Child Abuse PTSD

Noga the Wonder Dog I really do intend to get through Child Abuse Awareness Month.  And I really do intend to impart what I hope will be useful information, along the way.  It’s just that talking (writing) about child abuse triggers my PTSD to the extent that I am schlepping myself around exhausted, not particularly eating, and not particularly interested in anything much.  And then there are the dreams.  Good thing I have little Noga to keep me entertained with her hijinks and motherly kisses.

I have flashbacks about the little 9 month old who had learned how to turn over and try to wiggle away from having his diaper changed, so his father grabbed him by both legs and gave him a few vigorous shakes, so that he broke both his legs.  That baby turned out to have multiple rib factures in various stages of healing, so it looked like nobody had much patience for him.

Or the little girl who came in from the Souther Tier, always a bad sign.  The Southern Tier is a set of mountains south of Rochester, NY, where things go on that make the movie Deliverance look like Mary Tyler Moore.  This girl kind of stumped us for a while, because of the polka-dot pattern of  three-inch-diameter burns over her whole body.  Her parents, who were filthy, with greasy locks, reeking of beer, were no help at all.  They only brought her in because several of the odd burns had become infected.  One of the professors in the ER that day solved the mystery:  he brought over a light-bulb, and voila! The end of the bulb fit the burns exactly.  The parents eventually admitted that they had been “disciplining” the girl by applying the end of a lit table lamp to her skin.  I’m happy to say the girl was whisked away into the hospital, where she was healed of her physical wounds, and got to do play therapy and art therapy and music therapy and even school, which she had not had the opportunity to attend while languishing in the Southern Tier. She was placed in a good foster home and eventually adopted.

It was not unusual to see intentional injuries that simply don’t compute, at least not to me.  A grandmother “disciplined” her grandbaby by pouring black pepper down the baby’s mouth.  The baby died, and on autopsy was found to have its windpipe completely packed with pepper.  Another grandmother gave her grandbaby an enema of boiling water.  That poor child lived, but had to have five feet of intestine removed, and multiple reconstructive surgeries to try to avoid the year-old baby having to grow up with an ileostomy (wearing a bag on its abdomen to collect stool).  An irate babysitter held a toddler under scalding water in the bathtub, resulting in third-degree burns over 100% of the child’s body.  He died.  And the list goes on and on.

Children chained to their beds, brought in with some incidental illness, and we see the raw and scarred ligature or handcuff marks.  A teenager who was raised in a crawlspace under the house, and was essentially feral, brought in because he had vomiting and diarrhea.  Otherwise, he would have spent his entire life in the crawlspace.

Why did they do these horrible things to their children?  They were bad children, said the caretakers (torturers I say).  Bad children, so they deserved to be burned, imprisoned, tortured, some tortured to death.

I am not crying now, and that is because I dissociate when I think about these things.  But I am making a lot more typing mistakes than I usually do, so that shows that it’s getting through somewhere.  I want to get hold of those parents, grandparents, babysitters, and do the same things to them that they did to their children.  Break their bones.  Burn them with hot light bulbs and lit cigarettes. Etc, etc, etc.  It’s amazing how creative these monsters can be at torturing their children.  We’re not talking getting carried away with a spanking here, we’re talking thinking up things to do to cause grievous physical harm.

The key to avoiding many of these atrocities, I think, starts at birth.  It’s a great time to screen for child abuse risk.  Have a good look at the mother and father.  Watch how they relate to each other.  Watch how the mother relates to her newborn.  Is she in love with her new baby, or does she only want to sleep, and when the nurse brings her the baby to feed, does the minimum required and sends the baby back to the nursery so she doesn’t have to be bothered with it?

Social workers can help immensely, especially if they can make home visits to at-risk families.  There’s nothing like going to someone’s home to get a sense of what really goes on there.  That’s one of the reasons it distresses me that physicians seldom make house calls anymore.  If you only see the baby when the mother (or other caretaker) brings them in for their shots, you really only have a snapshot of what the home environment is like; although let me tell you, some of the routine office visits I’ve had have been hair-raising: if this is how they treat their kids at the doctor’s office, what must it be like at home???

I’ve managed to give you some snippets of what’s causing my child abuse PTSD.  These are only a few of the things I have seen.  I am going to try to soldier on with this, and hopefully manage to navigate through some of the other types of child abuse that damage our children, who grow up to be damaged adults.

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  1. I work in domestic violence, and I grew up in it. Even children who are not actually physically abused, which makes me sick by the way because of my own memories, suffer a wide range of emotional and psychological damage. The cycle of abuse perpetuates itself in the children unless there is some sort of intervention. As a victim and survivor, I can attest to the toll it takes and the amount of work it takes to move beyond it. It is important for people to keep talking about it and not let it fall back into the shadows. Thank you for that.

    • I’m honored that you stopped by and commented, Morgan. I hope to find other survivors of childhood abuse, and create some discussion around our issues as survivors going forward. Please know you’re always welcome here. As a survivor myself, I am constantly doing battle with dissociation and other PTSD symptoms. Some wounds don’t heal.

