Many Faces of PTSD: Does Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Have a Grip On Your Life?

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What could ever be enough to fill this woman's heart and give her some hope? Within six weeks I thought we were doing extraordinarily well. She was out of the house and living in a battered women's shelter. She had gotten a haircut, some clothes that fit, and she reported that her school -aged child was happy at the shelter.

The four year old looked like he had gained some weight. He had some color in his cheeks as well as a little bag of toys he carried with him now.

Author : Stocker, Susan

Brenda was enrolled in a program to retrain housewives. When she finished that program, they would help her find an apartment and a job. Legal aid would enable her to sever her abusive relationship and hopefully get some child support. Clearly her self-esteem was that of a battered person under the control of an abuser.

She had no car of her own, no independence, no family in the area, and no money she could access. Her husband, a long-distance truck driver, would take her to the grocery store so he could oversee her purchases. When he left on a trip, he'd leave behind the car with an empty gas tank and a twenty for her week's spending.

That, though, was preferable to the irritable iron fist he wielded when he was home. He'd recently beaten the ten year old with his shoe because the boy had given him a disrespectful look. Then he took the four year old out for ice cream.

Brenda had a lot of bruises and breaks, too. She made up stories about the causes of her injuries, as well as the reasons for the older boy's broken arm. She knew the ER doctors didn't believe her, but they let her tell her tales. Her last ER visit was for a dislocated shoulder and a broken nose. Quite a fall. She knew she needed to leave him.

She even wanted to leave. She absolutely astonished me when she actually did. We had worked together to find the resources, but only she could take the action. She was terrified, but she did it. I'm sure my explanation of how Children's Services Board CSB would have to be involved if either boy was harmed again helped her find the strength.

She didn't want to be home with her husband when CSB came knocking on the door. That would have been hard on everyone's bones. For ten weeks, she never missed a therapy appointment. Then she disappeared. I was scared for her. She finally checked in a couple weeks later to tell me that she had called her husband so he could talk to the boys. She thought it was "only fair. This part of the cycle, I was to learn later, is called "the honeymoon phase. Domestic violence can be one of the ways that PTSD presents itself. Typically, the abuser will be a man who has been the victim of childhood abuse, and the abused will be a woman who has been the victim of childhood abuse.

We are not talking about discipline.

Understanding PTSD in veterans

We are talking about abuse. When children are disciplined, they know what they did.

The discipline may be extraordinarily harsh, but the children seem to understand. I couldn't sit for days. Harsh discipline, but still discipline.

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This story is frequently told with a laugh. Abuse, on the other hand, comes out of left field. The abusive story usually begins with the action of the abuser: "He slammed me up against the wall because I didn't give him a morning hug! Discipline is frequently tied to something a child did do. Abuse is frequently tied to something a child didn't do.

The domestic violence abuser will usually, but not always, be a man.

Many Faces of PTSD: Does Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Have a Grip on Your Life?

The abused will usually be a woman. Men tend to act out, and women tend to internalize. Please understand that these are generalizations and stereotypes. All we need to do is look at same sex relationships to see the exceptions. However, generalizations and stereotypes don't make themselves up. They evolve from repeated examples. So, Brenda, a victim of domestic violence, was most likely a victim of childhood sexual abuse who married another victim of childhood abuse, and he took the role of the perpetrator and she took the role of the victim.

Logically, you can't have a perpetrator without a victim or a victim without a perpetrator. And then there is the third role: that of the witness. Sometimes the witnesses are innocent, as in the case of Brenda's children. Sometimes the witnesses are complicit, as in the case of an adult family member. Imagine the mother of the perpetrator, the perpetrator being perhaps the older brother, being also the mother of the victim, who, let's say, was the younger daughter.

This is a scenario which is not infrequent. An all-too -common reaction for a complicit wife, mother, sibling, etc. And innocence. And lack of knowledge. This is actually understandable because some things are too horrible to know or accept.


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But it is intolerable and immoral. We cannot not know what we know, no matter how much we want to. All of this said, we must then conclude that in the cases of PTSD rooted in childhood abuse and neglect, we are dealing with a cycle. This cycle is often intergenerational and inordinately difficult to break. I have said to a number of courageous souls over the years, "Congratulations!

You have done what no one in your family had the strength or insight to do before. You have broken the cycle! The previous five paragraphs were a necessary introduction--the Cliff Notes on how systems or families pass on dysfunction and how PTSD is an all too frequent result. Now, on to Brenda's signs. Brenda came loaded with indicators of PTSD. Most telling was the symptom I have come to believe is the cornerstone of PTSD: shooting oneself in the foot. Many survivors seem absolutely unable to tolerate prosperity.

When things start going well and the stars start aligning for good fortune or serenity, victims often have a great idea. For Brenda the great idea was to be "fair" to her abuser and give him a chance to talk to the kids. I often think if victims were wrestling a snake and had the snake immobilized, they'd start feeling badly that the poor snake hadn't had a chance to bite or strangle.

Their hands would loosen out of pity and a sense of how it has always been - - how we gravitate toward the familiar - - and the rattler would bite and the python would strangle. Now, why victims of abuse react this way is understandable. When you have been bitten or strangled all your life, all you know is being bitten or strangled.

Whatever we have predominately experienced in life becomes our normal, our reality.

PTSD Warning Signs

If we have been fed three healthy meals a day every day of our lives, then when we are left to our own devices, we will eat three healthy meals every day. If our clothes have been laundered and our living room floor vacuumed, we'll just naturally wear clean clothes and walk on clean floors. It's what we know. If, on the other hand, we have been told we are stupid or ugly or incompetent or needy or crazy, we will act like we are all those things and attract people who will treat us as we believe ourselves to be. The abuser repeats the abuse message until, at some point, the message is internalized and the abused person becomes his or her own abuser.

So, Brenda found herself, put herself, and accepted herself in a one-down, "this is as good as it gets" position. She married what she had grown up with--control and abuse. Again, the reason is understandable.