Debunking PTSD myths

I took a PTSD quiz and missed one of the questions.  Really, I live it every day.  Then I realized that the question I missed is a common myth about children living in abuse.  The question asked how students do in school.  I answered get top grades.  Nope the correct answer was get into trouble in the classroom.  HELLLLLLLOOOOOOO…. If I got into trouble in the classroom my life would be a worse than the living hell I was already in.  Getting attention meant worse treatment at home.  I was very good in school plus I loved school.  It made sense.  If I did what the teacher told me to do I would get good grades.  At home, I would do what I was told to do and be punished for not doing it fast enough, good enough, without being told.  I never knew what new offense would get me a scolding, spanking, or grounding depending on my mother’s mood.

Abused children get into trouble is a common error in thinking that continues to persist with ‘experts.’  I first learned about how twisted this thinking is in high school.  I had a health teacher that sent around a questionnaire in class with questions about if we used drugs and were we willing to talk openly about drug use.  (This was in the 1970’s.)   We had 100% say that we would talk about it openly.  The teacher then reported that half the class had tried marijuana.  He picked out half the class.  He picked out the trouble makers, loud mouths, and other behavior disorder students.  We all nodded looking at the motley bunch.  Then the teacher said, “Will the real users now stand up?”  The quiet kids, A students, nice kids one and all.  I couldn’t believe it.  The teacher went on to explain that acting out in class gave the students an outlet to their frustration and anger….the quiet nice kids had no such outlet.  They turned to drugs to help cope.  For me, I hid behind perfectionism and working hard at school.  If I was doing homework I could lessen the house work load my mother expected me to do.  Sad thing was with graduating in the top 5% of my class I was still called stupid and ding-a-ling.  I kept hoping if I was ‘good enough’ I could stay out of trouble.  Didn’t work but I still tried.

Years later in counseling my therapist helped me understand that the punishments inflicted were not about me or what I was doing.  The unreasonable change up of expectations was designed to make me look bad on purpose.  The weird world of child abuse is the abuser is making the child look like they deserve the insane punishments.  Blame the victim.  I still remember one session where the counselor talked about ‘typical teenager behavior’.  I didn’t figure out where he was going with discussion.  He talked almost the entire session what it means to be a teenager with rebellion and arguing with parents and misbehavior and and and ….I agreed with everything.  I raised 6 teenagers and I recognized everything he was talking about.  I agreed with it all.  Then in the last 5 minutes he asked me, “Did you ever do that?”  Oh hell no.  I wouldn’t have lived if I had.  Then he struck fear in my heart when he said, “Every person needs to go through the teenage phase to mature.”  What ….no…..oh no…………”Do you mean to tell me I am going to be a 50 year old TEENAGER??????”  He sat back and smiled.  That was one of those days when I understood why he sat across the room from me out of arms reach and harms way.

If you are a professional reading this, please, understand that children living in abuse may be model students with high grades and obsession with doing everything perfect.  People pleasing robots that never rebel, fight back or have one idea of their own.  Perfect parrots that regurgitate exactly what they are told to do.  Terrified of making a mistake.  Sobbing if they are in the slightest trouble.  Frozen if some mistake is pointed out.

By the way, I am thankful to be working at a high school now where my teenage behavior blends in a bit.  I actually yelled at my parents a few years ago.  Yup.  Teen years are a bit scary why I’m over 50.

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2 thoughts on “Debunking PTSD myths

  1. I can so relate to this and so glad you shared this!!! I never got to be a teen or even a kid. While I did have some acting out, I was mostly trying to be perfect in the hopes of some degree of acceptance and approval. Robot indeed! Like you said, it didn’t work — at least not a home. Nothing was ever good enough. By late high school, I’d pretty much stopped trying. Perhaps the following is partly why. I begged my parents to take me to a therapist at age 15. They reluctantly agreed and chose a psychiatrist. I won’t make that mistake again. I confessed drug and alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts, depression, etc. I was asking for help! He said, “sounds like a perfectly normal teenager to me.” Hmm. How about, “was trying to cope the only way I could with the accumulated pain of a lifetime of double binds, guilt-trips, and various forms of terrifying abuse traumas from which there was no escape and for which there was no support from anyone!” — including him!

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