Letting go of outdated coping mechanisms can be challenging. Sometimes we have done them for so long it seems like who we are. It can feel weird, and unsettling to choose to behave differently.
For instance, I have been a people pleaser for a long time, trying to win love and approval because I felt so alone, so sad and scared at times when I was young. My Dad worked away from home for weeks on end, and my Mum wasn’t very happy or child-focused. Her Mum wasn’t a cuddly Mum either so it was normal for her to tell me to just go away, go play, and leave her alone. This taught me to be able to hide, not take up too much space, be somewhat invisible and repress my needs for contact, affection, and togetherness.
The positive of this was I became more connected and attuned with nature, wandering the farm on my own. I became focused on studying and later work/career as a way to occupy myself and distract myself from my loneliness and sadness. I too was a lot like my Mum telling my needs to go away, leave me alone. And as I got older I treated my friend’s kids as a bit of a nuisance too. I’d be polite and friendly, but get bored quickly and wish they would go play so I could spend time with my friend. What occurs to us when little stays with us until we heal it.
I wanted to have kids but never did. They’d take up so much time and energy. I had so many fears of them getting hurt, of not being able to protect them, and of not wanting to hurt them myself. I had so much family baggage and entanglements with my ancestors that the fear was overpowering.
I’ve had to work through layer after layer of conditioning and entanglements to release them and be more open to caring for my inner child, meeting my needs, accepting what occurred in my childhood and understanding why my parents behaved the way they did, and that it actually wasn’t about me.
Their moods, their sadness and confusing behaviour weren’t about me. It was a consequence of an unhappy marriage that wasn’t working out and was heading towards separation. My parents, like a lot of us adults, were caught up in their own pain and life challenges and didn’t notice my needs.
This is very common and kids are very adaptable. They find ways to get by, to cope, to avoid or distract themselves from their painful emotions. They change the way they behave trying to win or earn love, attention, and approval.
I was the queen of that! Do a PhD, try and save the world, and help improve the sustainability of the planet. Added bonus I’m so busy working and studying I can ignore how sad I am or how lonely I feel because I’m doing important work. I’m being useful and good, earning my place in society, and hopefully getting seen, loved and accepted.
This pattern of overwork and study, helping others and helping the planet and society have continued through all I do, but I try to be more balanced with it now and to do it because I love it and enjoy it, not because I have to or am trying to win love, attention, acceptance or thinking that others need me to save, rescue or fix them. That’s classic codependence and not healthy.
So now I focus more on what I want to do and what I need. I meet my own needs and take care of the younger selves within me who were hurting. I look at life with more adult eyes, instead of wounded child eyes, and I realise my life is good. I have what I need, a home, a good job, a loving partner and family, friends, hobbies and more. My life is actually really good. It was just all the old hurt, old story that made it feel less than, not okay, lacking.
As I settle into this ‘enoughness’ I start to question “What do I want to do? How much of it do I want to do? What do I value most and where will I put my time and energy?” It’s a recalibration of the old coping mechanisms into a newer, freer, more flexible way of being, able to say no, to rest, to be quiet, still and receptive, reconnecting with body and heart, not just mind and feelings.
It’s a big journey coming back home to feel safe and okay in your body, letting go of the old story and accepting what has been and is, and choosing how you want to live your life.
Our pasts may have been painful and filled with challenges. We don’t have to like that, but fighting against it, and complaining about it just keeps us stuck. When we do the work to heal we can break free of the patterns and open to the new. It is worth the effort.
Many blessings to all,
P.S. There is a range of free resources on my website that may be of assistance to you with your healing journey.
When fear rules in our lives we get exhausted from being stuck in hypervigilance. Our body is on high alert, scanning for danger, primed to run away, fight or hide if needed. It’s exhausting and often there is no external threat. The message of danger, of threat, is coming from within the body.
Our past stresses, tensions and traumas get stored in the body if we weren’t able to deal with them at the time. If we couldn’t tell our boss what we really thought, if we couldn’t leave when we really wanted to, if we froze and avoided facing that really annoying person who we find draining – all of these are relatively minor incidents, but in each of them adrenaline and cortisol get released into our body priming us to act.
If we don’t take action the adrenaline and cortisol build up in our body leading to feeling stressed, tense, and anxious and if it builds up a lot or we experience a more significant shock or trauma, a near miss accident, an actual threatening situation with a violent person, a medical procedure that involves life threat or invasion of our body, cutting it open, broken bones or many other procedures this is Capital T trauma for the body. This can send us into overwhelm, into a sense of it all being too much and a need to escape from it, to dissociate or numb ourselves from the pain and challenge of it all. This is the body moving into freeze and collapse.
