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Complex Trauma and Children Exposed To Domestic Violence. How innocent lives are shaped by disrupted beginnings. Phil Wells. My Hopes and Dreams (What I think you can get out of this workshop).
How innocent lives are shaped by disrupted beginnings
An informed discussion of trauma, complex trauma and traumatic stress as well as the effects on children exposed to Domestic Violence.
Understanding and accepting the responsibility of our role as interventionist, clinician, healer and human being.
Validation of all our efforts to help kids and families lead less hectic lives.
Trauma-informed services are not designed to treat symptoms or syndromes related to abuse or trauma. Instead, the primary purpose is to deliver mental health, and other services, etc., in a manner that acknowledges the role that violence and victimization play in the lives of most consumers of mental health and substance abuse services.
Percy B. Shelley
Catherine de Hueck Doherty
An event, symbol, reminder of something unfavorable that causes you to feel, act or respond in a certain way.
It can set off a memory transporting a person back to the event of the original trauma.
A flashback can take the form of pictures, sounds, smells, body sensations, feelings, or numbness. An event or circumstance that happens before something else.
A traumatic event is any event or events, which overwhelms our core capacity to cope. It results in an experience of personal threat to our safety and/or the integrity of our identity.
Source: Cook et al. (2005). Psychiatry Ann,35(5):390-398
Domestic violence (also known as domestic abuse,spousal abuse, or intimate partner violence) occurs when a family member, partner or ex-partner attempts to physically or psychologically dominate another. Domestic violence often refers to violence between spouses, or spousal abuse but can also include cohabitants and non-married intimate partners.
there is a likelihood the other
A survey of more than 6,000 American families found
that 50% of men who frequently assaulted their wives
also frequently abused their children.
Slightly more than half of female victims of domestic
violence live in households with children under age 12
Studies suggest that as many as 10 million children
witness domestic violence each year.
No standard response to living with domestic violence and all children may react differently. Many children are very resilient and do overcome significant problems
However children may experience a wide range of physical, emotional, behavioural and social problems as a result
Risk of exposure to threats or acts of
violence towards their mother.
Risk of undermining mother-child
Risk of physical abuse of the child by
Risk of sexual abuse of the child by the
Risk to children of the batterer as a role
Risk of rigid, authoritarian parenting.
Risk of neglectful or irresponsible
Risk of psychological abuse and
Risk of abduction.
Risk of exposure to violence in the
batterer’s new intimate relationships.
Children describe being abused or neglected and being afraid
They may take on more physical or emotional responsibility for family members / household tasks
DV affects children’s schooling, educational and play opportunities and friendships
Emotional and physical symptoms (e.g. nightmares) may not go away after they are away from the violence
Children of Trauma
From Legacy to Choice
Feeling responsible for an event, outcome, situation that maybe real or imagined
A feeling of disappointment about something inside of us.
“ We feel guilt about what we do or don’t do, and we feel shame for what we are”.
Shame and Guilt the Master of Disguise
Source: USDHHS. (2007) Child Maltreatment 2005; Washington, DC: US Gov’t Printing Office.
Personal communication, Ellie Breitmaier, MSW, Coordinator, DCF Domestic Violence Unit.,
J. & Ghosh, K. (February 6, 2004).Vermont Mental Health Performance Indicator Project. Young Trauma Victims served in Mental Health Programs.
Network Against Domestic Violence
1.Child Welfare League of America. (2007). Special tabulation of the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System. Washington, DC: Author.
2."Other races and ethnicities" includes Asian, Pacific Islander, Illinoisan Native, unknown or unable to determine, missing data and two or more races. CWLA (2007) Special AFCARS tabulation.
1. Dubner et al. (1999). JCCPsych;67(3): 367-373.
2. Marsenich (March 2002). Evidence-Based Practices in Mental Health Services for Foster Youth. Available at: http://www.cimh.org/downloads/Fostercaremanual.pdf.
Children who have experienced a traumatic event show an increased incidence of:
Ischemic heart disease
Chronic Lung disease
“It was the worst part of my life – constantly being shouted at, frightened, living in fear. You will never know what it’s like, thinking that every day could be your last.”16 year old South Asian girl quoted in Mullender et al., 2002
Always going last/
being put aside
Being beaten up while parents are drunk
Always talking about mistakes
Adults aren’t paying attention
Being lied to
Not feeling respected
Self hatred and hatred to others
Afraid of our own anger and violence
Dissociation. Some traumatized children experience a feeling of detachment or depersonalization, as if they are “observing” something happening to them that is unreal.
Behavioral control. Traumatized children can show poor impulse control, self-destructive behavior, and aggression towards others.
Cognition.Traumatized children can have problems focusing on and completing tasks, or planning for and anticipating future events. Some exhibit learning difficulties and problems with language development.
Self-concept. Traumatized children frequently suffer from disturbed body image, low self-esteem, shame, and guilt.
Attachment. Traumatized children feel that the world is uncertain and unpredictable. They can become socially isolated and can have difficulty relating to and empathizing with others.
Biology. Traumatized children may experience problems with movement and sensation, including hypersensitivity to physical contact and insensitivity to pain. They may exhibit unexplained physical symptoms and increased medical problems.
Mood regulation. Children exposed to trauma can have difficulty regulating their emotions as well as difficulty knowing and describing their feelings and internal states.
Exposure to Trauma
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Duration of at least one month of symptoms.
Disturbance produces clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioningPTSD
1. Pynoos et al. (1997). Ann N Y Acad Sci;821:176-193
Source: American Bar Association. (January 2004). Adolescence, Brain Development and Legal Culpability. Available at: http://www.abanet.org/crimjust/juvius/Adolescence.pdf
Trauma can lead to serious disruptions in a child’s sense of safety, personal responsibility, and identity.
Distorted connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can disrupt encoding and processing of memory.
Difficulties in communicating about the event may undermine a child’s confidence and social support.
Staff must help the child feel safe, so he or she can develop a coherent understanding of traumatic experiences.
Traumatic events affect many aspects of the child’s life and can lead to secondary problems (e.g., difficulties in school and relationships, or health-related problems).
These “secondary adversities” may mask symptoms of the underlying traumatic stress and interfere with a child’s recovery from the initial trauma.
Secondary adversities can also lead to changes in the family system and must be addressed prior to or along with trauma-focused interventions.
A close relationship w/their non-abusive
Good relationships w/siblings
Connection to other loved ones, peers,
Opportunities to talk about events and express feelings
Opportunities to release distressing feelings
Good information about abuse
Teach critical thinking skills
Understand and support children’s
emotional and physical survival strategies
Talk to children about safety planning
Jane Middelton-MozShame and Guilt the Master of Disguise
Create something (food, art, photography….)
Love your family, spouse, and pets and spend lots of time with them
Exercise at least 3 times per week
Avoid excess in anything (food, caffeine, alcohol, exercise, work…)
Relax with a good book, and schedule “nothing” time
Eat healthy food
Dream about your goals and envision the future you want for yourself and your family