|The Icon I am working on now: Virgin of Tenderness|
A Work in Progress
June 26, 2013
Today I'd like to respond to two search terms that have popped up on my stat page recently: 1. Complex PTSD and marriage, and 2. Complex PTSD and parenting.
1. Complex PTSD and marriage--
I am assuming here that the person who typed this term into the search engine and landed on my blog site was asking the question, "Can a marital relationship bring about C-PTSD?" In other words, can a bad marriage cause C-PTSD? I'll do my best to reply. In the process of replying to this question, I may also address the question, "If a spouse has C-PTSD when he or she enters a marriage, will that affect the marital relationship adversely?" Please bear in mind that I am not a mental health professional; I am, however, a survivor of child abuse and, later, of spousal abuse. I use my own learning derived from experience and from reading and discussing to answer these questions.
When I was married in 1961, I had no idea I had C-PTSD, and I had no idea that my spouse possibly had the same disorder. What I knew was this: I had a hard time trusting people; I also felt that if I didn't marry at that time, nobody else would ever want me. Why did I have a hard time trusting? Why did I feel totally worthless and as if nobody would ever want to marry me? I couldn't answer those questions. I simply knew how I felt. I was twenty-two years old, fresh out of college, and I knew I felt as if I didn't fit into society, but I was not sure why. Much, much later and after twenty years of domestic violence, I began to understand.
Now, over fifty years after I married, I feel I can attempt to reply to the first question. Here goes: Research literature in the field of domestic violence, PTSD, and C-PTSD in general points to the tendency for people who have endured abuse in their childhood and have not healed to go into a marriage that will repeat the abuse. The abuse in marriage may not, of course, be exactly the same as the childhood abuse, but it may resemble the childhood abuse in some ways. For example, a woman who has been abused by her parents and/or other significant people during her childhood and who has not had help to overcome the effects of this abuse may marry a man who has personality characteristics that are similar to her abusers' personality characteristics. Her decision may not be a conscious decision, of course, but at some level she feels "comfortable" with the man because he is "familiar" to her.
In my case, my father would fly into rages and be physically and verbally violent towards me. This was how he controlled me. Unawares, I married a man who showed the same behaviors. Somehow, after we were married, he picked up on the fact that when he raged at me, he could, just as my father had done, frighten me into submission. After our separation, my husband admitted that his rages were not really about his anger so much as his desire to control me. He also admitted that if I had not put a stop to the dynamics in our household, one of us would eventually have been dead--and he would not have been the corpse!
My marriage lasted for twenty years because I put up with the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse my husband dished out; I thought our kids needed a father and a mother. Besides, I was used to being abused! Why would my marriage be different in that respect from my childhood? After I reported my husband to the police and filed for divorce, I realized that perhaps it would have been better for the kids if I had not hung in for all those years. Now I am convinced of this. However, now it's too late to undo the situation. All I can do is be supportive of my adult kids and try to fix myself--which I am doing. Yes, a bad marriage can add to the burden of C-PTSD. If the marriage lasts long enough, I suppose that the prolonged violence and the abuse involved in a typical domestic violence situation could even cause C-PTSD in a person who did not have the disorder going into the marriage. All I can say with any authority, however, is that I entered my marriage with C-PTSD, and the traumatic events I experienced in my marriage exacerbated my C-PTSD. Presently, I'm working hard to heal the damages, and the sexual abuse and emotional abuse I experienced during those twenty years have made my healing more difficult.
In examining the issue of whether or not the presence of C-PTSD would affect the marital relationship adversely, I can only guess that it would. I say that because now that I understand more about the dynamics of my childhood and my marriage, and now that I realize I am not worthless, I feel confident that if my self esteem had been "normal" and if I had recognized my husband's bullying for the manipulative ploy that it was, I would have left my marriage early on. I'm sure that no woman with a healthy ego would have tolerated my former husband's behavior. She certainly would not have allowed her children to be subjected to my former husband's behavior! But if one or both parties in a marriage come into the relationship with C-PTSD, the chances are excellent that sooner or later the marriage will deteriorate into a violent mess, which is what happened in my marriage. All parties, including the perpetrator, suffer, and if the process is not stopped, somebody dies.
2. Complex PTSD and parenting--
Building upon what I said in the first reply, I would have been a much better parent if I had not had the burden of C-PTSD and if I had not been trying to raise kids in a domestic violence situation. Their lives and mine would have been entirely different. I know this for a fact because after I turned my husband over to the police in 1981, I became a single parent and raised my daughter for five more years. While the five years were not easy, they were good in some respects, and for once, I felt as if I could be a parent without living in fear of my former husband. My daughter, too, learned to live without the ever-present shadow of her father. The situation was beneficial for both of us! Both of us lived with C-PTSD, but at least we were away from the domestic violence of the past. Here are just a few of the changes we experienced:
1. When my daughter and I lived together without my former husband, she and I could interact without having to deal with his rages and temper tantrums. There was no "third party" to interfere with our communication and our attempt to negotiate life together.
2. I was able to discipline my daughter with love and reason, and neither of us lived in fear of my former husband's physical violence or sexually abusive behavior.
3. I helped my daughter get into a summer work program, and she earned the money to buy a horse. My former husband would not allow her to have a horse because he told her that she would never take care of it. By participating in the federally-funded work program, my daughter learned how to work and also how to apply for work and be interviewed. She not only bought a horse, but she took care of the horse and learned to ride, a skill that made her happy and helped her feel good about herself.
We both lived with the burden of our C-PTSD, but we were free from the horrors of a life lived in a domestic violence situation. As I stated, these were not easy years. My daughter was trying to heal, and so was I. But the two of us were free to develop a relationship. We had not been able to do that as long as we feared my former husband.
I've addressed the matter of "C-PTSD and parenting" as well as I can. It's not a simple matter to address. I feel that the presence of C-PTSD in one or both parents can lead to the development of a domestic violence situation if the parents don't get help to heal themselves. Also, if people don't get help, they often don't have the insight into their own situations necessary to see the warning signs of impending disaster. I was in that position. If only I had seen the warnings and had understood the implications of the warnings. But I was blind. I didn't see the horror until I stumbled over it. Then I put an end to the whole disastrous mess, but by then, the damage had been done. Over thirty years later, my kids and I are still dealing with it.
As I have said so many times in posting to this blog: If you have C-PTSD, you need competent professional help so you can heal. To get some idea as to the healing process, please click on "Healing . . . " in my topics list. I wish you all the best in your efforts to heal. I pray that by sharing my experience, I can save somebody some grief.