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Posts Tagged ‘aftereffects of childhood abuse’

Man behind desk (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Workaholism and compulsive busy-ness are big problems in the United States, but because of our lifestyle, society applauds them rather than viewing them as the coping mechanisms that they are. Fathers are physically and emotionally absent from their families while they work 60+ hours a week, and society says this is a good thing. Mothers are too busy running endless errands to spend time living in the moment and enjoying the blessings they have in their lives, and they are called “super moms.”

Being a workaholic or staying compulsively busy is viewed as productive and applauded by society, so some people turn to this coping tool to avoid their emotional pain. They are repressing their emotions just as surely as someone who self-injures or abuses substances, but they justify their actions by pointing to their productivity.

People who stay compulsively busy eventually burn out. When their bodies wear out, the emotions they have been running from are waiting to be heard.

If you are a workaholic or stay compulsively busy, recognize what you are doing. You are choosing to live your life in overdrive because you are afraid of facing the pain that awaits when you slow down. You are not living – you are existing while the years fly by.

To overcome this compulsion, you will need to choose to simplify your life. Cut down your work hours and volunteer commitments. Pare down your life to the things that really matter, and carve out a block of time for yourself. Then, prepare yourself to face the emotions that you have been repressing. As soon as you slow down, they will come.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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(c) Lynda Bernhardt

Suicidal urges are common for abuse survivors. What makes these urges so perplexing is that they are echoes of the past rather than about today, but they feel so ever-present. Even if your life is great today, you might still feel a cloud of despair surrounding you that makes your life feel empty.

Suicidal urges are often misunderstood by the general public. The general public often sees suicide as a final “up yours” to the rest of the world. While this might be the thought process for some, the vast majority of abuse survivors consider suicide as a way out of the pain. They are in such an enormous amount of emotional pain that they are willing to do anything, even die, to make the pain stop. Because suicidal urges are frequently about stopping the pain, they really are a coping mechanism of sorts, albeit an extreme and permanent one.

If you are struggling with suicidal urges, try to remember that all feelings are temporary. Yes, you might be getting waves of very deep emotional pain, but the waves do subside. You will not always feel as dreadfully as you do in this moment. If you can just find a way to get through the moment, then the pain will ease, and you will be relieved that you did not take your own life.

If you are feeling suicidal, talk to someone about it. Go to Isurvive and post about your feelings. Better yet, go into Live Chat and talk to someone about how you are feeling. Lori, the board owner, has a toll-free number that you can call 24 hours a day. Call a friend. Write down your feelings. If you can just get through this moment, the pain will ease.

The more you can lean on more positive coping tools, the better able you will be to manage the pain when the suicidal urges hit. See Positive Coping Tools for Healing from Childhood Abuse for a list of positive coping tools.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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(c) Lynda Bernhardt

Many adult survivors of childhood abuse struggle with some form of substance abuse. Whether they turn to alcohol, prescription drugs, or street drugs, they are using a substance to help manage their emotional pain. Even smoking cigarettes can be viewed as substance abuse.

Children who are abused are forced to repress their emotions in order to survive. As they grow into adults, those painful feelings are still festering inside. As adults (or even while in their teens), they come across a substance that temporarily removes the pain, and they use that substance to drown out their emotions. The more powerfully the emotions rage inside, the more they rely on that substance to silence them.

Substance abuse is a symptom, not the cause. This is why so many people who go through rehab return to using their substance of choice again. Unless you heal the cause of the underlying pain that is fueling the symptom, you will stay vulnerable to “falling off the wagon.”

Substance abuse differs from other forms negative coping tools because they can also have a physically addictive component that makes it even harder to break away. Even when the survivor decides to stop using a substance, his body might cry out for more, which is why getting help for the physical component and the emotional component is the best formula for success.

