Posts Tagged ‘childhood abuse’

On my blog entry Forgiveness and Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

What are the steps or rather the things you can do to stop thinking about what s happened to you, to stop nursing your hurt. You Im allowing time to help me with this as it does dissapate. However, the hurt will always remain. There will be times when it resurfaces. I know I do need to let go, but if I have a list in front of me if the things I can do, I can really visually, verbally, and kinesthetically do this..

Here is my own “how to” list for how to forgive an abuser.

1. Decide that you are ready to put healing yourself above holding onto your pain.

While it might seem obvious that someone would choose healing over pain, it really is not that simple. When you choose to forgive, a part of yourself will scream, “But s/he deserves my hatred. S/He does not deserve to be forgiven.”

It is true that your abuser does not deserve forgiveness. However, you deserve to live a life free from the pain of the abuse. You also deserve to live a life that is no longer “tied” to your abuser. Until you decide to place healing yourself over holding onto your anger, you will not be ready to begin the process of forgiveness.

2. Stop thinking about your abuser.

I did not realize how frequently I thought about my mother/abuser until I chose to work on forgiving her. I thought about her all the time, and I would get angry. I was “wed” to my abuser because she filled my thoughts.

You choose what you think about in your own head, so you have the power to stop thinking about your abuser. It will be a challenge at first, but with practice, you will learn how to stop.

I did this by choosing to think about other things. Whenever my mother/abuser would pop into my head, I would consciously choose not to dwell on the thought. Instead, I would put on my favorite CD, call a friend, or think about something that made me happy. As I channeled my mental energy toward things that made me feel good about myself, I stopped thinking about my abusers as frequently.

3. Process your anger.

Until you process your anger, you will be unable to stop thinking about your abuser. Do something physical to release your anger once and for all. Here are some things that have for worked for other abuser survivors:

  • Beat the ground with a baseball bat.
  • Punch pillows.
  • Take a kickboxing class.
  • Throw things at the wall that won’t damage it.
  • Visualize beating up your abuser.
  • Write your abuser’s name on red balloons and pop them.

You can come up with your own way to process your anger. Doing something physical works best for most people. Make sure you “see” your abuser’s face as you process your anger.

4. Honor your other emotions.

As you experience grief, terror, or other emotions, honor them. Comfort yourself as you would a hurting child. I found a picture of myself as a little girl and would use it to see the wounded little girl inside. I did lots of visualizations of the adult me comforting the child me.

5. Focus on healing yourself.

As you work through the first four steps, you will find yourself freeing up a lot of energy. Use that energy to heal yourself. Do things that are good for you, like exercising or hanging out with friends. Make a conscious choice to spend your time, thoughts, and energy on things that make you feel good about yourself.

As you turn your focus away from the past and turn it onto who you are today, you will find yourself spending less time nursing the bitterness toward your abuser. As you do this, you will feel less “wed” to your abuser as you take charge of your own life.

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Microscopic View (c) Lynda Bernhardt

One of the most misunderstood disorders experienced by some child abuse survivors is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. The media has presented this disorder as if multiple people are sharing a body. However, this could not be further from the truth. DID is a way that an abused child compartmentalizes the pain, terror, and rage that she experienced while suffering severe trauma on an ongoing basis.

People do not develop DID unless their abuse begins at a very early age. While I have not read about any particular age cut-off from any resource, after informally polling numerous people who suffer from DID, I have found that the disorder generally develops if the abuse begins before age 6. I have yet to meet a person with DID whose abuse began after age 6.

Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori Method of Education, noted that a significant change in development happens when a child reaches age 6. For this reason, she divided classes into Primary (ages 3-6) and Lower Elementary (ages 6-9) so that the lessons for each age group could meet the needs of the child. I find it interesting that the change in development, or “sensitive period,” noted by Maria Montessori coincides with my informal polling of how young an abused child must be to develop DID.

To develop DID, a child’s abuse must be severe and ongoing. One traumatic event does not seem to be enough to cause a child to split her consciousness into multiple parts. The accumulated trauma is so great that one child could not survive the abuse without splitting into parts. This enables the child to compartmentalize the pain and still interact with the world as if the abuse is not occurring regularly.

By creating alter parts, the abused child is able to detach herself from the abuse. She can see the abuse as happening to someone who is “not me,” which becomes an alter part. Most people with DID have trouble accepting that the abuse happened to them because the memories and accompanying emotions feel separate.

