Tag Archives: PTSD

Chaos

Poor child, Author Pankajauyangoda (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

They are like straw before the wind, and like chaff that a storm carries away” (Job 21: 18).

Often, those of us not raised in dire poverty fail to understand the chaos of that environment.

The electricity is turned off, and homework is not done.  The ceiling falls in, literally.  The grocery bag rips, the eggs smash, and there is no dinner.  Children sleep in the bathtub as their only defense against drive-by shootings.  An intoxicated neighbor sets the house on fire.  An argument over sneakers escalates into a shooting.  Police arrest a parent, and the children go into foster care.

No Safety Nets

There are no safety nets.  There are no margins for error.  What to the rest of us might be an inconvenience, at worst a minor hardship, can be devastating to the poor.  Progress is impossible.  A youthful indiscretion may cost a life.

Is there any wonder that long range consequences are imperfectly understood?  These children have not been in a position to predict from one hour to the next what may befall them.

Disappointed and Discouraged

Children in poverty face constant disappointment, and daily discouragement from the adults around them.  Promises must be broken again and again.  Some of the criticism may actually be an attempt by adults to protect their children against the bias they are expected to face.  Underachievement is perceived as “safer” than success. Continue reading

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Flypaper

Musca domestica – Housefly, Author Nico Westerhof (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

WARNING:  Graphic Images

My father helped uncounted strangers.  He gave directions, fixed tires, delivered groceries, shared tools, shoveled driveways.  He lent money that went unreturned.  He cleared debris, cut down unwanted tree limbs, and cleaned the home of one elderly man for years.

My father, also, molested me.  I have struggled with the scars of that incest my entire life…

People who have just learned of the incest will – after a distressed pause – often ask how it first began…I cannot recall the first time.  I simply do not remember a period when the incest was not a part of my reality…

Certainly I was acting out sexually by the second grade, a sure sign I was being molested.  I knew the basics of sexual intercourse by that point.  My father had conveyed that information in the interest of furthering my education.  So he repeatedly said…

I have no words to convey the horror my father’s assaults produced in me.

Imagine a cool summer’s day.  It is early morning.  You open the screen door and stop out onto the porch, kissed by a soft breeze.  The world is green and new…After a few moments, you turn reluctantly; go back indoors to chores and the real world.

It is only than that you see.  A hoard of flies somehow entered the apartment while the screen door was ajar.  You are at first stunned by their number.  There must be eight or ten.  How can this have happened so quickly?  Then disgust sets in.  Your gorge rises, but there is no relief at hand.  Somehow you have to deal with the situation. Continue reading

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The Sins of the Fathers

“Shipwreck: the sun breaking through the clouds after a storm” by William Joy (1859), Photographer/Source Christie’s Auctions, (PD-Art, PD-Age)

WARNING:  Graphic Images

We close 2020 on a tragic note:  the sexual assault and battery of a newborn by a 14 y.o. boy living in the same Florida foster home [1A].

Assailant Sexualized as a Toddler

The teenage assailant is thought to have been sexualized as a toddler, when his biological mother exposed him to pornography and engaged in sexual activity in his presence.

History of Prior Assaults

“If someone is predatory, they are going to focus in on someone that is vulnerable.  Putting a young child in a situation like that is beyond shocking.”

-Pediatric Neuropsychologist, Thomas Dikel [1B]

The couple who fostered then adopted this boy (the Kleins); the non-profit responsible for overseeing child welfare locally (Kids Central); and the entity providing case management services (The Center) were all aware of the boy’s dangerous proclivities, since he had sexually assaulted other children.

Nonetheless, Kids Central and The Center continued to send foster children to the Kleins’ home. Continue reading

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Nightmares

“Nightmare in a Mirror” by Terry Marks, Source http://www.stuckism.com/GFDL/Marks.html (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

You have a recurring nightmare.  Perhaps you are being chased by something enormous and faceless, something terrifying.  Perhaps the sight of something innocuous in a dream causes you unexplained anguish or despair.

You wake in a cold sweat (or with tears on your pillow), sure there must be something wrong with you.

Symbolic Imagery and PTSD

The language of our dreams can be puzzling.  Images can be confusing, and are often symbolic.

For abuse survivors, nightmares are a frequent symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) [1].  An estimated 71% – 96% of those with PTSD have nightmares.

