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Posts Tagged ‘healing from childhood abuse’

Plant (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Many child abuse survivors fail to appreciate the power of their thoughts. Our thoughts are what keep child abuse survivors in bondage long after the abuse ends, and our choice to change our thoughts can propel child abuse survivors out of despair and into hope. Choosing the right thoughts can redefine our lives. Every thought that you have channels your energy.

I saw a poster that showed a person climbing a mountain. The caption read, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you will be right.” There is so much truth in that poster. If you think you can, then you have thoughts like The Little Engine That Could. If you think that you can’t, then you will sabotage your efforts by channeling negative energy that thwarts your efforts.

I believe the power of our thoughts can contribute to suicidal feelings. Suicidal thoughts are feelings, and feelings always pass. However, when we attach our thoughts to our feelings, thinking things like, “It’s hopeless; I might as well give up,” it is like flooring a Corvette the wrong way down a one-way street. We can very quickly find ourselves in a very dangerous place if we are not mindful of the energy we are channeling.

On the positive side, we can channel our energy to propel ourselves through the healing process. By choosing to stop negative internal messages and replace them with positive ones, we can turn the tide of how we are feeling.

About a year ago, I made the choice to say the following messages to myself multiple times a day, “I love you. You are safe. I’m sorry.” I chose these three sentences because they were the three messages that I most needed to hear in my childhood. I did not believe any of them, but I said them repeatedly anyhow. In time, I grew to believe them. I found that I could ground myself anytime I was triggered by saying these messages in my head.

More recently, I started telling myself that I am healed, integrated, and whole. While I had reached a place of healing, I had trouble believing it. Channeling my thoughts in this direction helped me to see that I really had healed.

If you are struggling in any area of your life, monitor your internal thoughts. Change the way you talk to yourself, and you will change the direction of your life.

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Trauma Thursday: Traumatized Child and Healing Through Mantras

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Sunlight through leaves (c) Lynda Bernhardt

As I have moved from a child abuse “survivor” to “thriver” to “conqueror,” I am finding that I have lost my excuses for the things I do not like about my life. For most of my life, I felt trapped by things outside of my control. I was afraid to stand up for myself. I was a walking doormat, rarely asking for, much less demanding, what I wanted and needed out of life.

As I have healed from my past, I have learned how to set boundaries in my life. I have learned how to say no without feeling guilty about it. I have learned to ask for and demand what I want and need in my life. And yet my life is still not perfect.

Don’t get me wrong: I really do have a good life, and I am content with it for the most part. However, as I continue to become more emotionally healthy, I am becoming more aware of the less-than-healthy relationships in my life. In some cases, I have been aware of the unhealthy aspects for a long time, but I chose not to deal with them. As I now interact with the world from a standpoint of health, the unhealthy stuff is really starting to bug me.

A year ago, I would have pointed to my history being responsible for my circumstances. I would have felt trapped in my circumstances with the need to accept where I am in my life. However, as I have healed, I have had to take responsibility for where I am in my life.

Every single unhealthy relationship that I continue to nurture is in my life because I choose to have it in my life. Every area of my life in which I wish things were different is my responsibility because I am not demanding change.

I have reached a place of accepting that things will continue the way they are in all areas of my life unless I make the choice to change them. So now, I face having to make difficult decisions – to continue to accept less healthy things in my life or to demand change. At this point, it is not an issue of fear of losing any relationship but, instead, weighing out which aspects are worth the investment of energy to change. Sometimes relationships, or certain aspects of relationships, are not worth the investment of energy necessary to change them. Not every relationship is worth saving.

Don’t worry – I am not planning any big changes in my life anytime soon. This is all part of processing my own responsibility for my own happiness in my life.

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Seashore

I am walking in the waves along the beach, and I realize that I am at peace for the first time in my life. I think about the story I wrote entitled “Shards of Glass,” and I realize that my feet are no longer numb. I can feel the cool water rolling over them. I can feel the sand beneath my feet. When I reach a patch of pebbles, I am not afraid to feel their roughness – I know my tender feet have felt much worse.

