Gentle Methods for Healing After Childhood Abuse

Sep 16, 2021 | JOURNAL

Childhood abuse leaves invisible wounds. These wounds can fester and shape our lives in ways we may not even realize. Shame, a heavy cloak woven from silence and self-blame, whispers doubts in our ears. These doubts distort our perception of ourselves and the world. But breaking free from the grip of shame is possible. I’m proof.

THE SHAME OF CHILDHOOD ABUSE

Abuse, in any form, plants a seed of shame within us. It tells us we’re broken, unworthy, and deserving of the pain inflicted. This toxic narrative, reinforced societal stigma, can take root in our subconscious. The result influences our thoughts, choices, and relationships.

To shield ourselves from the raw pain of shame, we build elaborate masks. We become the “perfect” child, the “strong” one, the invisible one. We’ll do anything to avoid facing the truth and the vulnerability it exposes. These masks can offer temporary protection. But they also distance us from our authentic selves and hinder our ability to heal.

The impact of shame extends beyond our inner world. It can manifest in our relationships. This leads to trust issues, unhealthy attachments, or self-sabotage. We may struggle to set boundaries, fearing rejection or criticism. Our self-esteem plummets, making us vulnerable to manipulation and unhealthy relationships.

MY PERSONAL CHILDHOOD ABUSE SHAME

When my mother married her second of four husbands, we moved an hour away from my grandparents. I now had two stepsisters and a stepbrother. The eldest step-sister ran away. The stepbrother lived with his mother and never visited. And the second step-sister threatened my life on the daily. I was eleven and had lost control of my exterior world. I was drowning in anxiety and depression.

My mother had never been a clean freak. But when we moved into the stepfather’s house, she fixated on appearing to be June Cleaver. And so she crowned me the housekeeper.

The stepfather’s master bathroom had a sink with a large gilded frame mirror over it. There was always splattered toothpaste in its crevices. With a container of Comet and a packaged toothbrush in hand, my mother instructed me to scrub it.

Miserable with my existence, I rolled my eyes. And with that, my mother death-gripped the base of my skull. She shoved my face into the mirror, and with clenched teeth and a tone of insanity spewed, “Look at you. Why do you have to look like him?”

I resemble both my parents. Those who know my mother say I’m her spitting image. Those who know my dad say I look like him. It’s clear my mother believes the latter. “You could have accomplished so much more in life if you’d only gotten that nose job,” she’d torment. (It’s valid to note, she’d gotten two.)

When your parent judges you in disdain as a child, it’s humiliating. You realize the person who should protect you is not on your side. Unbeknownst to you, this charts future relationships. When society judges you as an adult, you feel painted into a self-preserving corner. You approach vulnerability and connection with extreme caution.

THE SKEWED PERCEPTION OF CHILDHOOD ABUSE

Most survivors of trauma lose reference of what normal means. We assume normal must equal perfection and anything less is unacceptable. Guilt consumes us. If we show any level of self-care — guilt. If someone trips over their own foot — guilt. Our guilt and shame is on overdrive, pointing out how unworthy we are.

There’s an extra layer to our self-loathing internal dialogue. We project our shame onto others. “They see I’m damaged. They recognize I don’t fit in. They think I’m a loser. Screw them.”

I recently realilzed the intense weight of distrust I’ve carried. And it’s because of my own shame. I prided myself as “hyper-intuitive” when decoding another person’s character. I was unable to distinguish between intuition guiding me and trauma misleading me. I’ve misread so many behaviors, robbing myself of much deeper connections.

Many of us feel alone in our struggles. We form friendships at superficial depths. Few know us on a rough-hewn level. Filtered social media posts taunt us into thinking everyone’s life is better than ours.

Sometimes I fantasize about an unmasked culture bathed in vulnerability. Muting the pretentious noise sounds refreshing. Validating each other’s flawed humanness would feel liberating. *sigh*

BREAKING FREE FROM THE SHAME OF CHILDHOOD

Healing is a journey, not a destination. It requires courage to confront the pain, acknowledge the shame, and untangle its grip. Here are some steps I believe can help:

Seek support. Breaking the silence is crucial. Talk to a trusted therapist, counselor, or support group. This can provide a safe space to process your experiences. The ultimate goal is to strengthen your coping mechanisms.

