What is trauma?
We usually think of combat veterans or people who have survived natural disasters, as victims of trauma but trauma can be caused to anyone who experiences something that is profoundly “life-threatening.” Trauma is an extreme reaction an unnatural, terrifying event. A victim of trauma tries to encode the cognitive AND the emotional memories but the experience is so horrific that it overwhelms our capacity to cope and cannot be processed or resolved. It is a type of experience that is impossible to understand because it conflicts with the current perception of reality. It rocks our world and then stays the victim’s head and is re-experienced every time it is triggered.
A trigger is an unconscious perception of something that has a connection to the trauma and thrusts the victim into the cascade of memories and feelings that were experienced when he or she was first traumatized. Triggers conjure up the stored feelings of pending doom, helplessness, terror, confusion and other types of intolerable emotional pain that are unprocessed and continue to live within the victim.
It is easier to understand trauma in the context of combat or severe storms because these experiences have a recognized beginning and end and occur as a result of natural or man-made disasters. But the numbers of individuals that experience trauma like this is relative small, compared to number of people who experience interpersonal trauma or abuse in our close relationships, which are even more traumatic. Interpersonal trauma is more complex because the victim is exposed to multiple traumatizing experiences over a prolonged period of time and occurs in the victim’s everyday life. These experiences are not “events” that can be compartmentalized in time or space. The memories blur together into one hot mess that changes a person forever.
How is trauma related to the targeted parent?
Most trauma begins at home; in our case trauma is home. Our families are both the source of our agony and the ones who we need help from to resolve our emotional crisis. Given the shear numbers and the particularly savage interpersonal experience that targeted parents experience, we are one of the most traumatized populations on earth. While, billions of dollars and nationwide campaigns are in full swing to provide help to every other traumatized population, no one knows that we exist.
First we married a narcissistic/borderline person who undoubtedly started psychologically abusing at his or her first chance and hasn’t stopped since. We finally mustered our way out of the relationship to find out that our ex-partner can’t co-parent. Soon after, our children start acting out in hate and rejection against us and everyone blames us. Then, we must stand witness to the destructive abuse of our children from the other parent’s psychological manipulation and control. All along the way we are blamed and our pain minimized or dismissed. We lose our rights our integrity, our jobs, our homes, our children, our voice and finally ourselves.
The result is that we are condemned to cruel and inhumane psychological torture for years on end.
Our brains were built to survive and protect our children. Our fear arousal system (fight/flight) takes over because we feel that our children’s lives are threatened. But for all the fighting we do, nothing is resolved. We also can’t run away because our ex-partners have our children hostage.
Our amygdala or alarm system is stuck on code red and keeps signaling for the release of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Our circumstances are so traumatic that it causes neurochemical, anatomical & physiological changes in us, real changes. The ongoing toxic stress compromises our ability to make decisions, to plan and to communicate what is going on. It hijacks our perceptions, reactions and our basic sense of who we are. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve struggled, our fear arousal system (fight/flight/freeze) floods our bodies and drowns out almost everything else except for the commands to run, fight and save our children!
We feel like we are losing our minds and in a very real sense we are as our brain continues to take non-essential functions off line. We experience a fundamental shift in our brain’s neurochemical and physiological functions as the left, logical hemisphere shuts down and the right, emotional side amps up. These changes reorganize the way we think, the things we think about and even limits our capacity to think at all.
We are chronically out of sync with others. We have nightmares at night and the constant intrusion of horrible memories during the day. We’ve been so abused that we become hypervigilant and desperate. When we talk to anyone who will listen, our voice becomes tense as we “fire hose” them with anything and everything that we feel is relevant. Unfortunately, trauma impacts our ability to filter relevant information from irrelevant and there are no words to describe the hell we are in.
We want advice but often don’t take it and we don’t learn from our experiences. We grab a hold ofanything that we think might help somebody“get it” even when we know that what we are doing basically never works for anybody. There are only so many times that we can say, “Don’t use the words parental alienation,” or “Stop listening to your ex,” or “Stay out of family court.”
As, targeted parents, we all have complex posttraumatic stress disorder, which is a very serious brain injury. Brain scans of combat veterans look identical to what brains scans of you or I. It is the outcome of prolonged exposure to the front lines of war.