The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships
by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D
There are times when someone who has experienced a traumatic event does not immediately realize it. They have been too young to understand the significance, or their mind may have tried to protect them by glossing over the darker spots, or even blocking it out completely. Other times they may be fully aware of the painful event they experienced, yet their subconscious may attempt to process it in ways they do not recognize or understand.
As each person is different, each person’s method of processing trauma is different. If you have experienced a traumatic event, or even just an interaction with another person that has never set right with you, review the list below of symptoms of processing trauma. Consider whether any of them sound familiar, and whether they might have any significance for you.
Symptoms of Trauma
There is a tremendous amount of shame associated with abuse. Particularly as a common abuser tactic is to lay the blame on the victim. The abuser says it is the victim’s fault for doing things to incite the abuser to this behavior – they tell them they are too sexually appealing or infuriating or worthy of mistreatment. Even without this kind of rhetoric, many victims internalize the lesson that they were abused because they deserved it. They think life couldn’t be so unfair that something that horrible would happen unless the person had it coming to them.
This inescapable shame causes some victims to react to their trauma through self-denial. They may buy something they need, such as new clothes for work, but return them, feeling as if they don’t truly need such an “indulgence.” They may also deny themselves other simple pleasures, or even basic necessities, such as groceries, remain at dead-end jobs, hoard money, engage in purging-based disordered eating like bulimia, or abstain from sexual activity.
Many of the body’s reactions to trauma are not visible. You may not even realize the two are related. For instance, you may feel a constant low-level nausea or upset stomach. Carnes gives the example of man who noticed bending from the waist grew easier as time progressed after ending a traumatic marriage, because his back muscles were relaxing.
Alternately, there are many side effects of trauma that victims do recognize, often with such potency that they do whatever they can to shut them out. They may turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, compulsive eating, excessive sleeping, or regimented eating to distract from feelings of depression, anger, sadness, or shame.
Sometimes trauma victims go so far as to actually mentally escape from the trauma. Some victims recall having out-of-body experiences while being abused as children. They may have felt as if they watching it happen from a different perspective or doing something else entirely. They may even dissociate, and block out the experience entirely, coming to after it is over, and having no idea how they got there, or how long it has been since they were fully conscious. Victims who act out compulsively in an attempt to assuage their painful feelings may feel as if they are living a double life. Compartmentalizing the “upstanding citizen” self as separate from the “wild” self.
Some victims unconsciously attempt to recreate the conditions of their abuse in order to “fix” it. A woman raised by an abusive, alcoholic father may marry a succession of abusive, alcoholic men. Each relationship is an attempt to “get it right this time,” and retroactively fix the relationship with her father. She probably does not even realize that what she is doing. Unfortunately, she does not possess the tools necessary to fix this kind of relationship. It is all she has known, so she doesn’t know how to do anything different.
Christian Counseling for Dealing with Trauma
One of the recurring themes of scripture is God’s power for renewal. Revelation 21:5 describes the Lord as seated on a throne and saying, “Behold, I am making all things new.” No matter your situation, it is not beyond God’s power to heal and help you move on.
They will guide you through recognizing what made your experience so traumatic, and how to process that even in a way that allows you to live an enjoyable, satisfying life. A professional Christian counselor will use therapeutic techniques and biblical principles to help you end the cycle of shame, and learn how to process your traumatic experience in a healthy, productive way.
dead-tree-1362662474xNz.JPG, publicdomainpictures.net “Dead Tree” by Karen Arnold; ʺR1109889,jpg,ʺ courtesy of coloredby, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)