Perhaps the deepest unfairness about trauma and recovery involves treating others as one has not been treated. I have met a few people who are essentially good with very clear moral awareness yet are plagued with the unfairness of their circumstances. Victims of trauma are deeply familiar with injustice.
Based on my limited training, it seems to me that the barrier in recovering from trauma involves treating others as one was never treated: respectfully. I’ve been intimately involved with several victims of severe trauma since I got back to Australia and I would like to note some common themes:
- Trauma may be experienced as sexual or physical abuse, or may be neglect, abandonment or infantilisation
- Trauma is essentially where the child is not respected by the people they are dependent upon for survival
- Trauma forces the child to adapt to zero boundaries: saying ‘no’ is either ignored or punished
- Trauma results in the child-as-adult having zero boundaries, and who often does not hear or recognise ‘no’ from others or reacts overtly
- Trauma recovery requires the child-as-adult to recognise and accept what was never given them as children: the ‘no’ of boundaries and the awareness of respect necessary to function with boundaries.
Perhaps the deeply unfair position of childhood victims of trauma is clearly communicated by the resentment they exude whenever their needs are not immediately validated. They all demonstrate a common theme of hyper-vigilance where any un-validated need is then used as an indicator that abuse is taking place.
This hyper-focussed drive to ensure they are protecting themselves from abuse places incredible expectations on anyone in their vicinity including their own children, associates and coworkers, even other drivers on the road, and especially intimate partners. Sadly, these expectations may create more abuse, although, to a much lesser degree than that experienced by the victim.
The indicators present for recovery are definitely connected with being respectful, yet how can someone deeply traumatised learn what respect is when their survival mechanisms interfere with this process?
This is where I am focussed right now. I am not sure how someone possessed by self-defence and in the grip of critical survival drives might have the vulnerability to learn something as alien as ‘respect’. It definitely cannot be done within a ‘loose’ relationship where boundaries are naturally blurry, but could happen where the boundaries are expected by both victim and therapist. It must be where the victim feels absolute control and safety and wishes to live without being hyper-focussed. It must be where the victim, on their own terms, wants to stop surviving and to start living.
I hope that everyone who has experienced trauma may reconnect with their own dignity and to establish respect with others.