ABSTRACT

When children become victims of violent or abusive maltreatment, the psychic consequences are, in many cases, much different than those observed in adults, as the specific vulnerability of the developing mind and body has the effect of making children less capable of coping with the resultant trauma. This is due to two main factors. The first is that a psychic structure still growing will react to unsupportable pain by changing the course of its growth, resulting in a multi-faceted developmental trauma affecting all fields of mental life. In a developed psychic structure, on the other hand, the traumatic impact will cause lesions or scars in already existing mental processes, such as affect regulation and memory. Moreover, a second factor applies: Since children’s coping capabilities strongly depend on their family environment, the unfolding of the trauma is intertwined with recognition and containing within the primary relation. Often, those relations are the very reason for the trauma itself, so that here, the child finds itself in a trap between trauma and trust. Many case reports have confirmed the difficulties children experience in coping with traumatic experiences, but also show, at the same time, their readiness to resort to support wherever they find it, as well as to accept opportunities for healing (cf. Axline, 1964; Shengold, 1989; Streeck-Fischer, 1998; Kaplan, 2008). This will be demonstrated in detail through the experience of survivors of the Rwandan genocide. The case of the Rwanda child survivors will show that traumatic experience, even if genocidal in character, does not necessarily lead to severe psychopathology for the survivor. It depends on resilience factors, mainly occurring in the social environment, whether and how children cope with the traumatic experience.