Trauma and Abuse
1. What is the difference between trauma and abuse?
There is a difference between abuse and trauma. Abuse happens whenever someone fails to respect the rights and dignity of another. There are many degrees and types of abuse, some minor in nature and some very serious. Verbal abuse (calling someone names and putting them down) is a medium serious form of abuse. Hitting someone (physical abuse) is a very serious form of abuse. You would appear to be being physically, and thus rather seriously, abused. The relationship between abuse and trauma, which refers to a type of injury, is that abuse can lead to trauma. Not everyone who has been abused, becomes traumatized, however.
The word “trauma” has different but related meanings depending on what professionals use it. In medicine, it seems to mean “serious physical injury”. In mental health, the term refers to a serious psychological injury. Since the mind and the body are connected, a psychological injury can cause real physical problems, and a physical injury can cause mental problems.
2. What makes someone abuse another?
Much child physical and psychological abuse is linked to parental frustration, lack of parenting skills, difficulty bonding with children and stress levels. Much child sexual abuse is linked to sexual attraction to children. Child neglect is most often linked to parental drug addiction, mental illness, stressors and difficulty bonding with their children. Domestic violence stems from a feeling of entitlement- on some level, the abuser believes they are allowed to use whatever means necessary to get their way in a relationship. The feeling of entitlement often plays a role in all forms of child abuse.
3. What are the types of abuse?
Physical abuse is intentionally harming, damaging, or causing excessive physical pain to someone (adults are legally allowed to cause a certain amount of physical pain to their children).
When we talk about children, sexual abuse is when an adult or much older child uses a child for their sexual gratification. This includes obvious acts where the adult has physical contact with the child, and also includes deriving sexual gratification from watching a child naked, or watching a child engage in sexual activity. In the context of adults, sexual abuse refers to one adult engaging in sexual activity with another adult who did not or could not consent to the activity.
Psychological/emotional abuse is a pattern of intentionally demeaning, hurting, or isolating the victim, or repeatedly depriving them of affection. It may include things like persistent mockery, name-calling, berating and frightening. It can also include blaming the victim for things they couldn’t possibly control (it’s your fault that I lost my job), threats of violence against them, a family member or a pet, mock execution, and sleep deprivation.
Domestic abuse is characterized by a pattern of controlling and coercive behavior designed to keep one partner frightened and submissive. It may or may not include physical abuse, sexual abuse, and financial abuse, but there will almost definitely be psychological abuse. Contrary to popular belief, domestic violence comes from a belief system. Drugs, alcohol and mental illness don’t change someone’s beliefs, just their actions. When an addict becomes sober, their abuse may become more subtle, less physical, and harder to spot, but it’s unlikely sobriety will change their belief systems or make them stop abusing.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACES) include:
• Emotional abuse • Physical abuse • Sexual abuse • Emotional neglect • Physical neglect • Mother treated violently • Household substance abuse • Household mental illness • Parental separation or divorce • Incarcerated household member.
4. What are the effects of abuse?
Being abused does not necessarily cause psychological or medical
illness to occur. However, being abused does make it much more likely
that one or more psychological or medical illnesses will occur.
Victimized people commonly develop emotional or psychological problems
secondary to their abuse, including anxiety disorders and various forms
of depression. They may develop substance abuse disorders. If abuse has
been very severe, the victim may be traumatized, and may develop a
posttraumatic stress injury such as posttraumatic stress disorder
(PTSD), or acute stress disorder. If abuse has occurred from a very
early age and has been substantial, a personality disorder may occur
(such as borderline, narcissistic, or histrionic personality disorders
or in some cases, a severe dissociative disorder such as dissociative
identity disorder (commonly known as multiple personality disorder).
Sexual disorders may be present. Sex may be experienced as particularly
undesirable, or physically or emotionally painful. Alternatively,
sexual promiscuity may be observed with the increased risk of sexually
transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy that such behavior carries.
Severe abuse can even lead the victim to contemplate suicide or carry
out suicidal impulses. Abuse can result in poor self-esteem, which can
lead to a lack of close and trusting relationships or to body image
issues (particularly for sexual abuse victims), which in turn can
result in eating disorders, which can be seen as victims’ attempts at
self-control in one small part of life when they otherwise feel completely out of control and vulnerable.
It is important to note that abuse alone is not sufficient to create mental disorders. Abuse can be a very strong factor contributing
to their development, however. Developing mental disorders, does not mean that you were necessarily abused, and
being abused does not mean you will develop a mental disorder.
