Healing the Wounded Self

Every person who has been sexually abused has the ability within themselves to rise above what has happened and transform their lives.

I find that most people who were sexually abused as children are people of unusual resilience. Many survivors are sensitive to others, truthful, insightful, and powerful human beings. They just need to find the person they were meant to be if they had not been abused. They need to remove what is blocking their path to emotional balance and true harmony with life.

Every survivor of child sexual abuse has the capability, as well as a right, to live their dreams and pursue their goals. But many of us were taught, or grew to believe, that we didn’t deserve to experience joy. Once the abuse stopped it was no longer the perpetrator or his facilitator who made us feel this way –it became ourselves.

Many of us inflicted self-punishment so harsh that we didn’t allow ourselves to experience any pleasure, or if we did, we anticipated something bad to happen, or for the good to be taken away.

Countless abuse survivors won’t seek help because they feel they don’t deserve to heal. Victims of child sexual abuse often feel they are defective, worthless, and they grow into adulthood carrying this myth like a fifty-pound rock on their back, and they refuse to allow the weight to drop because they erroneously feel unworthy to experience life to the fullest, and to be healthy and free.

All survivors of child abuse are equal to all other children of God and it is our God-given birth right to be free and joyful. We just have to learn to seek and accept help, and to know that healing isn’t just about us. When we heal, we offer the rest of humanity a chance to heal and to evolve.

Finding the True Self

The true self is the child who existed prior to being raped, molested, or physically assaulted. The adult survivor needs to retrieve that child.

The course of healing will be different for everyone because each of us is not only unique, but we were all violated in completely different ways. No two survivors are exactly alike, nor are their experiences. This is true, even if they came from the same home and were abused by the same perpetrator, in the same way.

My “false selves” were who and what I had been conditioned to be, and how the abuse had programmed me to react to the world. My false selves developed throughout childhood because of the incest and my dysfunctional family.

Once I began to find my one true self, I learned to look objectively at the unbalanced sides of me.  Through my years of healing, I slowly began to observe the child in me who experienced the fear, anger, neediness, despair, betrayal and shame and how those parts of me were reacting destructively towards myself and others. These different aspects of my persona included the part of me that needed my family to be what they were incapable of becoming. A large part of my recovery involved healing that need.

The incest created different parts of my personality that created these false selves. My sub-personalities were people-pleasing, fearful, self-oppressive, and full of rage. My sub-personalities conformed to the family silence to gain their ‘love.’ My false selves feared punishment, carried much shame, and with the exception of sexual attention, those parts of me felt worthless.

(Please note this is not the same as Dissociative Identity Disorder (or known as Multiple Personality Disorder). DID is very uncommon, maybe even rare. All human beings behave differently around certain people, or when they are feeling sad, extra happy, or angry. This does not mean we have “multiple personality disorder.”)

The process of learning not to react to the world and to other people can take many years, but after removing the pain, a person can subsequently stop identifying with their reactive sub-personalities. They can reach a point where they are no longer affected by things that used to trigger the abuse issues.

When we begin to be at peace with ourselves, our beliefs, and our choices, without being affected by what others say or do, then we are on the road to healing and to creating our future goals. We cannot control the words or actions of other people. Nor can we stop the changes that take place every day in our world, but we can learn to control our reaction to them.  It is our response to the world which causes our suffering, not what others think, do, or say. Knowing this truth is liberating, and this freedom is available to all human beings.

Psychotherapy helped me dissolve the false parts of my persona.

Anger, resentment, and rage… be it directed towards the self, or outwardly towards others, has to be dealt with and getting to the root of rage and anger is essential to healing.

We cannot heal what we do not face. Once we look the horrors and the feelings of degradation in the face, then, and only then can we transmute the pain into benign memories.

