A digital recreation of a dream I once had while in wet sheets, in which I saw other versions of me in separate membranes

Trauma in a Culture of Abuse

In late November, I planned a short break from my blog to focus on Trump’s Impeachment.

I listened in shock as witnesses like Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch testified to crimes that included threats on her life.

Screenshot_2020-05-21 Marie Yovanovitch calls Trump's disparaging tweet 'intimidating'

After the House impeached Trump for extortion, I watched in horror as elected Republican officials used their positions, and media access to spread the smear Trump demanded of the President of Ukraine.

Republican Senator threatens to impeach Joe Biden
I felt personally betrayed when the Republican Senate voted to acquit Trump without hearing witnesses.

I went numb with fear and shut down.

When faced with life-threatening circumstances, most mammals shut down and play dead and hope the predator will go away.

I felt like a five-year-old trapped in a community of violent and corrupt adults. I shut down. Threatened children must not be seen or heard.

CPTSD  and Institutional Betrayal

C-PTSD is a cluster of symptoms caused by chronic childhood trauma such as physical assault, sexual assault, food deprivation, sleep deprivation, and threats of violence and death.  People with C-PTSD often suffer from feelings of betrayal, defeat, and shame.

“Instead of a single traumatic event leading to mental and emotional symptoms, complex PTSD is believed to be caused by chronic or prolonged exposure to traumatic experiences. “It’s the concentration camp, the person in a bomb shelter in Syria, the soldier in war or child suffering sexual or physical abuse. It’s happening to you, or you’re witnessing it,” says Dr. Robert Shulman, associate chair of psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center.” US News and World Report

As a child, I felt hopeless as the neighbors and social services that should have stopped my Mother’s abuse did nothing or became part of it.

‘Betrayal Trauma’ is the systematic abuse by a parent, a trusted leader, or an institutional authority figure, like the President and his government.

Institutional betrayal is potent because it represents a profound and fundamental violation of trust in a necessary dependency relationship. In that sense, it is similar to abuse in close relationships – it can be more harmful than abuse by a stranger. The breach of trust, unreciprocated loyalty, and exposure to retaliation are like a knife in the back. The Wiley Online Library

Recovery is finding the will to believe that life is more than a savage facade of nihilist hypocrisy.

The Shutdown

Stay Home
Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

I was in the aftermath of lingering flu when the pandemic and shutdowns began; my partner was away, taking care of his Mother.

I’ve spent the shutdown in isolation, triggered, and regressed to the darkest years of my childhood.

I’ve watched the President of the United States murder his citizens and gaslight us into accepting it.

A week in late November became an agony of months.

Writing this,  I found a recent essay at @CNN by

He writes about a world of people who are afraid to touch each other and how it feels to lose the lives we took for granted: life before the trauma of betrayal:

“Do you remember who you used to be? Before you were told that anyone could kill you? Before you were conditioned to avoid people the way you might avoid malignant obstacles in a video game? Before your brain rewired itself toward a continual search for the proper angle of evasion, the likely field of airborne dispersion, the space least contaminated by human touch?”

All this fear will have lasting consequences. We cannot know what they will be. Last Sunday, we had a visitor, a friend I’d known since childhood. Jessica knew and loved all our children, especially the youngest. Jessica got out of the car and sat on our front steps. We walked outside and stood at a safe distance. The 2-year-old ran toward her. Jessica told her to stay back.
“And she looked at me with the saddest eyes ever,” Jessica told me later. “And that broke my heart.”
It hurts to be treated like a monster.

How it feels to live in fear of each other

There isn’t a rape victim, an abused child, an unjustly imprisoned migrant, a hungry vet, or a homeless schizophrenic who doesn’t know how it hurts to be treated like a monster.

There isn’t an LGBTQ person on this planet who doesn’t know how badly it hurts.

There isn’t a parent who loses a child in a school shooting who doesn’t know
how badly it hurts.

We are a nation of traumatized survivors.

Can we stop the abuse, accept that it happened, and heal?

As I emerge from the ‘freeze,’ I can return to the blog.

Loyal Americans placed their lives and reputations on the line to warn us that we are under attack and on our own; we don’t have to be Agents of Shield to learn a few basic principles of psychological warfare.

