Archive for March, 2009

I really enjoy reading the comments that people post on my blog. On my blog entry entitled Words of Wisdom from “The Shack”: Dangers of the Label “Child Abuse Survivor”, a reader posted the following comment:

I found the statement concerning potential quite interesting. Are we limiting our “potential” by labeling ourselves child abuse survivors or perhaps it is just the opposite? We are reaching our potential by acknowledging we are child abuse survivors and doing the hard work it takes to heal – one moment at a time. I believe we get confused by the word potential. Do we think we have to accomplish something notable and amazing to have reached our potential? Or is it that we are the best human beings we can be, living truthfully, and committing ourselves to stopping that kind of hurt in any way we can.

My friends tell me I am a hero even though I am a child abuse survivor because I have broken the cycle. I can accept that because I believe there is hero in each one of us and it can come out in big ways or small ones. ~ Esther

I agree that each of us has a “hero” inside of us, and you don’t have to save the world in order to be a hero. I love The Starfish Story, which shows that we can make a world of difference to one person. To that one person, you are a hero. To that one person, you have changed the world because you have changed his world.

My name does not have to go down in a history book for my existence to have mattered. I don’t need a building with my name inscribed on it to matter. Instead, I make a difference by touching the lives of the people around me.

I have made a difference in many lives simply by healing myself. As I have healed myself, I have changed the way that I interact with others. This creates a ripple effect that affects still others.

I am most proud of the way that my healing has affected my son. I frequently marvel that I, a child abuse survivor, could raise such a happy and well-adjusted kid. How did someone like me, who loathed herself throughout most of her life, succeed in raising a kid who savors life and lives it to the fullest?

It happened through healing myself. I loved my son enough to learn how to love myself, which has healed me on deeper and deeper levels.

I might not be able to save every starfish on the beach, but I have definitely helped out my share. It might not make a dent from a global standpoint, but it has made a world of difference to a few.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I recently wrote a blog entry entitled Words of Wisdom from “The Shack”: Dangers of the Label “Child Abuse Survivor”, in which I said the following:

A couple of years ago, a friend called me on my “dependence” upon the label of child abuse survivor. She told me that, although I had been abused as a child, a child abuse survivor did not define who I am. By choosing to identify myself with this label, I was boxing myself in and limiting the potential of who I could be.

If I identify myself a child abuse survivor, then I set limits on my own potential. The human spirit has no limits, so why do I want to limit myself? She pointed out that I was forcing myself to live in a closet while I had mansion at my disposal. Only I could choose to step out of the closet and claim what is rightfully mine – A fulfilling life that is not limited by anything.

A fellow child abuse blogger took issue with these words, saying the following on his blog:

I’m still not exactly sure what it is about this that bothers me, but I think it has something to do with the idea that being labeled as a child abuse survivor is the one and only label you can have. Of course, it doesn’t define who I am, but it does define part of who I am. Just like being a husband isn’t ALL that I am, or being a blogger, or working at a law firm. None of those things captures all of what I am, but they are all absolutely part of who I am. The idea that I can’t live up to my potential while also acknowledging that I am a survivor seems wrong to me. Of course I am a survivor, and I’m so much more than that. This is why I have the potential to enjoy a fulfilling life, not because I’ve turned my back on being a survivor, and calling myself one, but because surviving the abuse is only part of who I am. ~ From On Labels

I think this blogger and I actually agree more than we disagree on this issue.

The point that my friend was making was that I was using my self-applied label of “child abuse survivor” to limit myself, which is actually more of a victim-mentality than survivor-mentality. In the context of our discussion, her words helped free me to become more than just a “child abuse survivor.”

That being said, there are times when I find the “child abuse survivor” label helpful in understanding myself. For example, when I become triggered by something that does not bother other people, I feel like a “freak.” However, when I remind myself that becoming triggered is normal for a child abuse survivor, I feel compassion for myself rather than self-loathing.

I think labels can be both helpful and harmful. They are helpful when describing your own experience to others. They also help you understand what is going on inside of yourself.

However, if we choose to define ourselves by our labels, then we can wind up limiting ourselves. For example, if I say that I can never do X because I was abused as a child, then I will believe that I cannot do X and will not even try. I might be perfectly capable of doing X, but because I think that I can’t, I can’t.

I know a woman with a poster in her office of a person climbing a steep mountain. The caption says, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you will be right.”

Back to this blogger’s comments …  I, too, have many labels that apply to me: mother, sister, friend, child abuse survivor, volunteer, church member, college instructor, blogger, etc. Not one of these labels fully defines who I am. I am a multi-faceted person. While each label fits in a particular area of my life, none of them defines me. I think this is the key to whether a label is “good” or “bad.”

What are your thoughts on labels?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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For the past couple of weeks, I have been reading the book The Shack by William Paul Young and discussing different words of wisdom in the book that can be applied to survivors of child abuse. See my first post for more information about the book.

