Secondary Wounding

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Taken from "I Can't Get Over It: A Handbook For Trauma Survivors - Aphrodite Matsakis, ph.D

"As important to the healing process as other people are, it's an unfortunate truth that often people do more harn than good....Instead of being supported, you may have been made to feel ashamed of having been part of a traumatic event....of your reactions....or symptoms you have developed as a result, or even asking for help.

Secondary Wounding occurs when  the people, institutions, caregivers and others to whom the trauma survivor turns for emotiomnal, legal, financial, medical or other assistance respod in one of the following ways:

Disbelief, Denial, Discounting

Coomnly, people will deny or disbelieve the trauma survivor's account of the trauma. Or They will minimize or dicount the magnitude of the event, it's meaning to the victim, it's impact on the victim's life.

Blaming the Victim

On some level, people may blame the victim for the traumatic even, thereby increasing the vicitm's sense of self-blame and low self-esteem


Stigmatization occurs when others judge the vicitm negatively for normal reactions to the traumatic event or for any long term symptoms he or she may suffer. These judgements can take the following forms:

*Ridicule or condescension towards the survivor

*Misinterpretation of the survivor's psychological distress as a sign of deep psychological problems or moral or mental deficiency or otherwise giving the survivor's PTSD symptoms negative or pejorative labels.

*An implication or outright statement that the survivor's symptoms reflect his or her desire for financial gain, attention or unwarranted sympoathy.

*Punishment of the victim, rather than the offender or in other ways depriving the victim of justice.

Denial of assistance

Trauma survivors are sometimes denied promised or expected services on the grounds that they do not need or are not entitled to such services.

Overcoming Secondary Wounding

Secondary wounding experiences can be just as painful and powerful as the original traumatic event. Just as you need to heal from that event, you will need healing for any secondary wounding experiences as well.

Healing from secondary wounding experiences requires first that you be able to identify what hit you-what secondary wounding you experienced-and then that you be able to distance yourself from the negative responses of others involved in those experiences.

The distancing needs to be achieved on both the emotional and the mental level. On the emotional level, the goal of distancing is for you not be be devastated by the experience. In all likelihood, you will still be troubled by other's insensitivity, but you can learn not to allow them to destroy you emotionally.

On the mental level, the goal of distancing is that you will be less likely to believe the negative judgements of your worth theat secondary wounding experiences can so easily generate.

You need to learn that generally, the rejection, humiliation or attack says more about the ignorance, insensitivity, fears or prejudices of the other persdon than anything about you, and that it reflects larger societal problems, incuding the prevalence of blame the victim attitudes.

If you learn the technique of viewing your secondary wounding experiences from this perspective, you will have some armour agaisnt the pain involved in may interactions.

A second technique you will need is that of countering the negative messages of those who lack understanding and compassion with affirming self-talk of your own. Together, these two approaches will enable you to gain a measure of objectivity. This in turn gives you increased control of your life, by acting as a brake on two destructive but legitimate reactions many trauma survivors have to secondary wounding experiences. The first reaction is sinking into helpless-hopeless thoughts and feelings; the second is being overwhelmed by the urge to strike back, verbally or physically

Countering the negative messages of secondary wounding is not done effortlessly or quickly. Such experiences always trouble you to some extent. But you can make progress in affirming your worth as a person and your strengths as a trauma survivor, in addition to increasing your objectivity and control.

Naming the Demon

To help achieve some distance from the secondary wounding experiences you have already had and will probably have in the future, you need to learn to name the demons of those experiences. For example, instead of acting on your feelings or allowing yourself to become increasingly hopoeless, you can tell yourself, "It's not my fault this person is treating me with so little respect and appreciation of my difficluty.

Maybe if I can figure out this demon's name I will know what I'm dealing with. Just what kind of secondary wounding is this anyway?

There are basically six types of secondary wounding respoinses; those showing denial or disbelief, those that involve discounting, those in which the victim is blamed for his or her problems, those that exhibit ignorance, those stemming from sheer cruelty and those involving generaliuzation or labelling.

Once you are able to identify the reposnses of others alng those lines, you will be better able to view thse reactions for what they truly are. Giving them a name will increase your ability to cope with secondary wounding experiences in a constructive manner and will lessen, though not eliminate, the pain and humiliation.

