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Archive for March, 2011

Some child abuse survivors are so used to believing certain things about themselves that, although they want to heal, they also don’t want to try new strategies to heal. To quote Dr. Phil,

If you keep doing the same things that you have always done, you will keep getting the same results that you have always gotten. ~ Dr. Phil McGraw

If you want to change the course of your life, you have to make changes. You cannot choose to keep thinking the same thoughts and doing the same things but still expect to change the course of your life. To change the direction of a ship, you need to turn the steering wheel. It might take a long time to see that your course is changing, but it isn’t going to change at all until you choose to do some changing yourself.

The big picture view of how to heal from child abuse is pretty simple – You need to love and accept every part of yourself (your memories, experiences, emotions, feelings, etc.). It really is that simple. Unfortunately, simple is not the same thing as easy.

If you are on a course that keeps you moving away from this goal, then you are not going to achieve the healing you are hoping for. You have to find a way to change direction and move toward this goal. What that means in the details is going to be different from person to person. For me, this means carving time out of each day to do yoga and meditation. I am setting aside daily time to do something loving and healing for myself.

For someone else, doing yoga might be the worst possible idea, but perhaps taking time to do expressive art is the way to go. For another, it might be committing to therapy, talking about what happened, or going for a trip to an amusement park. It might be something big like fulfilling a lifelong dream to climb a mountain, or it might be something as simple as allowing yourself to enjoy an ice cream cone without telling yourself that you are a terrible person who is going to get fat by eating the ice cream.

You might have to try different strategies to find the one (or, more likely, a combination of several) that work for you. You might come up with something for yourself that nobody else has even thought of. For example, I knew one child abuse survivor whose need to be rocked as a baby was never met. She bought herself a hammock and experienced a huge leap in healing by rocking herself in it.

The important thing is that you risk trying something new. If you keep doing the same things you always have, you are not going to see much progress in healing from child abuse.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Several comments on my blog lately have touched upon the issue of self hate. Self hate is a very common aftereffect of child abuse. In fact, it is so common that Compassion and Self Hate by Theodore I. Rubin is the one book that my therapist strongly urged me to read. It is not the most smoothly written book that I have ever read, but the content is great.

The themes of the book are similar to the parable of the good and evil wolf. The book talks about how we each have a battle going on inside of us between self-compassion and self-hatred. Compassion always triumphs over self-hate, but before it does, the self-hate will have a final rally and fight with all that it has inside. That is the time when it is more important to keep fueling that compassion or self-love. Otherwise, you can wind up sliding right back to where you were, hating yourself instead of loving yourself.

I have noticed several readers posting comments about hating themselves or various aspects of themselves. As the book points out, our natural state is self-love. Self-hatred is actually contrary to how we were designed to feel about ourselves. However, the child abuse warped our self-perceptions, causing us to internalize our abusers’ views of ourselves.

When you are in a perpetual state of hating yourself, it is hard to imagine actually loving yourself. It is doubly hard to imagine that loving yourself is a more powerful force because your self-hatred feels so all-consuming. However, I can tell you from firsthand experience that this is true. If you will feed the good wolf and choose to be kind and compassionate to yourself, your compassion will win. However, before it does, the self-hatred will rally back. You have to keep fighting back, being kind and gentle with yourself, to break through the self-hatred and enter into the wonderful world of self-love and acceptance.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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On my blog entry entitled Controlling the Darker Parts of Ourselves after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

What if [your emotions] don’t come ONE at a time?!? What if its a flood? I might be able to deal with all of the emotions if I could control them, and release them one at a time! But that isn’t how it happpens for me! I don’t get a choice with how fast they happen, or which ones to ‘let out.’ It just happens on its own. ~Theresa

I strongly recommend that Theresa and anyone else dealing with this issue read Chrystine Oksana’s Safe Passage to Healing. She has a great chapter entitled Associating Emotions that deals with just about any question you might have about dealing with emotions.