We need to release these stresses, tension and traumas so that they don’t build up, so that our bodies can live in a more relaxed state where socialising is easier, where our body can focus on digesting our food, repairing and restoring itself. This calm, relaxed state is called the parasympathetic ventral vagal state. Our body feels safe, relaxed and peaceful.
Many of us don’t live in that state very often anymore. We don’t get time to relax, to be, to drop down, slow down and feel what is going on inside. Many of us live hectic, fast, busy lives, so we stay in a state of low to medium stress and inner activation of our autonomic nervous system.
Many people use substances to try and get out of that worked-up, agitated or anxious state. Some use sex, gambling, alcohol, drugs or internet browsing as a way to distract themself from their inner turmoil. Some use yoga, baths, and time in nature or time with friends, pets and loved ones. All of these will help to calm your body. But if the underlying issues aren’t resolved your stress level will jump back up with the next trigger or challenge you face.
I used to have days when my body would be hyper-alert for no outside reason. Nothing had happened to stress me out above the norm. I wasn’t in danger. I was just trying to go to work and get through the day. Yet my body was jumping at any sound or movement nearby. I’d have days where I felt this rage inside of me and I knew I’d have to be extra mindful not to take that out on anyone who interacted with me that day. I’d be intolerant, grumpy and not much fun to be around. The anger radiated off of me warning people to watch out, keep their distance or else.
These reactions were not appropriate for the situation I was facing. I was safe, not in danger but my body was reacting as if I was in a war zone. This is because my nervous system was activated strongly and I had moved up into extreme fight and flight. Without taking action to reduce it I would soon move into exhaustion and collapse. I would go into numbness, depression, and feelings of why bother, it’s all too hard. In the early days this would lead to a negative spiral as I would lose hope and go into despair – why me, why is it so hard?
Nowadays I know if I start to move in that direction it is because my body is needing me to rest, pay attention to my inner world, and feel and release the emotions and tension stored inside. I learned and later qualified to be a practitioner of Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE), which is the body’s natural way of releasing stress, tension and trauma. It’s our body’s way of using up all the adrenaline and cortisol from stressful, scary, threatening moments so that our body can calm back down, can feel safe and relaxed again.
TRE is a process to activate this built-in mechanism that all mammals have. The body literally shakes and tremors spontaneously, to release the stress, tension and trauma. It uses up the adrenaline and cortisol from those fight and flight moments so that the activations get completed.
The tremors help to free up the frozen parts of us, the muscles that have locked up in fear and gone numb, disconnected from the whole. The tremoring helps to melt the ice so that energy can flow again. This helps to ease the pain as the muscles relax and blood flow increases.
TRE has become a Godsend for me. I have become more attuned to my nervous system and my body so that I can take action at the early stages of stress rather than waiting till there is a volcano of rage inside of me or a tornado of tears, grief and resentment. I have learned it’s safe to go into my body and be present with what I find, to love and honour my body and its needs. It’s helped me to ground and relax, to be more peaceful overall and of course, other people can feel that too. When my nervous system is calm and radiating safety and playfulness it invites others to do the same. It’s lovely to be in that gentle place and to return to it regularly after the inevitable stress and challenges of daily life.
TRE is taught worldwide and can be learned in 2-3 sessions. Once you have learned how to self-regulate your tremoring, you can use it at home whenever you want to help balance your body and find a greater sense of inner peace and calm.
There is even a free online self-study course. The course is suitable for those that haven’t experienced significant trauma and mental health challenges. Those that have are better off learning TRE with a practitioner like me just to make sure you can self-regulate your tremoring process and that you don’t ignore or over-ride your body’s signals of when to stop tremoring.
The below video is a brief introduction to TRE. If you would like to see some examples of people tremoring, access the free online course or book a session to learn TRE please visit https://www.jodiannemsmith.com/tre/
When we have been wounded in life we develop strong defence mechanisms to keep ourselves safe, to survive the best way we know how. My defence mechanisms were to isolate, hide, and try to fix the pain of myself and others so love could flow. I felt alone, sad, isolated and at times angry and resentful. I slipped in and out of depression, exhaustion, and collapse. When I’d find enough strength I’d try to climb out of the hole I’d created for myself and I’d try to be special so that I might get loved, accepted, be wanted and belong.
What I didn’t realise for decades was I was already loved, accepted and I belonged. I had just shut off to my family system out of fear, wounding and disappointment of what occurred in my early life. This disappointment was a key feeling throughout my life. No matter how much I achieved it never felt enough. No matter how much I learned it didn’t seem to be all I needed.
The truth is I was looking in the wrong places. I was needy and desperate and trying to be the best I could be because then I’d be special and get seen and loved.I tried to save and rescue Mother Earth with my sustainability career. I tried to save and rescue others in my early counselling and healing work. I tried to save and rescue myself and to appear strong and capable and like I had all the answers, but really I was still feeling like that wounded, scared child inside.