I have finished the book and really enjoyed it. No, I do not agree 100% with the author. However, I think he makes some really great points that are worth considering, which is why I spent so much time focusing upon the book in my blog.

I would like to end this series by talking about the following comment:

Mack, if anything matters then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again. ~ The Shack page 237

I think this is such an important message for all of us to hear – kindness matters. Every time you show another person kindness, you change the world!

I think about the kindnesses shown to me by my teachers. They are the ones who gave me the hope that my childhood was worth surviving. Today, I am an extremely active volunteer in my own child’s school as I “pay the kindness forward.” The kindness of my teachers not only changed my world, but they changed the world of all of the teachers and children that I help today.

There is an email that circulates periodically about a teenager who changed his plans to commit suicide because one person was nice to him. There is another about a teacher who learned the history of a troublesome student. That day, she stopped teaching reading & writing and started teaching children. That troublesome student grew up to be a doctor and asked that teacher to sit in his deceased mother’s place at his wedding.

Every act of kindness matters. Every smile, every kind word, and every nice thing you do for another person changes the world. You make a difference. You matter.

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I have been reading the book The Shack by William Paul Young. I have been focusing upon different words of wisdom in the book that can be applied to survivors of child abuse. See my first post for more information about the book.

The book The Shack hits upon a hot-button topic for child abuse survivors: forgiveness. I have mixed reviews to offer about the way this book handles forgiveness. I was quite displeased with the sudden forgiveness of and reconciliation with the abusive father. However, the matter involving forgiving the man who murdered Mack’s daughter was much more realistic.

I do not completely agree with the author’s views on forgiveness, but I really did like this part:

Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and your ability to love full and openly. Do you think this man cares about the pain and torment you have gone through? If anything, he feeds on that knowledge. Don’t you want to cut that off? ~ The Shack page 227

I have been saying for years that forgiveness has nothing to do with reconciliation. It also has nothing to do with “forgetting” about the offense. Instead, forgiveness is an internal choice that I made within myself to stop “feeding” energy into hatred toward my abusers. By choosing to stop nursing the bitterness and, instead, use the energy to heal myself, I cut the bond between us.

The day I chose to begin forgiving my mother/abuser (forgiveness is a process, not a “moment”), my life stopped being about her. Up until that point, I aimed so much mental energy toward hating her. My life was consumed by hating her. I thought about her a lot (how much I hated her), and I limited the degree to which I could connect with other people. There was no room left for investing in loving others because so much of myself was consumed by hating her.

I did not want to stop hating her because she deserved my hatred. However, it hit me that I was the only one suffering, not her. My hatred was all inside of myself. So, when I chose to stop nursing my bitterness toward her, it really made little difference in her life, but it made all of the difference in the world in mine.

I don’t really like the term “forgiveness” because society has tacked on many things that it does not include, such as forgetting about the offense and reconciling with the offender. I like the term “letting go” better because that better captures what was involved in my choice to forgive.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I have been reading the book The Shack by William Paul Young. I have been focusing upon different words of wisdom in the book that can be applied to survivors of child abuse. See my first post for more information about the book.

Today, I would like to discuss the following quote:

Emotions are the color of the soul—they are spectacular and incredible. When you don’t feel, the world becomes dull and colorless. Just think how The Great Sadness reduced the range of color in your life down to monotones and flat grays and blacks … [Emotions] just are. They are neither bad nor good; they just exist … Most emotions are responses to perception—what you think is true about a given situation. If your perception is false, then your emotional response to it will be false too…The more you live in the truth, the more your emotions will help you see clearly. ~ The Shack pp. 198-199

I spent most of my life running from my emotions. I repressed the emotion of anger so far down that I truly did not believe that I even knew how to experience that emotion. I lived my life in shades of gray. I mostly felt nothing. It was a dark, cold existence.

After I entered into therapy and started healing from child abuse, I felt emotions in spades, and I was not one bit happy about it. One day, I felt such incredibly deep grief that I questioned whether it was even possible to survive it. When I told my therapist about this, he was pleased. He said that I was finally feeling, which meant that I was healing. I was no longer living my life numb.

I was very angry about this. I could not believe that my options were either numbness or feeling such deep pain that death seemed preferable. However, my therapist was correct that my painful emotions would pass, and they did. After they passed, I was finally able to feel positive emotions – things I had not felt in my entire lifetime. I could feel joy and peace in a way that I never dreamed possible.

The key to managing your emotions is remembering that they are transient. No emotion lasts forever. Whether you are feeling very good or very bad, that emotion is going to pass. Learn how to savor the “good” emotions when you have them, and try not to feed into the “bad” emotions – just let them pass through you. If you will allow yourself to “be” with the bad emotions without giving energy to them, they will pass much more quickly.

