Coping Mechanisms for Survivors of Childhood Trauma

survivors of child abuse

How Do Survivors Of Child Abuse Cope?

In my last post I mentioned it might be useful to look at some coping mechanisms one may wish to make use of in the recovery stage from childhood trauma and it is to some of these that I now turn.

There are two main types of coping mechanisms:

1) Those which are helpful in the short-term, but unhealthy in the long-term.

2) Those which are useful in the long-term (but can take more effort and discipline).

Examples of the first include: drinking too much, use of illicit drugs, gambling, over-eating and taking anger out on others (and, almost always, later regretting it).

Examples of the second are: going for a walk, talking things over with a friend, having a relaxing bath or listening to music.

It should be pointed out that the strategies in the first category tend to leave the person with a lower sense of self-worth over time whereas the opposite tends to be the case with the kinds of strategies mentioned in the second category.

The key is to gradually reduce the use of the coping strategies in category one and gradually increase the use of the coping strategies in category two. This can take time.

BREATHING EXERCISES:

Another coping strategy is very simple but very effective (when I first learned this one I was dubious that something so simple could help and was surprised when it did) is to learn ‘controlled breathing’.

Under stress, we tend to HYPERVENTILATE (this refers to the type of breathing which is rapid and shallow) which has the physiological (and indeed psychological) effect of making us feel much more anxious. CONTROLLED BREATHING, on the other hand (breathing DEEPLY, GENTLY and EVENLY THROUGH THE NOSE) has the physiological (and, again, psychological) effect of calming us down. It is recommended by experts that with controlled breathing we should take 8-10 breaths per minute (breathing in AND out equates to ONE breath). With pratise, this skill can become automatic.

FORMING SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIPS:

Survivors of childhood trauma often find it difficult to form lasting relationships in adulthood (sometimes related to anger-management issues, volatility, inability to trust others and other problems). However, those who can form such relationships tend to have a much better outcome.

My next article will look at ways to help overcome difficulties in building and sustaining relationships (click here to view).

You may also wish to read my article :  CHILDHOOD TRAUMA LEADING TO PSYCHOTIC AND IMMATURE DEFENSE MECHANISMS.

David Hosier. BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma: An Analysis of Blame.

When we are children, if someone treats us badly, we attempt to understand why. But in trying to understand, the child’s logic is very often flawed and s/he falsely deduces s/he is to blame for it. The child’s flawed logic may flow similarly to this:

‘Someone is hurting me…punishment only happens to bad children…that means I must be bad…therefore I am to blame for this happening…it is my own fault, there’s something wrong with me.’ THIS CAN OCCUR ON AN INSIDUOUS, UNCONSCIOUS LEVEL.

For this reason, many individuals who have survived trauma spend their adult lives feeling deeply guilty. Often, too, the individual will feel deeply unworthy and may be filled with a strong sense of self-loathing.

It is important to realize such feelings have been ‘programmed’ in through the abuse and are absolutely not a true and accurate reflection of the person who suffers them.

THE NECESSITY TO STOP BLAMING ONESELF:

Although stopping blaming oneself is a very important step and obviously extremely beneficial to one’s sense of self-worth and peace of mind, it can be difficult and challenging. For example, one may have led a life without looking for joy, success or close relationships because ONE FELT ONE DIDN’T DESERVE SUCH THINGS. Seeing things in a new way, and the realization one isn’t a bad person or to blame for the childhood trauma and had , in fact, every right to live an enjoyable life, may cause the individual to feel overwhelmed by a sense of GRIEF for all the wasted years.

Another possibility is that the realization one isn’t to blame will sometimes cause this blame, sometimes in a very intense way, to be turned on those who are perceived to be responsible (such as carers or parents).

Letting go of self-blame, then, whilst necessary, can in itself be stressful. However, we can use coping mechanisms to help us to cope with such stress (click here to read about coping mechanisms).

Stop Self Blame | Self Hypnosis Downloads

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

What Are The Negative Effecrs Of Childhood Trauma?

 

 

One thing from the research is clear: the experience of childhood trauma makes it more likely the individual will suffer problems as an adult. Abuse does not, though, necessarily lead to severe problems, but makes a person more VULNERABLE to them in later life.

THE MORE SEVERE AND REPEATED THE ABUSE THE MORE LIKELY THE INDIVIDUAL WILL DEVELOP PROBLEMS LATER.

However, if the child also has good experiences in childhood this can serve to build up RESILIENCE, diminishing the negative effects of abuse.

For resilience to develop, it is particularly important that the child does not blame him or herself for the abuse.

COMMON NEGATIVE EFFECTS RESULTING FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA:

Survivors of childhood abuse are much more likely to hold an array of negative beliefs. Their view of themselves and their general outlook tend to be negative. British Psychologist Professor Jehu summarized the kinds of negative beliefs held:

 

BELIEFS ABOUT SELF:

  • I am unusual / odd / weird
  • I am bad
  • I am worthless
  • I am to blame

BELIEFS ABOUT OTHERS:

  • Others are untrustworthy
  • Others will reject me

BELIEFS ABOUT THE FUTURE:

THE EFFECTS OF ABUSE ON THINKING PROCESSES:

Research on this has led to two main findings:

1) Those who have been abused tend to DETACH (or ‘space/zone out’) more than the average person. This is known as DISSOCIATION. It can involve cutting off from emotions or feeling ‘unreal’. Sometimes, if the original trauma was especially adverse and distressing, it might be REPRESSED (‘blanked out’ from memory). READ MORE ABOUT TRAUMA AND MEMORY BY CLICKING HERE.

Survivors are sometimes driven by their pain to INTENTIONALLY dissociate by:

2) Survivors of abuse are much more sensitive to abuse-related triggers. This is a kind of defense mechanism: by being hyper-alert to possible danger, the person is more able to protect him or herself. However, if as an adult there is much lower risk, this oversensitivity can severely interfere with the person’s quality of life.

THERAPY :

COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY is an evidence-based therapy that research suggests can help us to overcome erroneous negative beliefs.

For those who have suffered such serious childhood trauma that they go on to develop borderline personality disorder, dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), developed by Marsha Linehan, is often recommended, as is EMDR.

 

RESOURCE :

Overcome Being Unloved As A Child | Self Hypnosis Downloads

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).