Grownups may find it easy to blame others, but what about Children? What happens when a Child gets hurt by a parent? And what about sexual abuse?
Every Child is dependent. A Child is dependent upon its parents (or primary caregiver) for love and protection. When the Parent hurts the Child, there’s fear and there’s anger. But there’s nowhere for the feelings to go. Especially, the anger. The Child can’t blame the parent because would put them at risk of being abandoned or punished. So, this increases the fear. With nowhere to go, the anger gets turned inside. It takes the form of self-loathing.
1. The Child is dependent.
The Child is dependent on the parents. The Parents (or primary caregivers) have the greatest influence on a Child’s development. These are the people the Child has the most contact with during the formative years. What happens in the first 5 years of life will decide how life will be viewed and experienced.
2. When there’s abuse, there’s anger.
When anger gets trapped inside it takes the form of self-abuse which can find expression in any number of ways.
- negative self-talk
- self-sabotaging behaviors
- wallowing in self-pity
- contempt …
The list goes on.
3. Abuse isn’t always “bad”
What qualifies as abuse to the adult mind is not always perceived as “bad” by the Child. What makes such an event an ISE is that it was also confusing for the Child. There was no sense of “right” or “wrong” attached to it. Avoid the temptation to impose your grownup judgments onto the event.
4. Abuse can be accepted as "normal".
Parent’s behaviour tends not to be a one-time event. As a result, abusive behaviour can be accepted as “normal.” Keep this in mind if you’re dealing with events of sexual abuse; there are usually multiple events.
5. Thoughts generate feelings.
If what happened was not perceived as loving, it will be interpreted as abandonment. Abandonment is a biological threat to survival. This is what generates the fear.
If the Child thinks, “I’m going to die!”, there will be intense fear. This leads to dissociation. If there’s no way out of the situation, the Child will check out of the body. If your client is witnessing the scene from above or off to the side, dissociation was taking place. Recognize that this is a biological response to trauma.
The problem with dissociation is that people can get stuck in numbing out. It’s a conditioned response. Your job is to stay neutral and support the client as you uncover the perceptions and decisions of the Child.
6. "Right" and "Wrong" are learned.
Young children cannot think critically. They get their sense of “right” and “wrong” from their parents. Things that are said or done make impressions on the Child. This is what teaches the Child the rules about what’s good/bad, or right/wrong.
The first time may not have been perceived as traumatic. It was just the first encounter of this kind. It may not be until later, when the Child is confronted with social morality (e.g., high school), that the client experiences the signature shock of the ISE.
When the Child realizes that what happened was socially reprehensible this establishes a secondary ISE. The energy of this event then flows back into the first event. In this case, the first ISE is about not being able to make sense of what was happening. That’s confusion. Confusion generates fear because the Child needs to be able to figure out what’s happening in its environment to survive.
The second ISE is the whammy. This event involves the opinions of others. That’s shame. This acts retroactively to ripple guilt and shame back into the first event, contaminating the Child’s original perceptions of goodness, love, and love-ability. This is what shatters self-worth and trust. It’s not what happened that’s the cause of pain. It’s the meaning the Child gave to whatever happened.
7. Guilt and shame get attached.
The Child needs to make sense of things. Taking the blame means that they don’t have to lose the love. As a result, the Child may reason, “I must have done something wrong.” Because the Child needs to have a sense of control, deciding, “If I can change myself, then it won’t have to happen again” provides a much-needed sense of control.
8. Self-blame actually serves a positive purpose.
It comes down to basic survival. Self-blame provides a sense of safety and security, which is the subconscious mind’s Prime Directive. Children are making decisions all the time. They’re making decisions about self, others, and how life works. And this forms a person’s world-view.
When there’s no one there to help the Child, the Child can decide that, in order to avoid being hurt, again, “I have to take care of myself.” “The only person I can rely on is myself.” This leaves them stuck feeling scared and alone.
9. Abuse is a Betrayal.
All the Child wanted was love. What happened may have been perceived as a way to get love and attention. But it was also confusing for the Child because there was secrecy attached to it. Confusion is often the signature of the ISE. But it’s important to recognize that there was no sense of right or wrong attached to it.
Young children get their sense of right and wrong from their parents. What establishes the rules for good/bad, right/wrong come out of the things that were said and done to the Child. So what can happen is that there’s confusion trapped in the ISE, but there’s nothing “wrong” with what happened. That is, until the Child goes to school. That’s when they’re introduced to social morality which installs guilt and shame.
Guilt and shame are two sides of the same coin. Guilt says, “I must have DONE something wrong.” Shame says, “I AM wrong – intrinsically defective, flawed, unrepairable.” Guilt is about doing. It has to do with behaviour. Shame is about being. It has to do with identity. When you’re dealing with any situation of abuse, you need to address both.
10. Forgiveness is the healing.
Pay close attention to the client’s Story. The Story will tell you everything you need to know to find the healing. What you’re dealing with is a betrayal. Betrayal is about anger. But it’s also about LOVE. What got the client hurt was the fact that they were a Child. It was being vulnerable that got them hurt. Release the anger and you’ll find the love. That’s where you’ll find the forgiveness. Forgiveness is the healing.
So that’s it. When working with issues of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, remember:
- The Child is dependent
- Where there’s abuse, there’s anger
- Abuse isn’t always “bad”
- Abuse can be accepted as "normal"
- Thoughts generate feelings
- Right and wrong are learned
- Guilt and shame get attached
- Self-blame serves a positive purpose
- Abuse is a betrayal
- Forgiveness is the healing
Pulling the pin on the self-blame may require addressing multiple events. Because abuse often occurs in the family resulting inn multiple events, there can be complexity to deal with. Resolving the impact of those experiences will allow the client to heal. And it can transform their life in unexpected ways.
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