Women, Trauma and HIV
November 12, 2015
Table of Contents
Several studies have shown that experiences of trauma are much more common among girls and women living with HIV (HIV+) than among those in the general population. So what is trauma, and what is its relationship with HIV?
Trauma generally refers to a deeply disturbing or distressing experience -- something that involves serious injury or emotional wounding. Trauma can result from a situation, an event, or a series of events that you experience as physically and/or emotionally harmful. A traumatic experience can have long-lasting negative effects on your regular ability to function as well as on your mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
A key thing to understand about trauma is that it is your experience of an event or situation as deeply disturbing that makes it traumatic. Different people will have different experiences of the same event. While some people will find a particular situation traumatic, others may not find it as distressing and not be as affected by it.
Examples of potentially traumatic life experiences include:
There are also some factors that can increase people's vulnerability to trauma. Having recently suffered losses or already being very stressed when a new event occurs can increase the likelihood that you are traumatized by that event. In general, people are more likely to be traumatized if they've been traumatized before. This is especially true if the previous trauma occurred during childhood. When a child's sense of security or safety is threatened, she or he may grow up seeing the world as an unsure, dangerous, and frightening place. This can cause the child to develop emotionally and physically in ways that make it easier for her/him to be traumatized by future situations.
"Everything happened when I was six years old that I lost my mother and then I stayed with my father. I was nine years old; I was being abused by him -- sexually. Well I was being abused until I turned 12 years old.
"We grew up in an alcoholic home and an abusive home. I remember as a child witnessing my mom getting beat up and going to jail and being drunk. It was so normal that, you know, we didn't think nothing of it. That was just a daily part of our life ... So at the age of 12 I started smoking weed. When I was 12 that was also the year my father died, which was very, very hard for me ... I was sexually assaulted by my stepbrother when I was about 12 or 13 as well ...
Most survivors of trauma have some stress-related reactions after a traumatic event. This is normal, and most people feel like themselves again with time. However, some people have stress reactions that do not go away and may even get worse over time. These people may have PTSD. PTSD is a mental health disorder that includes four types of symptoms:
PTSD can be a very disabling disorder, as it can lead to problems with substance abuse, job stability, parenting, and social and familial relationships.
You may be wondering how this topic affects you, especially if you do not have PTSD. It is important to remember that it is our experience of an event that makes it traumatic, and you do not have to have PTSD to suffer from the effects of trauma.
By definition, trauma results in lasting negative effects on a woman's ability to function in the world -- physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and/or spiritually. See if any of these effects ring true for you. Trauma can affect a woman's:
And then after that I came to the United States to live with one of my sisters. And when I was staying with her, I was also being abused by her husband ... So I left. That's when I started drinking -- so bad. Real, real bad ... Then I went to this other city where I started prostituting myself. Because, you know, I needed to survive. That was the only way that I can make it... because I didn't have no spirits at all.
So I got into heavier drugs in high school and I would have lots of sex partners -- I was just trying to find that love in my life and acceptance ... So I would have sex at the drop of a dime ... And along with that came those partners that beat you and want to control you, and I accepted all that 'cause I thought it was love. I thought that men that put their hands on you, if you didn't do that, you didn't love me ...
This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with TheBody.com to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from TheBody.com or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
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