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs as the result of either acute trauma – an event that continues to exert its frightening influence after the event is over, or cumulative trauma – which is found in the ongoing, daily life bullying experience that occurs through relationships, especially significant, supposedly caregiving relationships (Erwin, 2005). Without intervention or repair, PTSD can exhibit a range of physical and nervous system symptoms, playing out in flashbacks, emotional triggers, and physiological distress. Constant states of fear, shame, or anger with varying degrees of intensity are the victim’s burden, the result of overwhelming traumatic experience, always found in bullying (Erwin, 2017).

Consistently, one of the leading causes of death in children is suicide. Peer victimization in children and adolescents is associated with higher rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts (see JAMA, American Pediatrics, 2014, and the CDC, 2014). Research indicates that it is not just the victims of bullying who bear emotional and behavioral consequences. An analysis of 47 different published studies found that youth who were either bullies or victims of bullying were more likely to commit suicide or think about committing suicide. Without a complete protocoled process leading ultimately to healing, both victims and bullies carry short-term, as well as long-term, emotional traumatic consequences. The bully is more likely to develop substance addictions and engage in criminal activities, while the victim blames self and suffers low confidence.

Complications of Bullying

I found that what is true and extremely damaging for most victims of Primary Abuse is the secondary layer of abuse, inadvertent or intentional, which victims too often receive when speaking up or reaching out for help. This is true whether the abuse is towards adults or children, physical, sexual, or emotional, workplace abuse, sex trafficking, bullying or any form of domestic violence. Primary abuse combined with Secondary abuse is what I have named and trademarked as Double Abuse®.

When Double Abuse® is systemically embedded in the atmosphere, victims are met with a second layer of bullying. As with Primary Abuse, Double Abuse® comes in multiple forms: not believing the victim, apathy, justifications favoring the alleged perpetrator, criticisms, wrong judgments or to avoid accountability. Each of these forms push victims toward incorrect interventions and interfere with opportunities for healing while significantly exacerbating trauma and increasing emotional and physiological harm.

The result of Double Abuse® is usually the upgrading of the diagnosis to Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not all families, social circles or Institutions are guilty of secondary abuses, but those who do respond inadvertently as being apathetic or avoidant, or purposefully with Double Abuse®, place fault with the victim or protect the guilty. This may be done through multiple layers of manipulation and intimidation. These complicating and hard to name responses have subtle purposes:

  • To maintain preferential treatment,
  • To protect reputation or status of individuals or institutions,
  • To exert dominance,
  • To avoid consequence and/or liability, while also
  • To avoid taking action, engaging more purposefully, or help a victim face into or confront a perpetrator.

Any of these Secondary reactions to Primary Abuse is an urgent signal of a much deeper systemic or cultural problem. Layering abuse is organized bullying by a leader or collection of people who join in and deserve the consequence of public outcry. How can we stop what does not have a name? Double Abuse® should have a name because it is what allows all forms of Primary Abuse to remain unchallenged.

Legalistic risk management in terms of legal stonewalling is not a moral excuse to avoid reparation. In fact, risk management resulting in Double Abuse®, adds exponentially more harm and further liability. Systemic harm has many faces. As an example, religious communities, particularly where patriarchy dominates the culture, can hold the “institution”of marriage as more deserving than the well being of the victimized spouse and children within the marriage.

Consequences of Double Abuse®

The more this secondary maltreatment of cultural, family, or Institutional Abuse and psychological trauma winds its way through the systemic layers of the victim’s experience, the more insidious and pervasive the harm to the victim. The ill effect of either apathetic responses or high-handed bullying upon victims causes the escalation of PTSD into Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD).

The victim, younger or older, who reaches out in the hope that family, friends, or Institutional Leaders will do what is right in seeking mercy and justice, may find instead the escalation of rejection, the denial of responsibility, whole or partial minimization, or delays in favor of the guilty. The greater reach of CPTSD, a diagnosis coined by Dr. Judith Herman, shows that victims who suffer from multiple traumas, exhibit alterations in perceptions of perpetrator, isolation and withdrawal, persistent failures of self-protection, hopelessness and despair. Herman explained, “Having once experienced the sense of total isolation, the survivor is intensely aware of the fragility of all human connections in the face of danger. She needs clear and explicit assurances that she will not be abandoned once again” (p. 61-62).

