Dirty little secret
January 26, 2012 2 Comments
A while ago I went on a conference about trauma and all things related (neurobiology and trauma actually – and yes, I am a geek). There were times when it was interesting and I learned some great things and there were times when I felt like stabbing a fork in my eye. (really chemist turned psychiatrist guy?? Do you think anyone other than other chemists turned psychiatrists can understand you right now?) One of the things rolling around in my brain since I returned is the bits about trauma and PTSD related symptoms and domestic violence. This was not new information for me but it did help put a few pieces together.
I work a lot with domestic violence and recognize just how hard it is to get out. I know of case after case where people have had to plan and struggle for a year before it was safe enough to leave. Leaving is dangerous and people often believe that it is safer, especially for the kids, if they stay. That way they can control the amount of contact between the abusive person and the children and try to minimize the damage. Let’s face it, our courts and in some cases our child protection agencies, do a crappy job of protecting our kids when abusive parents use them as pawns to get back at their former partners.
That being said, the reality is that the most traumatized kids (this is a generalization but there are significant stats to support this) are the ones that come from domestic violent homes. These kids are not necessarily hit. In fact, being hit is not a prerequisite for being traumatized. It’s living in that home environment – the stress, the uncertainty, the lack of safety, the fear, the anxiety, the constant need to be ‘on-guard’ and walking on eggshells, the need to be hyper-vigilant in order to protect yourself or other family members, the guilt that it’s your fault, the fact that you never know when it’s coming, the helplessness when your mom or dad is being hurt on some level – all of it. It can cause damage that in some cases, is very difficult to undo. Research has shown time and time again that living in this environment can actually alter a child’s brain development as compared to a child that has grown up in a safe and stable environment. This is significant on many levels by the way but I’m not going to go into further detail right now.
The pieces that fell into place for me? Step-daughter is struggling quite a bit. After she moved back home, her mom pulled her out of school simply because she was already struggling and knew she wasn’t going to graduate and mom didn’t want to deal with those wonderful automated voice messages that I mentioned in another post everyday(run away! pretend! avoid!). I’ve known for awhile now that mom’s partner is abusive, I just don’t know how much or on what level. He’s prone to angry outbursts, and there have been times that step-daughter has run to my house to escape his wrath. There were times when the clinicians were describing patients and they could have been describing step-daughter. I have never doubted that a good chunk of her issues stem from her home environment but to hear it spelled out like that was eye opening. Yet, no one ever talks about it. We all just pretend that it’s okay when it’s not. It’s like the family’s dirty little secret. As a step-parent, I’m completely powerless to do anything other than keep talking to step-daughter about it. Hopefully it will magically help someday.