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Healing the Child

When the self has been confronted,
When the hidden has been brought to the surface,
The paradoxical result is not horror
And paralysis but release and new birth

A.J. Muste

Our bodies, thoughts, feelings and behavior are the end result of all our experiences and our perception of life as we know it. When a person acknowledges that his childhood was not normal, healthy or appropriate, he is on his way to recovery and healing.

A child growing up in a dysfunctional family; who is victimized, abused, neglected and ignored may have a problem with owning his own reality. He may detatch from reality in order to survive his abandonment and violence. He must do this in order not to be overwhelmed with his feelings. When a child reaches adulthood, he may have trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality and question whether the abuse actually occurred.

If the abuse was sexual, denial is more intense when a family member was the abuser. Denial is a method of handling the abusive treatment received, and allows one to escape from the experience. When abused children become adults, they refuse to imagine that they ever had feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, guilt, hatred and abandonment.

Brett:“No, I don’t remember my father ever being mean to us kids. Sometimes he would beat the tar out of us, but we probably deserved it.”

Because of the unpredictability and irrational behavior of the parent, the child grows up never knowing what to expect. In this process he has lost his trust of everyone.

Anna was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. She grew up never trusting anyone and she was always baiting people to prove themselves. Her childhood of helplessness robbed her of decision-making skills. She would make poor impulsive decisions without positive insight into other options.

Children who live in a household full of tension and stress grow up with poor conversational skills. They have been raised in an atmosphere where it is found best to “keep one’s mouth shut.” They also have the worry of living under threats. A child learns at an early age that any look, word or move can result in a threat of some “horrible banishment.”

Karen: “I could never count on anything. My mother would change her mind about shopping or the movies. It was always over some trivial matter, like picking something up.”

Karen learned at an early age not to expect anything or believe that anything good could happen to her. She had low self-esteem and was always apologizing to someone. She became a generous caregiver to others. She gave so much, she had the tendency to smother other people. They felt the burden of receiving too much attention from her and took steps to avoid her.

The caregiver role suits Karen because it gives her some control in her relationships. But it is a role that keeps her from what she wants most, to be close to someone. The methods of survival she used as a child cannot work for her in the adult social world, and subsequently she has difficulty achieving intimacy with any adults.

Her anger and hatred helped her survive her childhood, where she took the burden of adult problems and had to act as an adult. Beneath these intense feelings of fear and pain was an emotionally starved girl who had never been cared for, never felt safe or protected, felt that no one loved her, and who, above all, could not ask her mother for help.

Karen: “I was married and divorced at an early age. Probably to escape out of the house. I find myself critical and rigid. I am looking for the perfect person and find there is no such person. When I do meet someone I could like, I become critical and look for him to hurt and disappoint me, I cannot relax and enjoy the relationship. Then I start taking control.

Karen is alert to the faults of others and gets upset if they have a different agenda from hers. She finds it very hard to accept change and wants complete control. Karen will need therapy if she wants to live happily and come to terms with the abuse she suffered as a child.

Amelia’s mother named her “my little librarian” because she was small and was always reading. When her father came home and beat her mother and her brother, she hid in her room and read books.

Amelia is an adult now and did become a librarian, lives alone and never married. She never voices an opinion to anyone and speaks only when spoken to. She remains home and lives a painless and safe life without risk, a life that her abusive father frightened her into. The best life has to offer has eluded her, and she has escaped living a full life.

Anger can be an emotional healing. In fact, a person may have to get angry in order to heal the pains of his childhood, angry at those who abused him at a young age when the realization is made that the treatment was undeserved. A person may have grown up in a dysfunctional family where he was not allowed or taught to express feelings. As an adult, a person needs to relearn that he can be angry without being out of control or lose the love and respect of others.

The anger needs to be expressed to get rid of the pain. Anger can motivate a person to change his actions. It can motivate one to quit his job, to get out of an abusive marriage or to stop an addiction. Anger turned inward can lead to depression and can stunt progress.

Rita was ordered to a therapist because she had attempted suicide. Some of her anger was directed toward her mother. She thought her mother had no time for her when she was a child. The mother was a single parent trying to learn an occupation to take care of her child. She was worried and preoccupied. Rita was abused by her babysitter’s husband and never told her mother. When she finally expressed her feelings about a painful childhood, her mother was shocked and very sorry. Rita and her mother talked about the experience that Rita had had, they cried together and the healing began.