But when these symptoms are not taken seriously or are minimized by the medical community, the consequences can be life-threatening. This is why when persons of authority over-confront the victim, under inform them, or under confront the perpetrator, while minimizing the truth and severity of their experience, they fail in the follow through of reparations. In doing so, they are contributing to an escalation of the victim’s decline. Cumulative Trauma leading to Complex PTSD is much more difficult to treat, has far more lasting symptomatology, and takes longer to treat successfully, necessitating the use of multiple modalities and greater interventions. Belleruth Naparstek (2004), in her valuable work Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal, demonstrated that trauma changes the body and the brain by disturbing the regulation of neurobiological, endocrinological and immunological systems. Developmentally aged children are thus far more vulnerable to the effects of trauma.

In terms of children’s traumatic experiences, I have read over two hundred individual synopses of childhood bullying and suicide, and in each one there was some element of Double Abuse®, inadvertent or intentional. Interventions are necessarily different for children because they have not yet developed the Emotional IQ or vocabulary to comprehend or articulate their experience in ways that can be heard accurately. They also need empathic partnership to validate their perceptions as well as to assist in communications and interventions. A child’s natural expectation is that adults will protect them, so when the opposite occurs, they feel there is no safe place to turn. This learned hopelessness often makes suicide seem a logical solution. CPTSD does not adequately describe what happens to them. More emphasis must be placed on how CPTSD has long-term negative impact on the developmentally aged child. This is why Bessel van der Kolk (2005) and others have proposed a new diagnosis for traumatized children — Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD). Their goal is to delineate what children suffer from while providing a guide for rational therapeutics. These are organized around the issue of triggered dysregulation in response to traumatic reminders, stimulus generalization, and the anticipatory organization of behavior to prevent the recurrence of the trauma impact.

Interventions and Preventions

Earlier in this article, it was stated that bullying is NOT conflict. This is because conflict can lead to problem solving, while bullying’s aim is to prevent problem solving, responsibility and accountability despite statements to the contrary. Healthy conflict can offer an opportunity to gain clarity about each opposing side, and lead to achieving mutual understanding as well as collaboration. A substantial part of resolving conflict, and thus ending bullying, is the power of solutions provided by every individual (parent, family member, friend, teacher, mentor, doctor, nurse, pastor, HR director, or therapist). These are all potential first-responders who can become knowledgeable about the nature of bullying, covert emotional abuse, PTSD and CPSTD. Interventions guided by appropriate protocols can help first-responders empathically interface with victims on an accurate case-by-case basis, without enacting entrenched negative cultural or systemic biases exacerbating harm.

We cannot heal in isolation, thus when social support is withdrawn, it exacerbates trauma. Naparstek highlighted this critical fact in referring to 77 different studies noting that people become more symptomatic when trauma disrupts their social support networks. Such disturbances in social support after a trauma are even stronger predictors for PTSD than a person’s pre-trauma situation. She also highlighted numerous stories where public respect helped to rapidly reduce trauma symptoms. It is not enough to remain neutral. Both Lundy Bancroft (2002) in “Why Does He Do That?” and Judith Herman (1995) determined that “neutrality” serves the interests of the perpetrator more than the victim, so it is not neutral. This truth plays out in social support as well as in the therapeutic process, marriage ministries, and religious institutions.

Dr. David Hawkins of the Marriage Recovery Center works in the trenches of domestic violence with perpetrators and victims alike. He teaches that it is a mistake to consider domestic violence, including emotional abuse, as a dual problem because this heaps responsibility onto the victim. Bancroft (2002) points out that if the problem is considered to be even partially the victim’s fault, the perpetrator is happy to accept this because that equates to an interpretation that the bullying is not a matter of abuse.