...And I will be back later to post some exercises from this book, my friends. But I hope the above at least validates and offers a little hope.

Lou xxxx

[edited to unbold the last part - Aoife]

(Edited by aoife at 11:28 pm on Jan. 29, 2002)

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Thank you for sharing that with us, Lou.  It was very useful.  I'll have to look into picking that book up.


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I am so glad you posted this!  What a brilliant idea.

I had an absolutely horrible secondary wounding experience:

I went to work, facing my fears as bravely as I could and I felt very fortunate when a woman at work offered to her listening ear.  After having a panic attack at work, which is so common among survivors, this woman was certain I should take time off.  Furthermore, she began to vociferously critise the coping mechanisms I had used.  

As if she knew what rape felt like and how one should deal with it!

I'm so glad you posted this.

With love,


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Hugs to (((Kelly))) and (((Jes))))

Here;'s more; it could be helpful and it would be good if anyone wanting to do the exwercises could stay safe.

L xxx

Overcoming Secondary Wounding Pt II

(I’ve adapted some of the examples given to reflect the experiences of survivors of sexual assault; the author makes reference to other types of traumas as well).

Identifying Secondary Wounding Responses

*Denial and disbelief.

Statements such as “You’re exaggerating”, “That could never happen” or simply “I don’t believe it”. People who respond to you in this way are denying the reality of your trauma


In denial, people do not believe your story. When you are being discounted, people do not deny that the traumatic even occurred. However, they minimize its effect on you or the magnitude of the event.

And example might be, something like “yeah, but what you’re talking about wasn’t nearly as bad as the girl down the road. You should be thankful”. Or the author cites and example of a woman having trouble responding sexually, and her partner says, “How could one little rape have affected you that much? I know some women who have been raped three of four times, but they still like sex”

It might also include the friend who ridicules you for being afraid to go into pubs.

*Blaming the victim

When you hear things like “but what where you wearing? You must have provoked it”


Ignorance of trauma and its effects plays a major role in secondary wounding experiences. People are also often ignorant about possible economic, social and psychological consequences of trauma.

And example of this might be the person who believes that rape by somebody you’ve had sex with before is not rape at all, or who interprets your PTSD symptoms as “craziness” or “self-pity”, insisting that you should just think more positively and get over it.


One of the social consequences of being victimized is being labelled a victim. Once you are labelled, there is a tendency for others to interpret most, if not all of your emotions and behaviour in light of that label.

Examples of this might include not being given a promotion in your place of work because the boss is aware of your PTSD history; even though you could more than adequately fill the requirements, it’s assumed that you will be too unstable. You might also hear comments about, “Oh, you know she tends to be a bit neurotic about things after what happened”, etc.


Most secondary wounding experiences feel cruel. Therefore it is often difficult to assess whether the secondary wounding arises from a desire to cause pain, or whether it is caused by ignorance, generalization or some other secondary wounding process. In many cases, a mixture of cruelty and some other process is at work as some of the preceding examples illustrate. Sometimes the fact of your PTSD may be used by people you know. In the absence of trauma, they would have found something else to use as a weapon against you.

An example might include somebody who brings the fact of your rape up in front of others because they want to embarrass or humiliate you in some way. What has happened to another board member, being harassed and ridiculed on another site, is an example of secondary wounding by deliberate cruelty along with ignorance.

**To what Matsakis has written, I would add another category of secondary wounding, and I would call it:


This is when somebody insists on you telling him or her every little detail because they are getting a thrill from your trauma. It is also partners who might start to engage in rough sex-play once they find out you were sexually assaulted. This could be coupled with ignorance; “Oh, she must like the rough-stuff” etc. It is the pathetic losers who come onto this site looking to get off.

(I think some survivor’s experiences of legal process have are a good example of secondary wounding which can entail several of the above categories).

Identifying Your Secondary Wounding Experiences

You need a journal for this. In it, list as many secondary wounding experiences as you can remember, including any current ones, one experience to a page. You will need to leave space for analysing and commenting on each experience.

When you have finished, review your list and categorise each experience as denial or disbelief, discounting, generalization, victimizing, ignorance or cruelty etc. Include as many labels as apply, for example a single experience can contain elements of many of these categories.

