Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: In Relation To Child Abuse Survivors
Rarely do survivors see themselves as so powerful over the good in their own lives. Here, their parent's constant projection has left it's mark. Many survivors, convinced of their inherent worthlessness and inadequacy, look to other people, places and things for salvation. Only when they have the "perfect intimate partner, their dream house, or public recognition for their work" will they be redeemed. Of course, anything so powerful to save their lives might also destroy their lives, which brings the survivor back full circle to his original feeling of powerlessness. Reasponsible for all the pain in the world...he is inept at enjoying his own happiness.
Fantasy, as a coping mechanism can also be a weakness. Too often fantasies become more real than relationships. Survivors may fantasize a lot about what other people think or feel about them.
Trauma influences our ways of organizing in our minds what goes on out in the world. Survivors who have not fared well in life tend to think in sweeping generalities...people are either good or bad, with no gray area in between. Everything is "always" or "never", with no room for "doesn't matter much." In contrast, some survivors have thinking that is highly compartmentalized.
Children simply do not have the cognitive development or life experience for clear thinking in the face of trauma. Their thinking errors reflect their best attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible...when the truth wasn't offered or allowed. A first step to recovery, then, is to examine, challenge, and change these old ways of thinking about trauma.
The goal of sorting through the lies of the mind is to learn to take the abuse less personally, and thereby to feel safer. By looking back, the powerful adult mind can more objectively measure the powerlessness of the traumatized child.
Thinkly clearly may not be the entire answer, but it is an excellent and necessary beginning. Emerson wrote: "It is the oyster who mends its shell with pearls." But, unlike oysters, we are not solitary creatures. We mend one another as well as ourselves. Pearls of wisdom help us to take the next step...to heal in the company of other people, feeling the effects of the trauma while we hold onto our life rafts.
Feelings begin in the body, not in the mind. Many survivors say, "I know what happened wasn't my fault, but I still feel somewhat unlovable and damaged. My self-worth is measured by how other people see me. My head knows that is wrong, but my heart feels differently. Thinking comes much more easily to me...it's still a big risk to feel. If I ever started to cry, I'd cry a river. If I ever felt the terror of it all, I'd disintegrate into nothingness."
Children don't innately know how to repress their spontaneous responses. They have to be taught, and troubled parents are perhaps the best teachers of all. There are three iron-clad rules in the abusive home: Don't talk. Don't trust. Don't feel. To break any of them means risking rejection or punishment.
One of the few predictable aspects of a violent family is the unpredictablity of the parent's responses. Every time the child cries, he gets a different response. Soon he realizes that it is unsafe to cry. After a while, he keeps his feelings to himself and perhaps loathes spontaneity because it causes so much trouble.
Young children offer their feelings to adults as gifts, as their currency of exchange in intimacy. All they can do to be close to adults is to offer their feelings. When their feelings are ignored or rejected as wrong, bad, troublesome, sick, crazy or stupid...they feel rejected. The young mind reasons "since my feelings are unacceptable, I must be unacceptable, too."
Beyond teaching children to recognize and articulate their feelings, parents help children to contain and express feelings constructively. When children do not learn how to do this they may become overwhelmed by them, experiencing them as floods. They may come to fear or loathe their feelings.
Adults from abusive homes can also become pain-avoidant. Survivors attempt to control the people and events around them so that they will never feel pain again.
What is most tragic about pain-avoidant behavior is that it is a defense against something that has already happened and cannot be undone. A survivor cannot live fully in the present until he or she has the past in perspective. Sometimes being preoccupied and defensive about the pain waiting in the future is just a distraction from addressing the real pain in the past.
To be intimate is to risk pain. There are no guanantees. To miss years of loving to avoid the pain of loss is too high a price to pay.