The parent/child Trust Bridge and Trauma/Abuse

Defenceless child

It is quite paradoxical that the child is usually more eager to explore new things than the adult, as the child is much more vulnerable. The child is physically small and not very strong, yet seems unfazed by dangerous things. For the most part, this eagerness to explore is necessary as everything the child encounters is brand-new and it is vital for him (or her, but I will stick to the simplicity of one word for the remainder of this book) to learn about the world. The naivety concerning threats is completely understandable as the child has no reference experiences of things that are harmful and dangerous. This lack of knowledge about the good, the bad and the ugly in this world makes the child vulnerable. Besides having little to no experience with that which is harmful to him, the child also has not developed any strategies to cope with a lot of situations.

On the socio-emotional level, this means that the child has no strong boundaries to deflect emotional bullshit coming from other people. Mentally, this manifests itself in being gullible and taking everything other people tell him at face value.
The child trusts that parents and caregivers will be loving to him and provide him with the right knowledge that will help him in Life. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

The parent/child trust bridge

John Bradshaw (1988) refers to this fundamental basic trust of the child in the parents/caretakers as an interpersonal bridge.

It is important for the child to know and trust that ‘mommy and daddy got things sorted for me’. If the child knows that mommy and daddy watch him as he leaves the comfort zone to explore new things, he can feel safe to do so.
The child must be able to rely on the parents to intervene when he is about to harm himself physically. The child needs parents/caretakers to stay composed and emotionally stable no matter what happens. The child must be able to rely on being taught the right knowledge. The child must be able to trust that parents/caretakers do not withdraw love and attention when he/she ‘does something wrong’.
The child is a developing, he cannot rely on himself yet to function in the world, he absolutely needs the interpersonal trust bridge for healthy development into a mature, independent human being. The child is co-dependent on the parents for food, safety, guidance, love and nurturing.

If a parent or caretaker violates the trust bridge, it means the child is on his own. Unfortunately, parents and caretakers are human beings and usually have their own flaws and issues. A lot of people are incompetent in providing a quality interpersonal bridge of trust to their children. Parents usually do the best they can with what they know how to do.

Anxious child

Possibly, something fucked up may happen. If the parent/child interpersonal trust bridge is poor, this will be almost inevitable.
The child suffers abuse/trauma of some sort and ends up getting hurt. There are a lot of different kinds of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, intellectual) and abuse can be divided in two categories, namely active and passive. Active abuses are acts in which the child get’s violated in some way.
I will use the following working definition for this type of abuse/trauma:
Any event in which the child (I) get’s hurt and/or abandoned and (II) for which the child receives no adequate feedback by a parent/caretaker after the event has occurred.

The second type of abuse (passive) is neglect or abandonment, which is the case when a child’s needs are not met on a consistent basis. A child needs food, attention, love, to be listened to, education, mentoring and a safe stress-free environment. If those needs are not met on a consistent basis, it impairs the development of the child.
When a child is abused, neglected or abandoned, at that moment, it experiences panic or trauma. In Life, it is possible for a child to get hurt, but it is vital that the child is able to process the experience later. If a traumatic event is not processed and completed in some way, the child remains stuck with it.
Unprocessed painful emotions can scar people for Life.
Fortunately, if a child has a healthy trust bridge with his parents/caretakers, they can talk about what happened and the child can process what has happened, integrate it and move on. The child can find consolidation and the past traumatic event has been ‘completed’, as Werner Erhard would describe it.
If past events of abuse/trauma do not get processed and completed, the trauma will continue to influence the individual in his/her behaviour. Bradshaw (1988) refers to this as ‘acting out’ past abuse (or re-enactment). The way in which this manifests is unique for each type of abuse/trauma, but is always a repetitive behavioural pattern that is reactive to the (often subconscious) unprocessed emotional pain.

