This short video explores the impacts of emotional abuse and what is required to heal from it. I hope you find it useful. Many blessings, Jodi-Anne
Yet another article with the science showing what survivors of child abuse have always known. Abuse in childhood leads to significant physical, emotional and mental difficulties in adulthood. The good news is that more and more people are recognising this and that we can’t simply “get over it”. Abuse changes the way a child reacts to stress and constant exposure leads to changes in the child’s DNA resulting in the ‘fight or flight’ system being always turned on. The ongoing, chronic stress unfortunately leads to inflammatory and immune responses that damage health as adults.
Joan Kaufman, director of the Child and Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) programme at the Yale School of Medicine, recently analysed DNA in the saliva of happy, healthy children, and of children who had been taken from abusive or neglectful parents. The children who’d experienced chronic childhood stress showed epigenetic changes in almost 3,000 sites on their DNA, and on all 23 chromosomes – altering how appropriately they would be able to respond to and rebound from future stressors.
Likewise, Seth Pollak, professor of psychology and director of the Child Emotion Research Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, uncovered startling genetic changes in children with a history of adversity and trauma. Pollak identified damage to a gene responsible for calming the stress response. This particular gene wasn’t working properly; the kids’ bodies weren’t able to reign in their heightened stress response. ‘A crucial set of brakes are off,’ says Pollak.
It is great that science is catching up. They are also recognising that there are many ways to heal which can help survivor’s bodies relax and not be in ‘fight or flight’ all the time.
Science tells us that biology does not have to be destiny. ACEs can last a lifetime, but they don’t have to. Just as physical wounds and bruises heal, just as we can regain our muscle tone, we can recover function in underconnected areas of the brain. If anything, that’s the most important take-away from ACE research: the brain and body are never static; they are always in the process of becoming and changing.
Even if we have been set on high-reactive mode for decades or a lifetime, we can still dial it down. We can respond to life’s inevitable stressors more appropriately and shift away from an overactive inflammatory response. We can become neurobiologically resilient. We can turn bad epigenetics into good epigenetics and rescue ourselves. We have the capacity, within ourselves, to create better health. We might call this brave undertaking ‘the neurobiology of awakening’.
Today, scientists recognise a range of promising approaches to help create new neurons (known as neurogenesis), make new synaptic connections between those neurons (known as synaptogenesis), promote new patterns of thoughts and reactions, bring underconnected areas of the brain back online – and reset our stress response so that we decrease the inflammation that makes us ill.
In the article they specifically mention ‘Meditation, mindfulness, neurofeedback, cognitive therapy, EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) therapy’ as some of the tools that can help survivor’s to calm their bodies and reprogram their minds.
I have found a wide range of techniques helpful including:
- Energy and body work, such as crystal bed sessions or reiki, to help the body unlock and relax;
- Psych-K or Lifeline Technique to release trauma and reprogram the subconscious mind so you can change negative beliefs about life and the world into positive ones e.g. so you are not always expecting the worst and you can start to feel safe, so you believe that you do deserve good things and that people can treat you well;
- Mindfulness and meditation techniques to still the mind and create space to witness what is occurring instead of reacting automatically;
- Skill development including thought stopping, boundary setting, inner child, and self love skills, so that you no longer allow yourself to be abused by others or by yourself;
- Family Constellations to heal the trauma in the family system and reconnect with love, thereby allowing greater lifeforce and harmony within.
There is lots that can be done. While adverse childhood trauma does have a massive impact on your life, it can be healed.
In this short video Nadine Burke Harris explains how adverse childhood experiences impacts the health of the child and continues to do so over the lifetime of the person. She explains in scientific terms why this occurs and ways the impacts can be reduced. She believes that this is a public health issue and should be addressed as such with multidisciplinary teams available to help affected individuals to heal the trauma and reduce the impacts.
Emotional abuse is just as devastating as physical or sexual abuse. It damages the psyche and deeply affects a person’s self worth and feeling of safety. It leaves individuals afraid to interact with others and sets up a condemning pattern inside, where they repeat the abuse to themselves, by calling themselves less than loving names and treating themself in less than loving ways.
While devastating at any age, emotional abuse while a young child (0-6 years) of age is most damaging, as this is when children simply believe and absorb anything they are told. It goes straight into their subconscious programming and they are conditioned to act it out their whole life, unless they learn how to change their subconscious beliefs.
Such negative conditioning can have devastating affects throughout their life. If they are told they are ugly, unwanted, not needed, not liked, a failure, hopeless, that the problems others are facing is their fault, etc, then they will believe it and subconsciously they will play it out in their life – at school, at work, in relationships.
When things are going well the conditioning will cause them to act out and self sabotage. If on the brink of success, and the conditioning is that they are a failure, they will find it very uncomfortable to succeed. They will most likely fail shortly thereafter, if not before.
So they may get the promotion, but then find they can’t cope with the job or do something to cause themselves to be demoted – be late continuously, get sick, make a critical mistake or simply leave the job as they don’t enjoy it. This form of self sabotage happens unconsciously and repeatedly until it is changed.
If a child watched one parent being abused emotionally by the other, then the child learns that is how relationships are. They will accept poor treatment from others as they don’t realise that they deserve better or that there can be loving, safe interactions between people.