As I shared in my last post, Book Review: Myth of Sanity, DID falls on the extreme end of the dissociation continuum. The disorder is a much more severe and more compartmentalized form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Rather than viewing DID as a “freaky” and unexplainable disorder, society should recognize the disorder as an amazing coping tool that enables very young children to survive horrendous abuse. DID is a highly effectively way to survive severe abuse and only becomes maladaptive when the abuse ends.

I am in the process of writing several articles about DID for ehow.com. If you would like to learn about integrating alter parts and other aspects of DID, be sure to check my ehow.com page in about a week.

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Pink Flowers (c) Lynda Bernhardt

++ religious triggers ++

The Good Shepherd was tending His flock. In the middle of the night, bandits came and kidnapped one little lamb. They wrapped barbed wire all around his little body and stuck sharp objects all over him, then left him for dead. When the Shepherd woke up the next morning, He noticed immediately that His little lamb was missing and searched high and low for him.

As He looked out over the horizon, he saw his wounded little lamb ambling toward Him, pain evident in his every step. The Shepherd began to cry as He saw what these evil men had done to His beloved lamb. The Shepherd ran to the lamb, but the lamb was frightened of Him and wouldn’t let the Shepherd touch him. Even if the Shepherd had forced the matter, removing all of the shrapnel at once could throw the lamb’s little body into shock and kill him. So, the Shepherd respected the lamb’s wishes, walking silently beside him as he wiped away tear after tear.

The lamb slept for days and, when he awakened, it was like it had all been a bad dream. But when he got up to play with the other lambs, his footing wasn’t as strong, and his stamina couldn’t match the others. He believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with him and tried hard to compensate for his flaws. Meanwhile, the Shepherd watched, his heart breaking for his wounded little lamb.

Time passed, and the lamb’s wool grew, covering the shrapnel. From the outside, the wounded lamb looked no different than the others. But everything was harder for him because the barbed wire and sharp objects continued to cause him pain. But this is all he remembered of his life now, so he didn’t even know that the pain wasn’t normal.

The wounded lamb continued to berate himself, hating himself for not being like the other lambs. So he worked harder so that he could keep up. The other lambs never realized how taxing it was for the wounded lamb to play and graze with them. But the Shepherd knew. While the Shepherd loved all of His lambs, there was a special place in His heart for this little one who had endured so much and still fought to be like the others.

Gradually, the wounded lamb started to trust the Shepherd. And as he did, sometimes he would even let the Shepherd carry him when the pain became too great. All the wounded lamb saw was that he was too weak to keep up with the other lambs. All the Shepherd saw was that this precious little lamb stayed close to His heart.

Shearing season came, and the fleece that covered the shrapnel was removed. The wounded lamb saw his reflection in the pond and began to cry hysterically. How could he be so ugly? How could he be so wounded? All of the other lambs were beautiful, even without their fleece. The wounded lamb hated himself even more.

The Shepherd held the wounded lamb close and removed a piece of shrapnel. The lamb cried out in pain. As the Shepherd held the lamb close to His heart while rubbing salve into the wound, the lamb started to feel better. As this first wound healed, the Shepherd held the lamb again and removed another piece of shrapnel. Again the lamb felt intense pain followed by relief.

Over the next few months, the Shepherd continued to remove the shrapnel, always holding His little lamb close to His heart. The lamb thought it was so unfair that the other lambs didn’t have to endure this pain. But the Shepherd knew that this little lamb was receiving a precious gift that the other lambs never chose to have — special one-on-one time with the Shepherd. The wounded lamb’s pain drove him into the Shepherd’s arms again and again. The healthy lambs didn’t need this comfort . . . or at least that is what they thought.

Eventually, all of the shrapnel was removed, and the once-wounded lamb’s fleece grew and covered the wounds. He felt more “normal” than he had in a long time. He no longer had to work so hard to keep up with the others.

When sheering time came around again, the once-wounded lamb went to see his reflection in the pond. This time, instead of being shocked by shrapnel, he was saddened by the scars. He looked nothing like the other lambs. He lamented that he would never be like the others — that even after healing, he was, and always would be, different.

The Shepherd heard him crying and came to see what was the matter. He held His little lamb close and dried his tears. Then, He said, “No, you aren’t like the other lambs. You are different but in a wonderful way. You are a survivor. You endured trauma that these other lambs couldn’t even imagine, and you are the stronger for it. Unlike you, those lambs don’t know that they cannot be broken. They don’t know how great it feels to be healed because they were never wounded like you were. They don’t know what it is like to work harder because they have never had to. And they don’t know what it’s like to seek the comfort of my arms, and be held right here next to my heart, because they never needed me in the way that you did.

