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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.

Anxiety

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.

Depression

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.

Being Intentional in Your Response to Depression

What do we do when life feels like it’s piling on top of us?  In depression, we bury our optimism, hope, and joy and react with anger, fear, or guilt, allowing overwhelming circumstances to knock us flat.  Emotional depression can become an automatic reaction to life’s trials.  Reactions are automatic, but responses need not be.  Depression does not have to be automatic.

Even if we may immediately react negatively, we can learn to intentionally reassert positive emotions.  This may not be our first reaction, but our first reaction doesn’t need to be our only response.  Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created.  You have to rise above it to the next level.”  Our reactions are on one level, but we can learn to take our responses to the next level.

The next level above automatic reaction is intentional response.  You need to be intentional in your response to life and its circumstances.  You need to deliberately recognize, promote, and sustain optimism, hope, and joy.  In the midst of depression, the thought of sustaining even a modicum of positive feelings may appear overwhelming, a burden too heavy to bear.  But aren’t you already carrying around the weight of emotional baggage?  Think how much energy it takes to carry around anger, fear, and guilt.  When you begin to put those emotions down, you will find strength for optimism, hope, and joy.

Negative emotions may be part of your personal landscape.  If that is the case, you’ll need to intentionally seek out and rediscover optimism, hope, and joy.  Optimism, hope, and joy are responses that come from within you and are not necessarily derived from your outside circumstances.  Regardless of the circumstances, you determine to remain optimistic; you decide to have hope; you derive joy.

Intentionally choosing how to respond to life is not a trivial matter; this attitude can save your life.  In his book Man’s Search of Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl set forth to answer the question why some people lived through the Nazi Germany concentration camps and some did not.  He found that it rarely had anything to do with their physical state.  Some prisoners who were extremely debilitated or ill continued to live, while some others who were in much better physical shape died.  The difference, he found, was in their attitude to life.

Frankl discovered that in the final analysis, strength for living is found in the ability to choose your attitude — your response — to any given situation.  The situations he and others dealt with on a daily basis were deprivation, starvation, physical disease, and beatings.  Yet in the midst of the hell of the concentration camp, he and others intentionally chose to respond with optimism and hope.

Frankl, who could find positives in the midst of a Nazi concentration camp, demonstrates that each of us has the opportunity to find positives in our own situations.  We will not always have control over our circumstances, but we can determine to hold on to optimism, hope, and joy — to recognize them, promote them, and sustain them.  This is the challenge for those who are depressed.

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.

The Power of HOPE

To understand the true power of hope, I think it’s a good idea to contemplate what the world would look like without hope. It is a world without anticipation, without desire or expectation—a flat, monochrome world with only a single what-is view. First Chronicles 29:15 calls it a shadow world.

Over my time in counseling, I have seen too many people trapped in this shadow world without true hope. I have seen them desperately reach for anything—harmful, dangerous, destructive, false—to try to provide some sort of color of hope in the shadow. Imagine my position—within their world without hope I have to tell them that the one thing they cling to for a modicum of hope really isn’t hope at all. I have to point out the painfully obvious: The hope they cling to—whatever it is—is false hope.

If this is all I did and all I could offer, I wouldn’t do it. It would be too bleak. I praise God, however, that my job isn’t just to point out false hope but to point toward true hope. This is hope that sings with a symphony of desire, expectation, trust, sweet anticipation, and even sweeter fulfillment. This is hope that sings with God’s voice. This is not a shadow world; it is quite literally heaven. And what I get to do is show people the way to find their own patch of heaven on earth, through an understanding and connection to true hope.

Now that’s a job I believe in. It’s why The Center I founded thirty years ago has become knows as A Place of HOPE. It is a place where people find the strength and courage to give up their false hopes and the joy to discover their true hope. Hope has come to color everything we do, from the name of our website to titles on my books to our theme verse of Jeremiah 29:11. People come to us riding on the exhausted, failing horses of false hope and leave soaring on the wings of true hope.

This is not an easy journey. It’s not even an intuitive one for many. Letting go of the reins of a false hope in order to place yourself within reach of true hope is very much a leap of faith.

I love the Indiana Jones movies with Harrison Ford. There is a scene in the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where in order to save his dying father, Indy must successfully navigate a series of tests to reach the Holy Grail. At one point, Indy reaches a place where he must make a proverbial leap of faith.

Finding himself thwarted on the wrong side of a bottomless chasm, Indy must leap out into the apparent nothingness of space in order to keep going. He steels himself and steps out into the air of the abyss, only to land on a thin stone bridge that was impossible to see before. Once he realizes the path is there, that it is real, he successfully makes his way safely across to find the Grail and save his father. The path across was there the whole time; he just couldn’t see it. The only way to see it was to trust it was there.