The weight of responsibility for a therapist, an Institution or its leaders is sometimes far greater than for any individual. This is because the perceived level of knowledge or expertise leads the victim to carry the expectation that these individuals will respond correctly. When the opposite occurs, trauma is increased because of the disparity between expectations and correct outcomes. The Institution’s wide-reaching potential impact, its professional, and therefore, authoritative standing, and its pervasive influence within its own organization, as well as its reach outside the organization, adds to the high level of responsibility. When an Institution has been informed of maltreatment and has verified in part or in full any degree of harm, it is incumbent upon the Institution to include the victim (if he or she so chooses) in the process, to hold leadership to account, to swiftly rectify the maltreatment, to offer and be willing to provide reparations to the victim commensurate to the harm done, and to ensure that it never happens again. When institutions are guilty of harm, the tendancy is to attempt to rewrite history. The harm cannot be erased for the victim. Therefore, a legalistic risk-management posture not only exacerbates harm but adds liability as well. Those institutions who have adopted a paradigm shift towards formalized protocols opt for investigative transparency and restoration, not only is the harm reduced for the victim but the liability is often substantially reduced as well. It’s important to note that transparency in solutions, such as public acknowlgements, needs to be the victim’s choice.

Protocols for Response

Too often professional clinicians say they are not willing to confront patients because therapy is about focusing on feelings, or because they are not ‘paid’ to confront, or because confronting is not therapeutic, or they do not want the perpetrator to abandon help altogether. The example of the pastor who chose to make friends with the perpetrator over time so that he could eventually confront him or educate him about the harmful actions of abuse, illuminates the problem. Not only did the pastor’s misguided attempts to befriend the perpetrator harm the victim unspeakably by breaking fundamental trust to the one being harmed, but it skewed his own perceptions and further enabled the perpetrator. Would the same pastor make friends with the bully at school, leaving the victim, confrontation and accountability for a much later date as the bully continues acting out harmful behavior towards the victim? Instead, his protocol needed to include the use of his proximity and authority to confront abusive behaviors and adopt the appropriate protocol methods for directly assisting both the perpetrator through ongoing accountability, and the victim through unconditional confidentiality and support.

In over 100 interviews with pastors, lay spiritual leaders, social workers, MFT’s, medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, I found that few had heard of covert emotional abuse. Even though they were dealing with the symptoms of it routinely, none had also considered a singular phrase to identify the concept of Double Abuse® until I explained it to them. Usually without knowing it, these practitioners actually violated their respective oversight boards’ protocols that conjoint therapy or a shared therapist is strictly contraindicated in abuse cases. However, as we have just noted, many clinicians and clergy are not trained in the topics of trauma and abuse; thus they are unable to identify or name the covert behaviors their patients or congregants are experiencing. Symptoms of CPTSD are terrifying. When clinicians do not have a full grasp of correct diagnoses, behaviors or treatment protocols, they will inevitably cause further harm. The limited requirements by these same oversight boards to mandate training hours in the topic of trauma and abuse also contributes to the lack of expertise in professional communities.

Without confronting and clearly naming abusive behaviors as abusive, the therapeutic process too often becomes another tool for the perpetrator and an additional source of trauma and abandonment to the victim. If expert confrontation and accountability modalities or collaborative therapy are not going to be supported by the therapist, or if the therapist is vested in a particular therapeutic modality that is specifically contraindicated in abuse cases (see Bancroft, 2002, Hawkins, 2018), the therapist has the moral and legal obligation to inform patients as to what the parameters of that particular therapy will be. Not to do so will inevitably cause Double Abuse®.

Most of the hundreds of survivors I’ve interviewed anguished over the traumatizing lacks or harms in their therapeutic experiences. Too often these victims had exhibited alterations in their perceptions of the perpetrators, including acceptance of the belief systems or rationalizations of their perpetrators, both symptoms of CPTSD (Herman 1995). When interviewing them I found that the point in which they had found specific information describing covert abusive behaviors was their life-saving turning point. They each clung to any publication, book, article, or piece of paper that described any part of their abusive experience. They treated these aids almost like a Bible that they kept in their purses or wallets to validate that their experience was traumatic and abusive, helping to counter failed counseling experiences and incorrect social judgments.

