Life After Abuse: What No-one Tells You

It’s easy to assume that the end of an abusive relationship means the end of the problems caused by abuse. This may happen for a few people, but it’s not true for everyone!

Life After Abuse: What No-one Tells You. "Your old life doesn't just snap back into place immediately. You changed, and others changed along with you. - Thomas Fiffer, The Good Men Project

Your old life doesn’t just snap back into place immediately. You changed, and others changed along with you. – Thomas Fiffer


The lingering effects of abuse, and the extent of the damage that it is caused may only become apparent some time later. You will also find that coping with the abuse has changed your way of interacting with others, lowered your self-esteem and distanced you from those close to you (or, those who were close to you but no longer are.

If this sounds overwhelming and depressing then remember that recovering is both possible, and worthwhile. You can begin to have the good life you deserve. You might find it helpful to read the excellent article below – and to share it with those close to you, to help them understand that possible reactions after the end of the abuse – and what can be done to help.

    The Unspoken Secrets about Life After Abuse by Thomas Fiffer (The Good Men Project)

Related Links

It’s my fault, it’s always my fault: Self-Blame (traumadissociation.wordpress.com)
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (traumadissociation.com)
Denial: A psychological defense against trauma (traumadissociation.wordpress.com)
If the Abuse is Ongoing (traumadissociation.wordpress.com)
Being male and a survivor (traumadissociation.wordpress.com)
The Misconcepts of Misandry (hatred against men) (rhsroyalreport.wordpress.com)
Signs of being in a pscyhologically abusive relationship (violencehurts.wordpress.com)

The Cupcake incident – a personal story of Shame and Guilt

'Unlike guilt, which is the feeling of doing something wrong shame is the feeling of being something wrong.' Marilyn J. Sorensen 

Unlike guilt, which is the feeling of doing something wrong, shame is the feeling of being something wrong – Marilyn J. Sorensen

If something bad happens, do you normally think it is your fault and search for what you did wrong?

Many survivors of child abuse automatically blame themselves for anything bad, and feel guilty and ashamed most of the time – especially about anything related to their immediate family.

Can you remember how old you were when you first felt this way?

Where do our feelings of guilt and shame come from?

Darlene, a survivor of multiple types of child abuse, explains one of the things that gave her the core belief that bad things were always her fault, and that the abuse was her fault.

The Cupcake incident – How Shame and Guilt get misapplied to the Self

Related Links

Dissociative Identity Disorder – 5 books about healing from DID

Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder) is often misunderstood and stigmatized.

These books describe the reality of having and recovering from DID. Due to the nature of the types of abuse experience by survivors of dissociative identity disorder these are highly triggering. Most contain descriptions of self injury, suicide attempts and incest.

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A Fractured Mind by Robert Oxnam

“Bob, I’m afraid our time’s up,” Smith said in a matter-of-fact style.

“Time’s up?” I exclaimed. “I just got here.”

“No.” He shook his head, glancing at his clock. “It’s been fifty minutes. You don’t remember anything?”

“I remember everything. I was just telling you that these sessions don’t seem to be working for me.”

Smith paused to choose his words very carefully. “Do you know a very angry boy named ‘Tommy’?”

“No,” I said in bewilderment, “except for my cousin Tommy whom I haven’t seen in twenty years…”

“No.” He stopped me short. “This Tommy’s not your cousin. I spent this last fifty minutes talking with another Tommy. He’s full of anger. And he’s inside of you.” Read more

Five Farewells by Liz Elliot by About Liz

I’m Liz Elliot, and I’ve written my memoir about living with DID because I wanted to share my story with other people so that it might help break down some of the illusions about living with DID.  A lot of brave people have done that before me, and I wanted to be a part of making change for people who live with DID like I do.

My Life as a Multiple by Dr Cameron West

First Person Plural: My Life as a Multiple by Dr Cameron West, source: books.google.com

One of the oldest books written about living with dissociative identity disorder, which was called multiple personality disorder at the time.  He describes here how the switches of identity affect his daily life.