Worse, the parent who is constantly belittled is likely to withdraw from the child. They are likely to sink into depression, if not addiction, as a way to cope with their unhappy situation. The child therefore becomes neglected as well as suffering from witnessing and receiving the emotional abuse.
If the parent sinks far enough into depression and doesn’t have the strength to stand up for themselves or leave the relationship, then this destructive pattern can continue for years and usually does. A child in such a situation gives up hope. They may have tried really hard to be a good boy or girl, in an attempt to make things better. They may have tried helping out around the house to make life easier for the parent, and in an attempt to reduce the catalysts for fights. The child tries to be the peace keeper.
When that doesn’t work, they may try to rescue the parent, to help motivate them to leave or by standing up to the abusive one. But of course the child is a child acting like an adult, and the actual adult is stronger, more powerful, and can be vicious. The child is dependent on the abuser for their home, food and other necessities. It is a no win situation.
And in this situation the child has lost the ability to be a child and enjoy their childhood. their thoughts are not about their friends, toys, school, sport, playing games or having fun. Their thoughts are about survival and staying alive. Worse about keeping the depressed parent alive, if they have attempted suicide as a way to escape the abuse. The child becomes numb, simply going through the motions, withdrawn in a shell of self protection. Their life is a series of painful events, marked by even more painful events when the emotional abuser turns the focus on them, and lets rip with a torrent of cruel and mean statements about the child.
As the child grows they may come to hate the abusive parent, they may wishe they would die and even fantasise about hurting or killing the parent. This is just an attempt to gain back the power they have lost, to feel stronger, more independent, not so crushed. Few would actually act out such a fantasy.
Emotional abuse is just as devastating to a child as other forms of abuse. It sets up similar fear patterns, mistrust patterns and self loathing patterns. This damage will take years to heal. It will take many decades for the person to become fully aware of their conditioning, to feel and release the emotional pain, and balance backup to a state of self love.
They will have to learn to monitor and change their thoughts to more loving and supportive ones. They will need to change their subconscious beliefs, so that they do believe they are worthy of love, they are a worthwhile human being and they are deserving of good things.
It will take a lot of time to learn to be kind and loving to themselves. This softness will not be natural as they have grown up in harshness. So it will take time before softness feels safe and acceptable. Keep practicing until it does.
Harder still will be the ability to trust others. Mistrust will be so deep. Self protection and isolation so automatic, that it will take a lot of concerted effort to break free of it and be able to let people truly close and truly know them.
It will take a long time for the person to actually know themself – what they like to do, their interests and what is fun for them. At first this is such a foreign concept, as life has been about struggle, survival and avoiding further abuse. It hasn’t been about having fun or doing what they like. So they have to learn how to have fun, how to do a hobby and relax and enjoy it.
Their bodies are often armoured, hard with locked up muscles from keeping all the pain inside. The softness is buried beneath the armour and much work needs to be done to help the body relax and come out of its permanent state of fight, flight or freeze. The body is also likely to be exhausted from the constant stress, trauma, and lack of exercise, good food, etc. When locked in fear the breath often shallows, so the body does not get as much oxygen, it can’t digest and absorb the nutrients as well, and the adrenals get over worked and depleted, resulting in fatigue. Good diet, exercise, emotional release work and body work to help dissolve the armour and trauma all help.
Your nervious system which has been in constant fight, flight, freeze is wound up tight, constantly activated, pumping adrenaline and cortisol through your body, or if you feel there’s no hope and you’ve started to give up and shut down, then your body is pumped full of opioids to numb you.
A range of actions can help your nervous system to calm – deep breaths, time in nature, but most importantly Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) which activates the body’s natural stress, tension and trauma release mechanism, so that the body can complete the unfinished trauma reactions and return to its normal, calm state. It is well worth doing to help you find greater peace.
Once the nervous system calms and you are no longer in constant fight or flight, your mind will soften as your body will feel safer and your mind won’t feel a need to be so defensive, so your defences melt and you can open up to play, to softness, to enjoying life interacting with others.
There is much that can be done to heal from childhood emotional abuse, but it takes a lot of time and effort. If you are going through this process, be as kind to yourself as you can, understand that you are undoing a lifetime of conditioning and it will take time. Every step you take is helping. Every day it wil get a little bit better. If you feel discouraged seek help, join a support group, see a counselor, or start a fun activity to help balance up. Love yourself and your life will improve. It takes time, but it is well worth doing. Good luck, I know how hard the journey is. I also know it can be done. Blessed BE, Amen.
By Jodi-Anne (02 April 2016).
Further free guidance on healing techniques and self love are available on the Life Insights and Healing from child abuse pages of this website.
This (4:15 mins) video by Madhumita Murga explains how a lack of nurturing when we are young can limit our ability to cope with stress and creates changes to the way our DNA is expressed. These changes are passed on to future generations resulting in them having a sensitivity to stress.
Chronic stress damages the brain in several ways, which are explained in the video. The good news is that the damage can be reversed by releasing the stress and healing the trauma that caused it. Many stress reduction techniques can help including exercise and meditation, while therapies like Psych-K and Family Constellations can assist in healing any trauma and emotional pain underneath it.
These are insightful videos by Gabor Mate who explains that emotional pain and trauma underlies addiction. He also explains how trauma/addictive tendencies get past on through the generations unintentionally when addiction affected parents are not able to be present and available to their kids.