Here is some advice that she has to offer on the subject:

Associating dissociated emotions may be confusing for a while. Survivors have coped with skewed emotions for so long that distorted emotions feel normal. Many have to learn basics such as how natural emotions feel and what they are… Survivors usually avoid associating emotions until they feel overwhelmed. It comes a question of which is worse—living with unbearable tension or coping with unbearable feelings. A better approach is to schedule emotional release on a regular basis. Even five minutes a day can help…If five minutes feels like too much, start with thirty seconds, increase it to a minute, and so on. With each release, you will feel stronger, more alive, more energized, and more genuine. ~ Safe Passage to Healing, pp. 228-229

Until you allow yourself to begin to feel your emotions, you are going to stay in this hellish place. The healing process has its own rhythm, and it knows what it is doing. If you will release yourself into the guidance of your healing process and release emotions as you feel the need, you will experience an incredible about of healing. The more you fight it, the more painful and stressful the process will become.

I strongly recommend working together with your therapist as you begin allowing yourself to experience your emotions. If you are afraid to “let go” in private, then perhaps doing so under the supervision of your therapist will help you feel safer to do it.

When I first released my anger, I feared that it would rage on and on. In reality, it was an intense 20 minutes, but then it was over for that session. I did not hurt myself or anyone else, and the feeling was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

If you keep doing what you have always done (repressing the emotions), you are going to keep getting the same results. It takes courage to risk feeling your emotions, but it really is a key part of healing. You will be amazed at how much better you feel afterward.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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A reader emailed me to ask how to speed up the process of healing from child abuse. The reader has grown weary of the healing process and wants to fast-track the process to get it over with. I can completely relate to this because I said the same things many times myself. My therapy used to tell me to “slow down,” and I would respond, “Why would I possibly want to endure this process any longer than I have to?”

If you want to speed the process of healing from child abuse along, you need to stop fighting yourself. You need to choose to believe every memory that surfaces, even those that seem “unbelievable,” and you need to process the emotions that come with them. You have to stop fighting the tide and, instead, release yourself into the current of your healing process. When you stop setting up your own roadblocks, the healing process develops its own rhythm, and you will move through the process faster.

The thought of not fighting the memories is terrifying to many child abuse survivors, especially those in the early stages of healing. The more you have fought them, the scarier the prospect becomes. This is because, as you actively block the memories through denial, cutting, binge eating, etc., your subconscious mind has to work even harder to push the memories out. So, from your perspective, it appears that letting go is going to cause the lid to blow off the pressure cooker and explode all over your life.

When you first let go, it might actually feel that way – It did for me. I had six weeks of feeling like I was being pulled down into an abyss, and I had no idea how I would survive this or even if I wanted to. Then, the clouds parted, and I felt the warmth of the sun inside of myself for the first time ever. It only lasted for a few hours, but it gave me the hope I needed to hang in there while the healing process ran its course.

I know how scary it is to let go and trust that the healing process knows what it is doing. However, if you truly want to “get this healing over with,” that’s the way you do it.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Do Sexually Abused Children Enjoy Orgasms from Rape or Sexual Abuse?, a reader posted the following comment:

Just so afraid to let go because last time I did I ended up very suicidal and admitted inpatient. I don’t have the skills to “control” those parts. Not quite sure how to get those skills though if I can’t safely work with them. I am losing time and can feel myself fighting the “darker” parts. I have wonderful therapist, but I just can’t let myself feel. So unsure of what to do. ~ DIDdenial

Allowing myself to feel the pain in those “darker” places was one of the hardest things I did when trying to heal. I survived my childhood by being in control. I kept each memory and emotion under lock and key, rarely feeling anything other than anxiety and depression. My therapist and the healing resources I read all advised me to give those feelings a voice, which scared the h@#$ out of me. The deeper I had repressed an emotion, the scarier the idea was.

I was especially afraid of giving my anger a voice because I had buried my anger so deeply inside of myself. I feared that I would lose all control and become a raving lunatic who could no longer control her rage. Better to keep my anger safely stuffed down inside than risk not being able to control it.

What I learned through experience is that you only make the emotions stronger when you fight them. When you invite them out, they lose their power. As hard as it is to believe before you have given your “darker places” a voice, the path of fighting them is much, much harder.

Emotions were made to be expressed. As abused children, we were not permitted to express our emotions, so we had to find a way to lock them up inside. Emotions that have not been expressed outwardly turn inward. In my case, I had a lot of repressed anger which turned on me in the form of anxiety and depression. The day I started expressing my anger is the same day that I experienced a dramatic decrease in my day-to-day anxiety level. I still wrestle with anxiety, but it is nothing compared to the level I used to manage every minute of every day.

