The Negative Consequences of Abuse and Trauma

The terror of violence in a young child's life may not be expressed at the time, but remain hidden within, perhaps later to emerge in creative works where it may, or may not, make sense.
The terror of violence and abuse in a young child’s life may not be expressed at the time, but remain hidden within, perhaps later to emerge in creative works where it may, or may not, make sense.

Behind the bulk of mental health problems are “really bad, serious things that are disturbing children over a long period of time,” says Dr. Colin Ross, an internationally renowned clinician, researcher, author and lecturer in the field of dissociation and trauma-related disorders.

At his seminar on Trauma Model Therapy in Auckland in 2005, Dr. Ross revealed that during his medical training in the seventies, he was told that incest only happened in one in a million families. In four years of medical school and four years of psychiatry training, he basically had no instructions, lectures, or case studies on child sexual abuse or its consequences.

In 1998, however, psychohistorian, Lloyd DeMause, stated after much research into the history of childhood:

I have found that rather than the incest taboo being universal – as anthropologists claim – it is incest itself that has been universal for most children in most cultures in most times. A childhood more or less free from adult sexual use is in fact a very late historical achievement, limited to a few fortunate children in a few modern nations.

Perhaps it is no wonder that we remain largely in ignorance of its dire impact on huge numbers of lives. I now know that incest and sexual abuse can have a lifelong negative impact on a person’s life, robbing them not only of a chance to find happiness, but subjecting them to a seemingly endless struggle to achieve their potential in life because of the numerous physical and mental health problems they are likely to face as a consequence. What is little known is that childhood sexual abuse can spiritually bankrupt one’s life, creating the sort of desolation and scattered pieces one would find on a battlefield.

Dr. Ross made it clear that just as rape, combat, sexual and physical abuse are high risk factors for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), developing a borderline personality disorder is also a “natural response to trauma.” Sexually abusing a child is especially traumatic, for not only are their boundaries violated and their innocence and trust betrayed, they are reduced to an object for an adult’s sexual gratification. And objectification dehumanises them.

Some mental health care workers have joked that the best thing to do with the intensely difficult and hard-to-handle ‘borderlines’ is to refer them. It is now known that sexual abuse trauma is often the foundation upon which a borderline personality disorder develops. At the end of the seminar Dr. Ross reminded us that “there but for the grace of God go I.”

In the following video, Dr. Colin Ross is interviewed by Corrina Rachel from Psyhetruth about childhood trauma and sexual abuse.

 You might also like to read:

The Hidden Consequences of Child Rape

March 12, 2011
“The amount of sexual abuse that takes place in our country is unacceptable, and even less acceptable is our nation’s sense of apathy,” wrote Dr. Boyce Watkins on his blog this week in response to recent arrests of eighteen men (thirteen adults and five juveniles) in Texas, on charges of gang raping an 11-year-old girl late last year. Read…

PTSD and Its Damaging Impact on Individuals, Families and Communities

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is usually associated with combat. However, after the Vietnam War, when extensive research made its symptoms more widely known, doctors then discovered that women and children had symptoms of PTSD caused by violence and abuse within the so-called safety of their homes. Read…

2 thoughts on “The Negative Consequences of Abuse and Trauma

  • July 12, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Pretty scary to think that people who are supposed to help those with mental illness would LAUGH about and make jokes about borderlines. That says a WHOLE lot about the compassion of the folks who are supposed to help people.

    It’s sucks that someone has to be afraid to get help because of possibly be traumatized in an environment that is supposed to be helpful.

  • July 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    I agree with what you say, Annie, about the prospect of being retraumatised in “an environment that is supposed to be helpful.” Yet not all mental health workers lack the sort of tact or compassion you expect they would bring to the therapeutic process.

    Many health care professionals I have met are very caring. Some, unfortunately, are so overly compassionate and empathetic that it actually is stressful and painful for them to work with borderlines, in which case they see no other option than to refer them. Then there are some who have not had the proper training to work with borderlines and, through their ignorance, can do more harm than good.

    This is why it is critical that people looking for a therapist do some research to find the best match for their particular problems. You need to feel safe with them and in the environment they create. Borderlines especially need to have someone who is nonjudgmental and can offer strong boundaries, respect, and a great deal of patience – not only to deal with the borderline’s particular traumas, but also boundary and abandonment issues caused by the childhood abuse they have suffered.

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