To define how clergy, family, friends, the therapeutic community, and even victims can partner in accountability, the Accountability Model (for adults) offers these guidelines:

FACE: Challenge with a strong voice and a steady hand. Don’t intervene or take action without the victim’s permission, but speak directly to the perpetrator saying, “I don’t like what I’m seeing.”

OWN: Take responsibility without justifications, explanations, or excuses. Do not excuse or condone harmful behavior of any kind.

RESOURCE: Be willing to be an accountability partner who learns what that entails. Don’t pacify or enable.

REQUIRE: Clarify relationship expectations and boundaries through collaborative efforts between clergy, therapists, accountability partners and victims; this includes signed releases by the perpetrator to serve transparency without breaching the victim’s confidentiality. Don’t accept less.

DETERMINE: Make sure words are matched with actions. Don’t lower the bar. Be willing to verify while protecting the victim’s confidentiality. And determine ways to shape reparations.

CONFRONT: Confrontations need to be specific, and which can be tracked. Don’t hinder consequences, or you will be participating in Double Abuse®.

In a recent conversation with Dr. David Hawkins (2018), he reiterated the perpetrator often needs to experience a break down before they will be open to a break through. The victim needs support in order to learn that they can live without the perpetrator. Both need to sense and truly believe that the perpetrator no longer has a controlling hold on the victim (Bancroft 2002). Victims, religious leaders, therapy and accountability partners all need to be in concert naming the abuse and holding the perpetrator accountable for changing specific behaviors (Hawkins 2018 and Bancroft 2002).

For children, it is just as harmful and contraindicated to place a bully and the victim in the same room, yet this practice continues unchecked pervasively around the country (see An additional obstacle for children is that our judicial system is way behind in understanding the effects of bullying and child sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, parental mental illness and addictions and the definitions or impacts of consequential trauma. The further tragic lag is the needed knowledge in the judicial system regarding correct trauma-treatment protocols. This adds Double Abuse® to children in a system meant to hold to their best interests.

Experts now are also identifying bullying during adulthood as a common problem, especially in the workplace. An estimated 1 in 3 employees in the United States experiences workplace bullying, and 18 million employees in the U.S. report witnessing it. In some cases, adults who were bullied as children may become bullies as adults. Similar to what happens in childhood bullying, co-workers often distance themselves from the adult victims because they are afraid of being targeted themselves, or because they are afraid of losing their jobs. In fact, research suggests that targets rarely can count on their co-workers for support.

To help individual first-responders and communities respond in a manner that will not cause Double Abuse®, I created the Healing Model of Compassion (2015). We are all first responders at numerous points in our lives; therefore, even if we have not sought out advanced knowledge or expertise in matters of bullying or abuse, these simple steps will help guide a healing conversation.

LISTEN: Repeatedly with a closed mouth. Don’t place expectations or ask questions.

ACCEPT: Believe the experience to be true. Don’t try to silence or find fault.

EMPATHIZE: Put yourself in their shoes. Don’t reject or criticize personal choice.

VALIDATE: Let them know their feelings are justified. Don’t undermine efforts or oppose.

IDENTIFY: Find your parallel experience without shifting the focus onto yourself. Don’t deny voice or personhood.

ENCOURAGE: Offer support on the path. Don’t pull away or shun, place conditions or ask others to join in Double Abuse®.

ASK: How can I help you?

Copyright © 2018 by Annette Oltmans. All rights reserved.

Annette Oltmans is the Founder of The M3ND Project; a 501c3 organization that seeks to educate, equip and restore those impacted by primary and Double Abuse®. She is a survivor and philanthropist. Her research on child abuse, domestic violence, and especially the traumatic consequences of Double Abuse® has propelled her heart for compassionate advocacy and accountability. Annette is certified in batters prevention and victim advocacy. She is a speaker and trainer, working with churches, NGOs and educators. She is a member of the advisory board for Boone Center for the Family at Pepperdine University, an organization that seeks to strengthen marriages and relationships. Annette believes we are all first responders at some point in our lives therefore her passion is to raise awareness, equipping the public to respond more compassionately and to avoid doing further harm. She has been married to her husband Joe, for twenty years. They have a blended family of four children and eight grandchildren. They live in Southern California.


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