I never thought that I would reach this point. My feet had been filled with so many shards of glass. I didn’t think I could ever remove them all, and I certainly didn’t think that my tender feet could ever learn to feel again. But they have. My once-crippled feet have learned to dance.

My feet still bear scars, which will never fade. But instead of being ashamed, I wear them with pride as a badge of honor. I have earned my way back to health. Survival is no longer enough. I want to thrive. I want to live the rest of my life, not just watch the days pass. I want to make a difference in this world.

My once-wounded feet are finally dancing. They may never dance like the rest of the world because they have walked a different path. But there is a beauty in their dance that others do not have – the beauty of renewal. My feet have a passion that most people will never know – the joy that arises from knowing that I can never be broken. My abusers tried their best, but they failed.

I spent the first half of my life as the walking wounded — putting one foot in front of the other and waiting for the blessed sleep of death. I plan to spend the rest of my life living … and dancing.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Seashore

Child abuse is like shards of glass that penetrate your body. A childhood of abuse is like being forced to run barefoot across a field filled with shards of glass. The farther you are forced to run, the more glass cuts into your feet, cutting you body, soul, and spirit.

When you finally leave the field, you just want to fit in with the people around you. You repress the pain of the glass in your feet, but the glass still affects your steps. You marvel at how others can dance with ease while you always feel crippled, but you aren’t sure why.

Eventually, the pain from the glass becomes too great, and your body is ready to heal. One shard starts to come out, and you see a memory for the first time. You cannot believe that there is glass coming out of your foot, and the pain involved in removing the glass is immense. But, after you remove the shard and examine it, that hole in your foot begins to heal, and you realize that the appearance of the shard was really a good thing. You hope that there are no more shards, but you still don’t walk well.

Another shard starts to come out – then another and another and another. Each one brings its own individual pain. Some are small and can be removed quickly. Others are large and deep, so they must be removed slowly, or you will faint from the pain. Still others are so large and deep that they break off inside of your foot, so you have to remove several smaller pieces before the one wound can heal.

It is enormously painful to remove all of the glass, but, little by little, your walk gets easier. When you are finally finished removing all of the glass, you are healed, but your foot is covered with scars. You will never be like those who have always danced with ease. But your scars are proof that your path has been much harder than most, and you know that you can walk through anything because your tender feet have already endured hell.

And, when you finally do learn to dance, your dance is more beautiful than you ever thought possible. You glide across the dance floor with an ease that your once-wounded feet never imagined. People marvel at your dance, but only a trusted few are invited to see the scars. Those who see the scars stand in awe that feet that were once so broken can now glide. Only a trusted few will ever know the true beauty that they behold when they see the once wounded feet dance.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Frog statue (c) Lynda Bernhardt

I have been very busy writing articles on healing from childhood abuse, as well as other topics, for some other sites. This work has been in addition to writing for my regular blogs. (I wrote over 30 articles last week!)

The following are articles I published last week with Associated Content that are related to healing from childhood abuse:

I hope you find both of these articles to be helpful. I will get back to posting more articles on this blog later this week.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Green Plant (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Yoga and meditation were, and continue to be, very powerful healing tools for me. Now that I have healed the wounds from my childhood, these tools continue to help me grow into a continually more functional and at-peace person. I am talking about these tools together because they really are part of the same process.

In the United States, we have turned yoga into a stretching class, but that is not yoga’s intended purpose. For thousands of years, yoga’s purpose has been to prepare the mind for meditation. So, I do both together – first yoga, immediately followed by meditation.

Yoga is a very spiritual experience when done in the privacy of your own room rather than with a large crowd of people. Yoga helps you focus on being present rather than stuck in the past or fearful of the future. It also teaches you how to quiet your mind – a concept that was foreign to me when I first began these disciplines.

