how might you cope with childhood trauma?
August 10, 2012 1:12 AM   Subscribe

How might you cope, if you were traumatized as a child by something you saw...?


suppose you faced a scenario like this. What would you do about it?

You're a pre-teen kid. You see on TV, in a TV movie, a scene of someone being hanged. This bothers you - it fills you with deep anxiety and horror, badly.

How bad? Well, for the next few decades of your life, whenever you see images of hanging, or read or hear about hanging in print, etc. you are likewise filled with anxiety. You actively avoid reading about such things, seeing such images or watching such videos, if there is hanging involved in any way.

In fact, you find that lately, probably every few days or perhaps even every day, the original troubling scenes you saw in that original movie go through your thoughts. Remember this is decades later.

Also troubling, recently your own kid happened to come across some kind of reference to hanging. Your kid, perhaps troubled like you were, asks if hanging is real, do they really do that to people? You give a noncomittal response, you don't know really if they still do that or not.

So what might you do, about your own phobia? The trouble is deep enough that you can't even bring yourself to talk about it openly, either in person or anonymously.

For that matter, what about your kid? Just let it pass, and hope the kid forgets it (kid doesn't seem to be as worked up as you are) or try to say... what? You yourself didn't seem to get any comfort over the years, what do you offer?
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd try not to make it a thing for anyone else, but go and talk to someone about it.
posted by devnull at 1:17 AM on August 10, 2012

I think, for the benefit of your child, that you go and talk to a professional and get advice from them as to how to handle it, specifically with your child's health in mind.
posted by heyjude at 1:23 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be great for dealing with phobias. If you can't bring yourself to go to a therapist, the self-guided workbook Mastering Your Fears and Phobias might help. I'm sorry you're having such trouble with this.

Your child is not going to think of this every day. Millions of people see films and TV shows with images of hanging and don't develop a phobia about it. They showed Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge in my school at least once a year, and none of us ever developed a hanging phobia as far as I know (and we played plenty games of Hangman and so on, which freaked exactly nobody out). The chances of your child developing the same intrusive phobia are probably about the same as the chances of you both getting struck by lightning!

I would also seriously think about getting evaluated for OCD of the "intrusive thoughts" type. I had a bunch of phobias that I addressed with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but I never thought of them until I encountered them "in the wild," so to speak, and I think that's generally the norm for most people with phobias. Thinking about hanging every day seems a bit unusual, particularly if you're not encountering any imagery relating to hanging.

Sorry you're having these concerns, and best of luck to you in resolving them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:25 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do want to make clear that I'm not trying to mock or diminish your phobia by pointing out that it seems pretty rare and specific. One of my phobias was equally off the beaten track; phobias can crystallize all kinds of things.

But your child is so vanishingly unlikely to get the same extremely specific phobia that you have. They would most likely have been equally upset by images of an electric chair, gas chamber, or lethal injection, because most people find all of those images equally upsetting with hanging. Because executions are scary, no matter what method is used.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:27 AM on August 10, 2012

Can't speak to the child-repeating-it scenario, but I've dealt with this sort of thing affecting myself: when I was a kid, there was an episode of a TV western about a former gunslinger. Another character (his wife?) decided to stop him from ever participating in another gunfight, so while the guy was asleep, she came in and purposely shot him through the palms of his hands, permanently disabling them.

This was a good 45-50 years ago, but it's only in the last decade or so that I've finally been able to sleep without tucking my hands tightly under my head to 'protect' them, even when I've been the only person in the house!
posted by easily confused at 2:40 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

It might give you some kind of comfort to speak out loud about this phobia to people who you know and love (probably not in too much detail to your kid, beyond a quick explanation that this particular subject gives you the major creeps) .

It's not a character flaw when you're severely affected by something that could only be horrific to experience. It would appear to indicate that you have a strong sense of empathy.

Talk about it to your partner, close friends or even if the subject comes up amongst acquaintances and strangers. It creeps you the fuck out. That's just a fact. Hopefully having written about it here has helped a bit. If it has, tell someone else in your immediate circle. It's a bit of a cliche, but sometimes just saying things out loud really does relieve a bit of the pressure of having it in your own head. I know you said that you can't, but you have.

