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Trauma versus Abuse

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When a person with DID says they were never abused, they could be correct.

Objectivity vs. Subjectivity

Examples of Trauma vs. Abuse

Psychology generally says extreme dissociation comes along with "sustained traumas" and then attempts to give examples. However, as science is objective, they are looking at "What is big enough?" on an objective scale to give as examples. Like concentration camp survivors (Putnam, 1989).

However, it's not the abuse that's the issue. One survivor comes out of the situation OK, minimal trauma, quick recovery time, bounces back. Another survivor comes out of what is observably the same experience crushed, devastated, disorganized, pulverized, psychologically distraught or at worst destroyed.

So we know it's not the observable abuses or situations that cause ongoing traumas. Positive psychology (VIA Institute etc.) has discovered that there are factors that build up a profile of "resilience" to taking on extreme trauma. Thus two people go into the same situation and come out of it with different issues. They may be more resilient in this way but not that way. Or one is overall much more resilient, and the other is not.

This is not a blame-the-victim stance. It's actually a blame society stance. We do not encourage resilience as a trait, not in adults, and not in children. It takes shoring up many strengths to build resilience, and that's a topic for else where, but when you don't have it, you are more vulnerable to damage from sustained traumas.

What is trauma?

Trauma is entirely subjective. Abuse can be observed, trauma is on the inside.

We (society, psychology) can now acknowledge it's not the abuse that's the issue in whether someone takes on C-PTSD or becomes highly dissociative, or ends up with DID — it's nothing about what happened, but the impact it had on the person/people involved.

In other words, it's not about the abuse that could be potentially observable and objectively verified — it's about the subjective trauma and the subjective reality take on it. It's more about resilience than about something quantifiable by a camera.

Traumatic experience does not require willful abuse or neglect. Certainly if a family gets into a car accident, and it is truly an accident, there was no willful abuse or neglect, but the children could rightfully be afraid and triggered when faced with the prospect of getting into a car again.

What is Abuse?

The word "abuse" implies intent to do harm to another, or a violation of objective boundaries of "acceptable" versus "unacceptable" behavior with another person. Abuse also includes neglect: a failure to fulfill generally accepted role obligations, some of which may be legally enforced, such as a person who fails to feed their children.

Abuse is not a requirement for DID. Trauma is.

Issues in Coming Out

When discussing DID, especially with parents, siblings, relatives, and friends, it can make a big difference in how the revelation (coming out) is received if you specifically make sure to word it that you were (probably?) "traumatized" unless you specifically remember being abused.

Simply mentioning DID can already imply that someone did something willfully wrong, or grossly neglected or abused their child or children. Whether guilty or not, this can lead to vehement denial and counter-accusations of lying, hypochondria, pretending, etc. Having a child or younger sibling who has DID can imply that you were negligent, it can produce a lot of shame, and thus a vehement denial.

When discussing DID, it's easier for others to swallow when you take the most conservative and subjective approach to the DID equation. Talk about "trauma" — you were "traumatized" as a child. It's harder to argue with; what's someone going to say — you weren't traumatized? However if they think that you're saying someone abused you, they can get very defensive or jump to that person's defense.

When you're speaking with someone removed from the causal end of the equation, people who did not know you as a child, framing it as trauma also helps with them playing the "is your abuse bad enough" game with you. For example, if you say you were beaten, they may say, "Oh, my parents spanked me. And I don't have DID..." So just keep it to the trauma angle and talk about how you took what happened more than the physical acts, and see if that improves how people accept it.

Never "Abused"

There may not be anything other than repeated unfortunate circumstance that "caused" someone's DID.

As an example, a child who has a congenital defect needs multiple surgeries as a baby/toddler/young child. Being in recovery, sterile conditions, bandages, a weakened immune system, etc. close parental/caregiver contact may not have been possible. If this child has the dissociative trait, they could be traumatized by the repeated surgeries, pain of recovery, and the loneliness of quarantine for their own protection. Parents and doctors may be doing everything "right" for the child, but from the child's point of view, they are traumatized with fear, pain, loneliness, abandonment, neglect, and a lack of being able to get reassurances, comfort, compassion, empathy, hugs, love, etc. If the child is young enough, they may very well turn to dissociation to escape their situation: create their own comfort, "put on a brave face" for the staff, cordon off different coping mechanisms or reactions, leave their body for a better place, wish themselves dead, etc. In addition, even once the surgeries are completed, fears of their child's mortality could cause parents to poorly attach to their infant. Any such poor attachment, inconsistent care, lack of contact and emotional support, etc. is a known ingredient in the 3-part DID formula. So in theory a person could grow up "without abuse" and "with caring parents" but still theoretically have DID because of so much trauma and no appropriate support to process experiences. It's a catch-22 situation, and even trying to re-forge the relationship between the parents and child could meet with resistance as a pre-verbal infant could be fearful and resentful and not understand the "Whys" of the situation. You can't explain this deep level of "betrayal" away even though everyone — doctors, parents, staff — did everything medically correct. The infant still was subjectively traumatized: betrayed, abandoned, neglected, tormented, in pain, helpless, frightened, and lonely.

We, Crisses, have an example of personal trauma that does not include abuse or neglect. When our family would go into Manhattan and take a car or taxi ride, I would often get carsick. Stop-and-go traffic, fumes from the cars (this is back in the no-emissions-testing leaded fuel days to boot) and streets, and my inability to ground into my environment inevitably would make me lose my last meal. It was embarrassing, and the adults with me were as sympathetic as they ever were when we were sick. Because a lot of these rides were in taxis — the smell of a new car and the smell of those horrible tree-shaped "air fresheners" both trigger instant nausea for us. No one abused us, but those rides were traumatic.

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