The more you can lean on more positive coping tools, the less you will need to lean on a substance to manage your pain. See Positive Coping Tools for Healing from Childhood Abuse for a list of positive coping tools.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Man under palm trees (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Self-injury is a very common aftereffect of childhood abuse. Most people think that self-injury is synonymous with cutting, but the truth is that there is a wide variety of ways to self-injure that do not involve cutting yourself. Here is a small sample of ways that people self-injure:

  • Banging head
  • Breaking bones
  • Burning themselves
  • Cutting themselves
  • Picking at skin and/or scabs
  • Pulling out hair and/or eyebrows

Even biting your fingernails is a minor form of self-injury.

Why do people self-injure? They do it because it is a very effective way to manage pain. I did not say that it is healthy in the long run, but it is quite effective in the short run.

I used to self-injure by banging my head. While that sounds painful (and it was – I gave myself whiplash more than once), I could not feel any physical pain in the moment. What I felt was immediate relief from my very deep emotional pain. Self-injuring provided me with a way to make the emotional pain stop immediately. When I felt like I was free-falling into very deep pain, I knew I could make it stop as if I was flipping a switch.

Unfortunately, there are long-term consequences to self-injuring. I have experienced whiplash and bruised my face, and I did have to feel the pain for several days afterward. I am fortunate that I never did more physical damage to myself.

For those who cut or burn themselves, they wear permanent scars, even after they stop self-injuring. Those who leave scars on themselves often have trouble expressing their pain. Instead, they carve their pain onto their bodies, so their bodies scream their story to the world while they have no voice. As one survivor friend put it, “My abusers’ actions left no marks. I left those on myself.”

People who self-injure are not trying to commit “mini-suicides.” Self-injury is simply a coping tool, albeit a potentially dangerous one. I cringe when I hear about parents or spouses who forbid self-injury and then do spot checks to enforce the rule. People who self-injure are in deep emotional pain, and they are not going to stop until they develop more healthy ways to manage the pain and then heal the underlying pain that is driving the behavior.

Both my sister and I have found a way to stop self-injuring, and you can, too. There are better ways to manage your pain without harming yourself. Self-injuring does not make you a “freak.” Self-injury is a coping tool you are using to manage your pain. The more you can lean on more positive coping tools, the less you will need to lean on self-injury. See Positive Coping Tools for Healing from Childhood Abuse for a list of positive coping tools.

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Multiple Buds (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common aftereffect of childhood abuse. OCD is driven by anxiety, and the OCD symptoms help the anxious person to manage his anxiety.

I used to struggle with a number of OCD symptoms. Some would come and go, such as blowing on my hands. Others lingered for years, such as saying a mantra in my head to reduce my anxiety. Some were just amusing but not harmful, such as having to check the alarm clock exactly three times before falling asleep. As I have healed from my past and reduced my anxiety, my need for these OCD behaviors subsided. I still have some residue, but most are now healed.

OCD is all about taking control. As a child, I had no control over my life or even my own body. So, I sought control in things that did not matter through my OCD symptoms. My anxiety would build and build, but I could release some of it by doing one of my OCD actions. If I had to hold it in for whatever reason, the anxiety would build until it was nearly unbearable.

One secret to reducing anxiety is processing anger. I was unaware of having rage issues because I stuffed the anger deep inside of myself. It was not safe for me to express anger as a child, so I denied it. When you do not express emotions, they become more powerful. It is only in expressing them that they can be released and then lose their power over you.

When you do not express your anger and stuff it down inside of yourself, it turns on you in the form of anxiety and/or depression. Many people who struggle with severe anxiety and/or depression are angry people who rarely express those emotions. As you start expressing your rage, it finally has somewhere to go, and you will feel your anxiety ease.

This is exactly what happened to me. I had accepted that I would always be “weird” with my OCD symptoms. Through therapy, I learned to how process and honor my anger in a safe manner (that is, after I came to realize that I even had anger to process). As I processed my anxiety, my anxiety level went down substantially. Today, I feel very little anxiety, so I have no need for my OCD symptoms to manage it. When I notice that I am feeling compelled to do those OCD things again, I explore what repressed anger might be driving them, express the anger, and then experience relief from the compulsions again.

