Child abuse as trauma

I’ve never claimed that my childhood was a happy one. When starting my research into the effects of my background, I kept coming across references to Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. But I didn’t bother with it, since I’d “only” had a really lousy childhood; I hadn’t been “traumatized”.

But then a woman whose opinion I very much respect recommended that I read this book. I did, and was astounded. Ms. Herman makes the connection between soldiers, rape victims, and children who suffered long-term psychological abuse. She has even coined a term for the effects of that long-term abuse: Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (also written as “Complex-PTSD” or “C-PTSD”).

The term “comples” is not meant to imply that what soldiers or rape victims suffer is “simple”. The distinction is meant to be in the circumstriction of inducing events. The soldier did not grow up in that war zone; he did not experience that battlefield trauma every day for the first decade or two of his life. The rape victim (assuming we’re not talking about child-molestation) did not grow up in that alley or back seat; she did not experience that assaultive trauma every day for the first decade or two of her life.

On the other hand, children who grew up abused did grow up in that terroristic environment; we did experience that intimate trauma every day for the first decade or two of our lives.

Instead of having a limited traumatic experience to overcome in order to return to our pre-existing mental health, we have little but traumatic experiences, and we have little or nothing healthy to which we can return. The “complex” part of “C-PTSD” is a reference to the thoroughness and duration of our abuse.

Unfortunately, because we never had a secure psychological foundation, the techniques for helping suffers of “regular” PTSD tend not to be effective for us.

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