Transforming the Rage

What abuse survivors feel about their perpetrators is valid. They have every right to their anger because they can never completely regain their innocence. When a child’s sexual purity is defiled, it is gone forever. A survivor should never feel guilty about their anger, and they cannot be afraid to release whatever emotions come out in the privacy, safety, and intimate setting of a therapist’s office. We cannot carry the toxic waste of the past into our future. Anger and rage must be transformed.

For many people, these emotions might seem frightening or embarrassing but poisonous emotions need to be expelled. Survivors must know that they will not go to hell, they will not be punished, and nothing bad will happen to them if they release resentment from the unconscious and from their heart. On the contrary, extracting rage from the mind and body brings people closer to God.

The people who damaged the survivor don’t have to be present when the emotions are discharged. Survivors can scream and speak out in therapy or in nature, because they are only lashing out at the representation of the perpetrator; they are not striking out at another human being. (I will try and post a future article on ways to help expel anger)

When I first began having regression therapy, I was so afraid of saying anything negative about my parents. I feared God, and was terrified of punishment if I dared to express any true feelings. Liberation came when I realized that “honoring” our parents doesn’t mean adapting to dysfunction and silently complying with a crime. It also doesn’t mean that we have to be superficial on the outside, while silently hating our parents and suffering on the inside. It doesn’t harm anyone to cathartically discharge rage during a therapy session. Survivors should never be afraid to express themselves because the soul wants to be free from that hatred.

We don’t need to purposely be cruel or deliberately cause ugly scenes by lashing out in a face to face showdown with our abuser or family members. This kind of behavior goes against the harmony of life and will not heal a person. In therapy sessions (especially age regression hypno-therapy) a survivor can release the emotions that have been hiding inside for decades.

Discharging these energies will enable the survivor to change their reactions and emotions in their daily life, and at some point, they should be able to speak their truth openly to the people who hurt them, but without a need to cause harm. If anger surfaces and hidden emotions arise during the confrontation, that’s normal and not hateful. We just shouldn’t make it a habit to have these kind of outbursts with people.

Hypno-therapy regressions are like magic because after a session of releasing pain, a survivor can transform the memory into what they wish had happened, instead of being affected by what really did happen. I often ended my regressions by mentally picturing myself as a child dragging my father down to the police station and ripping off his badge and uniform so that he stood naked in front of the other police officers. Then I announced on the police loud speaker that he had been having sex with his daughter. I pictured the officers at the police department handcuffing and arresting him. After they booked him on child abuse charges, I often imagined him in a courtroom being sentenced to prison.

Eventually, I noticed that my regressions no longer concluded with sending my mother to prison. This was when I made room in my heart for forgiveness, instead of a need for revenge. In time I began to imagine my inner child pulling my mother by the arm and down the street to the church, and inside, I left her at the foot of the Altar. I then gave her to God. This was my way of saying that she needed to cleanse herself with Jesus, and that what she had done was out of my hands. I then turned away to find my perfect mother waiting for me at the end of the church aisle. My perfect mother was always imagined as myself, but a grown, strong, healed woman –who would forever defend my inner child.

Anger is a destructive energy if it is not channeled appropriately, and rage must be dealt with by driving it out of the mind and body in a healthy manner. We especially don’t want to take rage out on innocent people.

Many survivors deny they even carry anger, but the child inside, who is still enraged, does not like to be ignored. Certain aspects of the anger can remain hidden, or it can take an extremely long time to heal. Repressed rage can even cover up inner grieving that needs to be done, and unwarranted guilt can keep rage hidden.

Emotional rage is complex. Sometimes a survivor needs to transform guilt and shame before they can manage to be angry in any significant way. People who have been abused, need to move past the self-blame and recognize that the responsibility for the abuse lays solely on the perpetrator.  (I will attempt to post an article on steps to overcoming guilt and shame)

There are reasons why deep anger may not be coming up consciously. Many survivors are still too afraid to show, or feel, their rage because they subconsciously fear punishment. If the perpetrator was an authority figure, and if they instilled threats, then the adult survivor might even fear death if they dare to be angry.