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Frog Statue (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Many abuse survivors struggle with eating disorders. Eating disorders are a way to manage emotional pain. For many years, the only form of eating disorder that most people acknowledged was anorexia nervosa. However, today we recognize that there are many different forms.

Anorexia Nervosa

People who struggle with anorexia nervosa greatly limit their caloric intake and can become very thin. In most cases, the drive behind the disorder is control. In the case of an abuse survivor, she had no control over her body when she was being abused, but she can control what goes into it today. Many women who struggle with anorexia nervosa also feel a strong drive to be invisible. By becoming physically smaller, they feel more shielded from others. Eating a regular portion of food is very difficult because the person fears losing control and being “seen.”

Bulimia

People who struggle with bulimia compulsively overeat and then force themselves to purge the food they have just eating through vomiting, laxatives, or both. The drive behind this disorder can go in two directions. The appeal to some is the “stuffing down” of the painful emotions. By overeating, they are able to “stuff down” the pain so that they do not feel it. The purging is more of a way to control weight gain. For others, the appeal is the purging aspect. When they purge the food, they symbolically purge the pain so they do not have to feel it.

Compulsive Overeating/Binge Eating

People who struggle with compulsive overeating and/or binge eating have a similar disorder to bulimia without the purging. These people might exercise frequently or eating lower calorie foods to manage their weight because of the vast quantity of food they are consuming. Others might want to be in a larger body because they equate being in a smaller body with being vulnerable to abuse.

A binge is when the person cannot get enough food into her body fast enough. Compulsive overeating is less intense and rushed but still involves eating much more food than the body needs. By binging and overeating, the person “stuffs down” the painful emotions.

Other Eating Disorders

There are many other forms of eating disorders, but all center around using food to manage emotions. The eating disorders can manifest in a variety of ways. Some people starve themselves all day and then binge at night. Others limit themselves to only one type of food for days or weeks at a time. While these forms of eating disorders might not be as well known to the general public, they are a very real struggle to those who wrestle with them.

If you struggle with an eating disorder, you are not alone. Eating disorders are very common among adult survivors of childhood abuse. Recognizing that your eating patterns are not normal is an important first step to healing from them. An eating disorder is a coping tool you are using to manage your pain. The more you can lean on more positive coping tools, the less you will need to lean on your eating disorder. See Positive Coping Tools for Healing from Childhood Abuse for a list of positive coping tools.

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Fish by Reef (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Many abuse survivors struggle with some form of dependence or compulsion. The following is a list of types of dependencies and compulsions. The list is by no means exhaustive:

Many people see these symptoms as the problem and try to treat them as such, but trying to heal a symptom without addressing the underlying problem is doomed to failure. While you might succeed in stopping a particular symptom (such as ceasing to drink alcohol), if you have not dealt with the underlying problem that is driving the symptom, you will develop another dependency or compulsion.

All of these symptoms are coping mechanisms that people use to avoid the underlying pain. Because childhood abuse is so incredibly painful, a high percentage of abuse survivors struggle with some form of dependence or compulsion. Many see the symptom as a problem but do not realize that the symptom is being driven by the underlying pain. Until you heal the pain, you are destined to return to some form of coping mechanism.

If you struggle with a dependence or compulsion, be sure to read through my series on Positive Coping Tools for Healing from Childhood Abuse. The more you can use those positive tools to manage your pain, the less reliant you will be on your dependence or compulsion.

Why do abuse survivors turn to these dependencies and compulsions? Because they work! Even though dependencies and compulsions are damaging in the long run, they effectively curb the emotional pain in the short run. When a person is in a lot of pain, he is generally not thinking about the long term consequences – He just wants the pain to end now!

You do not have to stay enslaved to a dependence or compulsion, even if you have leaned on it for most of your life. You can find freedom by healing the underlying pain that is driving the dependence or compulsion. If you no longer have pain to avoid, you will not need to use harmful ways to avoid pain.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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