5. How does a history of childhood abuse affect me now?
Adverse childhood experiences increase the chance of social risk factors, mental health issues, substance abuse, intimate partner violence, and adult adoption of risky adult behaviors. All of these can affect parenting in a negative way and perpetuate a continuing exposure to ACEs across generations by transmission of epigenetic changes to the genome.
6. How can I avoid domestic violence?
Knowledge is power. When it comes to preventing domestic abuse, learning to recognize the distinct patterns and behaviors associated with intimate partner violence can be lifesaving. Most abusive partners choose, test, and prime their future victims before they ever lay a hand on them. Learn their tactics, watch for red flags, and always follow your instinct—it serves to protect and guide you in potentially dangerous situations.
Don’t compare. Abuse is abuse, even if you were assaulted but not physically injured, even if you hit back in self-defense, or even if it happened when there was alcohol involved. Abuse is not defined by the severity of injuries or by the number of police reports made. Avoid comparing your experience to that of other people, and instead ask: do you feel safe in your relationship?
You are worthy. Believing yourself to be valuable, capable, and deserving of happiness may help give you the strength to leave a relationship that turns out to be dangerous. When we recognize ourselves as worthy of a healthy, respectful love we can better identify the partnerships that do not reflect that right.
Don’t walk in unless you are willing to walk out. When searching for a romantic match, you must make up your mind beforehand that you are comfortable ending the relationship if your needs are not met. Decide early in the process that you will never be so attached to an outcome that you end up sacrificing your principles or your safety.
Jealousy can be a destroyer. A Trojan horse of relationship abuse, jealousy may first feel like a welcome gift, displaying evidence of a lover’s strong feelings and his/her fear of losing you to another. But the possessiveness of an abusive individual is not about real love, but rather ownership and the assumption of impending betrayal.
Beware of isolation. One control tactic used to separate victims from supporters that might otherwise identify the abuse or assist the victim is isolation, which can be accomplished by physically moving the victim to a remote location, disabling their communication devices, or turning the victim against their connections.
Assess threats. When assessing verbal threats from an abuser, consider context, purpose, ability, and content. As a general rule, the more detailed the threat, the more likely it is to be followed through with. Remember, too, that the absence of threat does not equal safety.
Know if it’s high-risk. Some types of abuse are more highly correlated with intimate partner homicide than others. For example, strangulation, threats with weapons, and sexual abuse are all high-risk markers in a domestic violence situation. Use extra caution when exiting the relationship.
The abuser is not your responsibility. An abuser’s job is made far easier when his victim believes they can stop the downward spiral of violence by being a better partner, fixing the abuser’s many problems, or making excuses for his behavior. It’s not your responsibility to save a damaged partner.
Develop a safety plan. If you have decided to leave an abusive relationship, the most important thing to do is make a personalized safety plan with an experienced advocate. Leaving ushers in the most dangerous time for many victims of abuse, and exiting without preparation can increase the chances that you will have to return out of fear or economic necessity.
Use your resources. Understanding the roles of police, advocates, prosecutors, and judges can help prepare victims for the realities of working with the social service and criminal justice systems. A wide variety of resources exist to support people who are trying to escape domestic abuse, so identify and access your allies before making the final leap to safety.
Create an emotional safety plan. For many victims, leaving does not stop the abuse or the psychological pain that comes with it. Plan with a professional around how to stay safe after the relationship ends, and create an “emotional safety plan” that includes self-care goals and the support of close friends or an experienced therapist.
7. How do I get help or put a stop to the abuse?
Remember you are not alone and that the abuse is not your fault
Call a help-line http://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mentalhealth-hotline-numbers-and-referral-resources/
Go to Womanslaw.org to find state and national help: http://www.womenslaw.org/gethelp.php
Contact a child and family welfare agency http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/extinf.html
Talk to your doctor or other health professional
8. Why do I keep going back to my abuser or want to go back to my abuser?
Believing or hoping they will change and we can help them. This is a biggie for many victims. It is the first big hurdle to overcome if a person is going to leave. Victims love the person they know the abuser can be. We want to help them, we see their struggle in life, and we want to fix the problem in the relationship. We feel we are responsible to help. The victim is kind hearted, giving and empathetic and becomes trapped in these relationships.
