Saturday, November 25, 2006

Impact of Trauma on Intimacy

My previous blog entry referred to foster care alumna, and how they (we) experience post-traumatic stress disorder at a rate twice that of Vietnam war veterans.

Research also indicates that the ability to relate to other people is altered by personal exposure to trauma.

Truama often causes the "wires" of human interaction to become crossed. This impact is felt most deeply in intimate relationships -- but also has a "ripple effect" which affects every other relationship in that person's life.

In that sense, the trauma continues to harm the person, and infect/affect every person in their life who tries to love them.

Trauma can be a singular event, or the build-up of multiple experiences. Singular events tend to create an immediately obvious reaction, while multiple traumatic exposures can accumulate over several years before revealing themselves. Studies have shown that natural disasters generate less of an emotional impact than interpersonal trauma.

Common features found in traumatic events include:
-Sudden, dangerous, and often life-threatening turn of events
-Feelings of helplessness and loss of control
-Disruption of personal routine; loss of what was familiar
-Unresolved uncertainty over the future

I would argue that, for most of us, foster care created an accumulation of multiple interpersonal traumas.

As an aftermath of sexual abuse, victims often avoid intimacy and trust. Feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy become linked with sexuality, tainting it and robbing it of beauty or joy.

Problems with intimacy can be caused/exacerbated by traumatic events of a nonsexual nature. Studies reveal that combat veterans often become secretive and emotionally withdrawn.

Although the circumstances of traumatic events differ, the impact on survivors and their partners and the damage to their level of intimacy are similar. This includes accident victims and parents who lose a young child.

Mills, Bo and Gordon Turnbull. Broken hearts and mending bodies: The impact of trauma on intimacy. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, Vol. 19, No. 3, August 2004.


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