It seems like a simple question. Our bodies can usually heal from broken bones and torn ligaments if appropriately treated. Does the same ring true for survivors of childhood abuse? The answer depends on many factors.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are known to have long-lasting, negative effects that can impact adults’ mental, emotional and physical health. Each individual and their circumstances are unique, so that the consequences can be different for everyone. The outcomes can range from poor physical health to an inability to maintain intimate relationships, from substance abuse to mental health issues, from criminal behavior to uncontrolled aggression.
Traditionally, medicine was focused on determining the origins of disease and figuring out how to prevent poor health. In the mid-1990s, a medical sociologist and anthropologist Aaron Antonovsk suggested a different perspective; looking at health as a continuum and shifting the focus on what can promote good health. The approach, called salutogenesis, indicates that humans have an innate capacity to adapt and positively transform, even after traumatic and stressful events. Additional research suggests that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward.
There’s no magic bullet. There’s not a one-size-fits-all remedy to heal from child abuse. But there are thousands of people who have been able to find their way to healing using many therapies and techniques. People who have emerged have not only healed but are thriving and helping others do the same.
Self-care to help you begin the healing process
Survivors of childhood trauma are often made to feel worthless, “bad”, shameful as if you’re to blame for the abuse. It can be painful but essential to try to rewrite those scripts and retrain your brain to accept the nurture and compassion you crave.
Treating your body, mind, and spirit with love and kindness can give you a way to feel the very things you were denied or didn’t know you needed. It puts you in control. Self-care is active defiance against all who hurt you or trained you to hurt yourself. You can use positive affirmation to actively reject and defy everything your abuser(s) drilled into you and hoped you’d feel forever. Reclaim your worth. It’s yours, not theirs. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Take a 10-minute break from whatever you’re doing—work, scrolling social media, cleaning your home, etc.—to close your eyes and be present. Perhaps add some mindfulness, imagery or meditation to recharge.
- Take a short nap (rest is often one of the things missing for survivors). Give yourself permission to turn off and rest.
- Make a gratitude list or create a gratitude journal. Express appreciation or thankfulness for some of the simplest things and important things in your day/life.
- List 10 things you’re good at or that you like about yourself. It helps to reinforce the truth that you’re a good person and deserve care.
- List 20 accomplishments you have made this year. They don’t have to be gigantic things. Your list can include cleaning out the closet, trying a new recipe, or making a new friend.
- Repeat a personal mantra. I am worthy. I am enough. I am not to blame.
- Use a weighted blanket, weighted lap pad, or weighted vest or apply deep pressure or compression with other items if you don’t have these to soothe yourself and feel more rooted and grounded in your body.
- Mute or block people on social media that are causing you stress or bringing you down.
- Reach out to a support group/group chat to get some positive reinforcement.
- Take a walk somewhere away from the busyness of the world to enjoy alone time and nature.
- Volunteer for a cause that speaks to your heart. It could be an animal shelter, soup kitchen/food pantry, after-school program, anything that makes you feel like you’re fulfilling a higher life purpose.
Professional help to help you through the healing process
Therapy, especially with a therapist specializing in childhood trauma, can help you navigate the complexities of healing from child abuse and neglect. Typically, therapy is provided in an outpatient setting and can be done as part of a group or individual. Here are several evidence-based treatments that can help:
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a specialized type of cognitive therapy used to treat patients dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The main focus of the treatment is to help survivors recontextualize and rationalize the events experienced.
- Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is a type of psychotherapy, focusing specifically on trauma, to help patients change destructive behaviors and thought patterns into positive solutions using awareness and cognitive responses.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy involving having a patient recall traumatic memories while moving their eyes from side-to-side in a rhythmic pattern.
- Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET) involves laying a person’s life out in chronological order and putting the events of their life into context at positive and traumatic points.
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy, sometimes referred to as flooding, in which a patient is exposed to their traumatic memories to help them understand and rationalize the events.
Healing from childhood abuse and neglect can be long and challenging, but it can be done. There’s no timetable; no predetermined schedule. Everyone is different and just as one person’s broken bone may heal faster than another’s, the same is true of emotional healing. Find information and resources to help you or someone you love and take care of yourself. You are worthy!
Get Support and Continue the Conversation – Join our Survivor Community
EndCAN is committed to growing a community of survivors to end child abuse and neglect. We recently launched the Louder than Silence: Ending Child Abuse and Neglect Survivor Community through Inspire. Inspire is a free, online community of support groups where people exploring health conditions can feel safe, be authentic, anonymously discuss their experiences, and learn from other people who have “been there.” Anonymously ask questions about your experiences with child abuse and neglect, get support from other survivors, and join us in the movement to create a world safer for future generations. You can join our survivor community today at https://www.inspire.com/groups/prevent-child-abuse/.