7 Truths to Help Partners, Friends & Family Understand Childhood Trauma

What are you taking from 2016? What lessons, truths, and new ideas are you carrying into the next year?

In 2016, I learned the truth of the damage of childhood abuse.

As the spouse of a childhood abuse survivor, I thought I knew the damage. After all, I lived with it. But at the beginning of 2016, my husband and I faced a dilemma:

After almost four years of therapeutic and medical treatment, he wasn’t getting better. In some ways, he was getting worse.

I questioned:

What was wrong? What was missing?

The Key

Soon after, I happened upon a radio program called All in the Family. The program talked about the Adverse Childhood Experiences study and the long-term effect of childhood trauma on individuals. After three hours of listening, I glimpsed the beginning of answers.

The missing piece was that my husband’s trauma had not been adequately treated. Key components of trauma recovery were missing.

Today, my husband’s recovery continues-some days, weeks, months are faster and better than others.But 2016 pointed us in the right direction. What I learned last year continues to be a light as I journey this path as the spouse of a childhood abuse survivor.


Truth #1

Childhood Trauma Damages the Brain

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again:

Children who grow up in chronic abuse, neglect, and disorder exhibit changes to their brains. Children cannot grow, learn, and thrive in such environments. They are like seedlings that are expected to grow in toxic, weed-infested soil. These children grow physically but are under-developed emotionally, psychologically, and relationally.

Truth #2

Trauma Requires Trauma Therapy.

Not talk therapy. Not cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Not counselling. Specific therapy that addresses the impact of trauma’s damage to the mind and body. Talking, CBT, and general counsel may occur as one of many needed therapeutic interventions, but they cannot be the only intervention.

Many survivors, including my husband, have endured years of therapy without positive outcomes.

Truth #3

Education is Key

For the survivors, spouse, partners, supporters, and communities.

There are a growing number of resources, advocates, and survivors who are providing the public with this crucial information.


The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma     Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Truth #4

There is a Lack of Supports for Partners and Families, but There is Hope

“There’s not much available for partners and spouses, but you need to find support for yourself.”

I heard this line countless times in 2016. I heard it from doctors, therapists, and online organizations.

I still don’t get it.

The truth: There isn’t much available. The other truth: Partners, spouses, and families need support.

I’m trying to be part of the solution.

At the end of December, I was the guest host on a live stream video at Trauma Recovery University.

The Topic: Support for the Spouses & Partners of Abuse Survivors.

Click here to view.

Continue to watch my website for upcoming projects on this important topic.

Truth #5

Online Support Groups and Communities for Survivors are Active and Growing

There is tremendous growth of online facebook, twitter, and other virtual groups for survivors. Yes, in person is great, but if that’s not available, seek out online groups.

Truth #6

Learn to Look Below the Surface

Sometimes the responses of a survivor seem out-of-context and illogical. That’s because, during a flashback, a survivor may respond as if the past is the present.

It’s very confusing for those of us who are supporters.

Understanding that an out-of-context response from my husband may not be about the present circumstance was extremely helpful. I could start to see it for what it was: a trauma response.

Truth #7

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is Not the Same as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In brief, complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs from exposure to ongoing trauma. It often occurs in children subject to prolonged abuse. Other examples include long-term exposure to violence or imprisonment during a war.

On the other hand, PTSD can occur from a single incident of trauma. There may be more than one event but it is not of ongoing duration.

This is a topic of ongoing study for me.

This is not everything I learned about trauma in 2016. However, this is what I hang onto when the storms of trauma come through.

These are the truths I’m taking with me.