By Phil Goldstein
Looking back on who I was as a boy and an adolescent, I think it’s safe to say I didn’t do many traditionally “manly” or “masculine” things. I didn’t play a sport, except for two years of Little League and a short-lived attempt at cross country running. I wasn’t in the Boy Scouts. I didn’t know how to pitch a tent, make a fire, use a knife, shoot a gun, tie a rope. I didn’t have a girlfriend. I didn’t even get my driver’s license until just before I left home for college.
Instead, I did a lot of things that society largely coded — and to a significant degree, still does — as effeminate. I wrote poetry. I acted in plays and musicals. I loved reading and art. I wasn’t gay, but, if you were a product of the culture of the late 1990s and early 2000s, even in a relatively liberal part of suburban New York, one could be forgiven for thinking so. Even my mom asked me if I was gay, when I was a sophomore in college.
I don’t know if I was the way I was because my older brother had sexually abused me,or in spite of it. I like to think that it’s the latter, but it’s difficult to tell when you are abused during such a formative time in your life as a child and a person. My older brother molested me from the time I 10 to 12 and a half, a fact I kept hidden from every single other person on the planet until I was 30 years old.
Set aside the fact that according to statistics from CHILD USA, the average age of disclosure of CSA is 52 years old. Set aside the academic literature that details how shame, confusion, fear, and a lack of emotional vocabulary inhibits many survivors of child sexual abuse from telling others about the abuse — if they ever do. Growing up when and I how I grew up, in the 1990s and early 2000s, it would have been monumentally humiliating to admit to anyone that my older brother abused me. If I had told a friend, the friend might have told another friend, and then it would spread like wildfire. Even if I had told a trusted adult — a teacher, guidance counselor, parent of a friend, rabbi, etc. — the odds are that, at some point the news would have leaked out to my peers.
What middle school boy is going to willingly admit such a shameful thing, and subject themselves to the humiliation that would likely follow? To have it be known that my older brother made me perform oral sex on him and that he performed oral sex on me would have been the most mortifying thing imaginable. What girl is going to want to go out with such a boy? How is that boy going to ever be able to go into a locker room at school and not have every other boy stare, gawk, harass or worse? The social stigma around abuse — that it would mark me as “not a real man”— were just some of the factors that inhibited me from saying anything to anyone. So, I didn’t.
As I grew older, after the abuse stopped, I pretended like it had never happened. I wanted to will it away, out of existence. But the insidious effects of abuse kept surfacing in embarrassing and harmful ways, even if I didn’t recognize them. Most significantly, in my 20s, I started experiencing erectile dysfunction. It was profoundly embarrassing, and let to the dissolution of a relationship and the end to several dating endeavors. But I never connected the ED to the abuse, at least not consciously.
I grew more desperate to figure out a way to address the ED. I started taking Viagra. Then Cialis. None of it seemed to work. Then, when I started dating the woman who would later become my wife, the ED issue reared its head again. I tried, at first, to downplay my history of ED because I was afraid that we’d break up if I told the truth (a lie that would come to haunt me). Eventually, she persuaded me to seek out a therapist to try and resolve the issue.
The intake form for that first therapist asked whether I had ever been the victim of neglect or physical, emotional or sexual abuse. I checked yes next to sexual abuse because I didn’t want to lie and then have it come up later in the sessions. I assumed I’d get in trouble — which shows how little I knew about therapy.
I brought up what happened in my first session, and the therapist thanked me for trusting her with that information, but I said I didn’t want to talk about it, because that’s not why I was there.
A few months later, when she left her practice, she told me that, in her experience, someone who has been sexually abused as a child is bound to have that ripple out into all facets of their life, including their intimate relationships. She urged me to start widening the circle of people who knew.
Shortly thereafter, I started seeing a new therapist who specializes in helping those who have experienced trauma, who I am still working with today. I gained more courage to tell others, including my then-girlfriend, my friends, family members and my parents (who, thankfully, believed me but expressed no interest or ability into delving into how and why this happened in our family).
In therapy, I unpacked what had happened to me. I sketched in the details of a childhood I had kept deliberately hazy, to avoid confronting the painful truth of what had happened to me. And I realized that I had not done anything wrong — before, during, or after the abuse. I had been betrayed by someone who I trusted, someone older and stronger than I was. I was afraid and scared of what was happening, so I disassociated during the abuse. Most significantly, I was a just boy and should have been doing things that boys from 10 to 12 normally do. I was robbed of my innocence and of discovering sex and my changing body my own.
I decided to go public about the abuse because I didn’t want to live with the shame of what had happened — to continue thinking, believing and acting as it was something I should be ashamed of — and I didn’t want others to, either. And I started writing poems, dozens of them, about the abuse, which eventually became a book.
