“Child abuse or child maltreatment is physical, sexual or psychological maltreatment or neglect of a child, especially by a parent or other caregiver.”
That’s the definition but what is the reality? I can only speak to my experiences. My childhood was never going to be stellar given that I was born in Rhodesia in 1970 during what was going to be one of the bloodiest, nastiest African Civil Wars. Placed for the most part on an isolated coffee estate on the Mozambique border with a father and mother who swirled in a toxic violent alcohol fuelled hell, was clearly not a great start either. I have lived with the rumours that I wasn’t my father’s natural child, his will on his death confirmed it. The fact that they were both capable of incredible acts of violence and cruelty, well that was something I was going to enjoy for the first 15 years of my life. Add an older and physically much bigger, stronger sister equally damaged and there’s a recipe for child abuse. One would have hoped that leaving Africa behind and heading to Ireland where my father had family and a soft landing (financial support), things would improve.
The adults who saw the bruises, the silent non-communicative frightened child who knew what was going on, did nothing. Zip. Nada. There were seven who took action (none of them close relatives, one only related by marriage) in the only way they could: they removed me as often as possible from the situation. I owe my sanity to them. I had an Aunt whom I despised then as I do now who took me aside once and demanded to know why I loved to vanish to a big house on eleven acres of garden with an older couple and nobody else there (her insinuation was obvious). I was furious. I tore a strip off her, ABUSE! what do you think happens to me at home you stupid b*tch! Except I didn’t say the actual words, out loud. I think I just stared at her in fury and tried to stomp off, likely knowing me I wobbled until I was out of sight before fainting. She was a nurse, her husband a doctor. I had another uncle who was a psychiatrist! All of them saw and knew. Did nothing. Looking back on my situation I can tell you that child abuse is a community affair. It takes a village to abuse a child.
What are the psychological and physical injuries suffered as a result of Child Abuse?
CDC lists them as follows
- improper brain development
- impaired cognitive (learning ability) and socio-emotional (social and emotional) skills
- lower language development
- blindness, cerebral palsy from head trauma
- higher risk for heart, lung and liver diseases, obesity, cancer, high blood pressure and high colestral
- smoking, alcoholism and drug abuse
For me I can tick off head trauma, improper brain development, neurological pain and hemiplegic migraines, auto-immune disease, anxiety and of course, impaired socio-emotional skills. Deep joy. Thanks Ma and Pa.
Unlike most child abuse survivors I had a bit of a head start in that I knew I wasn’t “normal”. I was researching my trauma and issues from the age of 10 on. I knew that I had a risk of addictions and so I avoided them all. Literally. It was nothing for me to simply not, but it meant I didn’t exist outside of my work. I avoided social engagements and I avoided people outside of what I was paid to do. I still joke sometimes (nobody understands it) that I was a “professionally nice person” and that now if I am asked to a party that sounds like work I simply say “no thanks” as I am no longer receiving a cheque, frankly, I don’t have to. Kisses.
What are the main psychological impacts on a person who has survived Child Abuse?
For me the worst was a MORAL INJURY. That’s a concept that was late to the party of PTSD understanding. It is likely one of the toughest things to treat. What is it? It’s defined as a transgression of deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. Can a child have deeply held moral beliefs and expectations? Yes, she can and she did. All of which were ripped apart by those she should have been able to count on for protection.
As a knock-on from that injury is the inability to understand “boundaries”. How could I have developed a healthy understanding of boundaries if nobody respected me or mine? We learn from what others do around us and to us. It’s no wonder the idea of boundaries was completely alien to me until my 40’s. They are an imperative for any human hoping to live a successful and heathy life with solid connections and relationships.
Trust was another casualty. The only thing I trusted about others was that at some point they would hurt me or mine. I learnt to have one foot out the door at all times, ready for the inevitable betrayal or pain. Expecting this ensured that I experienced exactly that. This is how it works, expect the worst and you will not be disappointed.
Suicide. Ah, my warm blanket. My comforter. I used to sing the M*A*S*H theme tune: “suicide is painless… it brings on many changes… ” I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have that tune in my head. The thought that today I could die was one I found incredibly loving, a gentle kiss from the universe. Getting into a car I envisaged simply driving into that tree at full speed. I have always had a “fear of heights” but now looking back I think it was simply the knowledge that I’d be hard pressed not to simply walk off into the oblivion. Death holds no fear for me. I saw too much of it as a child to be scared of it. Today I do not wish to die, and I do not have the constant thoughts of dying but that’s because when they come I accept them, say hi and let them wander off when they are ready to.
