The Complex Trauma Survivor Faces a Lifetime’s Worth of Bullying
Photo Credit: Vortexas32 via Flickr. Creative Commons License.
By Shahida Arabi, M.A., Author
“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood – establishing independence and intimacy – burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships. She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.”
– Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Violence to Political Terror
Complex trauma survivors face a dilemma that very few can fathom: they are forced to confront present-day stressors while attempting to resolve triggers from the past. These layers upon layers of trauma take courage, support and time to unravel. The healing journey of a complex trauma survivor who has several sources of toxic stress is multifaceted. Their day to day reality is filled with tiny terrors embedded within larger cracks in the psychological war zone that is their psyche.
Survivors of bullying and other traumas face a double bind: not only are they oppressed by their peers, they are often oppressed by family members, authority figures and other life circumstances. When bullying is also supplemented with other microaggressions or tumultuous life events, the trauma is undeniably more forceful in its impact. What happens when the child is bullied at both school and the home, both meant to be safe places? What sort of effects linger far beyond childhood, when not only peers but also parental figures simultaneously terrorize the victim? Or what about the impact of chronic, severe bullying – a form of bullying which occurs for years across the child’s entire school career, rather than short-term?