The leap between false hope and true hope can be very much like that step into nothingness. On the one side, the false hope seems so substantial, so present, so there. The false hope is a known quantity. Even though a part of you knows it doesn’t live up to its promises and you won’t get to where you need to go by sticking to your false hope, another part of you is terrified of the abyss you’re stepping out into in order to grasp hold of true hope.

You are terrified of the unseen. It is that unseen nature of true hope that requires this leap of faith.

With an excessity, you know what you already have. Hopefully, by now, you recognize that what you have really isn’t much and that you’ve been putting all of your hope and trust in a dead horse, unable to save you. It’s time to let go of the known—the seen—and reach toward something better, something unseen.

Hope, then, is a leap of faith. Hope and faith are linked. It takes faith to hope, and hope fuels faith. It’s time to place your hope and faith in something more reliable, more trustworthy, than an excessity.

 Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.

 

 

Depression: Evaluating Your Activities

A familiar childhood fairy tale is “The Three Little Pigs.” Each pig builds his house out of a different material in order to protect himself from the huffing and puffing of the big, bad wolf. The house made out of straw is the one made of brick. Even though it takes more time and work, the brick house is seen as worth the effort because it provides lasting protection.

How does this relate to depression? By examining your life patterns and making positive changes requires your time and effort, but doing so is like building your personal house out of brick. By making changes, and understanding the need for those changes, you are construction—brick by brick—a strong, resilient house that can stand up to the huffing and puffing of life’s storms.

While constructing your house with brick, you’ll also need to remove some of the inferior materials you’ve used to patch weak spots. Remember, this restructuring process will not diminish you but make you stronger. Consider this process of taking stock of your life as your own personal remodeling project.

As you spend time thinking about the activities you are currently engaged in, and whether or not those activities are filling or draining, the key to these activities is in finding a healthy balance for you. This will depend upon your personality, your stage in life, and your unchangeable life factors. You may be the sort of person who simply needs more time to be inactive or still than others seem to need. Or you may be the kind of person who is energized by activity and interaction.

While it is possible to alter your personality to some degree, each of us has individual traits that we need to factor into our activities. We are not alike, and the same activity or activity level will affect us differently. Some of the many positive outcomes from overcoming depression can be a deeper understanding of your personality, insight into what characteristics you want to enhance and strengthen, and knowledge of what aspects you are ready to change or let go.

In balancing your activities, be aware of any that are negative and occur frequently. These are activities you will want to evaluate for change.

It may not be possible for you to completely eliminate a significant draining activity in your life, but it is possible to evaluate that activity and intentionally purpose to find ways to make that activity include filling moments. Sometimes the filling aspects of a draining activity come from the relationships you build with others as you go through that activity. Don’t overlook the silver lining of friendships in the storm clouds of life.

As you continue to evaluate your list of activities, look for filling activities that occur infrequently. Determine whether or not you are able to increase the frequency of these activities. Is there any way to engage in a similar activity that will also be personally filling? You may take an art class once a week that is personally rewarding but are not able to devote the time for another class. You can, however, get outside and walk through your neighborhood, letting nature’s canvas inspire you for that one class you can take. It is amazing how such small changes can add optimism, hope, and joy to your life. Moving forward doesn’t always happen in giant leaps. Sometimes, the most significant progress is made in a series of small steps.

If someone you know is suffering from depression, remember that it’s important to seek professional guidance when diagnosing and treating depression. For more information about depression treatment, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today. The Center • A Place of HOPE was recently ranked as a Top 10 facility in the country for the treatment of depression, and our team is standing by to help you and your loved ones.

Clinical Depression on the Rise in Children and Teens

It’s fairly typical for children and teens to experience bouts of sadness and mood swings. However, clinical depression, a serious form of depression that affects most or all aspects of a sufferer’s life, is increasing among children and teens. It is believed that as many as five percent of people under the age of 18 suffer from clinical depression during their childhood or teen years, a significant increase from just 20 or 30 years ago.

Children and teens suffering from clinical depression, which can be caused by a chemical imbalance, a traumatic event or physical health issues, often exhibit several of the following symptoms:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Incessant feelings of sadness, hopelessness
  • Increased anxiety, tension or panic
  • Pessimism
  • Vocal outbursts or crying
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in activities at home or with friends, in school, extracurricular activities and in other hobbies or interests
  • Heightened sensitivity to rejection
  • Significant increases or decreases in appetite
  • Noticeable changes in sleep habits — insomnia or excessive sleep
  • Fatigue and sluggishness
  • Restlessness, agitation and increased fidgeting
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Self-harm such as cutting or taking excessive physical risks
  • Suicidal thoughts

If your child or teen is showing multiple symptoms of depression, we highly encourage you to seek help, as depression is easily treatable. At a Place of Hope, we offer whole-person treatment in depression, meaning we provide emotional, physical, spiritual and nutritional treatment for complete healing. To find out more about our childhood depression treatment program, please contact us today.