“I think you are the most beautiful lamb in my flock. Every scar on your body tells a story — the story of hope and faith and renewal. It tells the story of how broken a lamb can be and the level of healing that I can provide. Your scars provide hope to the next lamb who is hurt — that you were wounded but that you survived. They show that you are no longer in pain.

“You are so precious to me. Your scars make you even more precious. You have a special place in my heart because of who you are.”

The once-wounded lamb grew up into a sheep who provided so much inspiration to the entire flock. He knew from experience that he could never be broken and that the Shepherd was always there, waiting to love him and hold him close to His heart. His scars remained a testament to the power of healing and the resiliency of the spirit.

I tend to view myself as the lamb, but God views me like the Shepherd. I see the ugliness — He sees the beauty. From God’s point of view, I am a precious little lamb He wants to hold close to His heart until all of my wounds are scars.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Storm clouds (c) Lynda Bernhardt

As I wrote yesterday, I am having a tough time this holiday season. I was actually doing pretty well, or at least holding my own, until some things blew up with my kid at school yesterday that was bad enough to involve the principal. I have spent the last 24 hours in tears on and off, and I don’t think it is just about my kid’s situation.

This time of year is simply hard for me. I suffered so much abuse in the month of December during my elementary school years, and I still have pain to grieve. I have not wanted to face that I because I don’t want to feel the pain, but I need to. I need to cry it out so there will be room inside of myself to fill back up with peace and positive energy. Right now, I have too much pain taking up all of the space.

One blessing today has been recognizing how many people in my life care about me. I really am blessed to have a lot of people in my life who are willing to take a few moments to listen and offer me a hug. I have had more hugs today than I have probably had all year, which is kind of sad but true.

I also learned about a form of spiritual healing that was new to me. I am curious to learn about it. I’ll post about it once I understand it myself.

In the meantime, I am going to spend this evening watching It’s a Wonderful Life and allowing myself to grieve by crying along with George Bailey. I have found that losing myself in a movie that makes me cry is a wonderful way to purge my own painful emotions.

I am also very proud of myself for not self-injuring because I had the strongest urges that I have had in a long time. I am learning that there is always a deeper level of healing to reach and that I have the tools to heal myself if I can just stop myself from diving down the well of despair.

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Gingerbread man (c) Lynda Bernhardt

The holidays have always been a difficult time of year for me. My friends get really busy preparing for Christmas, so I spend less time with them. I am bombarded with movies and TV shows that focus on the beauty of family at Christmas, specifically focusing on appreciating extended family, and it is just a painful reminder of all that I do not have in my life. My father is deceased, and I have not laid eyes on my mother in four years (which is a positive thing).

The holidays are supposed to be about remembering wonderful child experiences, but all I have to remember is pain. The holidays were a time in which I was cut off from caring teachers and friends and was stuck for two weeks in an abusive environment. I have some particularly painful abuse memories that happened on Christmas Eve, and I have had to work hard to push past certain Christmas songs being triggering because of past abuse.

I generally fall into a funk right after Halloween and battle depression through New Year’s Day. It is not until my son returns to school and life returns to normal that I start to feel okay again.

This year, I have decided that I refuse to surrender two months of my life to depression, so I am fighting hard to keep myself remotely sane. This is an uphill battle for me because there is so much around me to trigger the pain. Already, I am seeing less of friends. I am hearing triggering songs on the radio. If I allow myself, I can very easily spiral down the well of depression.

I am fighting back, often on a minute-by-minute basis, and I refuse to give up and accept that I must be miserable for another month. I am doing this by consciously choosing to stop all negative thoughts and, instead, focus my attention on things that make me happy, like playing “O Holy Night” on the piano. I am also doing yoga and meditation daily to help me ground myself in the present.

I was hired to write many more “How to” articles for eHow.com, and I chose to write one article entitled How to Endure Holiday Season After Child Abuse. I am following the advice I included in the article, but, even now as I write this post, I can feel the fringes of depression trying to engulf me. So, I am going to post this article on my blog and then go do something I enjoy. That is the only way I am going to make it through this holiday season remotely sane.

