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Trauma Tuesday: PTSD, Trust Issues, and Rage

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By faitha - Posted on 16 August 2011

Traumatized Adopted Child (c) Julie C

I am working through each aftereffect covered in the Incest Survivor’s Aftereffects Checklist. Today, I am addressing this aftereffect:

16. Inability to trust (trust is not safe); absolute trust that turns to rage when disappointed; trusting indiscriminately

Trust issues are a hallmark of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other forms of trauma. If you are parenting a traumatized child, it is very likely that your child struggles with trust issues. As this aftereffect mentions, failure to trust is not the only trust issue. The child could trust deeply and then become enraged when he perceives that trust has been broken. Other traumatized children will routinely trust the wrong people.

Trust is a tough issue for trauma survivors because their trust has been so painfully shattered through abuse and other forms of trauma. They trusted their caregivers and then were harmed, which causes them to question their own judgment. They have a difficult time determining who is trustworthy and who is not, questioning their intuition and, in some cases, doing the opposite of what their intuition tells them, which can result in trusting the wrong people.

The connection between trust and rage is an interesting one that I struggle with myself. Pushing through the internal barriers to trust another person takes a lot of work and courage. So, once the traumatized child chooses to trust someone, she does not react well to any perceived betrayal of that trust. This is why I routinely advise adoptive parents to be trustworthy even in the small things, such as picking up the child on time. If the child cannot trust you to keep your word in the small things, she certainly won’t trust you in the big things.

I only have a small number of people who I trust, and even those I only trust in limited ways. That’s a tip I learned from my therapist – I don’t have to trust any one person in every single area. What matters is that my needs are getting met, and that can happen by trusting one person in one area and another person in another area.

When I perceive a breach of trust, no matter how small, I experience a deep rage that I have learned not to react to. Traumatized children don’t have the years of life experience and therapy that I do, so they are much more likely to react to it. There is a part of me that is always expecting to be betrayed. I push past it to trust and connect with another person. So, when the other person does anything that I perceive as a betrayal of that trust, I feel deep rage toward that person. The more emotionally intimate the relationship, the deeper the rage.

If your traumatized child reacts to you with rage, this is actually a good sign that he has bonded with you. The rage happens because you are now a threat. When the child was not emotionally bonded with you, you were not a threat. Now that the child has risked trusting you, you have the power to shatter his heart again. The rage is a protective shell.

Photo credit: JulieC