WARNING: Graphic Images
- Imagine yourself a young child – boy or girl – perhaps 4-6 years of age. You are innocent, tender. You stand less than 4 feet tall, weigh less than 50 lb…the size of a 17 month old striped bass. Despite that you are struck, slapped, and beaten with a belt. You have bottles thrown at your head, and cigarettes put out on your back. The adults at home alternately rage at you for breathing and forget to feed you.
- Imagine yourself a 13 y.o. girl. You stand just over 5 feet tall, weigh just under 100 lb. Your body has started to change. You are alternately puzzled, proud, and self-conscious about this. Your stepfather has noticed, as well. Assuming he is of average build, he has a 10” height and 95 lb weight advantage over you. And he is a grown man.
Children regularly face off with giants.
Unlike adults, children have no authority; no way to force their will on an adult, and no real way to defend themselves. Children have no training in military tactics, no training in marshall arts. Apart from their own violation, they have no knowledge of seduction.
Impact of Trauma
When the adults whom children love and trust are the ones inflicting harm on them (or on one another), children experience intense physical and emotional reactions.
Broadly speaking, pre-schoolers will feel distress, and overwhelming helplessness in such situations. It is a mistake to assume a young child will not recall traumatic events.
B. School Age Children
School age children may believe they failed to assist a parent against whom violence is perpetrated, as if they could somehow have prevented the harm. Sexual molestation occurs at the highest rate among children in this age category. Easy targets for predators, school age children are likely to feel confusion, guilt, and shame.
Teens have more developed coping skills, and a better (if still rudimentary) understanding of what is taking place when abuse occurs. However, they may mistakenly see themselves as responsible for the abuse. On the positive side, teens may share the experience with one or more close friends. On the negative, they may view violence or self-harm as viable options.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Traumatic experiences at any age effect the brain. An attitude of watchfulness and a strong “startle” response, night terrors, and outbursts of aggression are not uncommon, in the aftermath. Young children may regress, wetting the bed or resuming baby talk. School age children are likely to act the abuse out in play. Teens may fear they are losing their minds.
Bringing the Giants Down
“Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he [David] slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he [Goliath] fell facedown on the ground” (1 Sam. 17: 49).
Among the lingering effects of trauma is the response to conflict. As adults, we retain a conscious or unconscious memory of the child outmatched by his/her opponent. Little wonder that we may be fearful of conflict. In some sense, we still see ourselves as those children.
Thankfully, the brain is highly malleable and capable of healing. Difficult as it may be to take in, we are no longer children at risk for our lives. With the tools at our disposal today and friends by our side, we can finally bring the giants from our childhood down.
For additional information, visit The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), “Understanding Child Traumatic Stress”, http://www.nctsn.org/resources/audiences/parents-caregivers/understanding-child-traumatic-stress
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