How Can I Find Out About Childhood Traumas?
February 19, 2010 2:33 PM   Subscribe

What and where should I be looking to deal with and help a person who went through severe childhood trauma?

My girlfriend grew up in a house of horrors. Effectively:

1. Her mother has been jealous of her since the day she was born. So, the mother used her as punching bag. By this I mean:
a. Her mother would make up stories about her and get her father to physically discipline her.
b. Her mother would hold her down and thrash her.
c. She has, on more than one occasion, been abandoned on the street, having been kicked out of the car.
d. She used to be locked up without food or water for whole days.
e. Mother and father would constantly berate her and hit her, pull her, etc.

2. Both parents had affairs while she was growing up, she was aware of this and has also caught them more than once. They are still together but there is no relationship. They can't seem to get along for more than 10mins without bickering.

3. She was badly badly bullied at school.

All this happened between the ages of 6-16. She is 29 years old now, remarkably strong, intelligent, good looking and has her life together. Her relationship with her father is better as he seems to have realized the mother was feeding him lies, and he has made amends. Her relationship with her mother is stormy -- but then again, nobody really gets on with her mother who, it seems, has some mental health issues (from my understanding).

Since I've met her, I've tried to be loving and supporting, but I can't help feeling I would understand more of her and her behaviour patterns if I had an idea of how such events change a child's life. So I'm looking for some general information or anything specifically related to the items above.

Thanks very much for your help
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller is an excellent and short read. Don't be tricked by the title. It's about how children develop survival mechanisms in overtly narcissistic family systems, and how those survival mechanisms affect them into adulthood.

I'm interested in others' responses to this question also.
posted by dchrssyr at 2:46 PM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

there are books you could look into - this thread could be a good place to start. also, research on PTSD wouldn't be out of line.

for me, trusting love was really hard - when someone suffers at the hands of a caretaker - security, love, pain, and betrayal get all wrapped up in an icky little package. abuse victims/survivors also tend to learn manipulation tactics taught to them by their abusers. it is often not purposeful, but can be hurtful to their later partners. there's also no guarantee that just because the last 600 days have been easy and drama free that the issues won't pop back up again with nary a warning.

one of the few times i tried therapy my therapist asked me what i thought was different about me having survived sexual abuse as a child - my answer - it's like i have this big blue dot on my forehead. for as long as i remember, it's been there - so asking me what it would be like for it not to be there is an unanswerable question. it just is. so i can't really help you on the how it changed my life.
posted by nadawi at 2:50 PM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

dchrssyr made my point far better than i did - the learned manipulation tactics are survival mechanisms for dealing with fucked up situations. i wasn't trying to blame the victim - just saying it's often part of surviving.
posted by nadawi at 2:51 PM on February 19, 2010

Two books come to mind: Dorie: The Girl Nobody Loved and A Child Called "It": One Child's Courage to Survive.
posted by davcoo at 4:07 PM on February 19, 2010

Except for being locked up without food and water, your gf's story is very familiar to me.

I think you need to communicate with Mr. Jbenben about this.

Go ahead and Memail.

For the record, time and a lot of self-work made it possible for me to live in a happy household with my husband. I am forever unlearning bad habits, working on self-acceptance, working on my little PTSD hair-trigger responses to innocuous stimuli, etc. etc. etc.

Work in progress, I'm a afraid.

I think my husband does well because he's very self-confidant, kind, and doesn't take stuff personally - despite how deeply he loves me. He def focuses on the good and fun stuff, always.

But that's his nature, generally. If it isn't in your nature to always see the bright side (even if your gf can't share in that every second of every day) this might not be a good fit for you long-term. Every time you are nice, a part of her remembers when others weren't. You'll have to be really strong to get to a place where it's more about the two of you, and her childhood is truly in the past.

Nadawi - I know about that sign on the forehead! Guess what? It isn't really there. Promise.
posted by jbenben at 4:07 PM on February 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Philly's Sandra Bloom is the preeminent trauma expert, check out her group's website. I was scheduled to have a training with her this morning and had to miss it and am totally kicking myself in the ass about it.
posted by The Straightener at 7:17 PM on February 19, 2010

Outgrowing the Pain Together is short, simple, and helpful.
posted by batmonkey at 10:15 PM on February 20, 2010

Quick ideas

Do a search on askme for borderline mothers, parents, narcissistic parents, bpd

Ask an insightful friend who has been through a similar situation, with whom you can discuss certain reactions or behaviors of hers

Try a few sessions with a psychologist, who can take you through the mentality and issues involved and work out your feelings about it (more psychoeducation than psychotherapy)

NAMI has workshops, what local resources do they have

When she is calm, ask her
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:08 PM on February 21, 2010

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