Other survivors are frightened of their own rage and worry about what they could do to others if they lose control. Those who grew up in a violent home might be afraid to become like their perpetrator.

In Behind the Playground Walls, the inability to feel rage is described as the child not being able to “own” his or her anger, and only being able to feel it somewhere within themselves like a “foreign object.”

Anger is a powerful and intense emotion that takes a very long time to weed out. It might never completely disappear, but any remaining negative energy can always be converted into positive action and can be utilized in constructive ways. Oftentimes anger becomes a spring board for taking peaceful action against injustice and oppression in the world.

The Wounded Self Often Prevents Healing

Facing the past was excruciating, but I would never go back to the prison that I endured prior to healing. I think that most people who avoid taking steps to heal, know deep inside that those steps will mean going through the emotional battle of suffering out the disease of abuse. Healing is not taking a magic pill and feeling better each day. Recovering from child sexual abuse means facing things that are so seemingly unbearable that many people choose instead to live with dysfunction and illness, while others would rather kill themselves than experience the pain of healing.

True recovery demands that a person come out of a place of being comfortably numb. It’s scary to deal with unfamiliar pain. Some people prefer habitual pain like substance abuse, disease, bad marriages, and dysfunctional relationships; but the only way out is through. There are no detours. The avoidance of healing means life-long suffering in a self-made prison. Every survivor has the ability to release themselves by turning their own key. Each human being has the capability to revive their deepest ambitions, to experience life to the fullest, and for their true self to finally emerge out of that captivity.

Many people who were sexually abused as children don’t take the steps to change because depriving themselves of health is a form of self-punishment. They subconsciously feel that something they have done means they deserve to suffer. They subconsiously punish themselves by not getting help. It doesn’t have to be that way. Each day is another chance to stop that false perception and to turn the key.

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16 Responses to Healing the Wounded Self

  1. mary says:

    Carlos Santana’s therapist asked him this question “What makes you think or believe that the world wakes up to screw you every morning?” and from there, the issues of his own molestation began to surface and he made a breakthrough….

    • Alethea says:

      I remember when I read about his childhood sexual abuse. It deeply affected him. This comment reminds me of the issue that so many of us have….the idea that the world is against us, that God is ungenerous, or punishing us all the time. Carlos Santana is such a talented artist and has made multi-millions on that talent. It goes to show how even successful people can feel cheated and screwed by the world if they have not healed their abuse.

      • mary says:

        Reading that question to myself was a profound moment for me. That question made me examine all the specific events that led to forming that mindset and see that that belief is nothing but a LIE perpetrated upon me by others that I took in as truth. Knowing that the world in its entirety and God is so vast, there’s no way it would all exist only to hurt me.

        • Alethea says:

          Good for you Mary. It took me a very long time to heal that problem in myself. I long believed the universe was against me because the abuse was unhealed. Punishing parents = a punishing God. I now know differently, and it is so liberating to come to know that God is love, abundance, and joy.

          • Why Not? says:

            I had never read that Carlos Santana quote. I must say, it has compelled me to remember that I so need to measure the relatively small number of people who did so much damage to the enormous love of God I have experienced – in others as well – at the very beginning of my healing journey.

            Crap. I’ve kept returning to ‘that’ struggle (of doubting God,) on some level or another, for way too long. I need to face that, myself, and get to the bottom of it and be be done with it.

  2. Why Not? says:

    There is so much insight, wisdom, compassion and genuine, unadulterated respect for survivors in this article, I am, quite frankly, rendered speechless by the power of your healing.

    The evidence of the work you have done, Alethea, is not only awe-inspiring, but one of the greatest invitations I have ever received to embrace MY Life, my right to heal, as never before.

    I do play the guitar and am a composer. So, I’ll share the lyrics of a verse and the chorus of a song “Nobody Knows,” that few have ever heard – because, honestly, I could never quite grasp its truth myself.

