Trauma in a Culture of Abuse – Update

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 switched to an abusive ‘protector’ alternate that silences me by telling me I am a nothing, doing nothing, and hopelessly bad at it.

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 well-mannered hypocrisy and hate.

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.

For my next post, I am compiling a list of online resources for people who want to learn more about Information and Psychological Warfare.

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.

Step one is to let yourself see it.

People are hurting in different ways, 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

The Disinformation Warfare Resource List will become a series of posts in a separate category.

A note about comments:

I am not OK with over a hundred thousand dead Americans.

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

If you are a trump supporter, don’t follow or comment on my blog.

Thanks

(c) Rob Goldstein, May 21, 2020

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

DID: Chronic Illness and Envy

A few days ago I told my partner I envy people who can live their lives without DID.

He asked how envy made my life better, and I said, ‘It doesn’t. That’s the point.”

No one wants to admit to feeling envy, yet learning to manage envy is crucial to successfully managing a chronic illness.

These days I struggle with an old demon: raised in a culture of disdain for intelligence, intelligent little boys were beaten for ‘showing off’.

The beatings were especially brutal when they came from my Mother.

I’ve spent most of my life avoiding attention and playing second fiddle.

I’m not afraid of succeeding, I’m afraid to be seen succeeding.

I’m most vulnerable to feelings of envy when I’m struggling.

Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.  Susan Sontag  1978

I’ve always had Dissociative Identity Disorder but I have not always been sick with it.

Prior to my diagnosis in 2009, I had a career, interesting friends, and an active life

One day I woke up and I was permanently too sick to go to work.

I told myself I hated the job, I told myself I’d find another job, I told myself I’d eventually get better, I told myself I brought it on myself, I did not have DID, I was burnt out and needed a rest.

Ten years later, it’s obvious that I’m not going to get well enough to work and I’m getting old, as in elderly.

The difference between fifty-seven and sixty-seven is like the difference between five and fifteen in reverse.

Whose body is this? Whose aches are these?

The problem is acceptance; I know I’m ill and getting old, but I still live in emotional denial.

I still expect myself to be healthy.

Knowing is not accepting and this is at the core of my envy and sense of frustration.

Accepting Envy

Envy is about someone getting ahead of you, someone doing better, someone possessing qualities that you wish you had. You think you are losing the race. You are falling behind. And you are feeling sad, angry, resentful, anxious and you just can’t accept it.  Psychology Today

It’s easier to be angry, or sad, to smother envy with somatic symptoms or to project it onto others.

We don’t want to admit to envy. We see it as a petty, selfish, sour-grapes emotion. So we hide it, we harbor it; we disguise it with claims of unfairness or with character assassination. And we may avoid the people about whom we feel envious. You might think, “I don’t want to be around him because it reminds me that they are doing better than I am doing.” Psychology Today

Finally, who wants to admit to wishing ill on the healthy?

Defusing envy is not as simple as not feeling it

Not letting yourself feel or validate envy makes it more toxic; repressed emotions express themselves in passive aggressive ways such as criticizing others, hostile and cynical comments, shaming and chronically feeling unappreciated.

The first step in defusing envy is acknowledging that it really does suck to be sick: life is already hard, and on top of it, you have a painful illness that saps your strength.

It really does suck to have an illness that interferes with your talents and goals.

The illness ends when you die; it’s a fact you have to accept.

In 2009, I could write a six-hour training presentation in less than a week while working full time.

That’s gone.

In 2009, I could walk for miles without panic attacks.

That’s gone.

In 2009, I thought I would be the clinical director of the agency I worked for by 2019.

That’s gone.

In 2009, I was still a young man.

Today I am old.

Acceptance is a daily practice.

Just for today, I can accept my life as it is, and I will let myself feel joy when others succeed.

Just for today, I can focus on my talents and take pleasure in my substantial accomplishments.

Just for today, I can forgive myself for being human and respect myself for having the courage to discuss my envy.

When are you most vulnerable to envy and how do you cope with it?

Rob Goldstein 2019

 

DID: The ACE Study

A new and profoundly important paradigm for understanding overwhelming emotional pain has emerged over the last few years, with the potential to change the way we conceptualize human suffering across the whole spectrum of mental health difficulties. It is an evidence-based synthesis of findings from trauma studies, attachment theory and neuroscience, which offers new hope for recovery. It also presents a powerful challenge to the biomedical model of psychiatry in that it is based on scientific evidence that substantiates and attests to what many individuals with first-hand experience of mental health problems have always known — that the bad things that happen to you can drive you mad.

