Trauma in a Culture of Abuse

6 mins read

In late November, I planned a short break from my blog to watch the impeachment hearings. I listened in shock as witnesses like Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch testified to crimes that included threats on her life.

After the House impeached Trump for extortion, I watched in horror as elected Republican officials used their positions and media access to spread the same smear that Trump demanded of the President of Ukraine.

I felt personally betrayed when the Republican Senate voted to acquit Trump without hearing witnesses.

I went numb with fear and shut down.

When faced with life-threatening circumstances, most mammals shut down and play dead in hopes the predator will go away.

I felt like a five-year-old trapped in a community of violent and corrupt adults. I switched to an abusive “protector” alternate that silences me by telling me I am a nothing, doing nothing, and hopelessly bad at it.

Threatened children must not be seen or heard.


C-PTSD  and Institutional Betrayal

C-PTSD is a cluster of symptoms caused by chronic childhood trauma such as physical assault, sexual assault, food deprivation, sleep deprivation, and threats of violence and death. People with C-PTSD often suffer from feelings of betrayal, defeat, and shame.

Experts believe that C-PTSD results, not just from a single traumatic event or experience, but from extended, chronic exposure to trauma.

It’s the concentration camp, the person in a bomb shelter in Syria, the soldier in war or child suffering sexual or physical abuse. It’s happening to you, or you’re witnessing it.”

Dr. Robert Shulman, Associate Chair of Psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center.

As a child, I felt hopeless as the neighbors and social services that should have stopped my mother’s abuse did nothing or even became part of it.

Betrayal trauma is the systematic abuse by a parent, a trusted leader — one who takes responsibility for decisions that affects people’s lives, or an institutional authority figure, like the President of the United States. Institutional betrayal is potent because it represents a profound and fundamental violation of trust in a necessary dependency relationship. In that sense, it is similar to abuse in close relationships; institutional betrayal can be more harmful than abuse by a stranger. The breach of trust, unreciprocated loyalty, and exposure to retaliation are like a knife in the back.


The Shutdown

I was in the aftermath of lingering flu when the pandemic and shutdowns began; my partner was away, taking care of his mother. 

I’ve spent the shutdown in isolation, triggered, and regressed to the darkest years of my childhood.

I’ve watched the President of the United States murder his citizens and gaslight us into accepting it.

That week in late November, when I watched the impeachment hearings, turned into an agony of months.

Writing this, I found an essay by Thomas Lake. He writes about a world of people who are afraid to touch each other and how it feels to lose the lives we took for granted: life before the trauma of betrayal.

Do you remember who you used to be? Before you were told that anyone could kill you? Before you were conditioned to avoid people the way you might avoid malignant obstacles in a video game? Before your brain rewired itself toward a continual search for the proper angle of evasion, the likely field of airborne dispersion, the space least contaminated by human touch?. . .

All this fear will have lasting consequences. We cannot know what they will be. Last Sunday, we had a visitor, a friend I’d known since childhood. Jessica knew and loved all our children, especially the youngest. Jessica got out of the car and sat on our front steps. We walked outside and stood at a safe distance. The 2-year-old ran toward her. Jessica told her to stay back.

And she looked at me with the saddest eyes ever,’ Jessica told me later. ‘And that broke my heart.’

It hurts to be treated like a monster.”

Thomas Lake

How It Feels to Live in Fear of One Another

There isn’t a rape victim, an abused child, an unjustly imprisoned migrant, a hungry vet, or a homeless schizophrenic who doesn’t know how it hurts to be treated like a monster.

There isn’t an LGBTQ person on this planet who doesn’t know how badly it hurts.

There isn’t a parent who loses a child in a school shooting who doesn’t know how badly it hurts.

We are a nation of traumatized survivors.

Can we stop the abuse, accept that it happened, and heal?

People are hurting in different ways, and we’ve had a rough five months.

I hope everyone is coping and staying as healthy as possible.

I also look forward to hearing about how you’re coping. Visit my blog and let me know.


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