What are the first steps to address, acknowledge and accept that allow a survivor of Child Abuse to move beyond their abuse history to a healthy lifestyle and choices?
The first thing that I had to do was to accept that I was abused. We are taught guilt. We are taught that we deserve this abuse. They are narcissists. Manipulators. And they pass the torch to our partners that we end up with who are equally as awful. I’ve read a lot of comments from cop friends and others who are frustrated by the abused human whom they rescue only to find that they return to their abuser. I sometimes have the energy to explain it, sometimes not. If you have been abused you AND ONLY YOU can chose to break the cycle. The first step is to understand on a cellular level that you are indeed a victim of abuse.
Sounds easy? It isn’t.
It requires help from a trauma psychologist who will need to push you to EMDR or some other breaker of the chains. Much of your trauma will be hidden behind a wall of amnesia (my first 15 years were hidden until therapy) and that inability to remember will follow you through life. My memory is appalling and always has been, always will be. It is one of the many gifts of my childhood I simply have to accept and find coping skills to minimize its impact on my life.
Boundaries. You will not get better, you will not learn new ways of living a healthy life without them. You need to establish them and you need to protect them. Anybody who does not respect your boundaries needs to go. I’m not kidding. I don’t care who it is, if they aren’t going to accept your boundaries they are toxic. Kick them to the curb.
Support network you can trust and who “get it”. With mental health issues comes episodes. Episodes comes in all manner of ways and need to be dealt with at the time, then they vanish and nobody holds onto them. What does that look like? I have a bipolar friend who has a habit of flushing her meds down the toilet, when she does this the wheels come off the wagon. So long as she is safe and cared for, other than to feel incredibly sorry for those that are living through the storm with her, it’s over. I try to tell those close to her to let their anger go, yes it is traumatic for all but if you are going to support somebody with a MH issue buckle up buttercup there are going to be rough rides every now and then. Don’t have people in your life that do not know and accept this. Recriminations, guilt and all that victimhood stuff needs to go. Kick it out.
You are not a victim. Anybody who harps on about you being a victim, who treats you like a victim or who encourages you to stay in your pity party is not helping, get them gone. It is a toxic place to live and you will not get better. I was trained to be the perfect victim. When the first shots were fired at the house or the sound of an RPG went off in the distance, or the geese screamed my job was to go to the radio and call it in calmly. Then I was to hide and no matter what I heard or saw I was to stay put until somebody grabbed me out of my hiding place. Silent as a stone. This is why I get so upset when I see behaviour that is grooming children to be victims, like setting up private chat rooms and teaching children to hide conversations on line, and lie. Not cool. If you see this behaviour around you, do not put up with it. Call it out loudly and push it the hell away from you, your kids, your family.
Ownership. Your mental health label is not an excuse to be a wanker. I see this a lot in certain communities, both male and female. There is this asinine idea that because X happened to me I now have carte blanche to be a total b*tch. No you don’t. You are responsible for your behaviour. How you make others feel and the things that you do. If you have a genuine episode then after the storm, look back and make sure that you acknowledge what you did/said, take responsibility for it. Without doing this you will never move forward and you will only have those around you who want to keep you trapped in your wounded form.
Is forgiveness important to moving forward with your life if you have suffered Child Abuse?
Yes, forgive yourself.
There is absolutely no need to forgive those that did this to you. Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard some say that you do have to. You don’t. This is tough to hear for many who have through their own Mental Health issues hurt those closest to them, forgiveness is one thing they seek. Nobody owes another person forgiveness. I have a favourite meme I often use and it says “Judging is for Jesus”, in the same way “Forgiveness is for God”. Go to him if you want forgiveness, don’t bother coming to me. You won’t get it.
I forget, I don’t forgive.
The only reason I remember those who have abused me is to help others. They hold no place in my heart or soul, they are simply a study in toxic humanity. That is all. If they feel remorse for their behaviour, good for them go talk to somebody who cares. I don’t.
If somebody quotes some Buddhist shyte to you, let me know. I’ve studied many religions and I can tell you right now that Buddhists are the peaceful, gentle all encompassing love that a yogi namaste mat lover will have you believe. Far from it. The monks use anger, rage, sexual desire and all that fun stuff to access different mental spaces. They have a history of killing those who they see as oppressors or dangerous to their cause. Asinine BS to quote it as a reason that you must “forgive”. And the same goes for Christianity. Jesus forgives. You don’t have to.
Forgive yourself for being abused. Acknowledge that you were. Understand the impact that has had on your life and accept that you will need to work hard for the rest of your life to ensure you do not become abused again. Take control and never, ever allow anybody else to grab those controls from you again.