It was only when I turned within to work with my inner child, my defence mechanisms, my emotions and my nervous system which was locked in states of fight, flight, freeze, and collapse, that I started to receive relief. And amazingly I realised I already had all I needed. I didn’t need to be big and special to be seen, I could relax and be me, and share from the heart. I could slow down, take care of myself and live my life for me.
I could serve from a place of empowerment, helping others to unravel their own defences and patterning, helping them to see how they could feel and release their emotions and how they could calm and rebalance their nervous system. I could plant seeds that clients watered so they could grow into beautiful gardens and joyous lives.
I didn’t need to be special to be loved. I just had to heal my wounds enough that I could open the door and let love in. It had always been knocking but I’d been too scared to let it in, to trust it would stay and that I wouldn’t be devastated when it left me. For that was my fear, parental divorce and separation from parents when young had led me to a fear of loving and losing. I’d shut down internally and was focused on self-reliance.
When we shut our internal doors to love we can’t feel the goodness of life that is available to us. We end up stagnating, getting lonely and sad. We see the pain all around us instead of the love and light. It is so important to heal those patterns so you can open the curtains and let the light in. We are all doing the best we can with the life experiences we have faced. It is a challenging journey coming home to our hearts, our beauty, and our innocence to realise we are enough as we are. No need to fight and struggle with life. No need to impress and earn love or to hide and reject all that is given to you.
It’s okay to let the defences down, drop from the mind and enter your heart, to reestablish feeling and connection with your body, to become re-embodied and come home to all of who you really are. It’s a joyous journey when you can be comfortable in your own skin, your life, your essence.
I’m so grateful I no longer feel a need to be big or special, and I can just do what I love sharing insights and tools that others may find useful on their journey, helping people to go within and unlock their defences, so they too can find that inner peace and safety that most of us have been searching for our whole lives.
ANZAC Day in Australia – Today we give thanks and remember those who have fought in wars to defend our country, their homes and families. It was done in a belief that we needed to defend and protect ourselves from a very real enemy that threatened us at that time. Most of us still feel that threat internally. We live as if there is danger around us when often there isn’t. The memory of war lingers in the cells, in the DNA and is passed down for all of us to feel and heal.
Our loved ones if they did come home, came back altered, wounded and traumatised by all they had seen and experienced. Our homes, and our lives were altered in their dynamics. Domestic violence, PTSD, despair, desperation, and addiction often occurred to help avoid the pain and cope the best they could. We are all affected by this legacy, this drop into survival mode, the activated nervous systems locked in to fight, flight, freeze and or collapse.
Thank you to all the brave souls who were forced to go off to war or chose to go. Thank you for doing what you thought was right at the time. Thank you for coping the best you knew how then and now. Thank you to your loved ones who worried about you, cried for you and feared losing you. Thank you to the beautiful children who grew up without their loved parents, Aunties/Uncles, or grandparents by their side. Thank you for making it through so the current generation could arrive and live in relative peace (here in Australia. Blessings of peace and goodwill to the war-torn areas of the world where this pattern continues).
May we all find peace. May we all heal the internal scars and drop out of protection and defendedness, so we can feel the love of those around us and appreciate the many gifts and blessings in our lives. Thank you to all of our ancestors and their difficult journeys. We remember you and your sacrifices and we wish all of our family systems to find peace.
With the upcoming easing of mask requirements in South Australia, we can finally start holding Family Constellations Workshops indoors again. I am so excited. I hope you can join me on 15 May 2022 and/or 26 June 2022 for a 1-day constellation workshop. I’m keeping numbers small, only 12 participants (5 constellations and 7 representatives), so book in quickly if you would like to attend.
(I asked this question and received the below answer via automatic writing 26 Nov 2021. Some of it is specific to me, but the guidance on the healing process is relevant to all so I thought I’d share it. I hope you find it useful.)
Your deepest wounds are those core hurts that you experienced as a child, those events and feelings that cut you like a knife and have been bleeding ever since. When wounded this deeply it affects your whole life. Part of you is frozen in pain, terror, rage, and fear. Part of you is stuck, trapped, hidden away and you spend a lot of your life force energy keeping it buried and building self-defence mechanisms to protect yourself from ever being hurt like that again. You live in fear of what could occur and pain from what did occur and there is little room left for joy, fun, friendship, love, trust, surrender and growth.