Speaking out about the abuse, being public about it, and talking about it in interviews and podcasts, is something I have been proud to do. I do it because I hope it will help others. People close to me in my life have told me that they think speaking out is courageous, something for which I probably don’t give myself enough credit for.
To me, being a “real man” means being vulnerable. It means not shying away from difficult truths about your past and who you are as a person. It means dealing with messy, complicated emotions. It means going to therapy if that is what is right for you (I highly recommend it!). It means standing your ground, calling out abuse and abusers, and not caving to the demands of those who would prefer to sweep abuse under the rug at the expense of the emotional wellbeing of survivors.
There are a lot of things that our society still ascribes to masculinity. I hope, over time, that image of masculinity changes to reflect the aforementioned qualities. It’s starting to. And the more it happens, the more that abuse survivors, and men in particular, will have the room to heal.
Some surprising ways I have healed from childhood sexual abuse
You’ve made that first difficult, brave but significant step and told someone about the sexual abuse or rape you have endured. Perhaps you have progressed further and received some therapy. At this point I hope you have come further than you could have ever imagined from those dark hours, days and even years that have consumed more time than you thought possible. Think about that for a moment. No matter where you are in your journey, you have moved forward. You are no longer hiding this dark secret, you have let it go by telling someone. There is a real freedom in that.
Speaking and talking through our experiences helps us to make sense of our feelings. I find speaking to others and sharing my worries a truly empowering experience and I get a lot of solace from it. It hasn’t always been that way though. Keeping silent for six years whilst my stepfather was abusing me took its toll on my verbal communication. When I am particularly stressed or under pressure, I still go into shut down, my powers of communication recede dramatically and I can become insular and silent again, a child once again locked in with my own private dementors.
Having counselling was a lot like pulling teeth at the beginning, but gradually with the encouragement of my counsellor and a lot of hard work from me, I started to realise the benefits of talking things through. The process has helped me to check in with myself and recognise when I am feeling negative emotions and be aware of them. Counselling has also taught me a lot about acceptance.
Acceptance is another powerful emotional tool in our box. When I recognise myself going through the motions of shutting down, edging back from society, friends, my husband and even my children, I try to practise acceptance. The faster I can accept that I am not feeling quite right, that my emotions and negativity are beginning to dominate my everyday life, I consciously tell myself that I am not feeling 100% right now; I consciously acknowledge that I cannot be fighting fit every day, and I accept that this feeling does exist, that it is real. It sounds trivial, the idea of acceptance, but when I can acknowledge and truly accept my negative feelings, they seem to swim away until after a few days, I have bounced back and I feel as if the world is a far nicer place once again.
For more clarity on the art of acceptance, Windy Dryden’s ’10 Steps to Positive Living’ *1 explores this in greater detail.
As well as receiving counselling with Family Matters UK, I have tried other methods of healing with various degrees of success. I am a great reader and there are many useful books out there that can help us to heal and deal with our experiences. I will list the books I have found the most helpful at the end of this blog. Exercise, yoga, meditation, eating healthily, spending time with friends and loved ones all have important roles to play in our emotional wellbeing. I would like to talk about the more surprising methods that have worked for me.
Some people are very uncomfortable with crying, especially the British. I know, because I am a Brit. I am also a crier. I don’t care, I am a crier and you know what they say, its better out than in. I recently had an unexpected experience in a Yoga class (another fantastic tool in my recovery box). I was doing some routine chest stretches when suddenly my head started to swim and I felt an overwhelming tide of emotion overcome me. Halfway through my class, I can honestly say, I cried and cried, and cried some more, loudly and without pause, I cried with a force that surprised me, and certainly surprised the rest of the class. And you know what, I was a little embarrassed and miffed as to why that exercise had caused such a dramatic reaction A few members of the class were clearly a bit uncomfortable with my public display of grief, but I was also amazed at the positive responses I also received. One of the class members approached me in the coming weeks to tell me how empowering she had found my crying. Others confided how they found their own tears difficult to access ad they would love to be able to release in that way.
I have always feel much, much better after a good cry, it’s a significant release, and after reading Judith Oriole’s article in Psychology Today, I understand why. She sites Biochemist and “tear expert” Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis who through his research has discovered that our emotional tears contain stress hormones which get extracted when we cry, which “shed these hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress”. This would explain why, after a good cry, we feel calmer and more peaceful as “Typically, after crying, our breathing, and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state.”
That’s why crying for me is always courageous, authentic and strong.
