Friday, November 30, 2012


The greatest mistake loved-ones make in regard to the survivor of childhood abuse and trauma is to hold to the idea that it does not have anything to do with the family, but is only the problem of the one who was hurt. This is no more valid than thinking that a child with Cerebral Palsy will not effect  the family who shares the ill child's home.  The most important thing you can do for your surviving/thriving, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome effected family member is to take some time to learn the long-term (life-long) effects of having been traumatized.   Oftentimes the survivor was singled out among the entire family for abuse so is seen as crazy, overly-sensitive, needy and requiring undo attention or pity.  Many families spend years and decades and sometimes a life-time feeling guilty or blamed and it wears them down with resentment toward the individual who was hurt.  This becomes an ingrained family pattern and the behavior is subconscious on the part of everyone involved.  The survivor is welcome in the family only if she behaves as if she is just fine and needs nothing.  This would be perfectly acceptable if complete recovery from child abuse was possible.  The sad truth is that the effects are life-long in most cases unless the child is rescued from the abusive situation and cared for in the way they deserve prior to adulthood. 

Here's a simple tip ... A way to look at the survivor with welcome and compassion without pity or worrying either way about blame or retribution.  Let's say one child in a family of several children is hurt in an accident that changes that child's entire life.  Maybe he/she lost the use of her limbs or struggled with autism or cerebral palsy...  In these cases the family and loved ones will often meet with specialists and ask questions regarding what the hurt child will need to live as normal a life as possible.  In a family where a child is seriously ill or disabled it is not simply that child's problem. It is a family situation.  This is also true in a situation where a mental illness exists.  The entire family needs care, understanding and participation toward being a healthy and whole environment for each other.  The family members will ask:  What's the long-term prognosis?  What tools, methods, therapies are there to assist this person toward thriving?  What does he/she need from me?  Now-a-days, the family members are likely to  GOOGLE, GOOGLE & GOOGLE again...

It's true that in these families where a child will forever require adjustments to be made that there is an additional burden on the family.  Some families will not feel able to take on that burden and they will give the child into the care of others.  Some families where a child has been debilitated in some way, seek support, therapy and adjust life to accommodate the child and make certain that the child  does not feel they are a burden -- knows they are welcome and that the family members are delighted to have them in their world. 

In situations where the abuse and trauma took place in the childhood home and the abuser was protected the child is often traumatized repeatedly throughout life by ongoing contact with family members.  It's not that these family members want to hurt the survivor.  It's that they do not know what to do.  They are sometimes too ashamed to ask.  Oftentimes the shame associated with being seen as a family that housed a cruel and careless monster of some sort keeps the family from asking how they can be a safe place for their loved one.  If the family members never learn that they too were effected by this family dynamic their lack of awareness about the life-long effects on a child of having grown up afraid and unwelcome in that home results in behavior that triggers a painful and, at times, debilitating response in the survivor.  An adult survivor can heal effectively through therapy, sharing stories, self-care and understanding what happened to them and how it changed them.  If the family members of the survivor find her presence, her story, her desire to be listened to and welcome a burden or a reminder of their own pain or sense of guilt, they will often express an attitude of disdain, discomfort or even try to make the survivor feel they've brought all this on themselves and the family.  The survivor becomes the "black sheep", the "one off" and/or the "trouble-maker." If they ask the survivor to collude with them in their belief the family at large was unaffected the survivor has to deny that she matters in any way.  She sacrifices her own sense of sanity and her own sense she deserves kindness, care and welcome.

It is important and appropriate for survivors of child abuse, trauma, rape, war and/or terror to stand firm in their knowledge that what happened to them was undeserved and in no way their fault.  If the survivor is to be free of self-hatred and the desire to relieve the world of the burden of their existence it sometimes becomes necessary to  remove herself from the people and their voices who would hold her responsible for their guilt, their fear and their pain.

How can you, as my loved one, help?  You can learn what life is like for the adult survivor.  You can say this:  "What are you going through Sweetie?  Is there something you want me to understand? "  You can learn about the survivor's world.  You can bring your knowledge to understanding and respecting her.  You can listen and learn and not judge.  You can have faith in her.  You can give her advice only if she asks...   You can tell her how much it means to you that she has brought her full courage to surviving, thriving and bringing her gifts to this world.

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