It takes a lot of courage to dismantle these defences, to open up to love, to live life with an open and unguarded heart, to return to your original state of innocence and joy. The vulnerability involved in risking exposure, connection, the possibility of more hurt, rejection, or loss can feel too much to give in to, to surrender and step into. This is why many people stay stuck their whole lives. They stay frozen internally, numbing their pain and the disconnection from their true self and heart with addictions and other distractions, such as keeping busy, fighting for some cause, working too much or being of service helping others while continuing to neglect their own needs. Sound familiar???
To move past this, to heal and relax and enjoy life there is no magic wand to cure it all. You have to shift it bit by bit, layer by layer, to release out the stuck, stagnant energy, to feel and release the emotions, to comfort and rescue the younger selves who went through it, to show them you have survived, you made it through and you’re doing okay. You have to start taking care of yourself, honouring your needs for rest, play, pleasure, connection with self, others and Earth. You need to make yourself your top priority, to eat well, exercise, have fun, rest and recreate.
You see healing occurs at the rate your body can process and integrate it. If you are pushing yourself too hard, if you are exhausted, empty, collapsing in overwhelm and despair or angry and rageful at feeling so bad despite all you do, if you are in one of these overactivated, exhausted scenarios then your body is not capable of processing and healing your deepest traumas. You simply don’t have the energy or internal strength to face, feel and release it.
So to heal your deepest wounds you really have to stop your overactive, distraction-filled lifestyle and create space and time for going within, connecting to your body, listening to its messages, feeling and breathing through the emotions, connecting with, supporting and nurturing your younger selves.
You know the techniques needed. You know how to guide yourself and others to do this release work. You just have to be patient and take it day by day, week by week, step by step. Your body lets up the residue it feels you are ready to process. It only lets it up when it feels you are capable of handling it. Otherwise, it stays locked in your cells, buried in your body, waiting for when you are ready. If you want to move through your deepest patterns you need to help your body to feel safe, to trust you are ready to handle it, to face it.
Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) helps greatly here as it calms your nervous system out of fight, flight, and freeze back into calm, social engagement. It helps to release the stress, tension and trauma in a gentle way, shaking it out, releasing it so your body can relax, your mind can calm and your breathing can deepen. As you start to feel safer within it is easier to feel the emotions and clear them out as they no longer seem so big or intense.
Yes, it is challenging as deeper layers of conditioning surface and you reach your core wound, the one that hurt the most. Of course, it was this one that was buried the deepest and will be the last to surface before you breakthrough to a more peaceful life no longer affected so much by the past. Of course, it gets harder in some ways the more you heal. But even though the issue arising is harder you have the tools, the knowledge and skills to process it, to breathe through it and to integrate the shifts and changes.
So have faith it will shift. Keep tremoring, using your TRE and doing your embodiment practices, yoga, meditation, time in nature, time with friends, etc. Keep comforting your heart, body and younger selves when triggered. Keep doing what you are doing and face whatever arises knowing it is shifting out, that more and more of your body is clear from the pain, that there is less frozen energy inside, that your body is getting healthier each day as you drop out of fight, flight, freeze (sympathetic) survival mode and into rest, digest, repair (ventral vagal parasympathetic mode).
You are doing what needs to be done. You just need to be patient, to nurture yourself and rest, so your body can integrate the shifts. Stillness, rest is key, connecting with your body, feeling and releasing it all is key. You know what to do, it just takes longer than you would like, that’s all. Trust your process. You had a severe amount of childhood trauma to clear and it does take time and energy to move through it. This is your work for yourself and to assist others. You had to experience it fully, deeply to be able to understand what others go through to be able to help them process their hurts and come back to their authentic selves, their pure hearts, and a state of joy, with connection to self, others and Earth. It is all okay, all happening as it needs to. Trust your body and its wisdom. Keep doing what you are doing and celebrate the freedom and liberation you feel more of the time now. Celebrate the progress rather than be annoyed at the residue. You will clear it out. You will live your life more fully.
If you have suffered extreme wounding as a child healing becomes the major task of your life. It doesn’t matter what you had hoped to do in life. You have to surrender that and work with what is. You have to honour your body and meet its needs. You have to give to yourself what you missed out on so you do feel loved, heard, seen, accepted and cared for. That’s your job. That’s your purpose, to come back to wholeness and peace. The rest of life is superficial by comparison.
So don’t compare yourself to others. You have no choice in the sense that pain from childhood persists. It won’t stay buried. You have to feel and release it. You have to face it eventually. Most do they just need to learn the skills of how to heal, how to process it and shift it out of their bodies. This is where you excel and it is what you will do, teaching others for the rest of your life. You will love it and find it very rewarding. Blessed BE.
Inside of us, we have all the emotional residue, the stress, tension, trauma and unfelt emotions that we’ve bottled up inside. If we use the analogy of a home it’s like we have filled up our spare rooms and it has overflowed into our living areas making them cluttered and less enjoyable to be in.