After you have completed the labelling for each experience, identify your emotional response. Did you have no feeling at all? Did you experience irritation, anger, hurt, disappointment, disgust, desire to retaliate or any other feeling? List as many feelings as apply.

Now take some time to reflect on the process you have just been through. Were you surprised at how many secondary wounding experiences you have endured? Did the labelling process help to ease the pain, or did it make you more furious and sad?

Did any of the secondary wounding experiences ignite your anger, lower your self-esteem, or make you feel hopeless or helpless? In your journal, write more about these particular experiences. Once these feelings are faced, their intensity may be lessened. You will likely never feel neutral in the midst of a secondary wounding experience or when you are remembering one. If you can feel your feelings, you are going to feel angry, sad, powerless, betrayed and a host of other emotions. But that does not mean that you are hopelessly bound to the past and will never feel joy again.

2. Secondary Wounding-Your Attitudes Today

In your journal, do some writing on how your secondary wounding experiences are still affecting your life. More specifically, for each experience, consider whether or not that experience had the following affects:

1.Did it alter your views of your social, vocational and other abilities?

2.Did it change your attitudes towards certain types or groups of people and/or certain government or social institutions?

3. Were your religious or spiritual views affected?

4.Did it affect your family life, friendships, or other close relationships?

5.Did it alter your ability to participate in groups or belong to associations or your attitudes towards the general public?

6.Now look at what you’ve written 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?

Secondary Wounding and your activities

Suppose that one of your worst secondary wounding experiences was being treated like the criminal, rather than the victim in court. Now someone owes you several thousand dollars and in order to get it you need to take that person to court.

If you hadn’t had the experience that you has in court, you would probably have already begun the paperwork for the lawsuit. However, because of your hatred of courts and fear of being once again denied justice, you procrastinate about pursuing the litigation.

At this point, what do you think is in your best interest – avoiding the courtroom with all it’s secondary wounding memories and the risk of repeated victimization, or pursuing the thousands of dollars you are due?

The decision is yours. It may be that if you receive some healing assistance for your secondary wounding experiences, you will be able to tolerate the aversive ness of being in court.

Counselling can assist you in differentiating you past experience with the present situation. And with support, you might be able to manage any PTSD symptoms that emerge as a result of placing yourself back in that setting.

On the other hand, you might decide that you simply can’t handle it. You’d rather do without the money than subject yourself to another courtroom experience. This is not cowardice. Rather, it is a respectable, life preserving decision. At all times, it is very important for you to know and respect your limits, and not be pushed into activities that are emotionally overwhelming or otherwise destructive for you.

Your emotional health comes first, not some inner voice that says you “should” be able to handle anything. This is the same voice that has probably been telling you “you should have been able to go through the trauma and everything that’s happened since without it getting to you. You just aren’t strong enough”.

This “should has no basis is emotional reality. But even after you let go of this unrealistic expectation of yourself, others may still believe in it. They may encourage you to do things you know are not in your best interest, or denigrate you for letting your “fears and neuroses” or “skeletons from the past” control your life.

Close your ears to these voices and listen to your own inner voice – the one that knows what you’ve been through and what you can tolerate.

With hat caution in mind, list the activities that your secondary wounding has taught you to curtail or avoid in your journal. Then for each of them do the following:

1. Ask yourself whether at this particular time in your view (not someone else’s) you can tolerate the activity. What will be the emotional cost? Is it worth it?

Once again the main point is to realize you do have a choice. During the original trauma and the subsequent secondary wounding experiences, you had either no choices or very few, or all the options available were so aversive they were not really choices.

2. For each of the activities you have decided you currently cannot tolerate, or do not feel it’s in your best interest to attempt, consider whether counselling or some other form of assistance might make them more tolerable. Do you want to make the attempt? If you don’t feel you can or want to, you may wish to in the future when you are further along in your healing process.