Recognising our traumas in our bodies
Over a period, I have become much more aware of the stress that sexual abuse or rape leaves behind in the memories of our bodies. We often apply body memory to sports practises but times of intense stress also leave a memory print in our bodies. Body memory is a hypothesis that the body itself can store memories, as opposed to only the brain. Our bodies react to stress in various ways – perhaps by our hearts beating faster, holding our breath, swallowing down air, holding tension in our stomachs, amongst other things. Many experts believe this stays in your body as trapped energy.
I have found connecting to my body through yoga and breathing techniques has made me far more aware of where my body holds stress and anxiety. Using this knowledge in alternative therapies has allowed me to release a lot of anxiety from my tummy, an area where I have held butterflies and tensions for many years.
An interesting article by Side Effects Public Media explores the effects of childhood trauma and how it shapes the brain and examines the benefits of yoga to help release these emotions and reshape the brains pathways.
One of my most surprisingly successful and enduring alternative therapies has been EFT, or Emotional Freedom Techniques.
EFT is a relatively new discovery but draws from traditional practices of acupressure. It is often referred to as “psychological acupressure”. The technique works by releasing blockages within the energy system which are the source of emotional intensity and discomfort. These blockages in our energy system, in addition to challenging us emotionally, often lead to limiting beliefs and behaviours and an inability to live life harmoniously. It is now widely accepted that emotional disharmony is a key factor in physical symptoms and dis-ease and for this reason these techniques are being extensively used on physical issues, including chronic illness with often astounding results. As such these techniques are being accepted more and more in medical and psychiatric circles as well as in the range of psychotherapies and healing disciplines. The Energy Centre
My own experiences with EFT began 12 years ago when I was living in Muswelll Hill, North London. when I happened upon a therapist that practiced EFT in Crouch End. I was originally searching for hypnotherapy, but the information I was reading about EFT was compelling and I wanted to know more. I was also desperate for a fix to my emotional pain , preferably a quick and painless one (aren’t we all?!) and the article I was reading seem to tick all of those required boxes. I was suffering with acute panic and anxiety whenever I was required to be intimate with my boyfriend and my fear was destroying the relationship. Something had to be done and fast. Simply tap the body in certain areas and relieve emotionally crippling symptoms. Tick, tick, tick. Cynical but desperate, desperation won and I found myself in another therapy room.
My therapist asked me to think about the issue that was bothering me. I felt the familiar wave of shame, self-disgust, guilt, wash over me. She told me to find my ‘Sore Spot’ or the Neurolymphatic point and press down in circular movements whilst focusing on these negative emotions. She then tapped me on different points or meridians on my face and body. Then she instructed me to repeat over and over the following. ‘Even though I have this anxiety with intimacy, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.” This was repeated three times.
To say that EFT had a profound effect on me is an understatement. Twelve years later, I still pinch myself a little. Two very profound things happened to me after my first session. The intense memories of the sexual abuse no longer had any emotion attached to them. I could (and still do) watch the scene of myself in the bed with my stepfather and it’s like a video is being played, I simply don’t feel anything. Also, the very next morning, I woke up and without any prior conscious warning, I decided that the relationship that I was in was no longer fulfilling me. After a morning of frank and honest discussions about our happiness together, we both agreed that we were not happy together anymore and after five years together we parted ways. I do not know if this is some huge coincidence but something in that session centred me and changed my energy quite profoundly. I knew completely and absolutely that it was time to move on. Only shortly after I became romantic with the man who is now my husband and the father of my two boys.
I am not completely free of the pain that I suffered as a child, the abuse has shaped my life and who I am as a person. It does not define me though and there are many other facets to me than the abuse. I try to remember how far I have come, the many journeys of self-discovery I have taken and doubtlessly always will. I love and accept myself for who I am and the experiences I have had. I can only write about my experiences and what works for me. Others will have had very different journeys to find their inner peace. Whatever your journey is just remember to accept, love and be kind, the rest will follow when you are ready.
If you have experienced sexual abuse or rape, then there are people who can help you.
UK: Family Matters UK offer support services for male and female survivors of rape and sexual abuse
By Joleene Gonzalez
Hello, I just wanted to reach out and send you a message.
I am an adult survivor of Childhood abuse. I suffered extreme depression, I was a self-harmer, and I suffered from an eating disorder. I never thought hope was possible, I never thought I would be able to live a normal life, or even achieve any dreams. I started my journey of healing quite a number of years ago. It has taken me many years to begin to find hope and to achieve some healing in my life. I never thought it would be possible, but I have. I have come through the other side and proven to others and more importantly myself that it is possible.