One of the critical parts of healing is for the child to let go of the hatred toward the abuser. Once the child lets go of his hatred, his emotions are unblocked and he is free.

After the anger comes the hurt and pain. Rita was able to grieve for her childhood and to understand her mother’s actions, that she had done the best she could do. Her mother acknowledged her pain, and she and her mother were able to assume a different relationship full of support and love. This was the most important part in healing the trauma of child abuse.

Children of dysfunctional families have no one to talk to about their emotions.

They inhibit their emotions for three major reasons:

•  they have no one to talk to
•  they have nowhere to express their emotions
•  they become ashamed

When emotions are inhibited and stress becomes overwhelming, the mind sublimates all pain and feelings to maintain mental balance. Amelia had buried a part of herself in childhood. But the childhood pain and the decisions made at that time do not have to stay with the person for the rest of his life. Rita chose not to be chained to those old childhood beliefs.

Some people are not able to cope with the raising of children. It is unfortunate for the child who “draws” a parent like that, but when he is grown he can choose a different kind of parent. He can reinvent his life any way he wants. The healing child can give himself permission to ask for help.

When the child is allowed to grieve he will heal naturally. Rita had to grieve for a painful childhood, and she also had to confront her mother and forgive her. Then she had to forgive herself for keeping quiet and accepting the abuse. Her healing then became complete.

Rita grieved for the childhood she never had. She also grieved for the abandonment of her spirit when she almost took her own life. She had also broken the pattern of abuse, though not within her immediate family, by refusing to accept abusive behavior from anyone ever again.
When a child is abused by his mother, he is more apt to accept this behavior from someone else, and this is the cause of so much confusion in the child’s mind.

Julie: “I remember it as a wonderful life until my father died. Then it was great confusion. My father was a well-thought-of teacher and his death was very sudden.
“I had a younger brother and my mother seemed overwhelmed or maybe just crazy. When I was seven or eight years of age, I was able to run anywhere I wanted to. Some days she didn’t know I was alive, and other times she would beat me until I couldn’t breathe.

“She didn’t seem interested in my school, or work or anything. I had to wear old, torn dresses. The kids would tease me because of the way I dressed. I couldn’t say anything to her, but it made me feel different from the other children.

“We were so poor, and I remember being so hungry that I got sick when we did have something to eat. I hated her for the way she treated me. I also had to protect my brother from her.

“I was so happy to get old enough to move away from her, But sometimes I do have bouts of feeling guilty. Why did it have to be that way? Did she miss my father that much? We never talked about him.”

If parents are not in touch with themselves, they cannot give the child the bonding that is necessary in order that the child will have the confidence he needs for his development. The child will remain insecure and anxious all his life long.

Parents who reject their children for one reason or another may be passive or active, indifferent or cruel. Many of these parents were rejected by their parents and the result is that they have difficulty giving or receiving attention.

A handicapped child is sometimes not understood by its parents or teachers, and the child needs extra support and care. If there is a problem in school, it is perhaps because of a misunderstanding, and the handicapped child needs a parent or friend who is vigilant about protecting the child’s interests.

James hated his father, yet when he grew up he found himself imitating his dad’s lifestyle. It wasn’t very obvious but he recognized it: his father’s loud, violent temper, not speaking to his family for days, showing his disapproval with a long, silent stare, and so on. James was as cruel to his family as his father had been to him. He tried to change his behavior but found it impossible, and he became and old man with no family as they had left him years before.

Donald: “I never knew my parents were alcoholics. My dad was a workaholic. He was a big success and had time for everyone except his family. My mother was a compulsive overeater. I was raised to take care of myself and be a people pleaser. I was married three times. I married three women looking for the love and support I seemed never to find. I have finally gone for help. I learned my parents’ troubles had nothing to do with me. It is up to me alone to seek my own happiness.”