This residue, this clutter shows up as physical pain, sore muscles, even tight shoulders, necks and backs. In its more severe forms, it shows up as frozen shoulders, shallow breathing, lowered immune systems, digestive disorders, and if left to worsen this can lead to a range of diseases. This is because when our body is in the fight, flight or freeze, survival mode, it doesn’t focus on restoration and recovery. It’s preoccupied with scanning for danger, being hypervigilant and on edge, ready to flee, fight, freeze at any hint of danger, real or imagined. Over time this takes an adverse toll on our bodies.
When there is deep emotional pain or trauma locked into our bodies it is like a mould in the bathroom. If we don’t deal with it then it spreads and it affects our ability to breathe deeply. It lowers our health. Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) can help us to shift out these blocked emotions, traumas, stresses and tensions. But you want to do it gently, bit by bit, befriending your nervous system, helping your body to feel safe, held, looked after and cared for. You want to be kind to yourself as you shake out all this old residue.
Just like when we spring clean, we need to open the curtains, look inside those unused spaces and sort through what’s been hidden away in there. We have to acknowledge it and let some of it go. In the body’s case, this involves feeling some of the emotions as they shift out, allowing parts of our body that have been numb, disconnected, to come back online. We need to reinhabit them. If it becomes intense or overwhelming then we slow down. We use other tools and processes to support our body and mind to integrate the shifts and changes.
Just like mould in a house we have to use special care to get rid of it, to clean it out. We have to open the windows and let air through. We have to reduce any moisture and fix any leaks so that the room can dry out. We have to use mould cleaner, bleach or vinegar to wipe away the stains and once cleaned thoroughly, then and only then can we repaint over it. Because if we do it too soon the mould will come back.
Our traumas and emotional pains are similar. We can’t keep them locked away, pretending they are not there. We have to learn how to feel them, breathe through them, support the younger versions of us who feel them and set them free of the pain. We need to reclaim all the spaces within our body, so our energy and vitality can flow freely, joyously, fully and our body can drop out of survival mode back into rest and digest mode, where it can focus on living more fully again. Where we enjoy interacting with others and feel safe, playful and joyful.
TRE can be your partner in this journey back to wholeness, back to living within your body, not escaping out of it with dissociation or numbing it with addictions, busyness and distraction. It’s time to come home to you, to spring clean, redecorate and enjoy life more fully being comfortable in your own skin.
If you don’t have the tools to clean your own house or the mould is too big a job for you to face, then you always have the option to pay a professional to clean it for you, to partner with you on your journey. With our analogy this is the difference between doing TRE on your own and doing it with a TRE provider, like me, helping you to go within, feel and heal. If you’d like a safe space, a comforting support person to cheer you on and make sure you’re on the right track then having TRE sessions with a TRE provider is a good idea. It can make a huge difference to how fast you heal as your body may need that support person to feel safe enough to release and you may need it to find the courage to go within and look at some of those darker corners, those unused spaces within where the hardest emotions and traumas have been hidden away.
Over 5 million people have learnt TRE. It is taught in over 60 countries worldwide. TRE can be learned via an appointment in person or online. A minimum of 3 sessions is recommended to ensure that you have learned how to self-regulate your tremoring. You can bring a friend and share the cost! Once you have learnt how to self-regulate you can continue using TRE at home for the rest of your life as part of your self-care routine. You do not have to see a TRE provider regularly. However, you may choose to have occasional or regular sessions with a TRE provider if you want more guidance or support with your tremoring process.
TRE can also be learnt in workshops and through a free TRE online course. Please note the free online course is not suitable for:
Anyone with psychological/psychiatric conditions that require strict regulation
Anyone with fragile psychological defences
Anyone who has a history of complex trauma (near-death experiences, abuse, violence, major accidents, natural disasters, surgeries, severe losses, etc)
Anyone with physical conditions that require strict regulation
Anyone with physical or medical limitations.
For anyone in the above categories, it is best to consult with a TRE provider, like me, to make sure TRE is suitable for you and to teach you how to use it safely. To learn more about TRE click here.
I drew this picture after a guided meditation while camping recently and to me it truly captures the gifts that Family Constellations enables within you.
I used to feel quite alone and weak. I had a very strong abandonment story from childhood. I’ve done lots of work to shift that and Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) has helped enormously to let go of the stress, tension and trauma from my body. The result is I now feel much stronger and connected to my family – past, present and future. Instead of the pain and challenges from the past, I now connect into the blessings, love and support of my ancestors. I feel more strongly grounded, rooted, centred. I feel able to stand tall knowing I have their support and that I’m never truly alone.