Although I know the truth of these statements, I continue to wrestle with following my own advice. I recently went through a period of feeling so low that I did not know if I could make it through. Whenever I experience very deep emotions, particularly despair, I have trouble remembering that emotions are transient. It takes a lot of seemingly blind faith to hold on for better days.

As painful as the bad emotions are, I would not trade away the good ones. Unfortunately, you cannot just shut off the “bad” emotions. They come with the good ones. The emotions really are worth experiencing, and they definitely color your world.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I have been reading the book The Shack by William Paul Young. I have been focusing upon different words of wisdom in the book that can be applied to survivors of child abuse. See my first post for more information about the book.

I thought this part of the book was particularly interesting:

Honey, you’re a survivor. No shame in that. Your daddy hurt you something fierce. Life hurt you. Lies are one of the easiest places for survivors to run. They give you a sense of safety, a place where you have to depend only on yourself…Lies are a little fortress; inside them you can feel safe and powerful. ~ The Shack page 189

What kinds of lies to we tell ourselves? A big one is that we were responsible for the abuse. The reason for this is that, if we are responsible for the abuse, then we have the power to stop it. Facing the truth – that there was absolutely nothing that we could do to stop the abuse – was too painful a truth to face.

Another lie is that we cannot be loved. Yes, we can be, but the risk is scary. When we open up our hearts to other people, we risk being rejected. Rather than risk the pain of rejection, we lie to ourselves about being unlovable. The truth is that we are able to love and be loved – we are just too scared to try.

The inability to trust is another lie that we tell ourselves. We say that we have been so hurt that we cannot trust. This is a lie – we can trust, but it is, again, a big risk that is scary to take. So, rather than risk being betrayed, we give up the opportunity to trust another person. This is a choice we make, but we lie to ourselves, saying that we have no power over this part of our lives when we really do.

Another lie is that our lives are limited by being survivors of child abuse. Yes, it can feel this way (and I often do feel this way), but the truth is that only we have the power to limit our lives. Limiting your life is a choice that you make.

Being a child abuse survivor is a great excuse to disengage from life. We tell ourselves that we are “freaks” and that we have nothing to offer the world. This could not be farther from the truth. I have never encountered so much deep loving and caring as I have from fellow child abuse survivors. We have so much to give the world, but we hold back because we believe the lies that we have nothing to offer.

Recognizing these lies for what they are and pushing past them to the truth is a daunting task. While I have made some progress, I still have a long way to go. I have several areas in my life in which I am dissatisfied, but I hide behind the lies of being unable to change them because I am a child abuse survivor. The truth is that I choose every relationship in my adult life, and I choose to allow certain things to be the way that they are.

It is much easier for me to play the “child abuse survivor” card and get a free pass out of dealing with a thorny issue than to admit that I am scared. However, admitting that I am scared is the truth, and it is only through facing the truth that I can heal the areas of my life that bother me.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I have been reading the book The Shack by William Paul Young. I have been focusing upon different words of wisdom in the book that can be applied to survivors of child abuse. See my first post for more information about the book.

Today’s quote is a biggie for me and, I suspect, for many of you. The quote is kind of long, but this is all really good stuff:

The darkness hides the true size of fears and lies and regrets…The truth is they are more shadow than reality, so they seem bigger in the dark. When the light shines into the places where they live inside you, you start to see them for what they are…

“But why do we keep all that crap inside?” Mack asked.

Because we believe it’s safer there. And, sometimes, when you’re a kid trying to survive, it really is safer there. Then you grow up on the outside, but on the inside you’re still that kid in the dark cave surrounded by monsters, and out of habit you keep adding to your collection…Some folks try with all kinds of coping mechanisms and mental games. But the monsters are still there, just waiting for the chance to come out.” ~ The Shack pp. 176-177

I see the “monsters” as all of the lies that I internalized as an abused child – that I am unlovable; that everyone in my life will betray me; that I cannot trust anyone; that I must be perfect. When I keep them in the dark, they seem larger than life. However, when I shine the light of self-love onto them, I see these lies for what they really are.

I have experienced the feeling of these “monsters” always wanting to come back out. I will make marked progress in my healing. Then, out of seemingly nowhere, the “monsters” will come out, and I will feel the punch of the shame and self-loathing all over again.

Like the author says in the book, I will try all sorts of coping mechanisms to “tame the monsters” with varying levels of success. Ultimately, the more compassion that I show myself, the easier it is to tame the monsters.

I still have not conquered my monsters. I think my monsters are part of my “evil wolf.” I can starve them, but I never seem to be successful in killing them off altogether.

My therapist has advised me that, after I win a battle with my monsters, I should “go to the beach” in my head. The beach is my safe place. He says that I need to take some time to nurture myself after one of these “battles,” and “going to the beach” in my head has been a good way to do this.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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