The Emotional Cost of Childhood Abuse
An abused child is an abandoned child in so many ways, as the child has been denied the love, care, and concern they have every right to expect from their caregivers. In situations of abuse, not only are love, care, and concern denied, but they are also often replaced by a true house of horrors, with no safety, no peace, and no trust. Such a dysfunctional formative environment creates a wave of damage that crashes into the processes of maturation and healthy development. In the presence of childhood abuse, whole-person health is compromised — emotional, intellectual, physical, relational, and spiritual health.
I have found children to be both fragile and resilient. Their resiliency is shown through their ability to hope, trust, and endure. Their fragility is shown through an incomplete understanding of adult motives, reasons, and objectives. Children so often find a way to navigate through life in the short term. To avoid a danger, they will skew off on a different path, without realizing the problematic trajectory of that temporary way out.
Sadly, when abuse is present, a child’s healthy path through life is hijacked. The paths they should have traveled—the roads of trust, security, love, attention, appreciation, care, and concern—are cordoned off by the abuse. Instead, they are forced to travel down roads of fear, insecurity, hardship, frustration, anger, distrust, and chaos.
I am not surprised by the emotional damage of childhood abuse; I expect it. What continually surprises me is how those who have been abused as children—through creativity, ingenuity, and sheer force-of-will—still find their way to hope, love, forgiveness, and faith. But traveling through the negativity of abuse as children takes its toll; a toll that can become due and payable in adulthood.
Abused children live in a world of dread. They also live in a world where they’ve learned they are responsible for their safety. In such a world, there is no standing down. They live on high alert—all the time. When these children find themselves responsible for other children, the sense of hyper-watchfulness is compounded. These children become tightly wound, emotionally stretched as they attempt to monitor their worlds for anticipated dangers. As such, they are highly reactive, twitching at the slightest movement or smallest sound. They default to a world of imminent disaster. Red alert becomes their familiar state, a known place of warped safety.
Did you grow up always wondering when the next shoe would drop, whether it was a harsh word, a taunt, a slap, or a touch? Where and when did you feel safe? Did you ever feel safe? High anxiety can be a way of coping with such a world. In a world where you are a target, you learn never to let your guard down; you keep it up, all the time, just in case.
Abused children are resilient. They are inventive and creative about finding ways to overcome and survive their abuse. Yet chronic abuse can take a significant toll on what I call “emotional buoyancy,” that ability to spring back and recover from psychological trauma. A child may find that recovering a sense of emotional balance increasingly becomes more challenging with frequent and damaging psychological shocks. With child- hood abuse, hope takes a beating. Bearing the weight of belief in a positive future can become a very heavy burden.
Did you grow up wishing for things that you knew, deep down, weren’t possible? How did you feel when they didn’t happen? Disappointed? Foolish for even thinking you could have them? Did you decide, at some point, it was just easier to expect the worst? And did expecting the worst make living life harder or easier? Were there times when you just wanted to run away, hide, and feel nothing at all? Did you grow up learning not to hope for things so you wouldn’t be hurt? At least, that’s what you told yourself.
If you or a loved one is struggling with past abuse, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues, and bringing healing to the whole family. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.