Trauma is a distressing experience that is above and beyond the person's ability to control. It may be human related which is intentional or non-intentional such as sexual, emotional, physical abuse or neglect or it is non-human related such as natural disasters. One event is traumatic however repeated events such as ongoing sexual, emotional or physical abuse is complex trauma. The traumatic event can be physically and psychologically distressing.
Trauma symptoms can range from feeling safe to complex post traumatic stress disorders. Therefore, not all people who have been through trauma need treatment. However, the earlier the treatment the better.
Treatment can help improve traumatic symptoms such as lack of concentration, hyperactivity, impulsive behaviour, oppositional behaviour, dissociaiton, lack of self-esteem, flashback of the traumatic event through intrusive memories, negative thinking, feeling the world is unsafe, unhealthy physical symptoms, lack of trust in others and more. Therefore, the traumatic event if left untreated can continue to effect the person's life.
While a person's sense of self can become shattered, through the the right support can heal and rebuild. If left untreated, the symptoms may harm the survivor and those around through aggression, anger, anxiety, dissociation and an inability to live a full and healthy life.
A longitudinal, epidemiological study of over 17,000 adults by American companies Kaiser Permanent and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention studied adverse childhood experiences (ACE) otherwise known as childhood trauma. Participants were recruited between 1995 and 1997 and continue to be monitored to measure mortality and morbidity rates.
Participants completed surveys to indicate the number of adverse childhood experiences they experienced when young, which included:
The study found that adults who have experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences had 4 to 12 fold increased health risk of alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and suicide attempts. The more categories of ACE a person had been through, the more health risk factors and other risks in later life they encountered. Moreover ACE was common as approximately two-thirds of participants reported at least one ACE and 87% of those experienced more than one.
The above list is not exhaustive but provides some risk factors that can occur when a child has unhealthy life experiences. The study indicates the value of ensuring a healthy environment for children as it creates a healthier society.
The study sends an important message of what adversity when young can do when the child grows up, as well as the value of ensuring a healthy environment when raising children.
Below is the pyramid that illustrates how adverse childhood experiences influences health and lifestyle risks across the lifespan.
On a last note, I have noticed there are many online quizzes that help measure the amount of your ACE and your risk factors you may experience later in life. I would not endorse any as they may cause you unnecessary worries as there are many other factors that need to be considered, such as how you have coped when growing up (e.g., getting help or social support), and other positive life experiences which can help you build resilience.
Therefore, even though you may have been through adverse life experiences when young, you are not doomed to many risk factors. The support you received is key to a healthy life trajectory. Trauma-informed therapies are one way toward a healthy lifestyle after adverse childhood experiences.
Source: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about.html
Felitti, Vincent J et al (1998). Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine , 14(4 ), 245 - 258.
I have been reading a book called "Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane)" and decided to share some insights I have learned from the book as believe it is an important message to spread. The book is authored by Gavin De Becker, who himself experienced abuse from his own mother when he was a child and now works to help others identify predators and abusive people to prevent harm.
People who do abuse, usually come from abusive families or have been abused in some way themselves. However as you know, some use their experience to help others prevent abuse such as the author Gavin.
Gavin discusses the "survival signals" that will help identify predators. These include:
I will use the pronouns his/her because even though it is mostly males who abuse, it is also important to be aware that females can also abuse others, such as it was Gavin's drug addicted mother who used to bash all her children for hours at a time.
Forced teaming is when the predator will use the word "we", "both of us", or "we're a team" in his/her conversations. If this happens when you just met someone then be aware that it is a sign of grooming.
Charm and niceness is used as a strategy to again groom the parent/caregiver and or child to his/her web of deceit. Gavin says that if the person comes across as too nice, then it is probably too good to be true. The person will be nice to initiate a social interaction, but once he/she develops trust, then it will transform into abusive behavior where boundaries will be violated.