It’s no longer all about me. I am one small part of the story of my family. I live because they survived their hurts the best they could with the pain and burdens they carried. I’m grateful for my life, my experiences and the healing that has occurred which enables me now to be present, playful, joyful and to know that the future is good. I’m capable and supported to face whatever comes. I’m anchored into the Earth and her supportive energies. So just like the tree I can bend and be more flexible when storms come.
The storms may come but I know they will pass and the rain will enable the rainbows and blossoming of the flowers and animals that we share Mother Earth with. It’s a time of harvest, of strength, of goodness. And I will be forever grateful that TRE has helped me to clear out the old energies and Family Constellations has helped me to release the old story, to see the strengths of my family system and to receive their love and support. I will use these gifts to help others move forward in their healing journeys.
While I may not be an amazing artist the picture does convey a lot of how I’m now feeling and I’m grateful for all the colour and playfulness in my life.
While every individual will go through their own healing experience there are common healing stages. People cycle through these healing stages, moving from one to another and back again until they have released the past and can concentrate on their present and future unhindered.
1. Acknowledging that abuse occurred
Admitting it – no more denial
Acknowledging the impacts on you & your life
Dealing with the emotions & memories
Accepting yourself & your reactions as normal
Learning to trust your self & your intuition
2. Making the decision to heal
Choosing hope over resignation or despair
Making an active commitment to change
Putting aside other demands and allowing time to experience emotions, to think about the issues, and to get the necessary help & support
Allowing the painful emotions to come up and release – dealing with the chaotic nature of this on your day to day life
Finding support – from yourself & others
3. Talking to others about the abuse
Breaking the silence
Reducing shame & guilt by acknowledging out loud that you were abused & it wasn’t your fault
Choosing who to tell, what you want from them & dealing with their reactions
4. Placing responsibility where it belongs
Recognising the abuse was the abuser’s fault, not yours – you are not to blame at all. You were a child
You are not to blame if you went along with it – the abuser had power over you & you didn’t have all the information to decide objectively – you were a child
In the case of sexual abuse, you are not to blame if your body was aroused – it’s a normal bodily response. You’re not to blame if you felt positive feelings of intimacy with the abuser – they may have been nice & loving to you when others weren’t
Any problems that arose within the family as a result of the abuse were not your fault
Identify & understand how you were tricked, bribed, threatened or coerced by the abuser – you were used & abused
You are strong though – you have survived. You can heal & create the life you want!
5. Dealing with the loss and sadness
Feeling grief over – what happened to you, your loss of innocence & childhood, the loss of trust, sadness that the relationships weren’t the way you would have liked them to be, sadness over the impact of the abuse on you throughout your life
If you get depressed, get help to move through it
Feel all these feelings, talk to safe people about them, release the emotion – the intensity will pass
6. Expressing anger
Feeling anger over what happened
Expressing anger towards the abuser & others involved, rather than at yourself (This is done in safe & constructive ways in private, not necessarily with the actual people involved)
Letting go of the need for retaliation
Building self assertion & strength
7. Working through the difficulties caused by the abuse
Working through difficult physical, social, emotional & behavioural problems
Working through unhelpful beliefs about oneself, about abuse or about life in general
8. Building a future
Accepting the abuse happened & it is part of the past
Development of self acceptance & self respect
Acknowledging the wisdom & strengths you’ve gained from surviving the abuse
Overcoming residual feelings of vulnerability & lack of confidence
Dealing with fear & planning ways to take care of yourself in different situations
Setting goals & taking steps to create the life you want
Feeling more in control of your life
Summarised many years ago by Dr. Jodi-Anne M Smith from: MacDonald K, Lambie I & Simmonds L, 1995, Counselling for sexual abuse. A therapists guide for working with adults, children and families, Oxford University Press, London, pgs 30-43.
There are many impacts of abuse on children. If the child does not receive assistance to break free from these impacts they often carry over into adulthood.
Loss of childhood – abused children lose their sense of innocence, their sense that the world is a safe place. A sense of mistrust that persists develops with the abused child often expecting people to abuse them. They, therefore, do not let people close and often go inside themself, close down and withdraw. They begin to parent themself and protect themself as best they can. They may even try to parent their parents to gain a sense of safety. They cannot relax and enjoy their childhood. They may act inappropriately sexually or become withdrawn, confused and silent. They may become less intelligent than they were or more bookish if they find some safety and security in being alone.
Repetition of abuse – abused children have acutely low self-esteem. They feel there must be something wrong with them because of what happened. This low self-confidence makes meeting people and relationships difficult. It leads to difficulty in creating appropriate boundaries and recognizing their own needs. Abused children often accept more abuse as they grow, as they do not know any different and they may feel that it’s their fault somehow. They can’t easily identify the kind of person or behaviour that is harmful to them; only that something doesn’t feel good. They become more likely to be bullied in school and abused in adult relationships. A sexually abused child is 4 times more likely to be sexually abused again than a non-abused child. Castine (1989) points out that 50% of the time daughters of alcoholic fathers marry alcoholics while Jorgensen and Jorgensen (1990) report that one out of every four children of alcoholics develop alcoholism themselves.