I want to speak out about what happened. I no longer want to be silent. I want my story to encourage others. I know all too well what it’s like to be in a dark place, to believe there is no hope. I want to be able to encourage those who are still in a dark place, who still struggle. That it is possible. Yes, it is alot of work and it is hard. But it is so worth it. If I can encourage but one person with my story, then it will be worth it.
There is hope. Life is possible. You are stronger than you think. You are alive for a reason.
Thank you for reading.
An Author’s Dark Past as Inspiration
By Nicole Arlyn
I’m writing this from my kitchen in Brooklyn. It’s nearly December, and the afternoon is dark, cold and rainy. My baby boy is asleep in the next room. I’m making tea, trying not to clank around too much and wake him.
I used to get up, make tea, and write all morning starting at 6:00 a.m. Every day was like that. I’d get right into work writing—no phone calls, no emails, no people. I’d put a little makeup on, take a sip of tea and a breath, and then I was off into fantasy, into words and visions and adventure. Into life. Off writing for eighteen hours with a break in the middle for walks or the gym.
It took me seven years to write the Sadie books. They started out as one massive, handwritten manuscript that filled an entire suitcase and many notebooks full of backstories and character biographies and poems, doodles, and other books—all intertwined.
And now… My life has so completely changed from being the single, no-responsibility-for-others actress/writer woman with a pen in her hand and a suitcase who goes all over and writes all over. Now I have a home in Brooklyn with a baby snoring away in the room beside the kitchen.
And now that they’re all out there—all twenty-six novellas—it makes me wonder, “Am I okay now? Have I finally healed?”
(caution – may trigger)
In my home town on Long Island, it was really important to fit in. It was really important to have friends and a normal home life. To be like everyone else. I kept it hidden, this strange thing I was.
I had visions. The first time I remember experiencing this was one night when my parents were violently throwing plates and screaming at each other in the kitchen. My mother was screaming that my father was cheating on her and that she was throwing him out of the house. I had a fever that day and listened from my bed, under the covers. Though my head felt clogged, my heart raced. I knew my father was leaving us—this time for good.
But then suddenly through their fighting came a sound like music, the most harmonious melodic chorus of angels singing, coming closer and closer and saturating the room with this beautiful sound. It swept through me. It was so loud and full that I started to feel good despite the fever, like I was made of air. Like I was spirit. I felt love through that sound. And beauty. I knew I belonged to it and where it came from. And I knew, sure as hell, that I did not belong to the fighting.
When I was about nine years old, my then-divorced mother remarried a man I considered a monster. He was emotionally shut down, very cold and distant, and yet when he drank, he came alive. And he drank a lot. A lot of vodka, specifically. He moved in with my mother, my brother, and I, moved into our little white house and I was very scared of him. He was a big guy with red hair on a balding head and bad skin. He was like a broken pipe spouting sewage into our sweet, clean home. Hairy and mad. Mad all the time for one reason or another. He always looked at me funny—well, when he did look at me, which wasn’t often.
My room faced the front of the house. He used to come in there in his fucking white undies, look out the window, and stare toward the streetlamp. The light coming in would silhouette him so he looked like a monster in my eyes. And I would peek out from the fortress of pillows I kept around me, smelling his hissing vodka-breath and listening to his abuse.
“Who’s paying the bills around here, brat? I own you. You’re a brat. You’re spoiled. Are your tits ever gonna develop?” He would say all that as if it were a private thing between us.
He would come close and sit on the edge of my bed, and I’d feel the mattress sink under his weight. One time he grabbed my foot. It was harmless enough, but that one touch scared me so much that The Sugarspear Chronicles blossomed from it. Just his breath and that one touch. It was all inspired by that night, that threat, and the many nights and threats that followed. The terror riveted my imagination and sent it running, running off into the sky.
Off into the sky and off into many dark places I went, living my life recklessly and insecurely for years to come. I made things look okay on the outside, just like my mother taught me. I made myself look attractive, had lots of friends and talents, danced, acted, wrote. But writing was the strongest place where I could truly express truth, even if only in glimmers. Now when I look deeply, I see that I was often behaving erratically and rebelling due to the pain I felt from my father leaving me, and then how, because of that, I landed in the hands of this monster. I was searching for ways to fill that emptiness inside. That hole.
When I was going to school in Paris in my early twenties, I was crazy into my sexuality and one-night stands and all kinds of destructive escapades. When I was back living in the East Village, I got involved in the drug scene. So after trying to destroy myself across two continents, I ended up waiting tables and going to acting school, and that was when I picked up and moved to LA. There I rediscovered the passion I’d had for writing, the same one I had when I was that little girl writing every day in her backyard under the weeping willow tree.