A New Paradigm for Understanding Severe Mental Distress

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study revolutionizes the way we think about the body and mind.

The ACE Study settles the question of whether we are shaped by genetics or the environment: we are shaped by both.  Nature Versus Nurture: Where We Are in 2017

The ACE study proves that child abuse causes enduring neurological damage that can affect a person’s health and quality of life throughout the lifespan.

The body of a frightened child floods with hormones and prepares to fight, run, or die.

In less than an instant, the amygdala sends an alarm to the hippocampus, which tells the adrenal glands to release adrenaline.

Adrenaline increases heart rate and breathing, oxygen goes to the muscles and brain, which increases hearing and sharpens eyesight.

Adrenaline wears off and cortisol takes over; cortisol is a longer acting stress hormone designed keep the body alert.

Illustration from Harvard Medical School
Understanding The Stress Response, Harvard Medical School

If a child fears for his life, he may freeze and go numb.

For a prey animal in the wild, numbing is a blessing.

For abuse survivors, it means gaps in memory

During the fight, flight or freeze response the brain inhibits the prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for retrieving memories. 

The memory is there but the brain can’t retrieve it.

A chronically abused child lives in fear which damages the structure and
functioning of a the brain. Harvard University

The toll of chronic fear on physical health includes:

  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Endocrine system dysfunction
  • Autonomic nervous system alterations
  • Sleep/wake cycle disruption
  • Eating disorders

The toll of chronic fear on emotional health includes

The Pyramid of effects of abuse on the lifecycle
Abuse Affects the Life-cycle

It takes nine months for the fetus to become a baby that can survive beyond
the womb.

Between birth and the age of two, we have no words; for the first ten years of our  lives, we are helplessly dependent on our parents and communities for our physical and psychological well being.

Child abuse is a betrayal of unconditional trust.

You don’t just ‘get over it’.

People with dissociative disorders report the highest occurrence of abuse and childhood neglect among all psychiatric disorders. This suggests dissociation is the ultimate reaction to significant trauma. Links between Trauma, PTSD, and Dissociative Disorders

A 2018 review found changes in the structure of the brain in people with DID. These changes are complex and  include decreased limbic activity, increased frontal lobe activity, and changes in communication between these two regions.

An illustration depicting a little boy glaring at his drunken mother, passed out on the floor
Child Abuse Lasts a Lifetime

DID is something done to you, like the rapes and daily beatings.

One must accept what happened and make peace with it.

Acceptance means seeing what might have been and grieving the loss.

Acceptance means letting go of the idea that I brought it on myself, that I am shameful and not good enough, and it means not letting the dismissive arrogance I sometimes encounter gnaw at my soul.

Acceptance means holding abusers accountable for the messes they make.

Acceptance means believing the abuse will end.

I am not completely there.

How do I accept the evil of child abuse when the abuse never ends?

For now, broken but better is the best I can do.

DID: When Everything is a Trigger

Get Your ACE Score

(C)Rob Goldstein 2019

‘Child Abuse Lasts Forever” (C) Rob Goldstein 2019

All other graphics were found online and are used here for educational purposes.

#BraveWrite: A Lifetime

I’ve spent a decade in therapy to recover from an emotionally needy, gaslighting  narcissist, who raised her Jewish Son among abusive, anti-Semitic, fag-bashing racists, some of them pedophiles, who considered themselves good Christians.

Ironic, isn’t it?

I’m the one with the diagnoses.

What have I learned?

I am a human being,

I have a right to be alive.

When the trauma is drawn out over a number of years, dissociation becomes a way of life. Once learned, it is a fixed part of the personality that asserts itself long beyond the original dangers that prompted it.

This is an illustration of the principle that C-PTSD is essentially a learning process gone awry as a consequence of the child developing in a dangerous environment.  Dissociation and C-PTSD


The effects of long-term child abuse last a lifetime.

This post inspired by the #BraveWrite hashtag on Twitter.

Rob Goldstein 2019

“Los Portales’ (c) Rob Goldstein 2016