Over the years, in my work as a Toronto therapist, I have helped many adults who experienced abuse as children. We generally begin therapy by looking at the type of abuse the person suffered as a child. The kinds of abuse include physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
The following lists are not neat or comprehensive. Abuse definitions can vary and certain forms of abuse can overlap.
What is Childhood Physical Abuse?
· Severe physical punishment
· Beating, slapping, hitting or kicking
· Pushing, shaking, throwing
· Pinching, biting, choking or hair-pulling
· Terrorizing with threats
· Observing violence
What is Childhood Sexual Abuse?
· Sexual Acts with A Child – Intercourse, sexual fondling, rape, oral sex, sodomy
· Child Pornography – Making a child engage in this practice
· Child Prostitution
· Violations of Bodily Privacy – Spying on the child in the bedroom or bathroom, forcing a child to undress inappropriately
· Exposing a Child to Adult Sexuality – Forced observation of sexual acts, pornography, dirty jokes
What is Childhood Emotional Abuse?
· Ignoring – Withdrawal of attention, rejection, neglect
· Yelling or screaming
· Belittling – Telling a child that he or she is “worthless”, “no good”, “bad” or a “mistake”
· Shaming – Humiliating or name-calling
· Habitual Blaming
· Using extreme forms of punishment – Confining to a closet, tying to a chair, etc.
Effects of Abuse
Childhood abuse can have severe effects on the present day life of adults. Some of these are:
1. Constant fear and anxiety. The world feels like a dangerous place
2. A lack of self-esteem
5. Difficulty with relationships, especially close ones
6. Problems with normal day-to-day functioning
7. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
8. Employment Problems
9. Physical impairments, insomnia, eating disorders, gastrointestinal disorders
10. Strong feelings of anger and shame – people feel the abuse was their fault
Evaluation of Childhood Abuse
The evaluation of childhood abuse is based on certain factors. Some of these are:
· The Recognition of Abuse – Many people do not regard what happened to them as abuse. For them it was normal. For example a woman said to me that her father threw her down the stairs ‘ from time-to-time’. However, she did not consider this as abuse as, ‘he was mostly okay’ and ‘these kind of things happen in families’.
· The Age when the Abuse Began -Generally, the younger the age the greater the effect of the abuse
· Relationship of the Abuser – The closer the relationship (mother, father), the greater the effect of the abuse
· The Severity of the Abuse – Whether there were different types of abuse and if physical force was used
· The Number of Times the Abuse Occurred – The more often a person was abused can also relate to the severity of his or her symptoms
· Support or Lack of Support – People who were given support at the time of the abuse suffer fewer effects. Those who received little or no support show greater effects
My Therapy Model
I have certain practices that have come from my years of experience, training and study of the research into childhood abuse.
Looking at the Unique Person – No two people are alike, and I gear my treatment model to the particular needs and resources of the individual.
Going Slowly – I usually go quite slowly with people who suffered abuse. Trust is necessary and going too quickly can make people feel revictimized.
Using the Person’s Strengths – During therapy I work together with a person see their strengths and develop them. It is these strengths that enable a person to recover from abuse
Telling the Story/Breaking the Silence – Again, I go slowly and encourage the person gradually to tell their story. Another part of this involves helping a person deal with the feelings that come up when they tell their story.
Linking the Present to the Past – I help a person understand how her or his past has affected their present life.
Developing New Coping Skills – Victims of abuse often find coping with life difficult. I help them develop new coping skills.
Teaching Calming Methods – Abuse victims suffer great anxiety. It is important to help them learn relaxation and calming methods. I teach them mindfulness and other self-awareness methods that promote calming.
You Can Recover From Childhood Abuse
In my therapy practice I have seen that people are capable of overcoming the effects of abuse and leading happy and productive lives. I believe that this recovery is possible because:
1. Due to the past 20 years of research and therapy on childhood abuse, there is extensive information that can support a person in his or her recovery.
2. Society is more accepting of abuse and victims do not have to hide or be alone.
3. People in recovery can realize that they are adults – even though the abuse can make them feel like children. As adults they have the resources, strength and intelligence to overcome this child based wound within them.
My experience and research have shown me that there are many people who have suffered childhood abuse. For a variety of reasons such as shame, depression, despair or resignation, very few people seek help for this abuse. If you are one of these people, please consider that a better way of life is possible. Childhood Abuse doesn’t have to last for a lifetime.