The Unseen Toll of Childhood Trauma and a Call for Empathy

Published on 27 August 2023 at 18:53

By Wiley K. March


Resilience is a term often associated with children, depicting their supposed ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. However, it is imperative that we reevaluate this belief and recognize the profound impact adverse experiences can have on a young individual's emotional well-being. By delving into the personal journey of one survivor, we gain insights into the lasting effects of childhood trauma and the remarkable coping mechanisms children can develop.


At the tender age of eight, I found myself grappling with the debilitating effects of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome resulting from my mother's abuse. Among the many challenges I faced, recurring nightmares haunted my nights, leaving me in a state of confusion and disorientation. It was during one of these distressing episodes that I unintentionally struck out at my mother, unaware of her identity in my vulnerable state. Regrettably, instead of responding with understanding and compassion, she reacted with further violence, pinning me down and subjecting me to a barrage of physical aggression. The details of that traumatic incident are hazy, save for the fact that I missed an entire week of school in its aftermath.


Subsequently, my existence revolved around an incessant quest for invisibility. I sought refuge in any available hiding place, often losing myself in books, engrossed in their pages, or immersing myself in artistic endeavors, conjuring up stories for my younger brother. It was during this challenging period that a city-wide art contest presented an opportunity for self-expression. Each participant was tasked with portraying a scene from their favorite book or movie. For me, the choice was clear – "The Deer Hunter," a film that I revisited countless times in an attempt to fathom the depths of the trauma endured by its protagonists. These men, so crucial to my sense of safety and love, carried deep scars from the Vietnam War, as well as previous conflicts in Korea and World War II. In their eyes, fragments of themselves remained stranded in distant lands, forever disconnected.


Remarkably, my entry garnered first place in the competition. For the first time in my young life, I experienced a profound sense of pride. However, the judges soon discovered my tender age and swiftly rescinded the ribbon, deeming me in need of psychiatric assistance. Consequently, my mother reluctantly took me to a psychiatrist, hoping to find confirmation of her belief that I was the problem. To her surprise, the psychiatrist unveiled an uncomfortable truth—she herself was the source of my pain. He confronted her regarding the abuse and neglect that had plagued my formative years, highlighting the legal obligation to report such cases to the authorities, albeit in an era devoid of widespread internet access. Without delay, we vanished from that locality, embarking on a tumultuous journey that extended well into my twenties, where her abuse continued to cast its shadow.


Being a survivor of child abuse is akin to being coated in a sludge of emotional residue, reminiscent of the aftermath of a toxic waste spill. Unfortunately, contrary to the fantastical transformations of fictional characters, we do not morph into Ninja Turtles, armored against life's adversities.


It is essential that we reframe our understanding of childhood resilience, recognizing that children can bear scars that are not always evident on the surface. By acknowledging the multifaceted and profound impacts of trauma, we pave the way for a more empathetic and supportive society—one that embraces the complexity of human experiences and fosters healing and growth for all. Let us challenge the notion of child resilience and strive to provide the understanding and care that young survivors truly deserve.

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