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Archive for February, 2008

Microscopic View (c) Lynda BernhardtMany child abuse survivors ask the question, “Which type of child abuse is the worst?” I guess child abuse survivors want to figure out where they fall in the pecking order of pain. Some might want to reassures themselves that their abuse really was that bad while others are still trying to convince themselves that it wasn’t.

I asked my therapist this question. He replied that there is no value in comparing abuses. Pain is pain, and all pain hurts. I agree with him that all abuse is bad and that even “just one time” is enough to damage a child’s spirit. However, the question still remains: Which type is worse?

As someone who has experienced most forms of abuse, I can speak intelligently to this question. Physical abuse is hard because it is physically painful, leaves your body sore as a reminder of the abuse, and is terrifying because a much larger person is manipulating your body. You have the fear of losing your life at the hands of a much larger person.

Sexual abuse is hard because the abuse moves inside of your body to a place where you thought you were protected. Sexual abuse feels as if the person is reaching inside of you to harm your spirit. Also, the body can “betray” you by responding with positive sensations as you are being harmed, causing you to question whether you have any right to complain.

Ritual abuse is hard because you are being abused by “professionals” who have a calculated plan of how to harm you. There is nothing impulsive about the things being done to you. It is hard to work through knowing that these people conspired to break you.

When I looked back over my child abuse memories, the emotional elements of all of these abuses have been the hardest for me to heal. While my body would heal from the physical abuse, the emotional scars remained. The sexual abuse left no marks anywhere except on my wounded spirit. What made the ritual abuse so bad was the emotional element: That is where my ritual abusers put their greatest focus.

So, my answer to the question, “Which type of child abuse is the worst?” would be emotional abuse, and emotional abuse is present in all forms of abuse. This brings us back to what my therapist said when I asked him this question: All abuse is bad.

Related Topics:

Emotional Abuse category

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Fire (c) Rosanne MooneyMany people who suffered ritual abuse were “programmed” to self-destruct if they ever revealed their abusers’ secrets. While people who never suffered from ritual abuse might believe this sounds like a bad plot in a science fiction movie, numerous survivors of childhood ritual abuse share the same story.

When somebody’s behavior arises out of programming, that behavior feels compulsive and seems to come out of left field. For example, when I was a teenager, I struggled with deep depression and contemplated suicide. I thought about the various ways to die, and I settled upon swallowing a jar of pills to be my “method of choice.” I fought off and overcame my suicidal urges in high school and never revisited that deep dark place.

In my mid-thirties, I entered into therapy after I began having flashbacks. As the flashbacks moved from “regular” abuse to ritual abuse, I suddenly started having strong urges to slash my wrists with a knife. When these thoughts would come into my head, I would “think” the phrase, “Watch the lifeblood flow out of me.” I came to realize that this was programming. At no point did I ever “choose” the method of suicide through using a knife: This was chosen for me.

I also experienced programming in self-injury, and I later recovered the memory of the programming. As a teenager, my father died suddenly, and my mother began abusing me again. I never self-injured. I endured years of fertility treatments in which I desperately wanted to become pregnant. Despite very heavy emotions, I never self-injured. It never even crossed my mind to do so. I never self-injured as I recovered memories of my mother’s abuse or abuse by several other abusers.

As soon as I started to recover memories of the ritual abuse, I had very strong compulsions to bang my head rhythmically against a brick wall. It wasn’t just any brick wall but a specific one with mortar than was not smoothed out. I resisted the urge to bang my head into walls and forced myself to use a pillow, but I was powerless to stop the compulsions. When they hit, I had a very short window to reach a pillow.

Chrystine Oksana’s book Safe Passage to Healing is a wonderful resource for anyone who has suffered from ritual abuse. In this book, she talks about ritual abuse programming and how to dismantle it. The good news is that, because programming is “foreign,” it is much easier to dismantle than many of the negative feelings that a person develops in reaction to the abuse. One of the biggest hurdles is recognizing the programming for what it is.