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I know this an old thread but being a secondary, it scares the hell out of me. First my gf and I have been together for over two years. Three months ago I spoke of our personal relationship with her sister, and I did not feel anything was wrong with that, and did not have any fear that what was said was anything but innocent. Boy was I wrong. Unknowingly I touched on some deep rooted feelings I had no Idea about. A week of tension, pasted before my gf confronted me about what I had said. She let me know that I had broken an unspoken trust she had for me, in keeping our personal life personal. I made my apologies to her, and sister, and vowed it would never happen again. Did things get better from there? Not in the least. I continued to apologize in the coming weeks. I tried to make sense to myself why this affected her so, and why our relationship was being allowed to spiral down hill. Two more weeks passed I had to have answers so I pressed her to know why. It all came flowing out about her rapes 24 years ago. She compared the trust she had for me was broken, just as it was by these young assholes 24 years earlier. I felt like a train hit me. I could not under stand how I could be compared to something so horrific. After more talking that evening, I left telling her again that what was said to her sister was never meant to hurt her in anyway, but if I could not be forgiven we should part ways. If only I would have known what I know now. The next day after searching through web sites I found Pandys. I read all day. I learned that I had been such a prick. I gained so much insight on how she was feeling. If she had only trusted to tell me early on, But that trust was again broken by an ex-husband that later used what she told him against her. I went to her again to let her know I had educated myself, and again with my apologizes. She says she loves me but needs time and space from me, for her to heel. I told her I understand, and take the time she needs, and I would be there when she wants to call. I love her with all my heart but I cant help but think I will never get that call.

If only I had known


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1. Did it alter your views of your social, vocational and other abilities?

I had my boyfriend arrested for Domestic Battery after he assaulted me. His best friend, who is a gay man , spread rumors about me. He said that I was nothing but a jealous bitch . He accompanied my boyfriend to court when I attempted to obtain a restraining order. The Judge implied that I was there only to seek revenge, since several years prior to this incident I filed a restraining order against another individual.The restraining order was denied.

The entire experience was extremely humiliating. The gay man and all of his friends, accompanied by my ex-boyfriend, paraded in front of me at my place of employment, because they knew that I couldn't do anything.

The local Domestic Violence Council offered little support, saying they could not accompany me to court. They have no counseling sessions here- just some poorly run 'peer support' group.

2. Did it change your attitudes towards certain types or groups of people and/or certain government or social institutions?

I was so humiliated by this experience that I eventually dropped the criminal charges. I just could not face another session in court. Again, the Domestic Abuse Council advised me to go and "stand up for my rights"., but they refused to accompany me to court, and had very little to offer in the way of supportive services.

This story has an even worse ending. I eventually moved back in with this man , after I dropped the charges. He continued to abuse me. In his Men's Anger classes, he learned not to hit me. Instead, when he was angry- which was every day- he threw things at me and called me names. I called the police on him twice, but did not have him arrested-mainly due to my financial dependence on him. I actually loved him, but his actions were so demeaning I just grew to hate him.

We eventually split up, and then he continued to stalk me at my place of employment throughout the summer. I really hate this man. He has done a lot of damage to me.

3. Were your religious or spiritual views affected?

I hate to say this, but I really have begun to question God.

Why, when I am trying to do the right thing, did this person just continue to harrass me and stalk me?

I made it clear to him after we broke up that I wanted no further contact with him. I moved to an undisclosed address, but this is a small town and he knew where I worked. He harrassed me all summer by going by my place of employment- honking at me.

4. Did it affect your family life, friendships, or other close relationships?

He was so controlling and abusive of me, I felt cut off from my family. They live in another state, but he never let me call them.

He did not let me attend 12-Step Meetings, accusing me of sleeping with all the men there. If I was late coming home from work or the store, he would accuse me of "walking up and down the street and s---ing everybody's d--k." I once had to report this to the police after an espescially bad episode, and I was so humiliated.

It shames me to think that I would even be involved with this person.

I gave him all the money I made for rent. He spent most of it on drugs. I feel like such a victim and a loser.

5. Did it alter your ability to participate in groups ?

I will never be friends with my ex. He is toxic. He is mean. He has one of those Jeckle/Hyde personalities. He seems very sweet and shy when he is sober. People like this guy. I am having a very difficult time forgiving him, because he was so mean. The stalking just made it that much worse. I feel like I have not been able to get on with my life.

I never go anywhere where I would have a face-to-face encounter with my ex. At this point, I have made a lot of friends, and I have a good support system. . This time I would not hestitate to have him arrested if he harrasses me face-to-face. He has made my life a hell. I do not feel sorry for him.

