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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.

Teenagers and Broken Hearts

I want you to notice the question, “How do I get over a broken heart?”  I didn’t ask, “Can I survive a broken heart?”  The answer to that second question is, yes, you can survive a broken heart.  When your heart is broken, you keep on breathing and moving, going to school, and living with your family.  But knowing you can survive a broken heart doesn’t tell you how to get over a broken heart.  How do you find the strength to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, keep walking down the road of life, and still have room for joy and hope?  

Hearts get broken for all sorts of reasons.  One of the primary reasons in adolescence is boyfriend-girlfriend stuff.  You fall in love with someone and spend all of your time thinking and dreaming about that person, being with that person, loving to be around that person and — boom — it’s over.  No matter who breaks it off, breaking up still hurts.  

Boyfriend-girlfriend stuff, however, is not the only way to experience a broken heart.  Broken hearts happen:

  • When a parent leaves the family
  • When people move away
  • When people die
  • When people you love get sick
  • When the life you thought you needed to be happy gets changed

The funny thing about life is that life is always changing.  Just look at you; you’re changing.  Change can be a bad thing, especially when things change from bad to worse.  But change can also be a good thing; things can change for the better.  Understanding that things can change for the better is a way of having hope.  Hope is very important in getting over a broken heart.

Life happens; change happens; and dreams and hearts get broken.  When things get broken, the first thing you need to do is recognize how much you hurt.  Trying to pretend you’re fine doesn’t work very well.  The pain of a broken heart isn’t one you can walk off, shake off, or say doesn’t matter.  The pain does matter; it hurts.  In order to get over a broken heart, allow yourself to feel the pain and tell yourself it is okay to hurt.  

Pain is something that gets your attention.  If you stub your toe against a piece of furniture, what’s the first thing you do (after you yell, of course)?  You look at your toe to make sure it isn’t broken.  Your painful toe now has your attention.  

A broken relationship can be like a stubbed toe.  When a relationship goes wrong and you break up with the other person, pay attention to why and what went wrong.

  • Was it something you did that messed things up?  If so, try not to do that same thing again.  
  • Is it because you found out you really didn’t like that person after all?  If so, what was it about the person you really didn’t like?  Figure that out and make sure next time that you don’t choose someone who is the same way.  

Many times, talking to other people you like and trust about the pain you’re feeling helps to get over a broken heart.  Just saying out loud what you are feeling inside can sometimes make you feel better.  Teens will often talk to other teens about the pain they are feeling.  That’s normal.  

I would ask you, though, if you’re struggling with a broken heart, to talk to a parent or other trusted adult as well.  Sometimes adults have survived a similar broken heart and might be able to offer some good advice.  

Keeping your pain bottled up inside doesn’t work.  I know because I work with adults whose hearts were broken as teenagers, and they’ve never gotten over the pain.  They stuffed the pain down deep inside, didn’t talk to anyone about it, and tried to pretend the pain didn’t exist.  But the pain never really went away; it just stayed hidden.  Eventually, the pain started coming out disguised as other things, like anger, alcoholism, working too much, or loving too little.  

Pain isn’t something you can run from.  Pain is something you need to learn to deal with.  It is not possible to go through life without life hurting you sometimes.  I wish I could tell you that becoming an adult means finally being powerful enough to stop things from hurting you.  That’s not true.  Adults get hurt all the time.  Just ask a parent or grandparent and I imagine they could tell you about painful times in their lives.  Being an adult means learning how to live with life’s pain, to get over it, to learn from it, and to keep on living with hope and dreams.  

There isn’t a magic formula to get over a broken heart.  Every person has to find his or her own way past the pain and disappointment.  How do you know when you’ve gotten over a broken heart?  I think when you can live moving forward without regret, and also when you can forgive yourself and others for the pain.

Forgiving others is a very adult, mature thing to do, so don’t be surprised if you have to work on forgiveness.  But don’t give up.  Forgiveness is really good at mending a broken heart.  Forgiveness is the key to healing so that you can move on without getting stuck in the pain.

 

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 36 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.

Finding True Joy in Forgiveness

For some people, their pain and hurt are so deep inside of them that their ability to forgive is buried under layers of anger and resentment. If this description fits you, you will need to search outside of yourself for the strength to forgive. Again, you need to understand that forgiveness is something you can rarely accomplish immediately. You’ve lived with your pain for many years; allow yourself the time you need to work through your need to forgive.

Your eating disorder is a response to your pain and anger. If you can understand what happened, get past the anger, and forgive the pain, the reason for your behavior will no longer exist. When the reason no longer exists, and the health-related complications of your behavior are addressed, true healing becomes a reality.

Getting past your roadblocks to forgiveness, and learning to practice proactive forgiveness, are critical components to your healing journey. Below are seven joys of to keep in mind when working towards forgiveness:

  1. Forgiveness allows you to reclaim your personal happiness and find release from bondage to debilitating emotions.
  1. Forgiveness allows you to reclaim intimacy in your relationships by giving you closure over the painful ones so you can truly enjoy the healing ones.
  1. Forgiveness allows you to seek out appropriate forms of comfort.
  1. Forgiveness allows you to truly throw out those harmful emotions instead of storing and recycling them.
  1. Forgiveness allows you to refresh your mind by improving your self-esteem and realizing the awesome ability to forgive that lies within you.
  1. Forgiveness allows you the freedom to seek your true potential unencumbered by your eating disorder.
  1. Forgiveness allows you to amplify your strengths and gifts over your weaknesses.

Make a decision to decide to forgive. Do this not because you want to, not because it feels good, and not because it’s deserved, but because it is the healing thing for you to do. A conscious choice on your part to forgive can counteract your conscious decision to continue in the behaviors of your eating disorder or disordered eating. Your will is the same, but you are choosing to use it in a healthy, uplifting way.

Make the decision to invest in the rest of your life. Please call one of our caring, licensed depression treatment specialist now at 1-888-771-5166 / 425-771-5166. It is a free, confidential call where you can get all of your questions answered and discuss what an individualized treatment program might look like for you.