Everyone has issues about which he is concerned, conscious or unconscious problems surrounding emotional needs or wants created during his upbringing, particularly childhood trauma. For example, an obsession with control may be manifested in a person as an issue or problem if he always wants to make arrangements, choose a restaurant, or determine the time in which something is done. The way to refrain from an obsession with control is to surrender some control to another person. At first this is difficult to do, but soon the person is able to see that it is enjoyable to share the responsibility with someone else; the other person may have a better idea. It will take some time, but the person with a control issue may eventually delegate control when he discovers that “letting go” has its rewards.

Other issues may be difficulty trusting others, inhibited expression of feelings, avoiding responsibility, or lacking the need to take care of oneself. A person may have a high tolerance for bad or self-destructive habits.

“May never took care of herself. When the children tore the screen door, she would never get it fixed. Although it upset her every time she looked at it, she tolerated that torn screen too long.”

A person abused in childhood must come to terms with these issues, and acknowledging their existence helps build self-esteem. This can be achieved when a person asks for help from others, especially from professionals, and by letting go of the problems of the past.

        “They abandoned me because I was a rotten kid.”

A young child may believe this statement and think it is true, but the adult has more experience and may realize that it is not true. However, running away is a defense that many people learn at an early age and continue throughout their lives.

Of all abuses, abandonment is probably the hardest form of abuse for a child to heal from, as the child never receives an explanation for the reason for abandonment, and as a result has difficulty getting close to anyone again.

Jill: “I watched all those TV stories about the Brady Bunch, the Waltons and the Andersons. They were big, happy families. Why wasn’t my life like that? I was abandoned by my parents and am having a hard time believing there is such a thing as a normal family.”

Jill may never find a “normal family,” as there is probably no such family in existence – no family is perfect. Each family is composed of different personalities and experiences, but it is essential that all members respect and love each other. They may not always live in peace, but they must make compromises and not resort to violence.

Even families with no history of alcoholism can still exist in chaos. Alcohol may not exist in a household, but it may still be an alcoholic family. In such a place the maltreatment of the child is subtle, but still is there.

Carrie: “I was raised in a household of men, and all the activities in the house centered around them.”

Carrie felt just as abused and neglected as if she were beaten. She was a complacent little girl and wanted only to please. No one noticed that her needs weren’t being met, and she kept all of her emotional life hidden from others. Now that Carrie is an adult she has had the opportunity to put aside her pain and lead the life she wants, free from emotional inhibitions. The only problem is that Carrie has no sense of her own identity or her own wants.

One of the most useful things an adult who is trying to heal the pains of childhood can do is to be with others and listen to their stories of mistreatment. It helps to validate the pain that the individual felt, as each person has his unique memories of the way things were for him.

Each person has to identify their own needs and search for their own ways to retain health. The healing process is slow and sometimes it takes steps backward. To heal completely, experience of this must be complete, and the truths cannot be glazed over and they have to be faced. It is important for the person to stay in the company of people who believe in him or her, and it is not necessary for one to confront the abusing persons.
In the case of sexual abuse, some children blame themselves and suffer much guilt and shame. The adult child has to keep in mind that he or she was the victim of abuse and was not to blame. Sometimes the child is given gifts from his abuser, and presently may feel ashamed that he accepted the gifts.

Lili: “I was in therapy for years. I couldn’t seem to get rid of the guilt and shame. My grieving time took a long time.”

Finally the adult child comes to a resolution and is then able to move on. If that is not done, a person cannot heal. He doesn’t have to forgive the abuser but must come to terms with the abuse itself, as the resolution about the abuser comes when the victim of abuse achieves the proper perspective about it.

Lili: “I finally realized that the abuse is over now and I have the rest of my life. I cannot afford to spoil any more of my time. It was such a freeing experience.”

The recovery of a child who has been molested is extremely difficult. People who molest children look normal and do not look like “aliens” or “intruders.”

Frequently the child who has been molested will tell someone out of the family. It may be mentioned in a casual manner, or the child may act strangely such as refusing to participate in a favorite activity or make a fuss when a certain person visits the child.

Children should be believed when this behavior occurs or when accusations are made. One of the first steps to be taken is to report the abuse to the police, and most states have laws requiring such a report. Every community investigates this charge in a different way and action is taken accordingly.

Vivian: “It was important for my child to know they did the right thing by telling us. We reassured her that it was not her fault and that person will never hurt another child again.”