“Janna knew – Rikki knew — and I knew, too — that becoming Dr Cameron West wouldn’t make me feel a damn bit better about myself than I did about being Citizen West. Citizen West, Citizen Kane, Sugar Ray Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, Robinson miso, miso soup, black bean soup, black sticky soup, black sticky me. Yeah. Inside I was still a fetid and festering corpse covered in sticky blackness, still mired in putrid shame and scorching self-hatred. I could write an 86-page essay comparing the features of Borderline Personality Disorder with those of Dissociative Identity Disorder, but I barely knew what day it was, or even what month, never knew where the car was parked when Dusty would come out of the grocery store, couldn’t look in the mirror for fear of what—or whom—I’d see.

The Magic Castle: A Mother’s Harrowing True Story Of Her Adoptive Son’s Multiple Personalities– And The Triumph Of Healing

by Carole Smith

When Carole Smith and her husband decided to take in a foster child that no one else would have, they knew ten-year-old Alex would be difficult. But nothing had prepared them for the unruly, self-destructive boy who stormed into their lives. Alone with Alex during the day, Carole was baffled by his infantile tantrums and violent, self-hating behaviors. Exasperated, she tried relating to him as the two-year-old he appeared to be, and finally, a door to Alex’s mind began to open.

Today I’m Alice: Nine Personalities, One Tortured Mind by Alice Jamieson

bookcover from goodreads.com

When Alice was a teenager, strange things started happening to her. Hours of her life simply disappeared. She’d hear voices shouting at her, telling her she was useless. And the nightmares that had haunted her since early childhood, scenes of men abusing her, became more detailed . . . more real. Staring at herself in the mirror she’d catch her face changing, as if someone else was looking out through her eyes.

I was spaced out, the catchphrase my friends at school used to describe their first experiments with marijuana and booze. This buzzword perfectly described a picture in my mind of me, Alice, hovering just below the ceiling like a balloon and looking down at my own small bed where a big man lay heavily on a little girl I couldn’t quite see or recognize. It wasn’t me. I was spaced out on the ceiling.

We have just updated our Books page on the Trauma and Dissociative Disorders wiki.

If you’d like to chat about related book join our goodreads group or check our goodreads list of books.

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Do survivors blame themselves? Can they change this?

Do survivors of abuse blame themselves for being abused?

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One survivor, who was sexually abused and exploited by a pedophile ring in Rochdale, England stated:

“Slowly, I’m beginning to realise that what happened to me wasn’t my fault, that I was taken advantage of by a group of vile, twisted men.  Girl A, Girl A: The truth about the Rochdale sex ring by the victim who stopped them.

Survivors of child abuse are even likely to blame themselves than survivors of abuse as an adult, in particular when they were groomed by an abuser. Psychoeducation can help reduce;  reviewing the events leading up to the abuse from a new, adult point of view can be key to shifting the self-blame.

 The experience of talking about my life in that period was really difficult. I started to remember how I had felt at the time but through the eyes of a now adult.

I felt very low and my self-esteem was at its lowest. I felt that what happened was my fault and that I deserved to be treated that way. I sometimes struggled during the interview process because I found myself getting upset and angry. I was upset because I could see looking back how easily I was led by people that I thought actually cared about me at the time. I can see now that they didn’t care about me. They wanted me for their sexual pleasure.”

‘Girl A’ from her victim impact statement, 9 men from the pedophile ring who abused her were jailed

Is posttraumatic stress disorder linked to self-blame and guilt?

One of the core symptoms needed for diagnosing PTSD is negative alterations in cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic events(s), beginning or worsening after the traumatic event(s).

The DSM-5 diagnostic manual breaks this down into several examples, some of which include the individual blaming himself/herself, and persistent guilt, shame, fear and anger.

Read more about PTSD.

Sexual Abuse and Child Sexual Abuse – How does it happen?

Child sexual abuse is not spontaneous or “accidental” in any way.
Breaking Free: Help for survivors of child sexual abuse, Carolyn Ainscough  & Kay Toon

Understanding how the psychology and pattern of behavior of an abuser before the abuse began can help alter this perspective by helping a survivor see this from a more neutral point of view.