I will list a few common examples of active abuse & acting out:

  • Physical abuse (a kid that got hit by parents):
    Do the same thing to their own children
  • Emotional abuse (a kid that had a parent who liked to take out his/her anger on him/her): repress all anger or express anger uncontrollably to whatever upsets him/her.
  • Sexual abuse (a kid that got raped by a parent):
    Being extremely promiscuous or avoiding sexual encounters altogether.
  • Physical or emotional abandonment; a kid gets left alone in a stressful situation with which he doesn’t know how to cope (or a parent may die or leave home). Acting out: have commitment issues and/or neediness in future relationships out of fear of being abandoned again.
  • Role abuse (a parent tries to get the child to mother or father him/her):
    Child feels like he/she can’t leave home and be independent as a family member needs him/her.
  • Intellectual abuse (a kid that was habitually told how stupid he/she was): become addicted to gathering knowledge to prove him/herself or avoid intellectual learning altogether.

And also a couple examples of passive abuse:

  • If one of the parents or their relationship is dysfunctional (for example, when they fight a lot or when one of them is addicted), the child suffers the stress.
  • Single-parent households that lack either the loving feminine energy of a mother or the masculine mentoring of father or even worse, desexualized parents (when parents are out of touch with their masculinity/femininity)
  • Crowded households with lots of (young) children:
    the kids have to compete with their siblings in order to get their needs met.
  • Emotionally bland/absent parents that are out of touch with their emotions lack the empathy to relate to their children when they are emotional. These parents will act more cold and maybe listen to what their kids say, but not hear or understand where the child is at emotionally.
  • Inattentive parents: when parents are too focused on other things like their work, their hobby or other siblings.

I’m just scratching the surface here; abuse and trauma go pretty deep and can take on a lot of different manifestations.
However, what is important is not all the many faces of abuse, but to understand the general dynamic of what abuse is, how it happens and how it influences my behaviour.

The Carry-over effect

Another term that can be used for the child experiencing abuse or trauma is wounding. The child gets wounded emotionally and without processing and completion stays wounded.

The child is left to his own means of coping and dealing with the wound. The child grows up and becomes an adult, builds a family, becomes a parent. A wounded child will now raise a new child, probably inflicting them with some more abuse/trauma, hopefully to a lesser degree than he suffered himself.

Abuse or trauma need not happen directly to the child. Children internalize the habitual emotional states that their parents are experiencing. They can suffer the ill effects of trauma even when they’ve never directly encountered abuse. If the parents have experienced abuse/trauma and have not processed and completed these events, it lives on in them. Children will internalize their parent’s unprocessed painful emotions, when the parents have not processed through their abuse/trauma.

This can be very tricky, because the child will have no idea where these feelings and tendencies in their behaviour will come from, as they can not be traced back to a specific event they’ve encountered themselves.
In a way, this is a form of passive (and subconscious) abuse as the parents/caretakers are not able to provide a healthy emotional climate for the home their child lives in. As a lot of (and perhaps even all) abuse is either subconscious or impulsive (and often regretted later), condemning and placing blame on violators (parents/caretakers) is a losing game.

That’s not the say we should just forgive and forget, as abuse/trauma can have consequences. Those consequences will be explored and elaborated next.


Numbing the pain in order to survive

The child has several coping strategies to deal with the hurt of past abuse/trauma if parents, caretakers or peers refuse to acknowledge, listen to and provide adequate feedback to the child. In families in which the child/parent trust bridge is poor, authentic sharing of the child about the pain associated with his past abuse/trauma is usually not well received. The child’s pain usually reminds the parents about their own past unresolved hurts and the parents end up shaming the child for sharing his authentic experience. This off course, is just another form of abuse and at this point the child learns to stop sharing his authentic experience as he is punished for it. This initiates a process of disowning the unprocessed painful emotions associated with the past abuse/trauma. The emotions get repressed ‘into the basement’ of the child’s consciousness. The memories of the painful events are locked away from attention and the child forgets and forgets that he has forgotten. Unfortunately, this is not a very healthy way of coping with past abuse/trauma, but it allows the child to remain functional in Life when there is no one for him to assist him in processing the abuse/trauma into completion. It ensures that the kid can survive and deal with the demands that Life places on him.
It’s sort of akin to a band-aid that get’s put over an open wound. It soothes the pain, but it also disables full recovery.

The next book piece drops Friday January 13th on the topic of luck being a superstition. No actually it isn’t about that, it’s about the neurology of addiction and how it’s linked to past traumatic experience as a way of self-medicating emotional pain.

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One Response to The parent/child Trust Bridge and Trauma/Abuse

  1. Pingback: The Need for Preditability & the Need for Exploration | identityisdynamic

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