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Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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Purple flowers (c) Lynda BernhardtI have come to the realization that I still do not love my body. My feelings toward my body became distorted after a childhood filled with child abuse. I used to hate my body, but no longer feel that way. I believed that the absence of hatred was the same thing as loving my body, but I am realizing that it is not. While the cessation of hating my body was a huge positive step, it was not enough. I still need to learn to love my body.

I have stopped having negative thoughts to deride my body, and that was a huge step for me. I do practice yoga on a regular basis, although it has been more intermittent of late. I cannot even tell you why because I feel so much better whenever I commit to doing yoga every single day.

I see the lack of love toward my body in the little things. I will disregard my body’s need to use the bathroom while I focus on other things, even when there really is no good reason to wait to use the bathroom. I will eat foods that are tasty but not very nutritious, even when I have tasty healthier foods sitting the refrigerator. I will stay up past my bedtime for no real reason – just to do it.

None of these things is earth shattering. It is not as if I have a death wish or anything. In most respects, I treat my body much better than I used to. Nevertheless, stopping being harmful is not the same thing as showing love. It is a step in the right direction, but it is not love.

So, I am going to try A-G-A-I-N to be more loving toward my body. My body really has served me well. I am in much better physical shape than I probably deserve to be in light of the things my body has endured, both from my abusers and from me.

In the past, one thing that has worked for me is to think of my body as my child – as an entity separate from myself. If I would not let my child do something to his own body, then I should not let myself treat my own body that way. I will try that again and see how it goes.

Related Topic:

How to Love Body After Childhood Abuse

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Woman holding bottle (c) Lynda Bernhardt

I have shared in other posts that I have struggled with an eating disorder. My form of eating disorder is called binge eating and compulsive overeating. It is pretty much like bulimia without the purging.

I developed the eating disorder when I was around twelve and entering puberty. I suspect that the hormones triggered very strong reactions to all of the sexual abuse that I had suffered at a younger age. Also, I did continue to suffer from sporadic sexual abuse throughout my teen years whenever some of my abusers would come to visit.

My therapist was not concerned about the eating disorder. He recognized that I was using food to meet my emotional needs. As I worked through my emotional needs, I would no longer have the need to abuse food, so the eating disorder would resolve itself.

To a certain extent, my therapist was correct. The intensity of the eating disorder went down dramatically after I worked through many of my child abuse issues in therapy. However, I remain vulnerable to the eating disorder, and that continues to frustrate me.

Whenever I start feeling the compulsion to overeat, I know that I have emotional stuff I need to face. However, I am not always aware of the specific issue that I need to face, and that can be very frustrating. At other times, I would simply rather eat a bag of chips than deal with or work through another painful thing in my life.

I find that I am becoming much more aware of the ways in which I use food to meet my emotional needs. However, seeing it and stopping it are often two different things. I try to keep focusing on the positives, such as the fact that I have maintained a fairly steady weight for almost two years now. It hasn’t been perfect, but I have made great strides, especially considering that I have been battling an eating disorder for almost 30 years now.

Still, the overachiever in me wants to be finished with the eating disorder. I want food to stop having mystical powers to help or harm and just be nourishment. I wonder if I will ever truly get there or whether this issue will forever remain a thorn in my side.

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Smiling baby (c) Lynda Bernhardt

I have an interesting dynamic with my kid. His becoming a toddler was what kicked off the flashbacks of my abuse as a toddler. In my post Triggered by Child’s Birthday, I shared how my son’s 7th birthday set me into a tailspin because my abuse became significantly more severe at age seven.

For whatever reason, a part of myself sees my son as an extension of my inner child. I have to remind myself that he is not me. While I had nobody to protect me as a child, he has me, and I will keep him safe.

Last week, a child in my son’s school lost his mother in a car accident. The child is only five years old and was in the car crash that took his mother’s life. Obviously, anyone with any connection to this family was upset, but my reaction was much stronger than I would have expected, considering that I never met the mother and do not know the child very well. (I tutor the older children in his class but never worked with him.)