Are eating disorders linked to PTSD and abuse? How?

Eating Disorders are common in people with PTSD

Some parts of this post may be slightly triggering.

Why do people develop eating disorders?

There are many different reasons why people develop eating disorders, but people suffering from PTSD are at an increased risk. Some eating disorders are more closely linked to child abuse and neglect than others.

In their book on Traumatic Stress, Van der Kolk et al. (2012) state that the “lack or loss of self-regulation” (emotional regulation, also known as affect regulation) “is possibly the most far-reaching effect of psychological trauma in both children and adults”. Difficulties in relgulating emotions are a known symptom of both Complex PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder.

Eating Disorder Sourcebook quote

How are Eating Disorder thoughts linked to trauma and abuse?

Why do people develop one eating disorder rather than another? What thoughts might be involved?

The relationship between Trauma and Eating Disorders

Lemberg and Cohn’s Eating Disorder Sourcebook states:

“Eating disorders may represent a powerful response to and means of coping with the psychological and biological effects of trauma outlined above. When viewed as a means of coping, as well as a possible symbolic representation of the trauma, eating disturbances become more comprehensible to the patient and clinician alike.” [9]

Brewerton (2007) summarizes significant conclusions in the link between trauma and eating disorders (EDs), as follows:

  • childhood sexual abuse is a “nonspecific risk factor” for EDs
  •  a spectrum of trauma is linked to EDs, including a variety of forms of abuse and neglect
  • trauma is more common in bulimic EDs compared to nonbulimic EDs
  • the link between EDs and trauma extends to children and adolescents with EDs, and to boys and men with EDs
  • multiple episodes or forms of trauma are associated with EDs
  • trauma is “not necessarily associated with greater ED severity”
  • trauma is associated with more co-existing diagnoses (including PTSD) in people with EDs
  • subthreshold (partial) PTSD may be a risk factor for bulimia nervosa and bulimic symptoms
  • the trauma and PTSD or its symptoms must be addressed in order to fully recover from the ED and co-existing diagnoses [15]

Weight loss in eating disorders and the psychology of trauma and abuse

Lemberg (1999) goes on to explain the following links:

  • dieting – avoiding needs – to need is dangerous during trauma
  •  dieting may be seen as a way to “purify” a damaged self
  • some sexual abuse survivors deliberately starve themselves to repulse the perpetrator and any future perpetrators
  • starving can bring on dissociative-like states, allowing “a level of removal from the here-and-now”
  • refusing food can give the illusion of power; those who have been repeatedly powerless (as occurs in cases of abuse), in this case regaining a sense of personal power in different areas of life is crucial in recovery
  • many people with eating disorders lack a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and trauma survivors often experience internal chaos, confusion and pain.
  • Westernized culture links a slender physique with control, happiness, emotional stability and calmness, and success which can lend additional importance to the pursuit of “thinness”. [9]

Ferentz (2012) also states that

“A person’s quest to reduce their physical size can be a desire for invisibility, and an expression of vulnerability”

“denial of food may have roots in prior neglect and lack of adequate nurturance” [5]

Binge eating and trauma

  • comfort and nurturance which is not supplied by the self or others
  •  The negative thoughts or mood experienced as a core symptom of PTSD can involve “exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself”, binge eating to the point of painful fullness may represent punishment, particularly when an abuser instilled the belief “I am bad”, which later was internalized in the trauma survivor. (see also: Copy alters (introjects)). Self injury, alcohol and substance misuse can also be used as punishment.
  • some find binge eating a means to escape through dissociation, experiencing a trance-like state to avoid moods such as anger
  • excess weight can be seen as an “armor” to repel potential abusers and/or make the person more “powerful and formidable”
  • Shame and guilt are examples of negative alterations in cognitions and mood are associated with PTSD.
  • The societal stigma and stereotyping of overweight people allows excess weight to be a public symbol of the bodily shame and self-contempt gained as a result of abuse as well as a representation of the person feeling unworthy of love