When I first started doing yoga, it almost “hurt” when I finished. I came to realize that the “pain” I was feeling was the release of tension. I had spent most of my life carrying a lot of tension in my shoulders. I truly did not know how it physically felt to relax. Doing yoga helped me to relax my body and, in time, my mind.

Howard Kent’s book, Yoga Made Easy: A Personal Yoga Program That Will Transform Your Daily Life, is a particularly valuable resource for learning the art of yoga as a merging of body, soul, and spirit rather than a series of stretches. It is written for the beginner with no experience in yoga, which is where I was when I started. The book includes lots of pictures and text so you can understand what you are supposed to be doing both physically and mentally.

While Howard Kent’s book also discusses meditation, the best resource I have found is on a blog called The Little Jewel. (If you struggle with religious triggers, skip down to the heading “BASIC MEDITATION TECHNIQUE.”) That blog explains meditation in a very simple way for beginners.

Related Topic:

Positive Coping Tools for Healing from Childhood Abuse

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Orange Flowers (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Visualization is a powerful healing tool that I do not see used nearly often enough. My intuition drew me toward using this tool: I do not recall reading about it anywhere. Adding visualization to your healing toolbox will be very useful along your healing journey.

What do I mean by visualization? Let me explain by example.

I repressed most of my emotions from childhood, but I was most disconnected from my rage. I honestly did not believe that I had any anger at all. I used to joke that I had a very long fuse that only “blew” once a year. Most of the time, I consciously felt no anger, no matter how justified anger might have been in a situation. I was a walking doormat because of this.

My therapist assured me that I had anger to process, but I had no idea how to access it. I used a few tools and became aware of having rage inside of myself, but none of the tools I tried really helped me to work through it until I stumbled upon visualization.

While I was lying in my bed resting before falling asleep, I closed my eyes and “saw” myself as a young child about to be abused. I could see the basement clearly and my abuser about to harm the child me. Then, the adult me ran into the room and kicked the ever-living $@#% out of my abuser.

I allowed the visualization to get as graphic as it needed with no filters. Sometimes it would get very gory and disturbing, but this was just a sign of the depth of my rage. As I allowed the adult me to beat up my abusers and protect the child me, I could feel the rage pouring out of my soul. The more I did this, the less I struggled with anxiety. I began to feel more at peace.

This is just one example of the power of visualization. You can also use it to shape your future. For example, let’s say you struggle with binge eating. Visualize yourself as a person who is no longer enslaved to this disorder. See yourself wearing loose clothing, and think about how great you would feel. See yourself at rest and no longer needing to “stuff down” your emotions. Do this for just a few minutes and then stop. This plants a seed toward moving in that direction. Now that you have “seen” yourself freed from the disorder, you will begin moving toward that goal. You won’t be free overnight, but if you do this every day, just for a few minutes, you will move toward this reality.

Related Topic:

Positive Coping Tools for Healing from Childhood Abuse

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Pond in Clearing (c) Lynda Bernhardt

I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: If you are just beginning your healing journey, find a qualified therapist with experience in counseling people with your particular history. The healing process is grueling, and it is very, very hard to heal without a therapist helping you along.

I was in the process of waiting to adopt a second child when my flashbacks started, so I did not want to enter into therapy. I feared that the social worker might view me as “crazy” and refuse to approve our home study, which would prevent us from adopting again. So, I decided that I was going to heal on my own. Big mistake! I was having flashbacks daily and overwhelmed with pain. I found myself lying on the floor in a full-fledged panic attack, shaking uncontrollably and banging my head on the floor while considering ways to kill myself. I decided in that not-so-proud moment that anything was better than this. The next morning, I sought out a therapist. I am so glad that I did.

Therapy is nothing like you see on television. You do not lie on a couch (unless you really want to) while a stoic person holds a notebook and says, “… and what do you think of that?” a hundred times. Therapy is also not intended to be a lifelong commitment. Instead, therapy is about having someone in your corner who knows the way out. The actual healing takes place between sessions with your therapist acting as a cheerleader and guide.