I finally realized what my problem was. I have a deep-seated belief that the world is an unsafe place and that I am the only thing standing between my son and severe abuse. Seeing a young boy lose his mother triggered my fears of leaving my son unprotected. Watching a woman around my same age lose her life so suddenly drove home how suddenly I could be taken away from my son. Even though I have no fear of dying, I have an intense fear of leaving my son unprotected.

So, now I am trying to focus on dismantling my incorrect beliefs that were shaped by the abuse I suffered. My son has a very different life than I had. Even if I died tomorrow, he is surrounded by people who love him and who would protect him. Unlike my parents, who chose to hang around with very sick people, I have developed many healthy friendships. I have no question that these friends would look out for my kid. Also, my husband is very different from my parents and would keep our son safe as well.

It never ceases to amaze me that the abuse truly permeated every aspect of my life. I am also always surprised that I continue to heal different parts of myself, even areas that I thought were already healed. There always seems to be a deeper layer that needs attention.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Man looking over ocean (c) Lynda Bernhardt

One of the great features about WordPress is that it provides me with a daily list of search terms that readers used to find my site. I read over those search terms each day so I can be sure to write about topics that are important to my readers. You might be surprised by the results.

I do not often hear people talking about mother-daughter sexual abuse on-line, although I have seen it more frequently over the last couple of years. That topic appears on my list of search terms frequently. Here is the breakdown since I started this blog in November:

  • mother daughter sexual abuse: 12
  • sexual abuse mother daughter: 7
  • mother daughter sexual: 5
  • mother sexual abuse: 3
  • mother daughter incest survivor: 2

The one that really surprises me is the term animal rape. That form of rape is one that most people do not talk about, even on very supportive message boards for abuse survivors. Even with the anonymity of the Internet, many people feel too much shame to share that they suffered from this form of abuse. By staying silent, they miss opportunities to learn how to heal.

Yesterday, six people found my blog by searching for “animal rape,” and one found it by searching for “raped by an animal.” Does that surprise you? To date, 43 people have found my blog by searching for the term “animal rape.”

The reason I am sharing this information is to reassure you that you are not alone. You are not the only person to have suffered a severe form of abuse. Other people know that pain, too, and you deserve to heal just as much as they do. You are not alone.

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Statue (c) Lynda BernhardtI frequently hear child abuse survivors say that they cannot trust another person. As with other areas of life, child abuse survivors tend to see the ability to trust as an “all or nothing” thing. However, the truth is that most people, whether child abuse survivors or not, rarely trust another person with 100% of themselves.

I used to say that I could not trust another person. My therapist would counter by pointing out that I trusted my husband to provide for our family financially. Before I got to the “yeah, but…,” my therapist would stop me and point out that this is trust. He said that I do not have to trust one person with all of my needs in order to trust. As long as all of my needs to trust were getting met, why did it matter whether they were met by one person or by twenty different people in twenty different ways?

A fellow child abuse survivor explained trust in a different way. She said that she trusted the waitress to bring her food after ordering a meal at a restaurant. She trusted the mailman to deliver mail to her mailbox. Therefore, it was incorrect to say that she did not trust anybody because she did trust certain people with certain tasks.

I reached a deeper level of healing when I recognized that the person I most needed to trust was myself. I needed to trust that I would be okay even when other people let me down. The more I have grown to trust my ability to handle the actions or inactions of others, the more I have felt comfortable in trusting others. So, ultimately it was my trust in myself that led me to the ability to trust others with different parts of myself.

I doubt I will ever fully trust another person with every part of myself, but that is okay because I do not need to do this in order to meet my needs. When it comes down to it, meeting my needs should be the goal, not finding that one person who I can fully trust with all of myself.

Related Topic:

Aftereffects of Childhood Abuse: Trust Issues

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