Tuesday, April 29, 2003

While doing research for Wine to Those in Anguish, I came upon a book that fit perfectly into the story: Treating Traumatized Children. It’s a book meant for clinical child therapists, as sort of roadmap to various reactions that children have to traumatic incidents in their lives.

Here are nine major reactions children have to trauma:

  • Self-Blame (“It’s all my fault”)
  • Powerlessness (“I have little to no control over my body or emotions”)
  • Loss and Betrayal
  • Fragmentation of Bodily Experience (a boy whose right foot has been badly burned might pretend or believe that he doesn’t have a right foot anymore)
  • Stigmatization (“Anyone who looks at me can tell that I’ve been hurt and will judge me”)
  • Eroticization
  • Destructiveness
  • Dissociative/Multiple Personality Disorder (the child spaces out or presents alternate personalities)
  • Attachment Disorder (excessive attachment to one person)

One has to be very careful with how to deal with a lot of these behaviors. Eroticization, for example, is a tough one. The child’s only tool for seeking love is eroticization. One can’t simply switch that off in the child; it takes a long time to teach the child other ways of seeking love from adults. Worse, adults are normally repulsed when a child acts erotically, which leads to feelings of rejection in the child (which, often, leads to increased erotic behavior to try to get a reaction).

The book’s central advice is to be truthful and very, very real with the child. Trauma causes children to break off with reality in various ways, so it’s the therapist’s job — and the job of all those who come in contact with the child, if possible — to reconnect the child with reality. A destructive child must be shown the negative effects of his or her destructiveness and less destructive ways to get attention or release negative emotions.

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