Kristen Hovet | October 30, 2020
Kids are resilient. Kids bounce back.
Tell that to Dave Brethauer, a performance coach in Chicago, who told Genetic Literacy Project that he spent the better part of his adult life “fighting to find” himself following the trauma he experienced as a child. “From the time I was five till 14 I had an abusive stepdad in my life,” he said.
To cope, he found himself turning to alcohol, sex, overeating, and exercise addictions – anything to steer his mind away from the memories and pain that haunted him. He contemplated suicide, spent “time on a locked psych ward,” sought help at an addiction clinic, and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 10 years ago, at the age of 50. Only in the past decade has Brethauer been able to approach what he refers to on his website as an “optimal life.”
Statements about kids and resiliency are far from true, if considered in the context in which they are normally uttered: when an adult dismisses the idea that a child might be harmed by a traumatizing situation. The situation is justified or allowed to continue in light of the supposed ability of the child to handle whatever life deals them. The child might seem fine, but the effects of living through trauma are carried in their bodies and minds for a lifetime.
Kathleen Audet, image consultant in Reno, Nevada, also has trouble accepting the myth that kids bounce back. Immediately following the birth of her daughter and while still in the hospital, Audet suffered a debilitating stroke. She was only 33, and both she and her doctors knew the stroke was linked to the adverse experiences she faced as a child. “Bottom line, I was NOT listening to myself or my body,” she told GLP.
“Not listening to myself for years on end made my body shut down and say: ‘If you won’t listen to me, I’ll stop you until you do’,” Audet wrote in a post recounting her stroke and subsequent long road to recovery.
Individuals with histories of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or neglect “are often chronically disconnected from their bodies,” wrote Lisa Ferentz, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, in her Psychology Today blog, entitled Healing Trauma’s Wounds. This chronic disconnection can lead to an inability to respond to normal physical sensations, like hunger and fatigue. It may also manifest as an inability or unwillingness to respond to the body’s signals that something is wrong. Disengaging from the body, Ferentz said, can become “a form of self-punishment and can set clients up for acts of self-harm” and self-destructive behaviors.