Posts Tagged ‘judging child through adult eyes’

On my blog entry entitled Enemas, Tubes, and Object Insertion as Part of Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

[My abuse] started when I was an infant, and continued until I was in high school. I always feel like its my fault, and I wanted it to happen, becasue even as I got older, I DIDN’T STOP IT–I LET IT HAPPEN–I DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING! For me, that only proves how much of a freak I really am! And it wasn’t just my parents that hurt me, there were others–a deacon from our church, and my brother–who abused me as a kid, and then raped me about 12 years ago. I asked my mother when I was teenager if she knew that my brother had done this–her response to me was ‘yes, but he’s my son!’ So what does that make me??? ~ Theresa

Theresa’s comment expresses the shame that so many child abuse survivors feel, even though child abuse is never the child’s fault – NEVER! According to Judith Herman’s book Trauma and Recovery, feeling responsible for the child abuse is a coping mechanism that abused children use to survive the abuse. As long as the abuse is “my fault,” then I can do something differently to make it stop. To accept the truth – that the abused child has absolutely no control over the abuse – would result in the child acknowledging just how hopeless the situation is, which would cause the child to sink into utter despair. It is actually easier for the abused child to believe that he or she is responsible because then there is at least some hope of making it stop.

While this shame might serve a purpose while the abuse continues, it is extremely damaging to the adult survivor of child abuse who is no longer being abused. When you judge your childhood actions through adult eyes, you are being very unfair to yourself. From an adult perspective, you can see different alternatives that never would have occurred to you as a child (or to any other child). This is because you were a child, not an adult. Also, it is easy to forget how helpless a child really is because, as an adult, you are able to take care of yourself. A child depends upon the adults in his or her life for food, clothing, shelter, etc., and simply leaving home and taking care of yourself is not an option. Also, those in charge are three or four times your size, so physically fighting back simply isn’t an option.

One truth that people don’t talk about enough is that abused children (without therapy or healing) revert back to being abused children in their heads when they are triggered, even if they are 80 years old. Whenever I tell someone about my mother sexually abusing me again after my father died (when I was 17), they inevitably ask why I did not fight her off. I didn’t fight her off because, when she awoke me and started hurting me, I “became” that wounded abused toddler again. It did not occur to me to fight back at age 17 because I was not 17 years old emotionally when she hurt me again.

The same is true into your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and beyond. Until you heal, you will perpetually stay the emotional age that you were when the abuse started whenever you are triggered, particularly if the child abuse was ongoing. This is why you hear about some incest victims who continue having a “sexual relationship” with their abuser even when the child becomes an adult. It’s not a consensual relationship – the twenty-something victim is still an abused child emotionally.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This is the final post in a series on feeling responsible for the child abuse you endured. The series begins here .

Now the final truth — Children do not act and react like adults and should not be judged for not doing what an adult would have done.

In Janet’s comment, she said the following:

I even went along with what [my abuser] asked me. Doesn’t that make me worse than her? Aren’t I the one still hurting me now? ~ Janet

It is very easy in hindsight to play the “should have, would have, could have” game. From the perspective of safety and an adult body, it is easy to look back on your decisions as a child and judge yourself for not acting like an adult. While this is a very natural thing to do, it is extremely unfair to your wounded inner child.

My nine-year-old son does not think like I do in part because a child does not have the ability to think past this moment. As adults, we have many years of life under our belts, and we know that three months is not a very long period of time. As a child, summer vacation seemed to last F-O-R-E-V-E-R because three months out of a seven-year-old child’s life is a pretty sizable percentage whereas three months out of a forty-year-old person’s life really is not that long.

Until a child reaches the age of 18, he cannot sign a binding contract without a parent or guardian cosigning. Why? Because children simply do not think like adults do. They do not have the ability to think through the long-term consequences of their choices. My son would rather live on candy and popcorn than eat his vegetables because candy and popcorn taste better. At age nine, he does not appreciate that his body needs vitamins to grow big and strong. The pleasure of a better taste in the moment is all he sees: he cannot think through the short-term “sacrifice” of eating his broccoli to the long-term benefit of developing a healthier body. That is why he has a parent to make these decisions for him.

When your abuser hurt you, you were just a child. You believed in the existence of Santa Claus. (Think about that – You really believed that one person could deliver presents to every single home in the world in one night!) You were not a short adult. You were a child with very limited life experience.

I, too, had a very hard time with this. I hated the little girl I was and judged her so harshly. What really helped me was finding a picture of myself at the age that the abuse was happening (which was, unfortunately, during most of my childhood). I chose a picture of myself when I was two years old. I hated the child in that picture.

I forced myself to stop seeing that little girl as “me.” Instead, I imagined that this was another little girl that I was seeing for the first time. When I could separate myself from this little girl, it changed my perspective. I noticed how tiny her hands and feet were. I noted the boyish haircut and clothing that made her look more like a boy than a girl. When I was ready, I noticed the pain in this little girl’s eyes. Just about every picture of my son from age two has him grinning ear-to-ear, but this little girl looked like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. When I saw her as a separate little girl, she broke my heart.

As I felt a little compassion for the girl in the picture, I developed a little compassion for myself. I carried that picture around in my purse and looked at it often. Each time, I felt a little more love for her. I wanted to reach into the photograph, hold her in my arms, and give her love. She so desperately needed love. The more I grew to love that little girl, the more I embraced my inner child and learned how to love myself.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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