Abuse is one of the most obvious components of many dysfunctional families, whether it is verbal, physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
Abuse in childhood is like a vampire that steals a child’s feelings of self worth or self esteem and makes him or her vulnerable to negativity and abuse later in life.
Defining Verbal, Physical, Sexual and Emotional Abuse
Let’s define each of the types of abuse before we continue:
Verbal abuse consists of shouting, swearing, name-calling, threats, belittling, criticizing or blaming. It can also be control, making jokes at someone else’s expense, arguing, countering or discounting what a child is trying to communicate.
Physical abuse involves hitting, shoving, grabbing, slapping, kicking, pinching, choking, smothering or scratching. It can also be posturing to intimidate another through your size and strength, or physically forcing a child to do something against their will.
Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual touch, where someone either touches a child’s private parts or makes him or her touch theirs or someone else’s. It can also be sexual comments, sexual jokes or putdowns, voyeurism or pornography.
Emotional abuse consists of mind games, manipulation, control, intimidation, humiliation, or simply giving children conditional love rather than unconditional love. Sometimes it occurs as treating a child as less than human, depriving him or her of friends, or forcing him to work when he is too young or do work that is too hard or involves too much responsibility for the child’s own welfare.
A child who is abused throughout childhood obviously doesn’t have the same opportunity to excel in life as a child who experiences love and support from his or her caregivers on a daily basis. Children who believe that abuse is normal often expect and tolerate abuse in their adult lives.
An Abuse Survivor
Let me tell you a true story: Shelby was a client of mine who grew up in a dysfunctional family with trauma, abuse and emotional neglect. She came to therapy originally when she was almost fifty years old, because she wanted to know how to deal with her son who was not living up to her expectations. She didn’t realize at that time that she herself was an abuse survivor or that she had emotional issues to deal with.
Shelby was shocked when I told her in the very first session that she needed to allow her son to live his own life instead of trying to control his choices. She was obviously expecting me to help her convince her son that she was right. She probably wondered whether she should continue therapy with me at that point, but she decided to stick it out, because for the first time someone was really listening and showing concern for her feelings.
Shelby was a ‘pleaser’ with the people in her life, trying always to make everyone else happy so that she would be loved. She had no real emotional support system in her life. Her husband was verbally abusive to her, her marriage was not respectful or fulfilling and she had no close friends outside of her immediate family.
Overcoming Childhood Abuse
In therapy, we began with doing the JoyIAm Process, allowing Shelby to express and release the emotional pain and trauma of her life. She felt greatly relieved to know that her feelings were natural and normal and that when she expressed and released them, she felt stronger and more confident emotionally and personally empowered. Overcoming her childhood abuse felt like a great relief to Shelby.
As time went on, we began to unravel the details of Shelby’s early life. Shelby reported that although her mother was a kind and loving woman, she became very ill with cancer when Shelby was only five years old. Because of that, Shelby soon learned to be a caretaker and put everyone else’s feelings and needs ahead of her own. Needless to say, Shelby never got to experience an emotionally healthy childhood, where she was guided, supported and encouraged to be all that she could be.
In time, Shelby revealed that she had also been sexually abused by her father when she was small. Because he was absent and emotionally unavailable much of the time, she needed his love very badly, so she was an easy victim for his sexual abuse. In therapy, Shelby expressed her anger, rage and disappointment about her father’s abuse. By expressing the intense emotional pain, she began to overcome the abuse and reclaim a part of herself that had been missing for many years.
Releasing the Emotional Pain
During her therapy process, Shelby attended a weekend personal growth workshop that I offered and while she was there, she felt a great release of her emotional pain. Having the group support was very refreshing to her.
She also met some delightful friends while she was there who began to support her to make positive changes in her life. With emotional support in her life, Shelby learned to care for her own feelings and needs and set boundaries with others who made demands on her instead of trying to please everyone else.
Today Shelby reports that her life is much more fulfilling. She says she finally learned that it’s all about finding her happiness from within. She learned that you can’t care about others when you don’t take care of yourself. She learned to express and release her emotional pain and to be honest about her real feelings and needs. Shelby now feels a much stronger bond with both her son and her daughter. She says her husband listens when she talks and he treats her much more respectfully.
Because of her new feelings of self worth and self confidence, Shelby has also recently built a successful business of her own, doing work that she enjoys. She now reports that she laughs and talks with her friends daily and that she goes on regular outings and adventures with them.
Long-Term Effects of Child Abuse
When abuse issues from childhood are not resolved, people often go through their entire adult lives feeling empty and alone or acting out the unhealthy patterns from childhood. Unfortunately they, too, can become angry and abusive, and sometimes they continue those negative emotional patterns throughout their children’s lives.
The good news is that it’s never too late to heal the effects of child abuse. Now that we have the tools for transformation, you can decide to heal at any point in your life.
Thank God that Shelby was able to transform her life! What an incredible gift that is to her and to everyone around her.
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Have you experienced anything like this in your life?
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