If you have been following my blog post or social media pages, you know I have been discussing the issue of child abuse. I am no expert or do have the credential to advise anyone struggling with the issues. What I can do is share an article I have read. I can also tell you my experiences.
In one of my first blog post I wrote, I spoke about self-esteem (Self-esteem – A Self Examination). I told the story from my youth and the effects it had on my self-confidence and self-esteem. Had it only been that one incident, the long-term effects would not have been as severe. However, as I shared with the readers of my book, What Did I Do? my entire childhood contained incidences of mental and physical abuse.
I found the website Blue Knot Foundation – Empowering Recovery from Childhood Abuse. “Experiencing any form of childhood trauma and abuse can impact on an adult’s quality of life in fundamental ways. It can make basic day-to-day activities, such as eating, sleeping, working and study difficult. Trauma and abuse in childhood can also affect your mental health, physical health, and your relationships with the people around you…”
I know I frequently was angry with individuals around me and especially myself. I know when as an adult my parents manipulated me, I felt used and guilty for allowing it. The above article states: “This confusion often persists into adult life, and can result in heightened experiences of: anxiety; grief and sadness; shame, shelf-blame and guilt; alienation; helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness.”
One of the major areas I experienced was interpersonal relationships. I felt I couldn’t trust anyone. The closest people to me as a child who were supposed to be protecting me they abused me. How could I trust anyone? I did not know how to express affection towards anyone, because my parents never gave it to me. I did not understand how to differentiate between intimacy and sexuality. Consequently, these areas have been a problem with my spouses and me.
The above article further explains: “When children are abused they come to believe the messages their abusers deliver, such as: ‘You are worthless’ and ‘You have no value’. Of course, these messages are not true, but children accept and internalize them. These messages become ingrained that, when a child who has been abused or traumatized grows up, the adult survivor will often experience feelings of low self-worth or poor self-confidence. Rebuilding self-esteem is a gradual process, but a crucial one.”
Rebuilding, for me took years. For most of my early adulthood, I didn’t understand the abuse by my parents. I thought my parents were right. I thought I had low intelligence, no ambition, and I bought into them telling me, ‘You will never amount to anything.’ I kept trying to please them. If I could please them, then they would accept me and maybe, just maybe, love me. Many of the same instincts and self-preservation I utilized as a child, I continued to use as an adult. I survived but did not grow. What I read, I was typical of the survivor of abuse.
I did have success in my life, yet I didn’t acknowledge it. When there were only strangers telling me I had done well, it was not validating. I took no pride. When I was in my thirties, I went back to school and received a BBA in Accounting. I passed my CPA Board exams and started a career in accounting. By then, my parents and I were estranged and it didn’t matter what they thought. That little inner voice kept telling me if they knew they would be proud and we could reconcile. That didn’t happen either.
What did happen was I finally got tired of feeling guilty and depressed. I sought counseling and I found a beautiful woman that helped me understand it wasn’t me. She helped me understand the effect of the child abuse had on me. She allowed me time to work through all the guilt and anger I had for my parents and especially myself. One of the hardest things I had to learn was the right to be happy. I couldn’t be happy for myself, I had to be pleasing the other person. If they were happy with me, then I could feel happiness. I was still carrying the worthlessness feelings. When I broke through that barrier, it was like walking out of a storm into the sunlight.
I began to actually feel real emotions. I didn’t have to subdue them because it might not please someone. I could voice my opinion, tell someone ‘no’, or share my fears and insecurities. I started seeing other people as my peers and not someone I had to compete with or please. I did things for myself that gave me pleasure. I began to like myself. I was living for myself and for the first time, I was truly happy.