Whether you hold your emotions compartmentalized into alter parts or have them safely stuffed down inside in another way, trying to “control” your emotions only makes you miserable. Emotions were meant to be expressed, and giving them a voice is one of the keys to healing from child abuse. Don’t be afraid of them. Instead, invite them out one by one. There are many ways to do this, from expressive art to writing about them to visualizing letting them do whatever they have dreamed of doing since they were triggered by the abuse. Different tools work for different child abuse survivors. What matters is that you stop pushing your emotions away and give them a voice. When you silence your emotions, you silence yourself because your emotions are a part of you.

An analogy that really helped me was this: Imagine that you are a fire hose and that your emotions are the high-pressure water coursing through the hose. No matter how powerful the water becomes, you are not the water – you are the hose. You are not going to lose yourself in the water – you are simply the vessel holding the water.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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A reader wants to know if it is possible to recover flashbacks from when you were a baby. The answer is yes, although those flashbacks are often a bit different from what other flashbacks feels like.

From what I have read, memories are categorized in your brain based upon your past experiences. For example, if you have seen a horse in a book and then see a real horse, your brain makes a connection between the two. Trauma doesn’t really fit when the brain is categorizing experiences, which could explain part of why a child’s memories (particularly a younger child’s memories) of trauma get filed in the subconscious with no method of retrieval while the child lives in the abusive environment.

Preverbal abuse takes this a step further. If a three-year-old child is hit in the head with a frying pan, the child has words for what is being done to him even though he has a difficult time processing it. A baby has no word for “frying pan” yet and, therefore, processes what happened in a different way.

From what I have read as well as the comments posted by readers, preverbal memories/flashbacks are experienced differently. Because there was no language developed to categorize the trauma, the preverbal memories are stored in a different way. One book I read talked about the preverbal memories being released as intense feelings and body memories. The woman thought she was losing her mind because she would experience very intense emotions and feelings with no context. Fortunately, her therapist understood what was going on and helped her through it.

My earliest non-trauma memory was from age two when my sister was born. I distinctly remember sitting by the fireplace in the dark and feeling scared, and I also remember running in the snow and laughing. Both memories have been independently verified, so I know firsthand that memories can be retrieved at age two.

As for trauma-related memories, my earliest to-date is from when I was a toddler with abuse happening during diaper changes. I have experienced intense releases of emotions that I suspect are preverbal memories, but if that is the case for me, I am early in the process.

Here is another blog entry I wrote on the topic. You can also read more articles about preverbal memories here:

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Seeing Own Child as Representative of Inner Child, a reader posted the following comment:

how do i stop overprotecting my son???and teach him the world is not a horrible dangerous place? ~ Jolson

When you were abused as a child, you know firsthand just how dangerous the world can be. When you become a parent, you want to protect your child from experiencing the same traumas that you did. It is 100% understandable that you want to protect your child from being hurt. On the other hand, if you go too far in being overprotective, you run the risk of your child being emotionally harmed by your dangerous view of the world. How do you achieve a good balance?

Sadly, achieving a balance in pretty much anything is a challenge for most child abuse survivors. I can tell when I am making progress in an area of my life when I am not being extreme. The best approach is almost always somewhere in the middle. I try to remember that for my child.

I do err on the side of being overprotective, and I am not going to apologize for that. I have no problem looking someone straight in the eye and saying that when you have been abused as a child, you don’t have the luxury of pretending that child abuse can’t happen. When in doubt, I am always going to choose the route that keeps my kid safe.

That being said, I don’t want my kid to miss out on experiences that will enrich him by being overly paranoid. So, I try to find a way to give him more freedom in a way that I know that he is safe. For example, I have not banned all sleepovers at other children’s houses, but I must know and trust the parent(s) before I let my child spend the night at another child’s house. If I don’t feel 100% comfortable with the parent, then the answer is no – period.

As my child gets older, I try to give him more room to fly. For example, I was nervous about my 10-year-old son attending a sleepover “lock-in” at our church. However, rather than simply say no (which I almost did), I inquired more about the planned activities and the chaperones. As it turned out, there were enough chaperones that I trust to let him try it. He had a wonderful time, and I am grateful that he had that experience.

I also try to remind myself that my child will never suffer as much as I did for one simple reason – he has me. I had nobody to advocate for me or protect me, but he has me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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