People are hurting in different ways, and we’ve had a rough five months.

I hope everyone is coping and staying as healthy as possible.

I look forward to catching up with your blogs.

I also look forward to hearing about how you’re coping.

Update May 23: The focus of Art by Rob Goldstein for the next 164 days is pro-democracy essays and art and articles from advocacy groups like #DemCast.

Screenshot_2020-05-23 Flip The Senate 2020 - DemCast
Graphic by Cris Palomino

Screenshot_2020-05-23 Opinion America’s True Covid Toll Already Exceeds 100,000

You can also find this post on #DemCast

(c) Rob Goldstein, May 21, 2020

This post is dedicated to my friend Scott Bader, who reminded me of why I write.  Thanks, Scott

52 thoughts on “Trauma in a Culture of Abuse

  1. Thanks Robert, that was a very interesting and thought-provoking response! I would agree that psychological abuse is an invisible violence, and very much prevelant in the wide sphere of oppressions. It’s interesting how people in power often disguise pyschological abuse as ‘truth telling’ and ‘logic.’ Also, your insight into class oppression really got me thinking. I don’t think I’ve done enough thinking about that. Any system that undermines the humanity of a group of people most likely acts through psychological means.
    All the best,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was raised in a racist white neighborhood and can attest to the fear it takes to sustain such a delusional sense of entitlement. Anyone who questions white supremacy is a target for violence. A child in a community that will kill it for speaking the truth learns to shut its mouth. This is why homophobia was an institutional norm for most of the history of the modern world: gay men suffered in silence. I think all entrenched systems of oppression are psychological weapons designed to keep people in an arbitrary position of servitude. Thank you again for engaging me on this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really great post Robert, you weaved a lot of things together in this piece. I appreciate you recognizing and discussing institutional betrayal. I’ve never heard of this term before, but I have noted glaring emotionally abusive behavior in the political sphere; gas-lighting, scapegoating, guilt, threats, violent language, etc. And I’ve felt like an increased awareness of abuse would help to denormalize this behavior. An increased awareness of narcissism would be rather relevant at the moment too. I also really appreciate the broad range of trauma that you acknowledged in your ‘How it feels to live in fear of each other’ section.

    I do have a question though. In Dr. Shulman’s explanation of complex PTSD, he doesn’t mention emotional abuse, and this is the second time I’ve noticed this absence in reading about trauma this week. I’m just generally curious, about your thoughts on this.

    Also, I was going to mention that I’d recently reviewed a short documentary called SKIDS, about an alternative trauma-informed school over at my blog: https://bullshitpositivity.com/skids-a-must-watch-documentary/

    I thought you might be interested! However, I should mention that it may be triggering in so far that the kids discuss their own traumatic experiences throughout. But it is also very uplifting to see such a compassionate, trauma-sensitive environment. They’re message to their students is basically “you’re nervous system is a little out of whack, we understand where your behaviors are coming from, and with a safe environment, you can process and thrive.” It’s a really, really beautiful film.

    All the best and looking forward to more,


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading the post and leaving such a thought-provoking comment. I think one of the reasons people in psychiatry leave out psychological abuse in discussions of PTSD is that we live in a psychologically abusive culture that renders the violence invisible. Modern behavioral psychiatry is very much a part of that abuse. Psychiatrists allow their patients to fall into homelessness because there is no economic benefit to challenging the absurd laws that treat mental illnesses as if they are civil rights issues. Can there be a situation more insidiously abusive than asking a chronic schizophrenic whom you know has no insight into his illness if he wants treatment?
      That’s the problem with psychological abuse: it is usually normalized and institutional. Racism is psychologically abusive; the racists I’ve met are all pathologically entitled narcissists.

      Misogyny is psychologically abusive, as is homophobia.

      Our treatment of the poor in the United States is psychologically and physically abusive, as are the for-profit prisons we send them to.

      I think much of what we call emotional or psychological abuse goes un-discussed because it’s invisible in a culture of abuse.

      To change this we need to discuss the class oppression at the heart of it all.

      I hope that answered your question.