Eventually I realized I needed to focus on writing the books wholeheartedly, without anything else going on. I disappeared to a flat in Devon, England, to write. It was peaceful there and serene every day, a green valley on the estuary of Salcombe, a wee town on the edge of Cornwall. I took walks and listened. My mind brought me visions of mighty angels flying around amidst chickens and sheep and moors. I often sat at the edge of the English Channel, writing.
I stayed up all night in my kitchen with the black, English fields outside my window, and I woke up each morning to cows mooing. It was bliss and still is. I felt I was born to do this job; it’s as easy and comforting as slipping on socks. I could finally search and discover and dig out what was inside: A girl named Sadie Sugarspear.
– Nicole Arlyn
When I was active on isurvive from 2003 through~ 2007, forgiveness was the LAST topic I wanted to think about. The abuse was too terrible and the aftereffects too pervasive for me even to CONSIDER forgiveness. After all, my abusers did not DESERVE to be forgiven. They deserved to suffer just as badly as they had forced me to suffer.
The problem was that without forgiveness, my abusers continued to hold power over me. I would think about them, and I would feel the anger, shame, and pain wash over me again. I grew angry as realized just how frequently I was thinking about my abusers. They already took away my childhood. Why should they take away my adulthood as well?
I made a life decision to stop feeding the bitterness. I had absolutely no interest in forgiveness, but I recognized that I no longer wanted my thoughts to focus on my childhood pain. So, each time my abusers would come to my mind, I would make conscious choice not to think about them (much less relive the abuse) and, instead, focus my thoughts on something else. I learned through an isurvive member that the term for this is shlemut. She said it was a Jewish term meaning that I was not choosing forgiveness or reconciliation, but I was choosing to stop fueling the bitterness so I could heal myself. The Christian term that is most similar is forbearance.
I stayed in a place of forbearance for several years (from ~ 2005 through 2014). I made a conscious choice not to dwell on my abusers or relive the past in my head. As new memories surfaced, I worked through those, but after I processed each one, I chose not to let them suck me back into nursing the bitterness toward my abusers, no matter how tempting it was.
In 2013, my faith grew enormously as I made the life decision to start my day each morning in quiet time with my Maker. I explored what unconditional love means … not the warped, selfish misrepresentations of love that I saw in childhood but real unconditional love. As I grew to realize how fully and completely loved I am by my Maker, my emotional wounds healed, and as I filled with unconditional love, it began to overflow to those in my life around me.
In the Fall of 2014, I felt led to begin praying over my abusers every morning. Let me tell you, this was hard. Even though I had spent many years choosing not to continue fueling the bitterness, I also did not feel “loving” toward them. However, I made the decision to do this … day after day, week after week, and month after month. And then, one day, I realized that I had forgiven my abusers!
How do you know when you have forgiven them? They no longer hold emotional power over you. If they come to mind, there is no twisting of the stomach or tension in your body. You no longer see them as monsters. Instead, you pity them because you recognize how emotionally wounded they must have been to do what they did to an innocent child.
I just had lunch with one of my abusers a couple of days ago … at my invitation. While I don’t feel “loving” toward her or want a relationship with her, dining with her did not hurt. I was no longer the helpless victim fearful of the person in front of me. Instead, I was an empowered woman offering grace to someone who does not deserve it, and I felt good about shining some kindness into the life of someone who had not been kind to me.
Does she deserve this kindness? Absolutely not. Nobody ever deserves forgiveness. Forgiveness is grace that we give out of the overflow out of our own healing. Enough pain has taken place in my life. I now want no interactions with anyone else that are not healing. I have not forgotten the many terrible acts she did to me, but those memories no longer hurt. My choice to eat lunch with her is not about her – it is about me being true to who **I** am and extending grace to someone who does not deserve it because my Maker has extended grace to me that I did not deserve. I am paying forward what has been given to me, and I feel so richly blessed to continue extended grace through sharing my story with you.
If you are not ready to forgive, that’s OK. This process took me over a decade to complete, and it might take you even longer. All I can tell you is that I know what it feels like to live angry, and I know what it feels like to live free. I choose freedom.
By Pete Walker, M.A., MFT (Therapy for and recovery from childhood trauma, abuse and/or neglect)
I believe the foundation of my recovery work is in all the time and energy I have put into reawakening my instincts of self-compassion and self-protection. I have a fierce commitment to being loyal to myself – to being like a kind mother and a protective father to myself no matter what.
As my own recovery deepens, I notice that whenever it needs a boost, I frequently find myself invoking my inner child visually as sitting on my lap, and I tell him much I love him. I often feel myself wishing I could go back into the past in a time machine and rescue him – and bring him back to live with me in the present. I tell him there’s always a place in my heart for him, and that whenever he is suffering or struggling with some difficult aspect of an emotional flashback, I love him even more and feel a huge desire to go back in time and protect him from the outrageous unfairness he experienced.