If the molestor was a member of the family of a friend or a friend of the family, the recovery time will take longer. No family is ever the same again, but with love and support the child can heal and become stronger.

People are more aware today of themselves and their feelings and are able to communicate in a better manner. A person can be honest and ask friends and relatives not to discuss the affair with anyone. He can be frank and say that the child’s protection must be kept private, and no one is owed an explanation.

Counseling will help the family and the child and the time will distance the assault. If there is enough evidence to convict the molestor, the child may have to attend court.

If it is known that the testimony will traumatize the child, the state attorney may ask for the testimony to be taped. Whatever the outcome is, the child should be well-prepared with what is to take place. It should be clear to the child that it is the molestor who is on trial. The child should be familiar with the type of questions that he will be asked. It would help the child to be taken to the courthouse and be familiar with the courtroom.

Anything that can be done to make the process easy for the child should be done, and they need to be reassured that they are doing the right thing. they need to be told that this person will never be able to hurt another child.

As a person grows in recovery, he will be able to observe himself in his life. He can see how far he has come in his development. He will feel a sense of peace and be able to help others. As time goes by, the adult child will become stronger, but recovery takes time and a great deal of courage.

Robert is a popular actor and he talks freely about his father. He tells of the abusiveness of his father when he was a boy, a very disciplined yet violent person.

When Robert became an actor and was working in California, he brought his father to live with him. He said of his father, “I loved my father but I obsessed about his cruelty to me as a child. One day I presented him with a list of all the things he had done to me. I started at age four, and up to every age as far as I could remember.”

His father wept and asked for his forgiveness. Robert realized the pain was gone and he could forgive his father, and felt that the healing began when he forgave:

Ted: “I was abused when I was a boy and it affected my whole life. I needed to let it go and get on with a full life.”

Many family members try to keep the abuse away from each other. They discovered many years later that they were all victims of the abuse. Each child thought it was his fault. “How come I was picked out for this abuse?”

Taran: “Today I am able to turn the abuse around and help other victims.”

Carmen was the daughter of an actress. Her mother was divorced many times and Carmen was abused by some of her husbands. The husbands frightened her with lies. She said that as a child abandonment was her biggest fear. She never told her mother about the abuse and the threats, and so it was kept a family secret.

Carmen said that at this time she has come to grips with the issues of abandonment and she has many talks with her mother.

Carmen: “I never trusted adults when I was a child. If I have any advice for a troubled child today, it is find someone to trust.”

Aaron was the child of a popular acting couple.

“ Everybody thought they were the ideal couple, but I had to keep a big secret. They yelled and screamed at each other all the time. My mother had a quick temper and she would haul off and hit without any warning.
“ My father was a little slower to get angry, but watch out when he did. He would storm around the house threatening everyone in his range.
“ Why they ever married I’ll never know, but they sure were popular. I became involved with drugs and alcohol at an early age. There was plenty of it at home.
“ It was a relief when my parents divorced. I was hooked on marijuana, cocaine and alcohol. I played in a band and knew no boundaries. I was seventeen years of age.
“ It was only a few years later that life was out of control. My sister was having her own problems. She was not hooked on drugs or alcohol, but she couldn’t maintain a relationship.
“ I went to a treatment center, and when I met my sister afterward it was the first time we hugged and cried. It seemed we had never done that as kids.
“ We lived in a household which was at a continually frantic pace.

Life is calmer now and I enjoy it a lot better. Both my parents have married other people. They seem in a better place and are not so competitive. I hope they are happy.”


“ I seemed to have a life of just waiting for the beating. We were a large family. There were six children. My father was the head of a large bank. He ran the house according to military discipline. Everyone was up and dressed in the morning and then everyone had chores.
“ My mother would start ‘drinking around’ four in the afternoon and drink until she passed out. She would hit us with a wooden spoon and no one in the family would say a word about her drinking.
“ When I got beat, I thought it was because I was ugly and dumb. I was the oldest child and I got hit when anyone did something wrong. My father would show us off to his workers at the bank. I hated him.
“ Now that I am older, I am able to look at him in a different way. He is dead now and he made my life hell at times. But I have stopped the legacy of abuse in my family and I am proud of that. Maybe I’m a better person for what I came through, but I’ll never know that.
“ I know my father and mother had two tigers chasing them. They lived the only way they knew how, they did what they did.”


