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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:
In Relation To Child Abuse Survivors
(Page 5)

Survivors attempt to flee from feelings about having been abused, from normal reactions to an abnormal situation. Because that situation was life-threatening in the past, some survivors mistakenly believe that to experience those feelings today would also be life-threatening, would bring on an emotional breakdown, a falling apart akin to death. They do not understand that the breakdown has already happened, when their feelings were preempted by shame.

A survivor can afford to look that "death" squarely in the face when he has people who will stand by him, as well as the insight and power he did not have as a child. When it is finally safe enough, the survivor will remember the memories and feel the feelings about the trauma. Such a "thawing out" is a second chance, an emotional reincarnation. Still...the first sensations that have been repressed or avoided all of one's life can feel like a tidal wave.

References to grieving are common among survivors who no longer found feelings to be problematic. They understand and accept their more intense, trama-related feelings as part of a grieving process. They can articulate the many losses inherent in trauma:

* The nurturing and protective adult they the child needs in order to survive has been lost to a neglectful or abusive parent.

* When that trust is repeatedly betrayed, the child eventually loses faith in the goodwill of others. The child comes to expect the worst of people and loses innocence.

* A child who has a violent parent knows how cruel people can be. For him, the disbelief that keeps many people detached from the horror of this world had been obliterated by a daily dose of the unbelievable.

* If the child has had to parent her own needy and controlling parents, then she has lost her childhood.

* Every time a child is hit or molested, he loses control over his body. If chronically violated, he loses a sense of his very self.

* Abuse and neglect rob children of their spontaneity, of the uncensored expression of their feelings.


The first stage of grieving over a trauma is dissociation, the repression of the memory. The survivor goes on with life as if nothing has happened.

When he is ready, the thoughts and feelings return. In response to what has been uncovered, he often feels great anger at the betrayal itself and the injustice and randomness of the violence.

Underneath that anger is a terror and helplessness that is more difficult to experience than the anger. ("Maybe it wasn't as bad as I remember. Maybe I'm just exaggerating.") This can go on for a long time, but with the help of others, the survivor will eventually accept that the trauma was as bad as he knows it was.

Profound sadness follows. This compassionate acceptance of "poor me" and the mourning of the losses that the trauma created eventually lead to resolution.

When the losses engendered by trauma are fully mourned, the trauma loses its power over the survivor. Instead of the emotional breakdown they feared...survivors experience an emotional breakthrough! Completing the grieving process means divorcing the trauma from one's sense of identity and self-worth.

Abuse is something that happened to you...
It is not who you are!

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