By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC
Featured on GoodTherapy.org, May 14, 2007
This article is not bang up to date, but the information is sound. It was created using ideas from the members of GoodTherapy.org and goes on to outline 14 points to consider when choosing a counselor/ therapist who is the ‘right fit’ for you.
Rubenstein goes on to provide further detail in the full article, but here are those 14 questions well worth considering;
For the article in full, please select the following link;
When a child growing up is traumatized, often she has to hide the trauma and “act normal.” The wounded part gets split off and the pain or shame becomes a secret, even to the child herself. Sometimes actual memories, as of abuse, are suppressed or lost, while for other people it’s more like the feelings get lost somewhere. A part of the growing person gets stuck in a young place. Later, events that remind us of what happened to the suppressed part can trigger reactions that feel disproportionate to the circumstances—a good clue that young feelings are involved.
Getting in touch with our wounded inner children can be scary when it lets out feelings of fear, anger, pain, and sadness. The feelings seem huge because they’ve been bottled up like genies for all those years. But listening to the child-parts allows us to integrate more parts of ourselves over time.
In addition, we need to re-frame and re-order our worldview. While we were growing up, we had to accept our family’s view, more or less, including all the denial and distortion. Listening to the inner child and re-orienting our reality to include the knowledge of abuse is a huge, life-changing task.
I’ve also found that the joyful and free parts of my child-self got lost in the split. Those parts came back slowly when they saw it could be safe.
Getting in touch with our inner children is not always easy. Sometimes my inner child was afraid to speak up and she kind of hid from me. Also, at first it seemed that she just wanted to cry and cry. That’s natural. The parts of us that were split off at a young age had to go away for good reasons—abuse, fear, neglect, misunderstanding. These young parts were not allowed to express their overwhelming feelings, so they took the feelings away with them.
How do we soothe the inner child? When we invite these lost inner children back into our lives, we have to be ready for them to express a lot of distress. But what do we do then?
First of all, it’s a process and it won’t get done all at once. You need to learn how to parent your own particular inner children. They will teach you what they need as time goes on. You will have to be just as patient as if you had adopted a real child with a troubled background.
Second, you need to take those feelings extremely seriously. “Soothing” the child does not mean saying, “There, there, dear. It’s OK. Stop crying.” You may have heard voices like that in your past, but your job is to be a different kind of parent, one who really listens to the child’s feelings. So the first part of soothing is to hear the feelings. The child might not be able to tell you why she or he feels sad or angry or scared. Your job is to pay attention to the feelings.
If you can, find a safe a quiet place where you can literally sit down and listen. Let the feelings emerge. Accept all of them, even though it is painful. If you can’t bear all of it at once, tell the child that you will listen for ten minutes, or five, or two minutes. Then promise the child to make another time later to listen some more.
As the feelings emerge, focus on loving the child who is entrusting you with these valuable and vulnerable emotions. Tell the child that you are proud of her or him for coming forth. Sometimes you may feel completely overwhelmed and inside the feelings, like you are being the child. That’s OK. If you stay in that place, just notice what’s happening. See if you can detect any shift where you might feel a little more like a grownup holding the child. Ultimately, you need to be an adult, so you can care for the inner child.
Here are some ways to work with soothing the distressed inner child:
Value all those difficult child-feelings and validate them.
Let your body express the love you have for this child by holding a pillow or stuffed animal, rocking, humming, stroking, doing anything you’d do to comfort an actual child.
Trust your instincts on this. Let the child tell you what feels good to her or him.
Don’t let any critical voices tell you that it’s silly to rock and hum a lullaby. It’s not silly–it is valuable practice in loving yourself.
Remember, you will need to do this practice over and over as your inner child gradually learns to trust you.
Over time you will learn to be the caring parent that this child never had. You will share your future with the wonderful, free, and loving spirit that is your original inner child.
By Jane Rowan
Beauty as defined by Merriam Webster dictionary is qualities of being physically attractive and qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or the mind.
A further exploration from the same dictionary defines beauty as the quality or aggregate qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit-loveliness.
It has taken me many years to understand and change my view of beauty. We live in a world that defines beauty outwardly and measures beauty by standards that are untrue and unreasonable to achieve. Our world rewards outward beauty, yet the outward beauty and the rewards therein are false.
Coming from a background of horrific childhood abuse and neglect I believed I was the least of any beauty or rather ugliest of all on earth. These ideas I held were solidified with words, being called ugly and unlovable, solidified with actions of rejection, violence and rape, betrayal and isolation.