I've had things that I've read about or seen haunt me for long amounts of time. And I've had people close to me reveal that they, too, have been traumatised by something that has then haunted them. I really think that in this particular instance talking about it really does help.
posted by h00py at 3:11 AM on August 10, 2012

I have the same sort of issue (though not about hanging on TV). If it's a TV thing, we go over what we've talked about how things on TV aren't real (news excluded), and talk about that hanging is/was a thing, and talk about the scenario (accident, execution, etc) and how unlikely it is (we don't play with cords, you're not likely to show up in the early 20th century and rustle cattle) and then go onto something different.

I do have one kid who is a worrier, and they get into "worry spirals" and we talk about it and are dealing with it. I'll give examples about worry circles that are absurd but show that I understand their issue, without tainting them with my actual issue (that I've been working on outside of their viewpoint).

If your anxiety is getting worse or not better, I'd say look to another treatment alternative outside what you've already done. Talk therapy, CBT, support groups, etc.
posted by tilde at 7:42 AM on August 10, 2012

Kids latch onto stuff, and some kids latch on to stuff that is hard to figure out. Probably mostly kids who already have some anxiety. If it's a kid, ask them if there's anything that frightens them, and listen a lot. Reassure them that you will keep them safe from the scary thing. I know a kid who took the "Strangers - OMG, PHEAR THEM" message from school, and applied it to his Dad's roommate(recently separated parents). Once it was defined what strangers are, and that roommate was a friend of Dad's & Mom's, and was ok to be around, it got better. The kid was also asked about roommate's behavior, cause you never know.

Good therapy helps. There are too many less-than-competent therapists, so research is critical.
posted by theora55 at 8:51 AM on August 10, 2012

A friend of mine was traumatized by the clown from IT. You know, Pennywise? The evil one that everyone is scared of? Yeah, everyone who was a kid in the 80s got terrified by that clown, but it wasn't the same for him -- we're talking about two decades of absolute terror of this clown, to the point that it was interfering with his life. He couldn't look at any clowns. Merely thinking about Pennywise would make him so anxious it would ruin his whole day.

He finally got some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. After two months, he was able to see a picture of Pennywise without being freaked out by it more than most people are. He still doesn't like clowns, and he certainly doesn't plan to see that movie ever again, but it's no longer a psychological burden for him. He's doing okay.

I tell you this to emphasize that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can really, really work well for phobia issues like this. Force yourself to call a therapist. You don't have to be able to talk about what the problem is immediately. You can go to the session and say, "I'm having a phobic response to something, but I have a lot of trouble talking about it." Or you can just print out your question here and hand it to the therapist without saying a single word. You can do it. Make yourself do it. I know it'll be scary, but it will be worth it.

Take care of yourself in this way, and it will then be possible for you to help your kid.
posted by meese at 9:29 AM on August 10, 2012

Oh my gosh, this happened to me. I have goosebumps reading your question.

I was 8 or 9 and channel surfing when I stopped on a movie that had someone sitting down in a bathroom stall. Someone else looped a noose over the stall separator and hung them.

For years I would put my hands over my neck and keep an eye on the tops of the stall separators when I sat down to pee. I still cannot go into a public restroom without checking the adjacent stalls for potential murderers. I am also the kind of person who peeks behind the shower curtain every time I use the bathroom in my own house.

I've coped somewhat by realizing that it is a ridiculous fear: that nobody would want to kill me, a nobody, especially not in a restroom for no reason. It's simply illogical. What helped me a lot was talking about it with close friends, and it became a funny story. "Hey, want to hear about how funny I was as a kid? I put my hands over my neck so nobody would hang me in public restroom stalls, hahahaha. Isn't that silly?"

It hasn't stopped me from checking the adjacent stalls still (I am 23 now) but I always say to myself when I close the door, "There is a 0% chance that I will be hung by a serial killer in this bathroom today."
posted by wintersonata9 at 1:02 PM on August 10, 2012

Well, it's just my two cents, but if I had a phobia like that, I'd want to talk to someone judgement-free, someone who would take my concerns seriously and not laugh. Someone I could count on to be sympathetic and caring. I think not being able to talk to someone about it (for fear of ridicule) would be worse than the fear of the thing itself. Once it becomes something that you have to hide- a source of shame- it can interfere with your relationships with others and make it even harder to get help.
posted by Aliera at 2:50 PM on August 10, 2012

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