      If not, let me know.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Please feel encouraged to check out my recent blog post regarding PTSD awareness day (today, June 27th) or just the overall PTSD awareness month of June! Thank you❤️


  4. Welcome back Rob. I’ve thought of you as I noticed your prolongued absence but knew instinctively how King Covid has this effect on many – beyond the US. I for one love your post and rules, and look forward to future posts. Hugs ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A heartfelt, revealing and informational post, Rob, that touches me in many ways. I hurt for you. I can feel your strength, though, in your ability to use your words here to educate us all in so many parts of life. Politics is an ugly example of the ugly underside of the human experience. I hope that you don’t let it thwart you in seeing the upside – the beauty and kindness and light in so many people. The devils are many, but the “good guys” – those of us who don’t have to stroke our ego to make us feel good – there are even more of us. Search for them. It won’t be hard- because you’re one of the good guys, for sure.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I’m so sorry that this was/is all so triggering, Robert. I’m not surprised though. This is so unbelievably disorienting and few can turn a blind eye to the depth of suffering. Except for Trump and his minions who approach this pandemic with inhuman callousness. I hope that some Republicans are having “buyers’ remorse” about allowing this monstrous president to kill so many people with his lies, selfishness, and incompetence. I have cocooned, waiting for November and hoping that between November and January, our country will survive an intensification of evil.

    There, did I cheer you up?! My heart goes out to you, my friend. Be gentle, be strong. Know that you are loved. Sending lightness, peace, and hugs. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Diana. My time away wasn’t wasted because I’m coming back with a different perspective and a renewed sense of purpose. I’m curious to see where it will go. I am always cheered up when I see a comment from you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Welcome back friend! Love this post! It makes lots of sense! I hope he isn’t our president again! He’s the worst president we’ve ever had. Stay safe and healthy! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, Rob, it’s so good to see you back. I’ve missed you and your insightful posts. The scenario you quoted about Jessica and the two-year-old happened to my friend whose grandson is also two years old. He was running to hug his granddad who has to self-isolate as he’s on chemo and had to be stopped. My friend was heartbroken – and how do you explain to a child why his granddad can’t pick up and cuddle him like he always did? I look forward to your next post. So glad you are back. Stay safe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve missed you, Mary. Thank you for your comment. I found the scenario in the @CNN opinion piece emotionally moving and revealing. I hope everyone who is just discovering how awful it feels to be treated like monsters remembers the awfulness when the time comes to vote for universal healthcare and increased funding for low income housing. I’m looking forward to catching up with your blog, Mary. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi, Rob. It’s good to see you back. You are not alone in the anxiety caused by the man with the orange hair. It frightens me that so many people are blind to the evil that emanates from him. Take care of yourself and stay well and safe. We can only control our very small worlds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jan and thank you for your comment. Congratulations on your new book! 🙂 Why do people seem blind to the evil? I think the constant barrage of attacks on our sense of decency causes us to question what’s real. Do you think 100,000 preventable deaths is an acceptable outcome of our president’s refusal to act? He thinks it is when he says it our pundits are so shocked they repeat repeats what trump wants us to think, The more an idea is repeated the more likely it is to go on our internal menu of options for reacting to the trauma.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for this post, Rob. I have been feeling despondent over the whole Trump thing, and I’m not even American. Perhaps it is related to PTSD – I just feel as if we’re losing our caring and compassion – no humanity. Nice to have you back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks foir your comment. You’re not alone, and yes, I think it is PTSD. It feels like we’re trapped in a global illusion created by an onslaught of psychological abuse. There is a way out, but jhow do hundreds of millions of abuse victims tell the abusers to get the hell out of their lives? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m happy to see you posting again and educating. I do worry for the kids and what they will have to deal with.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I’m glad to see you posting again, Rob. I hope to see your creative talents reemerge, but I appreciate your concern for and your efforts to address these very real, often unseen and misunderstood issues.

    Take care.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Oh, my dear friend, You came back after your break (which I have not the feeling if it were short!) and hit the point. It is truly a sad and dangerous situation all over the world. We must be highly aware, especially of our children.
    Anyway, happy to see you come back and take care 💖👍🙏

    Liked by 2 people

Comments are closed.