Related Topic:

Approach of Easter and the Abused Adopted Child

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Child in field (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Emotional abuse comes in all shapes and sizes. An abuser might tell a child that he is worthless or say other things that cause the child to feel badly about himself. An abuser might threaten to harm someone that the child loves or, worse, actually harm, or even kill, someone the child loves, such as a beloved pet. Even though the abuser is not laying a hand on the child, he is inflicting significant emotional abuse.

One of the most disturbing stories I have heard about emotional abuse involved a man who would abuse the sibling as “punishment” for perceived misbehaviors by the child. One time, as the abuser was “punishing” the child, his beating went too far, and the child watched his brother be literally beaten to death. As an adult, the abuse survivor had to work through years of therapy to heal from the damage inflicted by this incident. Even though his abuser did not lay a hand on him, watching his brother die for his own supposed misbehavior was severely traumatizing to the child.

Emotional abuse is also a part of any other form of abuse. Even after physical wounds heal, the emotional damage from being beaten persists. Sexual abuse inflicts emotional damage as well. Whenever a child is abused, he experiences many powerful emotions that are not safe to express. Those emotions continue to plague the child long after the abuse ends until the adult abuse survivor focuses on healing from his past.

If you were “only emotionally abused,” you suffered much more than any child should ever suffer. It was not okay for another person to damage your soul through words or by torturing you in ways that left no marks on your body. You deserve to heal just as much as any other abuse survivor.

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Emotional Child Abuse: The Wounded Spirit

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Looking out over ocean (c) Lynda Bernhardt

When people think about child abuse, they typically think about either physical or sexual abuse. Emotional abuse is also devastating for a child. Often the emotional abuse goes unnoticed because it leaves no scars on the body. Instead, the wounds are inflicted on the soul.

Here is something I wrote about emotional abuse before I started having flashbacks about the other abuses I suffered. This writing captures the suffering involved in emotional abuse.


Everybody acknowledges the wounds of those who suffer physical abuse; nobody grieves for the wounded spirit. There are no made-for-TV movies about those whose spirits are crushed by words day after day. There are no books about the effects of being ignored for 18 years. If your heart bleeds instead of your flesh, nobody notices.

As long as you have food on the table and clothes on your back, people assume that your needs are met. But a person is more than a physical shell. There is a spirit inside that needs nurturing. If that spirit is crushed, then you become nothing more than an empty shell—a body that breathes and eats but doesn’t feel. The person that you were meant to be is stuffed down inside an intricate maze of emotional self-protection. It is a lonely place, and it is as much of a prison as a physical one—even more so, because people in physical prisons get paroled.

This is a life sentence, yet you did nothing wrong. Your sin was being born to parents who didn’t want you, who didn’t know how to love and nurture the person that you would have become. You look out at the world through a thick glass, knowing that you are different but not knowing why. Your head tells you that you don’t deserve this, but your heart screams that there must have been something wrong with you or you wouldn’t have been rejected from the day you were born. And the lonelier you get, the more scared you are to let anybody in. After all, if your own mother couldn’t love you, who could?

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Plant (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Physical child abuse is anything that a person does to a child that involves harming his body. This can be anything from beating a child, breaking his bones, burning his body, or doing anything else to physical harm a child’s body.

Many people believe that physical abuse must leave physical marks on the body, but this is not necessarily true. While many types of physical abuse do leave marks on the body, some do not. For example, smothering a child with a pillow is clearly physical abuse, even though the pillow is unlikely to leave bruises on the child’s face.

Physical abuse is often inflicted as “discipline,” but it is way out of proportion to the child’s “crime.” No childish misbehavior justifies breaking a child’s bones or leaving bruises up and down his back. There is always a better way to handle disciplining a child, even when a child is strong-willed.

Because physical abuse is frequently presented as “discipline,” abused children often wrestle with believing that they are “bad.” If they were only “good enough,” then they would not be suffering the abuse. This line of thinking is actually a coping mechanism because it gives the child the illusion of power: If he is only “good enough,” then he will have the power to stop the abuse.

Unfortunately, the truth is that an abused child cannot be “good enough” to stop the abuse because the abuse is not about his behavior: It is about his abuser’s “need” to offload his self-loathing onto another person. However, to accept this truth is to give in to utter despair, so the continued abuse drives home the lie that the child is “bad.”

Even after the physical wounds heal, the emotional wounds remain open and bleeding. The physically abused child grows into an adult who continues to wrestle with feelings of being “bad.” Abuse survivors often loathe themselves and continue to punish themselves even when their abusers stop.

