I am republishing this post due to interest from some readers… to make it easier to find again.
Dr. Linda Schupp, a well-know expert and author on the subject of assessing and treating trauma, says that “Trauma creates a vacuum in the soul.” For some people suffering from serious trauma, therapeutic interventions and support from personal relations may not be immediately effective. Perseverance, kindness and self-care are of the utmost importance.
Having a relationship, professionally or personally, with a person who has such a huge hole in their soul can sometimes feel like all offerred positive regard and support (in the case of helping professionals), or love and affection (in the case of significant others, family and friends), can result in little change. All efforts to fill that hole seem to be absorbed with no appreciable restorative impact. As importantly, the support person themselves may develop emotional fatigue and even resentment from experiencing the emotional trauma of demeaning and destructive behavior from the person that seems to have no logical reason and no understandable justification.
It may take a relatively long time for praticitioners, partners, family members or friends to identify their own trauma symptoms, even after becoming aware that the person they seek to support and help heal is mistreating them. This is in part due to the tendency to excuse the behavior, often resulting in an increased effort to show unconditional caring, and perhaps a belief that they are “exempt” from the abusive behavior the person employs as a coping strategy and defense mechanism to control their fear and anger.
A person with a history of trauma may in turn abuse anyone who shows caring, whether professional provider or loving friend, until the anger and abandonment he or she fears fractures the relationship, which then validates both the fears and the abusive behavior. The destruction of the relationship may even be engineered by the person to test how strong the relationship really is, or to prove how fragile it is, and to fulfill their painfully distorted world-view. The provider, or significant other, is then left with their own comparable “hole” in their soul.
Whether you are a professional mental health provider, or a partner/family member/friend of a person suffering from serious trauma, never underestimate the impact on you of trying care for a traumatized person… of trying to “fill their vacuum.” You must recognize the signs of serious trauma, in the individual and in yourself, and take measures to protect your own soul (and perhaps your literal well-being) even as you strive to maintain the relationship, and thereby help yourself to survive emotionally and remain available and helpful to that person and others.
For a review of signs and symptoms of trauma, and some treatment ideas, I suggest Dr. Schupp’s book: ASSESSING AND TREATING TRAUMA AND PTSD. It’s an easily read yet thorough review of the subject from a psychologist with both personal and professional experience with trauma and PTSD, and has a bibliography of excellent references. I also suggest you attend one of her workshops, sponsored by PESI (www.pesi.com) A review of the full diagnostic criteria for trauma related disorders, listed in the DSM-IV-TR, is also recommended.
Some common symptoms that may be discernable by non-professionals include:
- Persistent dysphoria: a gloomy outlook on most aspects of life.
- Chronic pre-occupation with death, suicide, images of pain or suffering, or symbols of doom.
- Self injury, often excused by blaming it on an altered state due to substances or alcohol, or on provocation by someone else. These may be moderately dramatic injuries, or small but persistent wounds and bruises.
- Explosive or inhibited anger (can alternate between the two) often defined as ‘standing up for oneself’.
- Compulsive or inhibited sexuality (can alternate between the two) often used as punishment toward others.
- Expressions of “fate” or “pre-determination” as explanations for abusive or hateful behavior.
- Protect your own emotional well-being: make sure you maintain perspective, and that you have fun in your life even though the person may want you to feel guilty for doing so.
- Be aware of your own “compassion fatigue”, and monitor yourself for it’s 3 stages: a) Exasperation b) Escape 3) Exhaustion
- Forgive yourself when you are forced to disengage. It is likely you will not succeed in the contest between “filling” their void and “falling” into it.
- If you fall, trust that you will either land softly, or that you will grow wings!