Blaming ourselves – children can’t bear to believe that those who are supposed to love them and care for them can be wrong, so they take responsibility for the abuse themself. Blaming themself gives them a sense of control. It’s easier to live with the guilt of themself having caused it than to accept that their caretakers could be so terrible. Abused children believe that they are bad. Some may try to hide their feelings of weakness by acting strong, while others will be cowardly and subservient. They live their lives afraid of being confronted at any time with their badness. This sense of badness may not be conscious; it may be suppressed however it affects all parts of a person’s life (this is what gets changed through therapy).
Emotional rigidity – the abused child carries their hurt and their damaged inner child with them as they grow. The emotional damage affects their development. They tend to become rigid, stuck in particular feelings, thinking or a particular way of looking at the world. They often can’t feel all emotions or express them and maybe stuck in feelings such as happy or loving or angry or fear or complaining. Being stuck is a defence mechanism protecting them from feeling the other emotions that they see as threatening or that may result in re-experiencing an aspect of some earlier abuse. An adult who was abused as a child is often unable to be spontaneous. They do not see their rigidity but are aware of a vague dissatisfaction with their life. They tend to see both people and situations as either positive or negative, good or bad, there is no middle ground. They may blame others unnecessarily and direct their bad feelings and suppressed anger at them.
Isolation – starts from a young age as abusive families often try to hide their dysfunction from others, siblings don’t talk about it and they compete for the attention of the parents. They may abuse each other as they try to cope with what has happened to them. They don’t bring friends home from school or venture out into the world for fear of someone discovering their secret. If an abused person feels they can’t deal with the emotions they’ve buried inside such as sadness, anger, and shame, they will often continue to isolate themselves as adults. They feel separate from others. They do not have a sense of a way out of their position and may overreact to any situation which touches on a felt memory or when people seem like their abuser, or where the feeling is the same as when the abuse happened to them. They may act as if in danger and push people away even though they’re not in danger.
Control – Often abused children as adults feel a need for a strong sense of control. This is so that awkward, painful and difficult to handle emotions/feelings can be kept at bay. Giving up control means facing the pain, which they may feel is overwhelming and therefore must be denied. The need for control can show up in rigid demands that partners, children and others also hide their feelings and control their emotions carefully. It may show up in compulsive behaviour like obsessive cleanliness and tidiness, excessive fussiness, or a need to get things right at any cost whether at work or at home. This anxiousness or desperation can be sensed by others and often makes them feel uneasy around the abused person.
Dependence and insecurity – abused children and adults often have an external locus of evaluation. They judge themself on whether or not others love and accept them or on the size of their career success and assets. These people, who feel a need for someone else to nurture them, to tell them they’re okay, are often taken advantage of by others who see their desperate need and know they can do whatever they want to them and the abused person will put up with it, they won’t leave.
Ambivalence – abused children as adults are often ambivalent to what occurs to them. They learnt to be ambivalent while being abused. They didn’t want to dob in their parents as they wanted their love, feared their loss and the consequences of telling the truth. If the parent only abused them occasionally, they may have seen it as an occasional error to be put up with. They may have pretended that they liked the abuse or told themself that not making a fuss is better or that they might not be believed even if they did say something. Hence they learnt to accept it and just get on with life. They are ambivalent about the effect of this on the rest of their lives. They may never relax and feel safe with those they love. They may never allow themself to be emotionally supported for fear of the loved one becoming an abuser. They may believe that anything good can contain bad and vice versa. The result is apathy, not knowing what to choose or where to turn.
Identifying with the abuser – identifying with the abuser can make an abused child feel strong rather than a weak victim. They will therefore act strong using anger as their dominant emotion, blaming others for things. This is a defence against their underlying feeling of danger and the fear that they may be abused again. If they were sexually abused they may be sexual with other kids. This can be an angry gesture: it happened to me now you; it may be a confusing way of trying to share the experience, trying to make sense of the pain and humiliation; or they may have felt the abuse was pleasurable and want to do it again; they may want their child friend to feel what they felt. Many kids who are abused are also cruel to or abuse siblings, kids, pets or wild animals. They may feel ashamed or guilty of this and beat themselves up. It’s really important to always remember it is not the child’s fault. They learnt what they lived, they know no different, be compassionate, do not abuse them further.