Challenge the narrative. The abuser’s narrative is not your truth. Challenge negative self-talk and replace it with affirmations of self-worth and resilience.

Practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself. Healing takes time and setbacks are inevitable. Focus on the progress you’re making.

Reconnect with your authentic self. Explore your passions, interests, and values. Reconnect with the person you were before the abuse. Nurture the parts of you your abuser silenced.

DISCOVERING VULNERABILITY AFTER CHILDHOOD ABUSE

My most cherished friendships developed with reciprocal vulnerability. Revealing our scars and imperfections creates a safe space to be ourselves. I know this in my bones, but I sometimes find myself struggling to trust. It’s not my best look. It’s a hardwired challenge to trust a woman when the one woman I was born to trust ripped out my heart.

I have to remind myself there is nothing wrong with me at my core. I have wounds to heal, patterns to unlearn, and new behaviors to embody. Each day, I try to release a little more shame and gather up more self-worth.

Sharing My Long Journey of Healing After Childhood Trauma left me raw. I felt as though I paraded my naked body through the town square. In my mind, I could hear chants of  “Shame, shame, shame…”

As I was digging a hole to crawl into, you showed up. You shared your painful stories with me. And by sharing our trauma with one another, I felt the heavy cloak of humiliation lift.

Today, it no longer matters what my mother thinks of me. I realize she subscribes to a sick, malicious, and warped reality. The venom she injected into me has neutralized since I’ve chosen to share my truth.

The compassion, trust, and grace within the messages you shared helps nurse the wounds, too. In hopes of connecting with more injured souls, I’m sharing a few below. Out of respect for privacy, I removed identifiable details:

“I’m at a loss for words. I’m blessed to have crossed paths with you. Your blog touched my soul. I never thought I would meet anyone who could know what I’ve been through and who would understand it. I’m connected to you and your words. Thank you for being open and sharing your journey.”

“I cried as I read your story. Your truth. Tears for what you went through and because it resonated with me. I’ve never had the courage to write about mine. I suffer from chronic back and neck pain, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia. My trauma led to depression, suicidal thoughts, and a ten year battle with bulimia. Thank you for sharing and connecting the dots.”

“I married a malignant narcissist. I still suffer from PTSD. Compassion is key. We’re all starving for it. Your timing couldn’t have been better to show what that looks like. Thank you for your strength, compassion, and generous service.”

“I hope you have the will to write a book. We could spend weeks talking about all the things we were hiding [as kids]. You hid this with perfection. And I’m sorry for that. We were far more alike than we realized.”

“Your post was an incredible tour de force! It was inspiring and empowering, even those who didn’t have that sort of trauma and abuse. We love you for writing it and we support you!”

RESOURCES FOR HEALING AFTER CHILDHOOD ABUSE

Healing from childhood abuse is a brave and necessary journey. There are many incredible resources available to support you on your path. Here are a few I’ve found helpful:

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk – This book explores the science of trauma. It offers a comprehensive understanding of its impact on the mind and body.

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay Gibson – This book helps you understand the impact of having distant or unstable parents. It offers strategies for coping and healing.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) This website offers comprehensive information on childhood trauma. It includes resources for survivors, families, and professionals. They also have a directory of treatment providers across the US.

The National Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (ASCA) This organization provides support groups and online forums for survivors of childhood abuse.

Survivors of Abuse in Family Environments (SAFE)  This organization offers support groups and other resources for survivors of childhood abuse.

Headspace This meditation app offers free guided meditations to cope with trauma and anxiety.

Calm This meditation app offers guided meditations for stress relief and emotional well-being.

Healing from childhood abuse is a personal journey. Experiment with different resources and find what resonates with you. Take one step at a time and be gentle with yourself. You are strong, resilient, and worthy of immense love and happiness.

*This post is not a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice. Please seek professional help if you are struggling.

As always, thank you for being here and sharing the articles you appreciate most. Be sure to subscribe to future posts below. And if you have questions or suggestions, leave a comment or drop a note. My mind and inbox are always open.

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