A therapist also helps you reframe your experiences. For example, I told my therapist that I had been triggered and cried for over an hour – deep, wracking sobs that came from somewhere so deep inside that I found it hard to believe that I could survive that level of pain. His response was that this was good because I was feeling. I had spent most of my life numb, but now I was experiencing my emotions again. I never would have viewed this experience as “good” without his reframing it for me.

A therapist provides you the validation that it was “that bad.” Most abuse survivors minimize their experiences, saying things like, “She almost killed me, but it wasn’t that bad: Others have been through worse.” A therapist also provides reassurance that you are not crazy and shines a beacon of hope that you will heal. He also helps you to stay realistic about your healing expectations.

Some health insurance plans cover therapy. Many therapists charge on a sliding scale, so even those of you with limited means can still afford therapy. If you are in school, many colleges offer free therapy for their students. Therapy is not a luxury: It is a crucial part of the healing process.

Related Topic:

Positive Coping Tools for Healing from Childhood Abuse

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Friends (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Talking with friends is a great way to get through the very painful times. It is especially helpful when you have a friend or two who knows what you are going through so you can just call and say, “I’m free-falling!” without having to go into explanations. It can be very hard to reveal your history to a friend, but I strongly encourage you to take the risk with someone you trust (or at least someone who you believe deserves to be trusted).

I used to fear that if anyone knew my history, she would run from the room screaming. I believed that all that I had experienced made me a bad person. Because I was repulsed by myself, I believed that others would be repulsed as well. What I discovered was that people who learned my story respected me and became fiercely loyal to me. It was such a relief to share my burden with another person.

As I was working through the healing process, I would sometimes become very triggered and feel strong urges to harm myself. I could not just “will” these urges away. I found that calling a friend was one of the best things I could do to ground myself enough to prevent myself from self-injuring. I would focus on my friend’s voice and “ground” myself until I no longer felt like I was free-falling into my pain.

Watching a friend’s reaction to your history can be powerful in helping you heal. Each time another friend reacted by saying, “It wasn’t your fault,” it helped me believe this a little more. It also helped to see friends’ anger toward my abuser and to hear them tell me how strong they thought I was.

Leaning on a friend cannot replace what you need in therapy, which I will get into in my next post. However, talking with your friends can be a wonderful supplementation to therapy. Also, having these friends in your life can help you transition out of therapy when you are ready to stop.

Related Topic:

Positive Coping Tools for Healing from Childhood Abuse

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Plant (c) Lynda Bernhardt

A good support group can be invaluable as you work through your emotional issues. It helps to know several people who are traveling the same journey, especially when you know people who are in various stages of healing. That way, you can be inspired by those who are farther along and also feel good about how far you have come when you see those who are just starting out.

You do not have to go to a “live” support group to find the support you need. I found invaluable support at message boards for adult survivors of childhood abuse. There are many sites available, including some that are tailored for specific types of abuse.

My favorite site is Isurvive, which has forums for all forms of abuse, including sexual, physical, emotional, and ritual abuse. I found the site in December 2003, when I was new to flashbacks and still in a place of questioning whether I could trust the images in my head. I found so much loving support from the people there. It was nice to post when it was convenient for me and then receive responses from people all over the world who understood me. For the first time in my life, I felt like I truly fit in somewhere.

Many message boards offering support also have chat rooms, so you can find instant support if you are free falling. I rarely go into chat rooms, but there have been times when a flashback was particularly painful, causing me to struggle with the urge to harm myself. Because late at night is a difficult time for many survivors, chat rooms are often monitored at night for situations just like this. On more than one occasion, I found instant support at midnight. There is no replacing that kind of support when you are in a very bad place.

Another nice thing about on-line support groups is that you can maintain your anonymity. I was not open to walking into a room filled with people who would know my name and see my face. I could not have looked another person in the eye and shared my story in the early months. However, I could choose an anonymous name on a message board and share all without worrying about being rejected or gossiped about.

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