One of many reasons for silence around sexual trauma has been a lack of tools to heal these injuries. Emergency room physicians can brilliantly patch up physical wounds. But until recently, the longterm effects of traumatic injuries were barely recognized, much less addressed. Especially for sexual trauma. With no healing in sight, these wounds remained hidden. And they festered – as any wound will thats sealed before its healed. Girls, especially, learned to follow Miss Manners’ prime rule: “If there’s nothing to be done about if, there’s nothing to be said about it.”
Asian healing arts like acupuncture take a different view of sexual trauma. They offer a comprehensive framework for understanding such injuries and their aftermath. Also strategies and tools for addressing them, even those buried long and deep under complex coping mechanisms.
It all hinges on what we call the ‘Heart Protector.’ This is the function of an organ we call the pericardium, the membrane around the heart. Actually it’s a pair of membranes, with viscous fluid between them. This holds our heart in place and protects it from infection. It also keeps it moist so this muscle can flex and contract as it needs to. And it acts as a shock absorber. The heart is terribly vulnerable and absolutely vital to all our other functions. It can’t take much of a blow or shock. And whenever it’s the least bit shaky, all our systems get chaotic—and precarious!
We have several layers of protection to keep the heart steady and stable. Our ribcage and lungs shelter it from blows that could end our life – in a heartbeat! The pericardium offers more internal and intimate protection. The membrane is selectively permeable. It’s a highly sensitive and sophisticated filtering system to keep out whatever is inappropriate and might injure our heart.
Western medicine recognizes the physical aspects of the pericardium’s crucial role in protecting the heart. Asian Medicine views the function of all our organ systems as more than just physical. Our ‘Heart Protector’ serves, on all levels, as gatekeeper for the heart, allowing in what’s OK and closing to what’s not.
On a mental level, this is our capacity to determines what is – and what’s not – appropriate for us on the most individual and intimate level. It creates boundaries to keep out whatever is incompatible with our tender heart. On a spiritual level, we might say this is what helps keep our heart in the right place. Basically, my heart protector knows what’s me and what’s not, what’s good for me and what’s not. We depend on this function to establish and maintain appropriate boundaries in both casual and intimate relationships.
Young children can’t do this at all. The Heart Protector does not develop until adolescence, around puberty. Before then, it falls to our parents to be our ‘Heart Protector’ and shield us from anything inappropriate or injurious. When, for any reason, they’re unable to do this, children are at great risk. Without a Heart Protector to filter out what’s not appropriate, the hearts get slammed by injuries of inappropriate intimacy. All internally controlled systems go off. External systems may provide some protection but can’t restore a sense of safety and trust. Come adolescence, the Heart Protector may not develop properly. What’s OK and who to trust become elusive or impossible to distinguish.
Initially, this can show up as anxiety, sleep disturbances, issues around trust and control. Over time these can develop into a wide variety of functional breakdowns. If unaddressed, the painful twists this takes can tangle both body and mind for many years. Sometimes for generations, as unresolved injuries often get repeated with the next generation. Pain from these unaddressed breakdowns account for much of our opioid and substance abuse epidemic.
When someone has a mature Heart Protector, they have a better shot at identifying and protecting themselves from what is inappropriate or harmful. They develop a sense of self they can see as separate from whatever shows up that’s inappropriate or injurious. But even the best defenses can be overcome or compromised when there is a power differential. Any sexual violation overwhelms the Heart Protector. The heart gets hurt and the gatekeeper gets damaged.
These injuries are real and often require more than simply time to heal. Skilled partnership and creating a safe space to cultivate the ebb and flow of vital energy thru whatever parts of us shut down is crucial. Asian healing arts also offer tools for releasing painful holds around old injuries. This is especially important when our Heart Protector has been overwhelmed. Also, the channel system allows a practitioner to gently connect with painful places when they are too sensitive to touch directly.
The heartache of all the Me-Too’s online is registering how prevalent these injuries are. The other side of that hand, though, is seeing how many hidden wounds are now close enough to the surface that they can, perhaps, begin to heal. Maybe, in the process, we can find ways to change this experience for our daughters. And our sons.
Image: Photosteve101 / CC BY 2.0
Cynthia Zanti Jabs, L.Ac., has practiced Acupuncture and Medical Qi Gong for two decades. She can be reached at her Ruscombe Mansion office by calling 443-226- 6626