The effect of my ugliness was reinforced above all by my rejection and hatred for me causing me to connect with others who would in turn pour out the same contempt that was also found inside them.
I no longer believe I am ugly and I no longer believe that the world is an ugly place full of deception, greed, selfishness and hate. But how did I come to change what I saw as beauty? I wish the answer to that question was simple, that I pressed the “easy” button and it was done; but that is not true and not how understanding beauty transpired in me.
I first saw beauty in a bird at the age of seven; can’t remember what kind of bird only that the bird was small and had a broken wing. When I saw the bird hurting, I was also hurting and I simply wanted to help the bird so I picked it up, brought it home, found a small box and made a safe place for it to heal. I fed the tiny bird bits of bread soaked in milk and even tried to gather worms for it, which it did not eat. I visited the bird and talked to it everyday telling the bird its wing would heal and it would fly again.
Two weeks later it did. Looking, sounding and moving its wings better, I carefully carried the bird and returned it to the place I found it. I opened my hands and the bird flew out of them. It was the first beautiful experience of my life.
This story is a picture of this site, isurvive and in this site I have found the most brilliant of all beauty ever seen or experienced on earth.
isurvive is like the box, a safe place to heal. isurvive is like me; people who are wounded and who understand woundedness and its effects; feeding, sheltering, encouraging and strengthening each other. isurvive is people who know ugliness, hatred, violence, abuse and neglect sharing voices and experiences, wisdom and knowledge, trials and successes, laughter and tears. isurvive is a picture of loveliness and beauty.
The bird and I were two different species in my story, we did not speak the same language, did not look the same , behave the same, we didn’t know the same things or experience the world in exactly the same way, yet underneath all of that we were connected by what we did share; woundedness and love, both universal languages.
Herein is the beauty of isurvive, the aggregate qualities in people joined by woundedness and love sharing and caring for each other. On the outside we the people of isurvive would not know each other if we passed on the street, nor would we share the burdens of our hearts and minds to strangers that we meet.
Yet here in our box, our safe place to heal, we are free.
Free to ask, free to receive. Free to speak our truth, free to show our woundedness and ugliness. In our box we are unbound by judgement of outward appearance or reward. We come from different places, speak different languages, have different beliefs, different cultures, different religions; yet we are bound together by what we share, the universal language of pain, suffering, fear, shame, guilt and isolation.
It took me many years to accept that my actions towards the small bird were beautiful and that in my actions, I was beautiful. My understanding of my beauty started as a small seed, a seed of hope that the bird would fly again and that I could help him do it.
In our box of isurvive we are free to see the inward beauty of others and in so doing we become free to accept the beauty in ourselves, the beauty in the world. Out of our shared experience of voices and stories we see pictures of healing, pictures of caring, and pictures of hope. We are beauty personified, limited only by our own imaginations, sowing seeds of acceptance, understanding, caring, support, wisdom and love.
In unison we lack no good thing and as we share and learn from each other, feed and comfort each other, shelter and support each other; our combined voices, experiences and stories are a resounding song of victory bringing pleasure to the senses, the mind, body and spirit. Our song is a universal song which can be heard throughout the world-loveliness. The beauty of isurvive.
This is a true and personal story of my life from victim to survivor. Not everyone knows my story, therefore I shall be known as “Chiquitta”.
I was born in Canada but my parents came from Guyana, a country in South America. They came to Canada for a better life asacid attacks were occurring in their homeland. My parents have an age difference of 13 years with my father being a lot older than my mother. My mother was a housewife who later worked at a bank. My father was a high school teacher.
I have 2 brothers, 1 sister and am the oldest daughter in the family. This was a curse; my parents were extremely strict with me and rules had to be followed. My brothers and little sister were given the rights and freedom to do whatever they pleased. The teachers would call me “a pleasure to teach”, for I was a quiet student. However, in reality, I was shy and scared to speak up due to an abusive home life. My father was an alcoholic; putting liquor in his morning coffee, drinking a case of beer during the week and a bottle of rum on the weekend. It got to be a routine; with my father binge drinking on Fridays and my mother packing her bags to leave us kids behind, so she could go to my grandmother’s house to seek refuge. She would return to false promises made by my father once again; until the next time, which was every weekend.
