Why do adult survivors of childhood trauma need advocates?
After all, adult survivors of childhood trauma look just like other adults. They talk like adults. They hold jobs, they volunteer, and they go to school. They have families. They own or rent homes. They have bills to pay.
On the outside, they appear just like any other adult.
But that’s the outside. Inside, within the brain, there are differences.
When trauma occurs early in life, during development, the brain is especially vulnerable to the development of maladaptive patterns of thinking and responding.
When a child lives in an abusive environment, the brain adapts or changes in response to the situation to keep the child alive. Although life-saving at the time, these adaptations ultimately prove maladaptive as the person grows into adulthood when survival is no longer threatened. These maladaptations create difficulties for the adult survivor. – Heather Tuba, Here are 20 Reasons Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse Need Advocates
But because survivors look just like other adults, they are often misunderstood, blamed, and judged for their responses and reactions to life. (Why can’t he get his life together? Why can’t she leave that in the past?) And of course, these types of misinformed statements by individuals, professionals, systems, and society perpetuate the survivor’s feelings of shame, guilt, and helplessness.
Adult survivors want to heal and to recover from what happened to them as children. However, many have been unable to access or to afford the necessary trauma-informed treatment. Unfortunately, if an adult survivor does not have the opportunity to heal from the developmental injuries of childhood trauma through access to appropriate therapies and supports, they are extremely vulnerable.
As vulnerable persons, survivors need individuals and organizations to stand up for them, listen to them, and walk with them while they recover from the past. They need people who will help them navigate systems like medical, psychological, insurance, and social services. They need people who are informed about trauma, who can explain it to others, and who can assist survivors as they heal and recover.
Survivors need advocates.
I wrote Here are 20 Reasons Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma Need Advocates to demonstrate the vulnerability of adult survivors. But I wondered if I was missing answers. What did others think?
Why do adult survivors of childhood trauma need advocates?
So I asked my readers on the blog and on social media. The answers arrived from survivors, from clinicians, and from advocates. I’ve compiled the answers for you today.
(I chose to keep the responses anonymous out of respect for the survivors. One of the reasons that survivors need advocates is because of the stigma and shame of their abuse.)
30 Eye-Opening Responses to Why Survivors of Childhood Trauma Need Advocates
1. “Because as a result of our childhood circumstances, we didn’t learn how to adequately advocate for ourselves. When we tried to get our needs met or our opinions heard, we were physically punished or ignored. We don’t know who we can ask for help, or even what to say if we decide to try to ask.”
2. “Advocates know where to find resources. They know where to get help.”
3. “The skills that help survivors to live through trauma also program us to override our own needs and to not recognize when we need help. Advocates can act as a mirror. Advocates give us permission to speak the truth about what happened and also encourage us to say ‘this isn’t over for me’.
4. “We need people who can educate the public so that compassion and understanding are learned.”
5. “Adult survivors may try to suppress their trauma because they have convinced themselves that what happened to someone else is worse, just because the law and society say so. As clinicians, advocates, and other professionals, we need to somehow validate the potential effects for survivors, rather than giving them the message that the severity of the abuse/length of duration of abuse should dictate how fast someone should ‘get over it’.”
6. “Survivors feel invisible because our wounds are invisible. Our actions are misunderstood and misinterpreted. We just want to be normal.”
7. “We need help to access funding. Some of us can’t work and can’t afford therapy.”
8. “Advocacy is something that many adult survivors have never had in their lives. We need someone to hear us, believe us, and stand with us.”
9. “Many of us operate from a deep-rooted sense of ‘learned helplessness’. We need people to be strong for us until we are strong.”
10. “Survivors feel defeated from years of people not ‘getting it’.” – Childhood abuse survivor on why survivors need advocates
11. “It would be nice to have an advocate come with me to doctors’ appointments. I find these appointments triggering. It would be nice to have someone who could explain to professionals what I’ve been through and help me get through the appointment without being traumatized for weeks.”
12. “We need support and advocacy because many of us never saw normal life and relationships. We need people to model this. We can’t learn without being shown what it looks and feels like.”
13. “Survivors have trouble making decisions. We need people who can show us options and new perspectives.”
14. “I have such difficulty setting boundaries. I need someone who can help me know when and how to set limits and ask for what I need.”
15. “It may seem contradictory and inexplicable that a survivor who is capable and highly-skilled at caring for and advocating on behalf of others is unable to ‘stay on their own side’ when it comes to self-care and self-advocacy. It would be nice to have someone care and advocate for me.”
16. “It is literally not possible for our brains to find the pathways to support ourselves and to advocate for our own safety and well-being. We need people to model how to do this until we learn to do it ourselves.”
17. “Asking for help was unsafe and dangerous. Advocates offer to help.”
18. “We are quick to blame ourselves for the failures of others or the failures of systems. We need people to help us see situations differently.”
19. “I believe that adult survivors of childhood abuse need advocates because one of the things they lack is the confidence that we matter.”
20. “When a person is abused during childhood, they are afraid of those in positions of authority. When someone takes that role, the person who suffered abuse will feel like he or she did as a child: powerless.”
21. “Having an advocate to help survivors navigate the many obstacles in our healing journey would be so beneficial! It would be great to have someone who understands, supports, and speaks on our behalf. Survivors would feel less shame and less alienated knowing they have advocates!”
22. “Advocates affirm to us that we deserve safety, dignity, and respect.”
23. “Advocates can help prevent further child abuse through education and communication with the public.”
24. “We need advocates for the same reasons any individual or group needs advocates: to make sure we are heard. Too often, those of us who are survivors are called ‘problems,’ and are belittled or ignored.”
25. “Sometimes it’s hard to do it alone. The memories can be paralyzing.”
26. “Knowing that there are advocates for survivors gives me hope!”
27. “I have used an advocate to help me with challenges at my place of employment. The advocate took the pressure off me by communicating with my employers. He helped me stay calm during meetings.”
28. “Survivors need advocates to educate professionals. Sometimes, I feel judged and put down by doctors and others.”
29. “Because of early abuse, survivors tend to see things very black-and-white. Advocates can help us see a new perspective and formulate new questions and thoughts.”
30. “Advocates can help us feel powerful again, maybe for the first time.”
If you are a survivor of childhood trauma, don’t give up. There are advocates, such as myself, for you! If you are an advocate for survivors, keep doing this work. Survivors need you.