What is complex trauma and complex-PTSD?
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines complex trauma as “children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature.” Simply put, complex trauma is long term, wide range abuse that has long term, wide ranging effects that make recovery, survival, and treatment a difficult process. The results of child abuse are shocking to say the least.
What are the complications of abuse and neglect?
The American Society for the Positive Care of Children shares statistics along with prevention and treatment options for child abuse. The numbers show that child abuse and neglect greatly increase the potential for survivors to engage in risky sexual behavior, petty and violent crime, as well as drug and alcohol abuse.
Why is it so hard to help survivors?
On top of the sometimes risky behaviors and further denial of risky behaviors, complex PTSD comes with a nasty underground complication we will briefly detail. It all comes down to inability to understand of receive “help” from others. All too often, children, and adults who were abused as children have an exceptionally difficult time accepting help or assistance from others. It can be easy to become angry at survivors because it is frustrating to try and help only to be rebuked dozens of times. We want desperately to aid but in a roundabout way, we are going about it wrong.
I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting we never assist or help survivors. Instead, I am going to introduce a different approach and offer some understanding as to why this is so difficult to receive.
From a purely academic sense, “help” is difficult to understand because truly, a survivor has never known help. They have never known what help meant and what it means to be worthy. People who are frequently abused by family or authority figures have their own identity replaced with the feeling that they only exist for the gratification or ignorance of others.
Try to imagine that a teenager has spent 13 years being abused by his parents and/or other family. If you truly think about it, they have been trained either purposefully or indirectly, to assume that all members of their supposed support network are here to harm them. Survivors essentially grow up not even being able to trust those who are supposed to be truly in their corner. After all, if your own family abuses you, who do you feel safe turning to?
Another major concern is the manipulation, coercion, and grooming, that often come with childhood abuse. Children are approached thinking they are being treated, helped, or assisted, only to be harmed. Years of this very problem train the brain to think that all help comes with a severe price that outweighs what they thought they were getting.
Finally, there is the problem of “deserving” help. People have been so poorly treated for so long, it is not uncommon for someone to believe they are not worthy of anything but ugliness.
Now we who genuinely try to assist (professionals, doctors, family, friends, and coworkers) can clearly see that what we are doing is real and true. But take a moment to consider what someone has been through and it’s easy to see why receiving “help” can feel dangerous or unknown.
“What can I do?”
There are many ways to help either a child or adult who is a survivor. One thing to always remember is NEVER PRESSURE a survivor. Help has to be organic, real, and safe.
- Foster a safe space – Make sure to create a space of love and caring before you do anything else
- Attend to basics – Make sure health and immediate threats are cared for above all
- Allow for communication – Let him/her talk if they want to. Be open and listen and do NOT judge
- Accept temporary silence – This is frightening and soul-shattering. It may not be the time to talk yet
- Respect preparedness – Don’t force a child to immediate professional help. Take time to understand his/her pace. Children are far smarter than we sometimes give them credit for
- Explain your intentions to help – But follow with a listening ear
- Ask HOW they want to be helped – This is key. How do the survivor want to be helped?
- Offer support at their pace and distance – Let them know you are there and ready, but at their time and place
For yourself (this IS important)
- Check on yourself – Are YOU ready to hear what is about to be spoken?
- Accept that you are fallible – We are not perfect healers and helpers. Sometimes the best help we give is space and an open door
- Know your limits – Know that in many cases, it is time to let trained professionals take over responsibility IF your loved one is ready and willing
“Help is a difficult concept for survivors of complex-PTSD and child abuse and neglect. However, it does not have to be an impossible concept.