Too many details will be provided by the predator to again continue the social interaction and also gain further information of the person they want to abuse. Gavin mentions that when people are deceitful, they will give too many details to assume honesty, however an honest person won't need to include so much detail because of their sincerity. Too many details may include what his/her own child has as a pet, what type of pet, his/her child's name, where he or she goes to school, etc. The predator may not even have a child, but will mention this to build rapport and trust.
Typecasting is what predators do to make the parent/caregiver and/or child feel insecure and let the child into his/her own care. For example, he/she may say that the parent/caregiver is overprotective, so the parent/caregiver will want to prove he/she is not and let the child spend time with the predator.
Loan-sharking is when the predator offers to help the parent/caregiver, but expects more in return. For example, the predator will come visit the parents, befriend them, offer to do the gardening, shopping or spend time with them and in return may ask to spend alone time with the child.
The unsolicited promise is when the predator provides an empty promise to gain trust. Gavin says to trust your intuition of what the person says, and if it doesn't feel right, then it probably is not right.
Discounting the word "no" is when the predator will not hear the word no. The predator will keep following and asking in a variety of ways, even though you said no.
An example Gavin provides is when a parent was shopping with her young son in a busy market. The predator noticed that the boy could not be bothered shopping with his mum (predator noticed vulnerability here) so approached them to offer to spend time with the boy while the mother shopped (unsolicited promise and loan sharking). Surprised at the offer of leaving her son with a stranger, the predator kept asking, the mother kept saying no, but in the meantime the predator kept mentioning his own son, his sons favourite pet (too many details and discounting the word no), said she was probably overprotective (typecasting), often used the word "we" (forced-teaming), was too nice, and promised to bring him back (unsolicited promise), while the mother shopped in peace (loan sharking). While the mother thought this man was crazy with his suggestion, her attention went to shoes she liked. At the same time the predator took her son away because the boy started to gain trust in this man who had a son his own age. The mother noticed her son missing, but her son and the predator was too far for her to catch them. They disappeared out of her sight. She never saw her son again.
Gavin continually stresses to listen to your intuition to identify a predator. If somebody does not feel right, then leave without a thought. Intuition and identifying the signals to survive is what can save you and your child/children.
Gavin also says to keep your child safe, tell them to go to a nearest woman if they feel there is danger rather than tell them to go to a nearest police station (as the closest one may be too far) or to a nearest male (as most predators are mainly men). Also females are known to be nurturing and therefore mostly likely to spend time helping. Also, teach your child how to approach safe strangers so they can learn what is safe and not safe and how to get help. If they learn stranger danger, then seeking help may be too difficult if every body is considered dangerous. For example a mother would ask her son to approach a stranger and ask for the time. One day he did need help, and was able to identify a safe person and ask for help.
On a last note, even though children who have experienced violence or have been abused will most likely become violent or abusive such as controlling, the experience can actually help them use their adversity into becoming successful. It is important that when you see a child who is rough on the outside, that they actually need love to be filled on the inside. In summary, look beyond what you see, empathise with them, help them identify where their behaviour is coming from (their past experiences) and that they can become more than what they have learned as a child. As Gavin says "You and I can give that same gift (help them learn that their violent and/or abusive past can teach them how to be better and may even give them knowledge to teach others how not to behave) to abused children, children who are not, contrary to popular belief, destined to become violent adults. If we show them that they are the residents of their homes and not the architects, then where they are needn't limit where they go". Teaching them that it was not their fault the violence occurred, will help them learn they did not cause the unhealthy behaviour, but can learn from the experience to become a better person.
Learning about healthy relationship with self and others is conditioned from past experiences, meaning that parents and other caregivers can unconsciously demonstrate to people they care for about being anxious, disorganised (wanting to be close, but move away due to fear) or avoid relationships. In turn, the person (such as you) may then meet a partner or friends that support and maintain the unhealthy style (e.g., if you are submissive your partner will be controlling). Therefore the style can last for generations. It is important to be the change so you can then demonstrate to people you care about (and work with) about how to treat yourself and others well.
Information on latest research and strategies to improve mental health, trauma symptoms and trauma-informed care for children, young people and adults.