Purging and trauma

Purging can include self-induced vomiting, abusing laxatives, diuretics, excessive exercise or enemas. [5] Purging’s psychological role includes:

  • often symbolizing “a cleansing of a person’s body from abuse”[12] or removing the internal feeling of being “dirty” [5]
  • allows for the removal of rage[5] or “anger pent up inside.” [12]
  • releasing unspoken memories [5]
  • reclaiming a sense of control over a person’s own body by removing what was forced inside [5]
  • purging reenacts and perpetuates the sense of “badness” which many trauma survivors experience [5]
  •  purging may be a way for trauma survivors to regain control over their emotions [11]

A large study of adult women with anorexia nervosa found that 13.7% met DSM-IV criteria for PTSD, with those having the restricting form of anorexia nervosa significantly less likely to have PTSD than those with purging anorexia nervosa without binge eating. Of those with PTSD the majority experienced their first traumatic event before the onset of anorexia nervosa, with the most common traumatic events reported being child sexual traumas and adult sexual trauma. [13]

Personality Disorders and Eating Disorders

Self-induced vomiting within eating disorders is significantly associated with both borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. Avoidant Personality Disorder is the most common personality disorder present in those with eating disorders. [14]

References

  1. World Health Organisation, (2010). International classification of diseases. ICD-10.
  2. Durso, L.E.; Latner J.D, Hayashi K (2012). Perceived Discrimination Is Associated with Binge Eating in a Community Sample of Non-Overweight, Overweight, and Obese Adults. The Europenan Journal of Obesity, volume 5. (doi:10.1159/000345931)
  3. International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. Guidelines for treating dissociative identity disorder in adults, third revision. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, volume 12.2, page 115-187.
  4. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5.
  5. Ferentz, Lisa (2012). Treating Self-Destructive Behaviors in Trauma Survivors: A Clinician’s Guide. ISBN 1136843159.
  6. Ross, Carolyn (2009). The Binge Eating and Compulsive Overeating Workbook: An Integrated Approach to Overcoming Disordered Eating. ISBN 1572245913.
  7. Fairburn, C. G.,; Doll, H. A., Welch, S. L., Hay, P. J., Davies, B. A., & O’Connor, M. E. (1998). Risk factors for binge eating disorder: a community-based, case-control study.. Archives of general psychiatry, volume 55.5, issue 425.
  8. World Mental Health Surveys. The Prevalence and Correlates of Binge Eating Disorder in the World Health Organization. Biological Psychiatry, volume 73, issue 9, 1.
  9. Lemberg, Raymond (Editor) (1999) (coauthors: Cohn, Leigh (Editor)). Eating Disorders: A Reference Sourcebook. ISBN 1573561568.
  10. Attia, Evelyn; et al. (2013). Feeding and Eating Disorders in DSM-5. American Journal of Psychiatry, volume 170, page 1237-1239. (doi:10.1176)
  11. van der Kolk, Bessel A. (2012) (coauthors: McFarlane, ‎Alexander C.; Weisaeth,‎ Lars). Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society. ISBN 1462507107.
  12. Southard, Ashley L. (2008). Understanding Bulimia: A Qualitative Exploration of the Roles of Race, Culture, and Family. ISBN 0549661786.
  13. Reyes-Rodríguez, Mae Lynn; Von Holle, Ann; Ulman, T. Frances; Thornton, Laura M. et al. (2011). Post traumatic stress disorder in anorexia nervosa. Psychosom Med., volume 73, issue 6, page 491-497. (doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e31822232bb)
  14. von Lojewski, A.; Fisher, A.; Abraham, S. (2013). Have Personality Disorders Been Overdiagnosed among Eating Disorder Patients?. Psychopathology, volume 46, page 421-426. (doi:10.1159/000345856)
  15. Brewerton, T. D. (2007). Eating disorders, trauma, and comorbidity: Focus on PTSD. Eating Disorders, 15(4), 285-304. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Timothy_Brewerton/publication/6128514_Eating_disorders_trauma_and_comorbidity_focus_on_PTSD/links/0046352783075737c6000000.pdf

This information was first written for our former website, which is no longer online

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