Abusing our bodies – abused children as adults often have a high level of self-contempt and self-loathing. They abuse their body by over or under eating; alcohol or drug abuse; physical abuse or ignoring their body’s needs. They may scar themself in an attempt to make themself less attractive to others or to punish themself.
Splitting and multiple personalities – if a child can not cope with what happened to them they may go inside themselves, go somewhere else. People often report leaving their body and looking down upon the scene when being abused/watching from outside themselves. Everyone has sub-personalities, parts of themselves that are happy, sad, achievers, doers, relaxed, etc, but they are all a part of the one person – they make up me. Some people after extended abuse, however, can form almost whole or partial separate personalities. Their sense of ‘I’ is not always the same, the different personalities take control. They never know when they wake up who’s going to be there. This interrupts their memory as each personality has their own preference, skills and memories. The different personalities may or may not communicate and the person can feel horrible, trapped, unable to control them.
Continuing family abuse – when abused kids grow up they often repeat the pattern with their own children. They frequently fail to connect with their children emotionally and do not know how to behave appropriately so the cycle of abuse continues They may feel horrible about what is occurring but do not know how to break free from it.
The impacts of abuse often go wider than just affecting the individual who was abused. There are also impacts on siblings who were not abused and on their partners, children and those they interact with within their adult life. The following information is offered for non-abused siblings. Recognise that it is normal for you to have felt glad not to be abused, but guilty that you weren’t and your brother or sister was or you may have been jealous of the attention they got and sought it out too – being afraid and eager at the same time. You may feel that you should have protected the abused sibling or at least protested. You may have tried to be perfect to avoid abuse and pointed out how much better you were than the other child as a way of trying to protect yourself. Remember you were a child. You coped the best you could. Don’t avoid the abused sibling now because of your guilt. They’ll probably value your friendship and you can both seek assistance in sorting through your issues and developing a closeness.
Partners of adults who were abused as kids may face all sorts of feelings. They may want to rescue their partner, trying to help them heal and protect them from hurt. This can be problematic as relationships always have some tense moments and both partners need to be able to express their feelings and get their needs met – don’t be silent about your needs as this will only cause problems down the track. The abused child as an adult may occasionally behave poorly trying to get the partner to treat them like their abuser did, provoking them. They are trying to feel familiar, comfortable as they are not used to always receiving love. They’re testing you to see if you really do love them and will accept them. If this pattern occurs talk about it, don’t abuse them.
Partners may feel a lot of confusion about what to do, how to handle it, they may get impatient or tired of their mate always being affected by the past and wish they would get over it. They may then feel guilty or ashamed of themselves for thinking this. Don’t bash yourself up over it. It’s normal for you to feel these things. Talk to your partner about your concerns or seek help or if your partner is open to it you can both seek help together. Accept your feelings of helplessness, your pain at seeing their hurt and your anger at their parents. It’s normal. It’s also normal for you to dislike interacting with his or her parents and not saying anything. However, if this is what your abused partner wants then you need to respect their wishes. But look after yourself and vent your anger and frustration healthily when you leave from visiting their parents. You need to get out any negativity, sadness, anger, etc that you have inside about the situations. When you do this you’ll feel better, more in control and react less to what is occurring. You will be able to change the dynamics of how you interact with your partner.
Learn to own your feelings and behaviour and express yourself effectively with no blaming, no judgment, or criticisms. Learn to use I statements – when you do X, I feel Y and I’d prefer it if you could do Z. If you can do this, creating a safe space for them, with love and encouragement it creates the conditions required for your partner to consider facing their own issues. They have to be ready to change. If they’re not keep working on yourself so things don’t upset you so much and you can enjoy your life fully. This is the best thing you can do for both of you. When your partner does become ready to take action you’ll be able to show them what to do or point them to where they can get help. Remember that what we focus on expands so focus on the positive and create more of it! Be a role model for your partner. Don’t see them as sick, but as a healthy person yet to take action and break free of their symptoms.
While the consequences of child abuse are huge there are also gifts that come as a result of our healing and growth.
Ability to persevere and survive
Ability to feel and understand emotions and reactions
Ability to empathise with others and to accept them and not judge them
Ability to connect in with Spirit, Source and Mother Nature
Ability to know yourself on deeper levels and to have a greater emotional intelligence than the majority of the population
Ability to receive intuitive guidance & access inner wisdom
Ability to appreciate the simple things in life, to stop and smell the roses
Ability to be a better parent, friend and partner as a result of all you have learned and healed
Ability to be happy, peaceful and grateful for all you have
Ability for self love and acceptance of all that life brings, learning to flow with it not fight against it
In Australia, there are a large number of support services available that you can access for free. If this blog has triggered you please reach out to one of the below services to get the support you need. You are not alone and help is available. Similar services should be available in most countries.