6. Now look at what you've written 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?"

I need to work on forgiveness.

I am very grateful for this web-site. I felt very alone and isolated until I found Pandora's Aquarium. The Domestic Violence Services in my area are so inadequate.

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My abusive ex-boyfriend is still stalking me.

This has gone on for a year and a half now. He just recently escalated the stalking again, and I was advised to obtain a Restraining Order. The last time I did this my Ex blamed me, his friends blamed me, the Judge blamed me. I can't go through this again. The thought of going through the Court System gave me panic attacks for a week. The Domestic Violence Council here gives lots of advice, but no support.

I have read this article again and again. It has been extremely helpful. My choice for today is to allow him to harrass me rather than subject myself to humiliation in court.

Thanks for being there.

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It's so weird to me that my sister, who endured much of what I went through with the same man, has a "Get over it" attitufe and has NO understanding of my pain and why this still affects me so much. Then again, she doesn't have a lot of insight into her early adult life choices, either. Plus, she became a cop, so she has an excellent outlet for her residual anger, whether she knows it or not.

I am a primary sufferer; she is a secondary wounder...to me.

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Posted (edited)

Secondary wounds hurt so much.

Edited by EVH

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Being a male rape victim of a female rapist (as a component of the domestic violence she subjected me to), I've lost count of the number of secondary wounds I've picked up over the years - even from who were supposedly lobbying against domestic violence and even from some supposed men's rights activists. I've been called "nuts and a liar", been outright mocked, literally laugjed at and was even once told by a woman "awoman can no more rape a man than I can rape an elephant. I wont lie- it deeply and painfully wounds me when it happens. However if those of us who are male rape survivors don't speak up, then how can we change social attitudes- much less get things like female-on-male vaginal rape legally recognosed?

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I'm so sorry for what you've been through and for all the secondary wounds :( I understand you and feel your pain although I'm a female victim. I was working as a interpreter for the police for a while and I met many male rape victims/survivors so i do believe you with my whole heart. Keep reaching out for the help and support you need! We're here to listen and to understand.

Feel free to contact me anytime if you need someone to talk to or to sit with you through the tough times.

Take gentle care!

((bowspearer)) if ok

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the kind words and hugs EVH - when you get to know me, you'll discover that I'll never say no to a hug heh. ((EVH)) Honestly, while I've always viewed male victims having it worse in terms of the system (one day hopefully society and the law will view rape as potentially being as much a possible case of envelopment as of penetration); in terms of the the ordeals we all go through, I've always viewed other male and female survivors as brothers and sisters in a giant family of survivors - who can relate to one another and understand each others' pain, if only in a universal sense (although I'd be lying if I said that the radfem element on some DV groups hadn't sorely tested that belief from time to time lol).

Honestly here's a real kicker for you. I was brutally psychologically abused by primarily female family members from the age of 6 until the age of 29 and taught by my mother for most of that time that her approval by family members was more important to her than my well-being (she had her own child abuse issues). I was sexually abused at my year 10 school camp and my year coordinator hauled me into her office on the following school day, blasted me and compared me to "women who cry rape". Most of my relationships have had been treated horribly.

Four and a half years ago I broke free of an 18 month long, brutally psychologically abusive relationship that involved serial sexual violence where the psychological coercion she used even involved using my child abuse as a weapon.

Now you would think that at the end of all that, I'd swear off women and subject myself to a life of solitude. Yet somehow I reached a point where I realised my past abuse had messed up my radar so to speak- made me seek out toxic people who would treat me in the way I'd been taught I deserved to be treated.

When I realised that, I went against my instincts, met the most wonderful woman with the most beautiful heart and soul who has loved me in a way I never dreamed I could be loved only a few years ago. That was a little over 3 and a half years ago and we've been engaged for just over a year.

She really worries about my secondary woundings when they happen and I know her feeling so helpless about how what I've been through affects me really breaks her heart, but the truth is that even though the scars are there, even though they'll always be there and the triggers will be there to some extent, she's brought me back to life. I know I need a support group like this for the sexual violence I endured (and possibly even one for battered men), but if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am now.

Sorry for derailing this thread that much, but my response kind of sent me off on a tangent.