Short-Term v. Long-Term Memory

Scientists agree that dreams involve the mind’s transfer of short-term memories to long-term storage.

Continue reading

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“How Being Bullied Affects Your Adulthood” by Kate Baggeley

Bullying, Author Dalia098 (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

While the coronavirus has disrupted the normal school year, for some of our children this may actually have come as a relief.

“In American schools, bullying is like the dark cousin to prom, student elections, or football practice:  Maybe you weren’t involved, but you knew that someone, somewhere was.  Five years ago, President Obama spoke against this inevitability at the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.  ‘With big ears and the name that I have, I wasn’t immune.  I didn’t emerge unscathed,’ he said.  ‘But because it’s something that happens a lot, and it’s something that’s always been around, sometimes we’ve turned a blind eye to the problem.”’

We know that we shouldn’t turn a blind eye:  Research shows that bullying is corrosive to children’s mental health and well-being, with consequences ranging from trouble sleeping and skipping school to psychiatric problems, such as depression or psychosis, self-harm, and suicide.

But the damage doesn’t stop there.  You can’t just close the door on these experiences, says Ellen Walser deLara, a family therapist and professor of social work at Syracuse University, who has interviewed more than 800 people age 18 to 65 about the lasting effects of bullying…”

[Continued at:  https://slate.com/technology/2016/06/the-lasting-effects-of-childhood-bullying-are-surprisingly-not-all-detrimental-in-adulthood.html ]

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Shrapnel – Trauma Beliefs

Shrapnel fragments visible on x-ray, Author Hellerhoff (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

WARNING: Graphic Images

The sharp, jagged, metal fragments from an exploding bomb, grenade, or landmine are known as shrapnel.

Shrapnel wounds require special care.  Initially, these are open puncture wounds, with impaled objects so hot that medical personnel are strictly advised to leave them in place. Pressure on shrapnel wounds must be avoided, as this will only cause more damage to surrounding tissues and organs.

After it cools, some shrapnel can be removed surgically [1].  Often, however, surgery would do more harm than good.  There may be hundreds or thousands of small objects.

Over the years, fragments left behind can migrate within the body, making them still harder to find and access.  It is not unusual for shrapnel to remain imbedded for decades [2].

Trauma Beliefs

The same is true for trauma beliefs. When children undergo trauma, they experience strong emotions.  Like scorching metal fragments, these searing emotions highlight the traumatic event.

But children, also, draw conclusions from trauma.  This is their attempt to make sense of the world.  Unfortunately, the conclusions children draw may not be accurate [3].

Since the traumatic event is not fully understood, the child cannot fully process it. Instead, the emotions and faulty conclusions surrounding the trauma remain sharp, jagged, and are re-experienced, again and again.

This happens even after conscious memory of the event has faded.  Like shrapnel, trauma beliefs  remain in the body, and continue to do harm.

False Core Beliefs

Having been abandoned as children, we may fear that others will leave us as adults. Having been abused as children, we may believe ourselves unworthy of love as adults. These core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us may never be vocalized, never questioned.  But they are deeply held.

Trauma beliefs “feel” accurate not because they are, but because we have held them for so long [4].  They “feel” protective, but are actually self-sabotaging [5]. Continue reading

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Vigilance, Part 3 – Physical Abuse

Rib fractures in an infant, secondary to child abuse, Author/Source National Institute of Health (PD as work product of US Dept. of Health and Human Service, a federal agency)

Physical abuse is the form of child abuse most frequently reported by the media and most familiar to the public.  It is, also, the form most frequently fatal.

Children can and do sustain bumps and bruises, in the course of ordinary play.  Physical abuse, however, is deliberate harm by a parent or caregiver.

An abuser may characterize physical abuse as punishment for a perceived infraction.  But such punishment is out of all proportion to the infraction, and severe beyond a child’s capacity to understand or endure it. Continue reading

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War Wounds

Azerbaijani refugee child (1996), Author Ilgar Jafarov (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

“I am blind to beauty for I have seen the ugliness of war,
My heart discard, my soul’s an open sore,
My spirit’s broken, and my body is not well,
For I have seen the smoke and fire
And passed through the gates of hell… ”

– Kevan Lyons, The Poet of Churchill Square

These are grave times.  Terrorism stalks the world, striking without warning or mercy.  I can think of no better analogy for abuse.