  2. detached99

     /  April 11, 2013

    I stumbled across your blog, and I’m glad it exists. I survived an abusive childhood, and thought I was stupid for not getting over it, for letting it affect my life the way it does. Any time I’ve broached the subject with anyone, I’ve been told that I can’t blame my parents for my problems as an adult, and that I’m just making excuses. Sometimes I feel like the only adult in the world who can’t deal with their childhood experiences.

    • Welcome, Detached. I’m glad you’ve found me, too. It’s easy for people who have not been abused as children to say, oh, get over it, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you’re an adult now, you’re responsible for your own emotions, get a life, crap, crap, crap. What happened to you DID happen to you, and although it IS your job to somehow come to terms with it so that you can be a functional adult and, if you have or plan to have children, figure out how NOT to pass the abuse down to the next generation, you have lived through what you have lived through, and that cannot and will not change. There are some wounds that just do not heal. The best thing that’s happened to me is that I’ve found a wonderful psychologist who has been helping me these last 10 years or so with my pain and anger and dysfunctionality surrounding childhood abuse. I’m thinking of starting a Yahoo group called Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse, since currently there is no such thing. I don’t know what people think happens to abused children after they grow up. There are groups for Adult Children of Alcoholics etc, but not Adult Children of Abusive Parents. What do you think?

  3. I had horrendous post partum depression with my son, triggered by a problem with him nursing or taking a bottle. He was IUGR and he would only drink tiny amounts with a very slow weak suck. It didnt matter who fed him, he just wouldnt eat. I spent all day and night either pumping or trying to get him to wake up enough to eat, or trying to get him to nurse. It generally took one hour each sitting to coax him to take even 2 ounces. I was so stressed I got to the point where I HATED him. I never told anyone about my condition, but I would take him in and beg his pediatrician to help me. All I would get is, Yes, he doesn’t seem to suck too well, just work with him. Really? Just work with him? I would go home and cry and cry. While I hated this poor little baby, I never for one moment, even when I was near psychosis, have touched him in anger. And while we still to this day deal with his eating “issues”–he was FTT for years and still will only eat high texture foods at 14–I am forever bitter at how I feel the system failed me. My only salvation was having a very supportive husband and family. While I still couldn’t imagine crossing the line to hurting him, I can see how the feeling of pure helplessness and loss of control can make people do things that they wouldn’t have done otherwise. Kids are like alcohol, some people are warm and fuzzy around them and some are just mean drunks.

    • Wow. I can really relate to what you’re saying. That must have literally driven you to the breaking point, and no help, not even empathy or useful guidance. My own child was PERMANENTLY attached to the tit. He would not let go for anything and screamed if I detached him for “trivialities” like diaper-changing. I was sucked dry. Interestingly, HIS father was what I call a “star-fish baby,” one who hates to be held or even touched, and was not quite as impossible to feed as yours, but refused to nurse, and refused to be held to take a bottle. Doesn’t it make you wonder (I’m sure you spent lots of time wondering) what in the world went on with these little creatures to make them come out so broken in these ways? How is your relationship with your son now?

      • I am the “protector”–my husband’s way of saying I give him whatever he wants. And I pretty much do, for the guilt I suffer, for the troubled kid he is now, to save my house from more punch holes, to keep him happy and away from drugs. He knows Im a pushover, but he will come to me and tell me the truth, and Im the only one he has that relationship with. My husband didn’t go through what I did with him, so he just cant understand, and they don’t have a good relationship. Parenting a teen is a maze, especially if there is a lotta baggage that is attached.

        • A maze is a good way to put it. It can be so confusing. What’s the right thing to do? Most of the time you’re flying on a wing and a prayer.

  4. I send love and light to you, the survivors, as well as the torturers/murderers. Hating the a users has gotten us nowhere and I believe that doing the same thing and expecting different results is foolish. That being said, I do not excuse their behavior. Bring it to light but more importantly, get to it ahead of time like you discuss. Research has demonstrated, if I recall from my child abuse class in grad school, that there are signs in the way people relate to each other and to their child that are markers for a possibility of abuse of one kind in the future. Unfortunately, this is not something that will come about the same way that police are not allowed to arrest someone just because they ‘think’ that someone is going to commit a crime. Evidential systems keep us free from harassment but also allow certain people free reign to abuse. Innocent until proven guilty works in their favor as well as the falsely accused. Perhaps we need more psychic OB nurses and social workers.

    • You have some really good points there. I think that every pregnant woman should have to attend parenting classes. Of course the people most likely to abuse are the ones who don’t come for prenatal care, so you’d be often preaching to the converted. There have to be better screening tools in place. I like your idea of psychic nurses and social workers!

  5. Good call. How about “empathic”? Hmmm, too science-fiction. Intuitive wins.

  6. Natalya

     /  April 12, 2013

    Wow, I am saddened reading about the horrible things “parents” do to babies and children. I think the reason people abuse their children is they were abused and didn’t have anyone show them empathy. If you haven’t got any empathy then it’s all too easy to be cruel. I was abused as a child and my mother was abused by her parents. It’s a cycle. I have been in therapy for a long time but if people aren’t healed of their past wounds they’re bound to repeat them.


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