PTSD Survivors of Child Abuse and Healing

Adults can recover from PTSD resulting from child abuse.  Some survivors don’t know they have a highly recognizable and treatable anxiety disorder called PTSD ( Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which has been associated with Vietnam Vets, the Holocaust, mass murders, natural disasters, rape, kidnapping, accidents, torture and other extraordinary happenings.We are naturally dependent upon parents as infants and children. Children depend upon parents or guardians for safety. But when that sense of safety is betrayed, coping mechanisms develop such as dissociation. This allows for survival, but later as adults, symptoms such as hyper-vigilance, anxiety and the numbness of feelings permeate, hindering normal relationships. But healing can happen when one is put into a safe environment to explore feelings. Immense feelings of anger and betrayal of the injustice may erupt, profound sadness for a time, but in the end, one can breakthrough and for once live in reality and be happy.

“It is the emotional and psychological setting in which sexual maltreatment occurs, and with whom it has occurred, that makes the difference and causes lasting damage” states an article by the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse. Children’s natural helplessness is turned into terror when abused by a parent. In a normal household when a trauma occurs like a car accident, the parent is there for support, comfort and love. When the source of trauma is within the family, there is an absence of healing. Children learn to pretend they are somewhere else to endure the trauma which is called dissociation. They blame themselves for their parents’ not loving them. They believe that they are not good enough to be loved. Their self-esteem plummets. They freeze feelings.

“When a victim or survivor is disbelieved, shamed, threatened into silence, or when the disclosure is minimized or becomes cause for punishment, the trauma inflicted by willful ignorance compounds the original trauma.” Protective numbing, denial on the child’s part becomes a survival skill. However, as the child grows into an adult, if not dealt with, “it is destined to be re-enacted” in other relationships.

Survivors minimize abuse for years on end until one day a trigger may happen and the psyche is ready to unearth the wounds of yesteryear. Now in a safe place to feel the feelings which may come on as a tidal wave of grief. But when the losses are fully mourned, the trauma losses its power.