All types of child abuse often have a devastating emotional component that does long-term psychological damage. This is especially the case if the perpetrator was a person whom the child should have been able to trust. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) offers excellent guidance for all those adults who as children were neglected, or verbally, physically or sexually abused.
Not all children who have suffered child abuse will experience very negative long-term consequences. It will partly depend on the frequency, duration, and severity of the ill-treatment. Some children are more naturally resilient than others; more robust than fragile. Even for those who are badly psychologically damaged, NAPAC says emotional recovery and even thriving is later possible.
What then are the healing factors? How can the survivor gain the self-esteem and self-confidence needed to form trusting relationships, and lead a psychologically healthy life?
Therapy for child abuse
An important vehicle for healing is the therapy work of people able and wanting to help. Often it is not so much the type of therapy or counselling that is important as the personal connection between the practitioner and the survivor on the healing journey.
One needs a safe place to talk. There has to be a good chance for the development of trust in the therapist. What is talked about will also be out of one’s comfort zone, and will very likely be hard work for the therapist as well as the client.
Within a confidential relationship one can hopefully untangle the web of confusion created by the past manipulation and lies of the abuser. Confused questions can be addressed :
- Why did I keep going back to that person if I knew it was wrong?
- My body reacted to the sexual stimulation, so how can I call it abuse?
- I hate them for what they did and yet I still love them …
- Why can’t I remember the details? Did I imagine it?
Guilt arising from child abuse
Freedom from experiencing guilt comes from seeing the words and actions of the perpetrator through rational adult eyes rather than through the eyes of a child. This means taking into account that children naturally:
- Trust people older than themselves,
- Love attention and compete for it
- Love sweets, presents, outings and other treats
- Do not know the law
- Are protective towards people and animals they love
- Often believe that what is happening to them is normal
- Do not like getting into trouble
Those adults who are willing to exploit the vulnerable can so easily take advantage of this simple outlook of children. They tell the child lies from the position of authority, combine abuse with giving attention, threaten punishment and so on.
Freedom and rationality
According to many spiritual thinkers, the soul brings to the mind a faculty of inner freedom and rationality. Hence, for the adult who had experienced child abuse, gaining relevant knowledge and ideas offers the possibility of using these faculties to make important choices.
Seeing one’s options for personal change more clearly means one feels less hindered in being who one wants to be. For example the option to see oneself not as damaged goods but as a wounded human being; instead of thinking “I hate myself”, using the phrase “I am okay with me”.
Another choice is whether to stop blaming oneself for the abuse that one experienced when a child. Whether or not to continue to take some responsibility for what someone else did.
Those suffering child abuse learn mistrust. They see the world as an undependable, unpredictable, and possibly a dangerous place. We all require warmth and encouragement but those who did not get sufficient of these during childhood need human affection during subsequent years if they are to ever feel accepted and valued.
A part of the healing process is insight gained into how one’s life needs to change if one is to increase the chances of finding lasting quality relationships, love and a sense of emotional security and well-being.
For example the abuse that the now adult experienced as a child could result in:
- Isolation and feeling different from everyone else,
- Mistrust of others or of oneself,
- Being self-destructive or sabotaging anything good in life,
- Emotional insecurity,
- Being easily riled to anger,
- Rebellion against authority,
- Fear of judgement from other people,
- Guilt or shame,
The individual cannot change the fact that the child abuse happened, but can change the impact it has on him or her today.
Potential personal growth after child abuse
I would like to suggest that hidden within each of us is a hunger for a nourishment that is more profound than food or emotional comfort.
“Spiritual food consists in knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom. These are what quicken and also sustain (those) …..who desire them and have an appetite for them as men desire and have an appetite for food when they are very hungry.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
According to the view of Swedenborg, our divine Source implants in us, without our awareness, a desire to know about and understand the deeper side of life. This would include self-insight and appreciation of human virtues and vice, right and wrong, wisdom and foolishness.
You might wonder if such a searching state of mind interested in the truth about life might be destroyed by negative and irrational thinking associated with mistrust, fear, and self-denigration; thoughts and feelings associated with child abuse.
Swedenborg wrote about inner qualities of the mind:
* innocent trust in what is good,
* appetite for spiritual nourishment,
* inner freedom.
I would say that bad experiences cover up these qualities until later circumstances in the person’s life enable them to emerge and become functional.
In other words, deep within every human soul, there is an uplifting energy which can provide us with potential courage to face up to what is bad in ourselves, to look at what is meaningful with clear understanding, to search for a higher purpose.
There are those who can release this healing force. They are people with whom the individual confides, such as therapists, who have the appropriate personal skills and qualities.
The result can be new confidence, new trust and new hope. With help all suffering individuals, if they wish, can bravely explore the truth about themselves and the opportunities available for living life to the full.
Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems