Husband Having Difficulty with Abuse in His Childhood

Reader’s Question

My husband is so sweet and loving but has some severe issues with paranoia. He was raped by his teenage brother for a year when he was 5; the abuse involved bullying, lying and demands of secrets and constant threats. Even worse, when my husband was in his 20s he actually worked in the family business with this brother and a few older ones and continued to be treated as though he was worthless (not paying him for any of his work, etc.).

We live far away now and even though the family doesn’t know the reasons from his youth, we don’t deal with any of his oldest brothers. When he is not in a state of defensiveness and paranoia he understands that this trauma is affecting us as I am the only one he has told and the first real deep relationship he has had. I love him dearly but he can be so defensive over the smallest and strangest things one moment, during which time he relates to me as if I am a stranger. After which he goes back to being close and loving to me like we are soul mates. He has super low self esteem one moment and an inflated ego the next, and constant conflict within. I seem to be the only person this behaviour affects and our intimate life has almost stopped since he told me this 10 months ago. We are extremely open about what is happening, but nothing seems to help him heal the trauma.

I understand a lot of what is happening in his fractured mind but is there really a way for him to ever “heal” that period in his life so he can be whole and trust? He would like to go to therapy, but what is recommended to help him truly heal deep inside? This is not an incident he thinks about but it is obvious to me it is resurfacing in ways that are deeply hurting his chance at true happiness with the freedom that comes with trust.

Psychologist’s Reply

Emotional and physical trauma such as abuse, rape, assaults, belittling, embarrassment, etc. create strong Emotional Memories. Our brain has the ability to remember the details of an event as well as the mood at the time of the event. When traumatized, that Emotional Memory remains very strong until something is done to decrease the emotional content of the memory. Your husband has thousands of Emotional Memories connected with his childhood and family. Daily events “trigger” those memories which then instantly change his mood, producing what you are seeing as a defensiveness and severe overreaction to events. Sad to say…time doesn’t heal emotional wounds…only working to fix them helps. One way to help fix them is to use the strategies and techniques I’ve outlined in my article on Emotional Memory on this website.

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Clinically, this is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Folks can get this condition from a single trauma — auto crash, criminal assault, heart attack, etc. or from prolonged exposure to an abusive environment. Anyone who has been in combat will tell you that they are reminded of their experience on a daily basis. This also happens to your husband.


  1. Study Emotional Memory and see how the brain works — for good and bad.
  2. Study PTSD and its symptoms and treatment.
  3. Develop private “signals” with your husband to tell him when the Emotional Memory is out, like an umpire’s time-out signal.
  4. Remind him frequently about the here-and-now each time one of the emotional memories surface.
  5. Seek a therapist who has an understanding of abuse and/or PTSD. There is treatment for this situation, but it takes effort.

Keep in mind that you have now been traumatized by his disclosure of his childhood. It’s quite likely that the sexual nature of his trauma has killed sexual interest in both of you — again related to Emotional Memory. Witnessing trauma or having trauma disclosed by a loved one often disorganizes an individual. You are doing the right thing however by seeking consultation on the matter.

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