When the victim leaves, the abuser goes through sorrows, desperate pleas for forgiveness and endless promises to reform. What we fail to recognize is the extreme emotional and psychological problem these partners have. We are not qualified to help them. What we end up doing, although it’s not what we intend, is enabling the abuser to be what they are. We believe we understand, can help or make a difference, and so we stay or go back. The truth is we become the enabler. We are the one who enables the abuser to be what they are, by accepting and attempting to forgive these abuses over and over. The victim is so deeply involved in the relationship and the desire to help the partner, that we cannot see we are perpetuating the problem. In reality, we reinforce the behavior. Recognizing the fact that we cannot change all this is the first step toward ending the relationship permanently. To give us an idea of whether our abuser is capable and willing to change, check out http://www.hiddenhurt.co.uk/not_changing_abusive_behaviour.html
Children and Single Parenthood. This presents another problem and mental dilemma for victims. Most people want their children to grow up with both parents. This is our traditional belief that a child should know and have two parents, both mother and father. It’s considered a shortcoming or misfortune that a child must grow up without one of these two parent figures. In addition, single parenthood brings with it financial challenges that are overwhelming for many. Everyone wants their children’s needs met – good food, clothing, participating in activities such as sports or social groups and much more. Many abuse victims stay or go back in the hope of providing these things by making a personal sacrifice. They make this personal sacrifice because they cannot see a way to resolve a possible or existing financial problem – a problem that will affect their children’s lives – without the partner.
And too, there is the threat of having the children taken away from them. Many abusers are given custody of their children. An abuser abuses children as well, brings them up to know abuse as a way of life, and perpetuates the violence and abuse by creating another abuser in the child. And yet, our child custody systems fail to see this and assign custodial parenthood to abusers repeatedly. Imagine being an abuse victim and facing the idea that you may have to leave your children alone with an abusive partner as a primary custodian, or in the best of circumstances, allow this person to have visitation with them through court order. Ask someone who’s been through this and they will tell you it traps them into staying or going back.
These children learn to either become abusers themselves, or they learn to choose abusive mates. many children of abusive homes look back and despise the upbringing or the abusive parent. But, inside of them is someone who is conditioned to believe this is “OK”,
Personal guilt and the concept of personal failure. In the beginning, as I stated above, victims of abusive relationships believe they can help make a change. More than just a change, it is a change desired for someone we love. We become entangled and entrapped by this. When we try harder without the desired result, we redouble our efforts and try harder again and again. It is about belief in ourselves, and belief in the powerful goodness of kindness and mercy. Accepting the idea that we cannot change the relationship and the problem the partner has in dealing with others represents a huge personal failure. Here is something we want desperately – to help someone we love and change both our lives and the relationship – and to give this up is not acceptable to us. We don’t want to fail those we love or ourselves.
Added to this is the guilt-laden tactics of the abusive partner. Abusers prey on this. They never miss an opportunity to “lay this in front of” the victim relentlessly. It is part of the cycle; keeping the victim in line by raising doubt about their intentions, using their guilt about the children and their personal intentions. This tactic works all too well on people who are kind, giving and understanding.
Fear of what the partner will do. Many stay or go back out of fear. Here are some examples of these thoughts:
If he/she does “this” now (violence and abuse), what lengths will he go to if I leave?
He/she will deliberately embarrass me, accuse me of being crazy, and accuse me of being an unfit parent.
He/she will turn my family against me. My family doesn’t know what I live with, they only see he/she being generous and kind, I’ve been hiding it from them, there is no way to make them understand.
Women die, they are killed by their abusive mates when they leave. I want to live. I want my children to have a mother. Isn’t living (with anything) better than dying?
He/she is stalking and attacking me, I must go back to protect myself.
The abuse victims go back because they think it might be easier, or safer; their will is broken.
Lack of intervention. : some victim’s families are non-supportive; the legal system is too slow to move on the cases; victims are viewed as “having something wrong with themselves”; people think they’re too busy to get involved. In general, these attribute to one big societal problem – the general public and the legal systems (in most countries) just don’t “get it”. Most people (citizens of any culture) and family members don’t understand the cycle of violence. And because it’s so little understood, the cycle continues and repeats itself over and over again.
9. How can I overcome the effects of abuse and begin to heal?
10. Is there a connection between abuse and drugs or alcohol?
1. Am I an addict?
2. What is withdrawal?
3. What is detox?
4. How can I resist temptation?
5. What drugs are commonly abused?
6. What does alcohol and drugs do to my body?
7. How does addiction affect my family and me?
8. Is Marijuana that bad?
9. How can I break free from drugs or alcohol?
10. Will I relapse?
1. Why all the hype about sugar and salt?
2. How do I read a nutrition label?
3. What are healthy and bad fats?
4. What are vegetables? Proteins? Starch?
5. Which diet is best for me?
6. Am I a healthy weight?
7. How should I lose weight?
8. What is the best exercise for me?
9. I eat out a lot. How can I still eat healthy?
10. I don’t have time to eat healthy or exercise?