The way to heal these emotional wounds is through learning to love yourself. If you were physically abused as a child, you were not responsible for your abuse. There is nothing you could have done as a child to justify the way you were treated. You should have been loved for being the precious child you were. You deserve to be loved as an adult, and the key to being loved is in learning how to love yourself.

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Girl by hut (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Mother-daughter sexual abuse is a particularly vile form of sexual abuse that many people are unaware even exists. In the United States, mothers are often viewed as the self-sacrificing member of the family who repeatedly suffers on behalf of her children. While this description is certainly true of many mothers, it is not true of all.

Women who have suffered from mother-daughter sexual abuse often fear that nobody will believe that this form of abuse happened to them. Instead, they fear that others will believe they are “crazy.” Many people are judgmental of any opinion toward a mother that is not “warm and fuzzy.” In most cases, when a daughter speaks ill of her mother, people assume that the daughter is being ungrateful and does not appreciate all of the sacrifices that her mother made for her. In the case of mother-daughter sexual abuse, the sexual abuse survivor has every right to express anger toward her abuser. The abuser does not get a free pass just because she is her victim’s mother.

I wrote an in-depth article on this topic for Associated Content. In that article, I talked about some issues that are specific to survivors of this form of abuse. I also mentioned a website specifically for survivors of mother-daughter child abuse. The name of that site is Making Daughters Safe Again. The site includes a message board for members only. Anyone who has suffered from mother-daughter sexual abuse can join, but the message board is private for the protection of those needing to discuss the very difficult issues surrounding recovery from mother-daughter sexual abuse.

If you are a survivor of mother-daughter sexual abuse, you are not alone. You can heal from this form of abuse, just as many other women have. I strongly suggest connecting with other women who have suffered from this form of abuse because they understand the specific issues that you are facing. You can do that through Making Daughters Safe Again. Another good resource is Isurvive. While Isurvive does not have a forum specifically for mother-daughter sexual abuse, several members have discussed this topic in the Survivors of Incest and Sexual Abuse forum. You are not alone.

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Spiderweb (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Unfortunately, there are many ways to abuse a child. No matter how a child is abused, the child walks away with a damage soul, repressed emotions (and often repressed memories, too), shame, and self-loathing. The key to healing from any form of child abuse is learning how to love yourself.

Adult survivors of child abuse often minimize the damage they suffered. My therapist once told me that “crazy” people try to convince you that they were abused, and abuse survivors try to convince you that they weren’t. I see a lot of truth in that statement. Minimizing the severity of the abuse is a coping mechanism that abused children use to survive. To recognize the severity of the abuse would cause the child to fall into despair.

Unfortunately, many abuse survivors compare what they suffered to what others have suffered and conclude that they did not have it that bad because it could have been worse. If you were ever abused, even only one time, it was “that bad.” Even “just one rape” or “just one broken arm” is traumatic to a child and is enough to sever his ability to trust.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is a part of every other type of abuse and, in my opinion, is the most damaging component of abuse. Broken bones heal, but the emotional impact of having your bones broken does not without a lot of work. Some people “only” suffered emotional abuse, but their emotional wounds look very similar to the emotional wounds of people whose abuse was also physical. Watching another person slaughter your beloved pet is going to emotionally damage you, even though you were never touched.


Neglect is abuse by omission rather than commission. Neglect can include not feeding a child or providing him with medical care.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any form of abuse that harms your body. Many people think that physical abuse must leave marks on your body, but many forms of physical abuse do not. Suffocating a child is a good example of a form of physical abuse that does not leave physical marks but is physically abusive.

Ritual Abuse

Ritual abuse is abuse inflicted by “experts” in abusing children. While other forms of abuse seem to be “crimes of passion” as an abuser offloads his shame onto a child, ritual abuse is more of a “crime of intent” in which the method of abusing the child is well thought out. The abuser often forces the child to do things that violate his moral code with the goal of breaking the child’s will and dominating him. All of the other forms of abuse are often used to this end.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can be perpetrated by men or women, and it is not limited to rape. Forcing a child to watch pornography is one form of sexual abuse that does not involve touching the child.

Other Forms of Abuse

Other forms of abuse do not fall neatly into any of these categories. For example, neither burying a child nor locking him in a box for hours falls neatly into any of these categories, and yet both actions are clearly abusive.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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