Trauma will manifest itself in different ways for different people. Since no two abusive situations are identical, no two survivors are identical, each will react and learn to cope differently, in a way that makes the most sense to them. A child’s reaction to abuse may be very different from an adult’s response. A man’s coping strategies might not work for a woman.
There are symptoms which are far more common than others, which allows a chance for survivors to find healthy ways to cope and work through the trauma of abuse.
Many previous posts have dealt with various effects of abuse. These include (but are not limited to): self injury, substance abuse, impairment of childhood development, eating disorders, heart health, panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and depression. An effect of abuse may also be something as “simple” as feeling unable to trust people or not wanting to watch a certain television program.
Most of these manifest themselves in a detrimental way (i.e. drug addiction or suicidal thoughts); that does not mean they are abnormal! Your mind and body have naturally set up a defense against further hurt and/or a coping mechanism for avoiding or overcoming the present hurt. It’s good that your mind and body are trying to combat the trauma which occurred; just as the body is designed to heal a cut or kill an infection, so it is designed to combat unseen pain. Unfortunately, Neosporin won’t take care of emotional pain. What’s imperative is finding the support and proactive coping mechanisms which will be most helpful (and healthy).
Be wary of the promised self-help quick fixes. For example, well-meaning platitudes while I was in the height of depression were far from helpful. They encouraged me to look within myself so as to “snap out of it” but I had no power to do anything to help myself. Justin Holcomb (article linked below) notes:
“Research shows that self-help statements have been found to be ineffective and even harmful because they may backfire and make some feel worse rather than better. If the positive self-statement does not ‘stick,’ the result is to return to one’s original negative self-perception and hold it more strongly…Our powerlessness to heal ourselves is evident. Grace brings healing to where [we] are harmed.”
Some people may only experience one or two of these effects while others may battle several within their lifetime.
Whatever type of abuse a person has experienced (physical, sexual, mental, verbal, or emotional), psychological trauma is almost guaranteed to be a factor in the recovery process. To be violated – whether through physical or verbal assault – is a deeply personal, painful experience.
Why did you stop eating? Why does your husband have nightmares every night? Why is your wife sleeping so much? Why won’t your child play with his friend next door anymore? Understanding how and why the body reacts to trauma will ultimately help in the healing process.
Yes, it will be a process…as frustrating and discouraging as that might seem. Working through the effects of abusive trauma is like working through the death of a loved one. Many of the effects listed above are identical to what people experience when grieving a family member; grief is a healthy part of the healing process for abuse survivors, too.