Abuse is a conflict in which children’s lives are the battlefield; a conflict in which children go unarmed, yet have war wounds inflicted; a conflict in which children will never be victors.

Under wartime conditions of deprivation and abandonment, the simplest word of encouragement is denied a young heart.  Under wartime conditions of violence and destruction, the most defenseless among us are battered and broken.  Under wartime conditions of rape and pillage, basic sexuality becomes an item of commerce, and a lifelong source of pain.

Little wonder that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — first identified in the combat setting centuries ago — is common among abuse victims, as well. Continue reading

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Long Term

“Sad Boy”, Author Sascha Grosser (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

A new study by the University of Utah confirms that abuse before the age of 5 can continue to have negative consequences decades later [1].

This is no surprise to abuse victims.  We know we cannot simply “snap out” of depression, anxiety, and PTSD despite the well-meaning advice of friends, family, physicians, and strangers alike.  That fact only adds to our sense of isolation.

Researchers found that:

“…those who experienced abuse or neglect early in life consistently were less successful in their social relationships and academic performance during childhood, adolescence and even during adulthood.  The effects of maltreatment did not weaken as the participants got older [2].”

The sad little boy or girl becomes the sad, lonely and/or angry man or woman.  Unfortunately, that anger is often turned inward, becoming another destructive force against which we must battle.

This has nothing to do with will power or self-control, and everything to do with who we were taught to believe we are.  Damaged, deficient, unloved and unlovable — our needs unimportant, our dreams unattainable.  Directly and indirectly, those lessons were driven home until they became part of us.

But the human spirit is amazing.  We somehow survived the onslaught, the dark rain of blows and insults.   Many of us succeeded in the work place.  Some found the internal resources to become artists, writers, and advocates.  Still more became the parents our own parents could not be.

That we continue to wrestle with our demons is no shame.  It is simply part of our reality.

He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength” (Isaiah 40: 29).

[1 and 2]  Science Daily, “Tracking the impact of early abuse and neglect – Study led by university researcher shows negative effects may persist into adulthood”, 1/16/18, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180116222327.htm.

With thanks to Louise Callen

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Rescuing Ourselves

“The Rescue” by John Everett Millais (1855), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (PD-Art l Old-100)

There was finally a point in my teens when I realized that I would never be rescued from sexual molestation [1].

The shock of that revelation was overwhelming…as if all my trauma had been condensed into a single instant.  It felt, at that moment, as if I had been struck in the chest by a sledge hammer.

Trauma Beliefs

Traumatic childhood events (especially those involving a parent) can give rise to false core beliefs [2].  Often, such trauma beliefs are not articulated.  They may never be identified and consciously brought to mind.

But trauma beliefs can be enormously destructive – not only damaging our self-image, but crippling us.

Here are a few versions of such beliefs:  I am stupid; I am ugly; I am unlovable; I do not deserve to be cared for; I must do everything perfectly, or I will be rejected; I should be punished; I will be abandoned by everyone I ever love.

Self-Hatred

Deep inside, I concluded that I was unworthy of rescue, because I would never be the woman my mother was.  I would never be as kind, gentle, or generous as she was.  Most especially, I would never be as vulnerable or petite.  This translated into self-hatred.

That I developed weight issues in high school seemed “proof” of my deficiency.  Clearly, I had an innate flaw that went through to the bone.  So it appeared to me.  I became a perfectionist to offset this.

Acting Out Trauma Beliefs

Weight problems can be a source of torment and discouragement, especially in our culture.

Those of us with problems involving our weight try diets, weight loss programs, and gyms.  We buy expensive exercise equipment, and gadgets guaranteed to change our dimensions.  Some of us even have surgery, and still the weight comes back.

Weight issues are the symptom, not the disease.  Weight issues are a constant source of shame which is why, with some part of ourselves, we cling to them.  They reinforce our trauma beliefs.  That these false core beliefs were laid down so early in our lives gives them added strength.

Perfectionism is likewise a harsh taskmaster.  Perfectionism (another way of acting out trauma beliefs) insures a sense of inadequacy which is the reason it is so tenacious.  The bar is constantly out of reach.

What these two have in common is that they preserve the feelings we had as children.  Those feelings have simply found a new focus. Continue reading

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