“ I was adopted when I was a newborn, but I didn’t know that until I was four years old.
“ At an early age, I found out I was different from the rest of the family and I was abused because of it.
“ When I was fourteen years old, I ran away with the circus. I seemed to pick the wrong persons all the time. After three divorces, I am getting treatment and gaining self-esteem. I have learned a sewing trade and can take care of myself. My life is not over yet.”


“ Both my parents drank. I have memories of a happy childhood, but my father drank all the time. He was tall and handsome and no one seemed to mind his weaving up the sidewalk.

“ He did work regularly at a responsible job at the city electric company. We were proud of his employment and the good position he had.
“ It was neglect from my mother that I minded the most. She always seemed to be sick. She was never able to visit the school or take me anywhere. It took me years to realize that her drinking was the problem.
“ I used to envy other girl’s homes. Their house was clean and everything looked so nice. Their mothers were able to come to the school affairs. no parent came to my school events. That hurt me a lot when I was a kid.”

How to Heal the Child
The victims of child abuse can begin to heal themselves by undertaking some form of activity which both re-directs their focus away from the self-destructive behavior resulting from the abuse and acts as a catharsis for the pain experienced during their childhood. Some may gain this from doing something simple such as doing a crossword puzzle in the newspaper, but others may perform activities which are more complex and creative.

Writing is often a theraputic tool. Any form of writing can be theraputic, whether it be letters, stories, family history, children’s stories, or even merely person’s conversations. Writing such things down can give one clearer ideas about life, and helps victims to find out what pleases and interests them.

Volunteer work can also be pleasurable and beneficial, as one can gain self-esteem by helping others and meet new people with common interests. There are many groups that need volunteer help.

An abuse victim may also discover that asking for what he wants may be foreign to him, and becomes difficult to do. One of the fears of “putting yourself on the line” is the fear of rejection. Rejection is never easy to experience for anyone, but it becomes essential for one’s personal growth, particularly for the abuse victim. The key is to become responsible for one’s life, so that he can undertake new adventures, and have the opportunity to learn wonderful things and learn a new lifestyle.

There are many steps to recovery, and each child must take the way that appeals to them.

Self-hypnosis has been a valuable tool used for survivors for many years. People with multiple personality disorder repressed their memories and feeling and now in the time of recovery, they call upon hypnosis to return their memory and heal.

The success of hypnosis depends on the person’s willingness to delve in his past. The natural instinct of every person is to protect himself. Some people are not ready to open the wounds of childhood and they should wait until a more appropriate time.
Hypnosis is not for everyone, but it is a tool used successfully by many.

Meditation, the act of thinking quietly and clearly, is another tool used to heal a child abuse victim. Those who practice deep meditation become more efficient and energetic in all fields of activity.

A person who meditates on a regular basis, is influenced in their life on all levels. The person is able to transform his awareness and consciousness. This transformation allows him to recover their power and make changes in his life. This is the important aspect of healing the child abuse victim, as all his issues can be changed into positive life changes.

The child can change from a victim to being and adult in control of his life.

Hugh: “I never realized that I was a victim and that only I could change it. I can tackle one of my issues one at a time.”

The person begins to understand that becoming healed will not take place at once, but will be a continuing process. Once they he identifies his needs, and search for the way to get those needs met in a healthy way, life will change.

Everyone has his own experiences. A child growing up in a dysfunctional family may have a problem owning his own reality.

If a child grows up with unpredictable or irrational parents, he becomes an adult who is confused.

Children who live in a household full of tension and stress grow with poor conversation skills.

Co-dependency is a method of behavior learned as a child. The co-dependent always wants to please others.

A person has to get angry in order to heal.

A person needs to express anger in order to heal.

Another part of healing is for the child to let go of the hatred toward the abuser.

The healing adult child can give himself permission to ask for help.

Each person has to identify his own needs and search for his own ways to get healthy.

The healing process is slow and sometimes it takes steps backward.

Abandonment is possibly the hardest abuse for the child to overcome psychologically.

Being in the company of other adults who were abused as children helps to validate a person’s feelings and pain.