Visits from the police were a regular occurrence at my house, as well as talk of divorce. My father would take the boys and my mother would take the girls. When my father drank alcohol, he became a monster like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Hence, I grew up with fear and insecurity. I was mentally, emotionally and physically abused by all family members in my household. My father would take off his leather belt to threaten to beat me, or my mother would take a wooden handed paddle with her in her handbag when we went out of the house… just in case she needed to use it on me. Why me? Why not the other siblings? My mother later told me that she had no choice but to “put up” with my father’s abuse. Where was she to go with no job, no money of her own and four children to look after? In retrospect she had my grandmother, but there was a bad stigma connected with it. People would talk, and what would they say? My father demanded perfection everywhere. Outside looking in, we looked like a perfect family but little did the public world know that living hell reigned. School was the only stability in my life. I had no friends and was petrified to make any, for I never knew what was waiting home for me.
I later ventured outside of my house in search of a peaceful, happy, normal life. Instead I was further abused; sexually molested by my family doctor, my cousin on my father’s side of the family, and my cousin on my mother’s side of the family. The cousin on my mother’s side of the family sexually molested me when I was 11 – 12 years old. When I was 12 years old he raped me. I still remember the sight of blood running down my thighs. I fought so hard, but it wasn’t enough. What was an innocent game of hide and seek was his opportunity to touch and hurt me. After he had his “turn” with me, his friends would have their “turn”. I had nowhere to go for help. I wanted to call the police and put my cousin in jail but, with the abuse going on inside my own house, my father would be the one behind bars, and, however worse my situation was, it would have been even worse for my mother, my siblings, and me. All the abuse took place in the dark. Up until today, the dark still scares me to death.
By the time I became a teenager I developed anorexia and bulimia. First I would starve myself then “pig out” then relieve myself with extreme exercise or laxatives, never throwing up. This vicious cycle started at the same time that I was being sexually molested by my cousin. Later on, in my senior year of high school, I was bullied and physically threatened by a girl who did not like me at first sight because I was not of white skin. She was mixed race and she was being bullied herself by others; thus I believe she took out her anger and hatred on me. It so happened that her mother was an associate of my uncle’s in the real estate business. My uncle intervened, the girl apologized to me and later she was transferred to another school.
During my adult years I started associating with the “wrong crowds” of people. I became promiscuous, starting drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, in order to escape reality and cope with the abuse going on inside my house. It was also during this time in my life that I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. This depression led to several suicide attempts.
I got pregnant, had an abortion and later ran away from home hoping never to return. I had been gone for about a week when I realized that I had an orthodontic appointment. That is when I saw my parents.
They started chasing me. I went home with them only to be made false promises, just like my dad made to my mom every time he drank alcohol and raised hell. Too many times I heard, “I am sorry” and “We will change” but it was just talk. Nothing did change.
Later that week I came home from a party to find my parents waiting up for me. I was choked and almost strangled to death by my father. If not for my brothers rescuing me, like they used to rescue my mother, I would now be dead.
I then moved out of the family house to my own apartment, where I felt free. I started binge drinking and would invite men over to have sex with me and get drunk. On occasion, I would drink so much that I blacked out. The next morning I would realize that something sexual had occurred because of the used condoms around my bed and the ropes tied to the bed posts and to my wrists. I had been gang raped, vaginally and anally. The condoms, excruciating pain, blood and soreness were the proof.
I then moved to a city within Canada where there were jobs aplenty for secretaries. My parents moved to be near my older brother. I had no choice but to leave my past behind. I was not going with my parents; I had endured enough abuse as it was. My sister moved with my parents. My remaining younger brother stayed behind. Not only did I find a job and a place of my own but I found my future spouse. I got married but a couple of years later I unfortunately had a miscarriage. I never wanted to have children when I got married; but never knew why. Three years after the miscarriage I had a daughter and then, two years later, I had a son. My children are the lights of my life that give me the will to live when at times it feels like there is none.
I then cheated on my husband and had several affairs, both in person and on the internet. Enough was enough. My husband and kids were on the verge of leaving me and my abusive behaviors behind for good.
Thanks to therapy over the years, I have managed to almost completely heal from all the abuse that I suffered. The best decision that I made was to move away and start life over again away from my parents. As far as my male cousin is concerned; he married, became abusive to his family and is currently in a wheelchair in a drug/rehab center. Karma says, “What goes around comes around” and for all that has happened to him he truly deserves.
My father has never apologized for his abusive behavior to any of us. He is an old man now. Chances are that he never sought help and never will. I never had the precious gift of virginity to give my spouse for it was taken from me. Thanks to therapy, and the support of other incest survivors, I know that there is hope, joy and life. The only good lesson that I have learned about my past is not to do what was done to me, but to do right by family and friends. Yes I have had my ups and downs but for the most part, it is positive. I thank God for giving me such a normal life now, so much so that I pinch myself from time to time and wonder if it is actually real.
Thanks for reading my story.
Just know that if I can go from being a victim to a survivor, anyone can!