    It was written long ago – to an “imaginary friend”:

    Took a walk just yesterday, A walk back into time
    Ran into some memories, I can’t believe are in my mind
    At first they kind of frightened me – with an old familiar fear
    A fear I’ve learned to live with, year after year, after year

    Nobody knows, nobody really understands
    all the things inside of me, that make me who I am
    Nobody knows, but you

    Every time I stumble, you catch me from the fall
    Ask nothing in return from me… always answer when I call
    With love and understanding, that says “I believe in you”
    You even honor me with silence, when it’s the kindest thing to do

    Nobody knows, nobody really understands
    all the things inside of me, that make me who I am
    Nobody knows, but you

    Bridge

    And I’ve finally come to realize, that you’re more than just a dream
    You’re my hope and my future – my own self esteemed
    Cause I know that I can’t make it, as I journey through the pain
    You’re my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, after the rain

    Nobody knows, nobody really understands
    all the things inside of me, that make me who I am
    Nobody knows, but you

    but you, but YOU.

    Thank you, Alethea (and all,) again. For providing this blog and sharing your wisdom from your own work.

    (I have FINALLY allowed myself to move beyond being stuck in anger and enter my grieving stage – which I had simply been unable to do.)

    • Alethea says:

      Why Not, what a beautiful comment to me, as well as to those who read and comment at my blog.

      The evidence of the work that I do in therapy, and every day of my life, is present in my healing. I am just so happy that it has helped others too. This Blog began as my way of combating the secrets and the fear, and it was to put my grain of sand out there. It has grown into a place that has helped many people, and I am so grateful to God for giving me this tool to help others.

      I love your song. You are talented. Keep it up!

  3. little nel says:

    I felt relieved when I forgave my abusers, but the lingering after effects of fear and anger were not easily dismissed.

    Most of the relief that I felt was the lessening of the compulsion to make them pay for what they did to me. The need to punish my abusers was removed and replaced with feelings of peace. I turned them and myself over to a just God that I could trust. Then I felt free to pursue my own growth and healing.

    I still feel the need to blame “the abuse” in my childhood for my perceived defects at times. I think that this maybe immaturity on my part coupled with the fear that I may have some how caused the abuse by not being smarter than “them.”

    It is still hard for me to acknowledge that I was a child who could not stop the violations against my body, mind, and soul from outside forces. My best efforts were not good enough, so I was defective. My family reinforced this idea.

    I didn’t want to feel defective, so I created another perspective that allowed me to practice “perfection” at my own choosing. I could pick and choose my problems and deny anything that interfered with my choices. If I picked my problems then I could validate some feelings of control. It was all an illusion to mask my feelings of unworthiness. I am still tempted by this option as it was a big part of my life for a lot of years.

    • Alethea says:

      Little Nel,

      It is not about “blaming” your childhood on anything you feel is unbalanced about yourself. Think of it as scientific. You drop a a glass and it breaks…cause and effect. It’s not blaming the perpetrator, or blaming your childhood, it is just the law of action-reaction. Something happened to you, and your mind and body react a certain way. That can be healed. I have learned to stop reacting. It takes time and work, but it can happen for you too.

      And in your therapy, you can work on your feelings of being “defective” in some way. It seems to really bother you a lot, so you should talk about it in therapy. You can get to the root of that and not feel defective anymore. I felt defective and ‘less than’ others for decades. I have worked on that a lot in therapy and no longer feel that way.

      🙂

      Alethea

  4. PDD says:

    I listened to a fascinating “This American Life” yesterday on NPR, “Maul in the Family” The response and attitude of the abusive father about the impact his years of behavior had upon his daughters is truly illuminating. If you have the time, recommended. Can be found at http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/485/surrogates?act=2

  5. Sue Morel says:

    This was an excellent article. I saw myself in it. Last summer I went through prolonged exposure therapy at the VA and am now on my way to finding my true self. I just finished writing an 85 page autobiography and I am taking guitar lessons, something I wanted to do all my life…….I am finding my true self.

