Why Do Adult Survivors Need Advocates?
In 2017, I asked myself and my readers this question.
I already knew from living with my survivor-husband that survivors needed advocates, but why? So I sat down and created my list. Then, I decided to ask readers on the blog, social media, and in online survivor communities what they thought. What were their reasons adult survivors needed advocates?
The result: two blog posts. Here are 20 Reasons Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma Need Advocates is my list; 30 Eye-Opening Answers to Why Adult Survivors Need Advocates contains 30 direct quotes from survivors.
A total of 50. That’s a lot of reasons.
As a review of 2017, I have combined the two lists into one. (Note: The original posts contain expanded commentary so please follow the links.) But I ask that you not think of this as a list of 2017 or the past because really, it’s a list for the future. The 50 reasons are here as a reminder of the ongoing, ever-present need for greater awareness and advocacy for adult survivors all the time.
Here are 50 Reasons Adult Survivors Need Advocates
1. When trauma occurs during early childhood (ages 0-3), the brain is vulnerable and does not follow normal development.
2. Due to the trauma in childhood, key developmental stages may be missed resulting in under-developed social and emotional skills.
3. Survivors have difficulty managing distressing emotions, a term called self-regulation.
4. Survivors who do not know how to regulate themselves are susceptible to developing addictions or other unhealthy coping strategies.
Dr. Gabor Maté writes in his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts that the source of addictions is not to be found in genes but in the early childhood environment.
5. Forcing a survivor to talk about past trauma can retraumatize her and cause a resurgence of symptoms.
6. Childhood abuse is relational trauma. Survivors struggle with challenges in relationships because trauma frequently occurs in the context of early caregiver relationships.
7. Many survivors cannot count on family members to believe or to support them.
Abuse within family environments is thought to make up two-thirds of all child sexual abuse… Child victims of sexual abuse in families let down by system: report. The Guardian.
8. Adult survivors may not able to detect the signs of unhealthy relationships.
9. Dissociation is a common consequence of childhood trauma. Dissociation prevents survivors from engaging in the present leaving them vulnerable to further traumatization.
10. Survivors have issues with memory, planning, and decision making.
11. Physical health outcomes are affected by childhood trauma. High levels of stress hormones from abuse may contribute to higher than average rates of physical health conditions including autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and cancer.
12. Treatment involves many modalities, which can be difficult to find.
13. Treatment is expensive and wait times are often long.
14. Many therapists receive little to no training in trauma at either the undergraduate or graduate level.
15. Childhood trauma has an economic impact including increased rates of poverty and unemployment.
16. There is a stigma surrounding childhood abuse.
17. No separate diagnosis of the traumatic stress of childhood trauma despite recognition from experts that a separate diagnostic category would improve treatment and outcomes.
18. The medical system often does not ask about a childhood trauma history leaving patients vulnerable to misdiagnoses and a host of unrelated treatments.
19. The impact of trauma on the brain and memory is poorly understood by the legal system.
20. The impact of unresolved childhood trauma does not diminish with time.
21. “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.”
22. “Advocates know where to find resources. They know where to get help.”
23. “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’.
24. “We need people who can educate the public so that compassion and understanding are learned.”
25. “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’.”
26. “Survivors feel invisible because our wounds are invisible. Our actions are misunderstood and misinterpreted. We just want to be normal.”
27. “We need help to access funding. Some of us can’t work and can’t afford therapy.”
28. “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.”
29. “Many of us operate from a deep-rooted sense of ‘learned helplessness’. We need people to be strong for us until we are strong.”
30. “Survivors feel defeated from years of people not ‘getting it’.”
31. “It would be nice to have an advocate come with me to doctors’ appointments. 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.”
32. “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.”
33. “Survivors have trouble making decisions. We need people who can show us options and new perspectives.”
34. “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.”
35. “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.”
36. “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.”
37. “Asking for help was unsafe and dangerous. Advocates offer to help.”
38. “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.”
39. “I believe that adult survivors of childhood abuse need advocates because one of the things they lack is the confidence that we matter.”
40. “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.”
41. “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.”
42. “Advocates affirm to us that we deserve safety, dignity, and respect.”
43. “Advocates can help prevent further child abuse through education and communication with the public.”
44. “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.”
45. “Sometimes it’s hard to do it alone. The memories can be paralyzing.”
46. “Knowing that there are advocates for survivors gives me hope!”
47. “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.”
48. “Survivors need advocates to educate professionals. Sometimes, I feel judged and put down by doctors and others.”
49. “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.”
50. “Advocates can help us feel powerful again, maybe for the first time.”
One final reason why adult survivors need advocates
Survivors are vulnerable.
What do vulnerable people need? They need protection, support, resources, funding, care, and advocacy. They need to be heard, understood, and validated. They need dignity and respect.
This is why adult survivors need advocates.