Edited by bowspearer
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Blessings and safe hug to you bowspearer, thank you for sharing. I am sorry about your experiences and the inequality you have faced in accessing support. Glad to see you posting here on pandys. I feel encouraged that you recognized seeking toxic relationships and have found a beautiful heart partner.

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Posted (edited)

Thank you for this post, Louise, it has just made many of my smaller puzzle pieces make so much sense and I will at some point in the near future be doing the activities.

Edited by AstralRanger

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Wow, I have found this thread very helpful...thank you for the post.

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I wonder if anyone knows of any groups for people abused by medical professionals. I am from Finland originally, but have also lived in the US and the UK for longer periods of time. I have now lived in Finland for the past year and before that I lived in Chicago. I was abused by a doctor at the Oulu University Hospital in Northern Finland when given too much fentanyl after falling off a horse and fracturing four ribs in January this year. I was nearly unconscious and a female doctor (ca 50 years old) asked me disgusting sexual questions in front of 9 people and provoked me to talk about sexual things nobody would ever discuss with any stranger, while I was heavily sedated. Nine people were watching and nobody intervened. Actually on the contrary, two older nurses (a male and a female) urged the female doctor to continue and I was abused even more. I have been truly traumatized by this and have been in trauma therapy for four months now.
I wonder if you know of any support group or of any people with similar situation to mine that I could talk to. I have not received any proper therapy in Finland and a very unprofessional female psychiatrist just almost dismissed my case (6.2.2017) as I was not able to tell her much about what had happened. She pretty much just sent me home. The discussions "therapy" that I have received thus far has not helped at all. I am only given times once in two weeks and during the two week period I can get really down and cannot stop thinking about what happened and how badly I was treated. I know I have the symptoms of PTSD, but it seems that the staff giving me the "therapy" totally dismisses this and pretty much just thinks my abuse isn't such a big deal. Apparently to them the abuse was not that serious as there was no touching ( I have not been able to talk to them about the abuse details either). However, this kind of abuse by medical staff when you are totally helpless (I could not move and I remember that I was told to ...Breathe,...Breathe), I was in a really bad shape at some point, and this really leaves bad scars. The AJC magazine said it really well " Hurt that does not heal"  I know different people take this kind of abuse differently. I was brought up in a very traditional Christian home, thus this kind of sexual abuse when nearly unconscious leaves a lot greater scars compared with people having liberal upbringing. I have no objection to either upbringing, however, medical staff should take into consideration how badly their actions can hurt some people when others might pretty much just dismiss the case. And nobody regardless of their background should need to go through anything like this!!! I personally think anyone going through a thing like this would be hurt in some way. You are supposed to be able trust the people taking care of you when ever you fall ill. 
I would really appreciate any help that anyone could offer as I have noticed that I DO have the symptoms of PTSD and that the symptoms can be quite severe and have lasted for way too long. Talking to other people with similar experiences I am sure would be of great benefit. 
Hopefully you have time to get in touch 
Best Liisa

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Wow... thanks for this post. 

It's been an eye opener for me and also hard to read.   I've retreated and isolated myself from others as a coping method.  This has helped me to think outside the box. 

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Not exactly sure if these following accounts qualify as secondary or primary wounding.  

:trigger: for dv,ca, and sui. I will try to keep details to barest minimum.

When I was 3, after several csa w/penetration, my mom was giving me suppository sedatives (secondary wounding?) to force sleep and drugged lollipops to numb my vocal chords to prevent screaming from nightmares.

When I was 5, after another csa, she began beating me(secondary wounding?). That lasted 6 years.

Age 20, got caught attempting sui, while in the Marines. They denied all care and ignored me....Definitely secondary wounding. I served 6 years, try sui 7 times  during middle 2 years. This was due to ptsd from sa while in the Marines, including being groomed and sa 2X by a predator.

Not sure how marriage qualifies, but 2 years prior and the 18+ years since wedding day, wife has subjected me to most, if not all, forms of dv abuse. But definitely when she victim shamed/blamed me, questioned my manhood and gender orientation, and even blamed me for my own child abuse...secondary wounding! Still in it, but escape plan in progress.

Thank you for starting this thread. I never thought of the damage caused by secondary wounding....as painful or worse than primary. 

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