The Complex Trauma Survivor Faces a Lifetime’s Worth of Bullying

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The Complex Trauma Survivor Faces a Lifetime’s Worth of Bullying


Photo Credit: Vortexas32 via Flickr. Creative Commons License.

By Shahida Arabi, M.A., Author

“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood – establishing independence and intimacy – burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships. She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.”
– Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Violence to Political Terror

Complex trauma survivors face a dilemma that very few can fathom: they are forced to confront present-day stressors while attempting to resolve triggers from the past. These layers upon layers of trauma take courage, support and time to unravel. The healing journey of a complex trauma survivor who has several sources of toxic stress is multifaceted. Their day to day reality is filled with tiny terrors embedded within larger cracks in the psychological war zone that is their psyche.

Survivors of bullying and other traumas face a double bind: not only are they oppressed by their peers, they are often oppressed by family members, authority figures and other life circumstances. When bullying is also supplemented with other microaggressions or tumultuous life events, the trauma is undeniably more forceful in its impact. What happens when the child is bullied at both school and the home, both meant to be safe places? What sort of effects linger far beyond childhood, when not only peers but also parental figures simultaneously terrorize the victim? Or what about the impact of chronic, severe bullying – a form of bullying which occurs for years across the child’s entire school career, rather than short-term?


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5 thoughts on “The Complex Trauma Survivor Faces a Lifetime’s Worth of Bullying

  1. Dear Shadida: Thank you for this article! As someone who lives with C-PTSD, for those I share this article with, it will them more fully understand me and what I could not tell them. I do wonder from the many sources I’ve read and the developments being made in the awareness and treatment of complex trauma, where true empathy fits into the conversation about cause and treatment? I ask because after many years of needing and searching (without being able to articulate that need from lack of experience, not effort), it was not until I experienced true empathy being offered to me (FROM a psychologist specializing in trauma) that I began to truly heal. Your thoughts? Experience? Sincerely, Lee in Canada

    1. Hi there Lee, I am so glad to hear you found this article helpful and validating! I agree with you 100% that empathy from a trauma counselor is such a necessary part of the healing experience, and that lack of empathy (especially prolonged abuse by pathological and character disturbed, empathy deficient individuals) is one of the causes of complex trauma. A lack of validation in early childhood combined with this abuse can also be a very detrimental combination. I think this article by Pete Walker on relational healing in Complex PTSD describes this dynamic perfectly…as you will see, he puts empathy as #1 on the list! – Hope this provides more insight on the role of empathy in cause and treatment. Blessings to you warrior <3 🙂 Shahida

      1. Thank you for the additional article. I will read it! I have a lot of respect for Pete Walker’s work/ approach. I have come to the belief that until trauma and especially complex trauma is treated within varying systems as an attachment/developmental and body-centered “dis-ease” rather than “only” mind-centered “dis-order” in both a specific or general sense that asks for therapeutic partnership, balance and empowerment … many will continue to be fighting an uphill battle.

  2. I wish I had read this sooner. I am sick and tired of being the scapegoat and verbally abused, Everything that person accuses me of are such hypocritical standards and manipulative bs, I have a parent who is like this and the other one is brainwashed saying ” “Stressed” “Its the business” um if its a mood it means it happens every once in a while. Its not a mood, its a personality if its all the time. They treat strangers like friends and friends like strangers I know all the angles and have grieved for a long time.Thank you, may have saved me a trip to therapy-when my parent’s the one who needs the therapy but sometimes no disrespect the most covert ones can’t be spotted by a therapist, they are quite th
    e actor.

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