    I have not been in a relationship for 7 months, which is a record for me. I have met a man who might be alright for me . I have given myself permission to be treated wonderfully. For the first time in my life, I have high expectations for any future man in my life. No more picking losers. I want a man who is going to care about ME . I always used to be the one who did all the GIVING.

    Thanks again, Sue Morel

    • Alethea says:

      Sue, your comment made my day.

      I have also been inspired by it because I have LONG wanted to take guitar lessons and have put it off out of fear of many things. I think it’s time to make the call.

      “No more picking losers.”

      Way to go! Just pick the guitar strings instead. Better to be alone than pick a crummy guy.

    • little nel says:

      “I have given myself permission to be treated wonderfully.”

      I love this! Only a woman who is finding her “true self” could do that.

      Go, Sue Morel!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I can identify with a few of those points specifically. A few years ago, when my sister chose to “be angry” at our father, she decided to make the long drive, accompanied by our brother, to confront the father. I declined to go with them. In fact, I was appalled at the way they were doing it. She told our father that they wanted to go out to eat with him and his wife. (who had known about the stuff w/ her own kids) My brother had not spoken to the dad for, like, ever, so I can’t imagine what our dad must have thought. (wasn’t I dumb to think my brother was too hard hearted! All the time he had the memories! And it seems as though he thought I was “going along” with whatever the dad was doing .( Gee, was I on a different planet? ) Anyway, my sister yelled and screamed at them, “you ruined our lives!!”, and such. I thought that was a terrible thing to do, regardless of his crime, to set them up like that. . Frankly, her life had been pretty great from my point of view. She was much more successful than I, could cope with anything, and graduated college, had lots od friends, was never a slut, LOL.
    A counselor once asked me what do I do with the rage? I felt like there was a steel bar running through my body. I think it lived in there. I thought everyone must have something like that, or else you would break. I don’t feel rage anymore. Forgiving sets a body free!
    You are so smart and have accomplished so much on your journey to wellness, and I congradulate you. I like to think that , remembering at this point, would not add much to my quality of life. I am 57, and married for good this time.( As far as one can know.) The truth is that I am afraid to remember. I am afraid that I would not be able to come back from that. Heck, I don’t even know exactly what THat means….it is just the feeling I have. I know this testimony is way too long. I don’t expect you to share it, but it felt good to write it all out. And I Hate to whine! I am blessed with good kids and grandkids who love me, a husband who is loyal and loving. I really don’t have one thing to complain about.

    • Alethea says:

      Dear anonymous,

      Thank you for your kindness. I am grateful for my journey and grateful for this Blog. It sounds like you deserves some congratulations as well. It sounds like you are a grateful person who has many Blessings in your life. Many people are not so fortunate, and for many different reasons. Often, it is not their fault.

      Being angry is not a choice. I don’t support the way your sister confronted your father, but I do support anyone who wants to confront the truth with someone. I just hope that people will always do it prudently, privately, and without malice or attacking the person.

      “Frankly, her life had been pretty great from my point of view. She was much more successful than I, could cope with anything, and graduated college, had lots of friends, was never a slut,..”

      I have learned to NEVER judge a life that appears to be pretty great, or that looks good on the outside. People have judged me for my life because I never talked about my hell with neighbors or acquaintances. Most of my close friends don’t know most of what I have endured behind closed doors. People on the outside look at me and my life, and say to themselves, “Gee, she sure has it good.” But they have NO idea.

      Success and a college degree mean nothing. I know a successful doctor who took a gun to her head and shot herself to death because she could not take her inner pain. One never knows what torment is going on inside another person.

      Forgiveness is essential to one’s soul, but it is not a conscious choice, like choosing an outfit. Forgiveness takes a lot of time and work, and the forgiveness must come in a true and dynamic way. If the subconscious mind is not ready to forgive, it can cause a lot of problems…even illness and disease, and sometimes, we think we have consciously forgiven, but the subconscious can still carry a lot of hidden emotions.

      All my best,
      Alethea

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