As the first post in the new series of TURNING A CORNER, this post from a dear friend of mine is a remarkably transparent and honest message of the adult repercussions of child abuse/sexual abuse. I found it reflective in the comparison between a prepared soldier going into battle versus a child who is unprepared for the life long struggle of dealing with the lingering effects of abuse. This is a hard corner to turn and Lynn exemplifies the need for the only true weapon to fight the enemy. Please read this message and feel free to comment and/or share your experiences and how you or someone you know who has suffered due to child abuse or abuse of any kind. A special thanks to Lynn Polk who is the brave author.
Our Guest Blogger Lynn Polk (her link is available by clicking on her name below):
WHEN DARKNESS SURROUNDS YOU
2 Corinthians 4: 6 says: “For it is the God who commands light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Jesus.”
I am a Adult Survivor of Child Abuse. I’m writing this series while going through a deep valley where darkness attempts to hold me captive to painful memories I have already overcome through Christ Jesus.
I do believe this series is foundational because Christ is our foundation. Individuals who have experienced ongoing trauma in their developmental years focused on surviving rather than thriving. Therefore, as adults, they may lack general skills. Many times, they will lack self-soothing skills that can help them regulate and deal with difficult emotions. Understand that the abuse occurred within interpersonal relationships; so, there was no opportunity for them to experience help when they were overwhelmed. There was no help available for them. This can set them up later in life for addictions as they try to numb or escape difficult emotions. Their feelings about the abuse can include fear, shame, rage, self-hatred, and confusion. At the most basic level, when children are afraid they know they can turn to mom, dad, or another authority figure for help. But what happens when they are afraid of the caregiver? What if their terror comes from the same place they were supposed to receive comfort? This can leave the child not only struggling to deal with the outward circumstances but also their emotional and psychological system is aroused and they do not know how to calm themselves. As adults, they carry the same mental images and beliefs of themselves, others, and of the LORD that were constructed in the abusive environment. And they may not know how to express their need for help, or they may believe the abuse did not affect them, yet they remain captive to the lies of the enemy. The scriptures are full of examples where individuals were overwhelmed and they turned to the LORD, but if an individual has never experienced a safe place, it will be difficult to believe an invisible God could love them. The whole purpose of Christ coming was revealing the Father’s heart to us that He is a safe place; that although He is all powerful, there is never an abuse of His power. Christ dying on the cross for us was the example of the stronger absorbing what the weaker deserved, providing rather than taking, covering rather than exposing; these are the attributes of the Father. It may take time and repeatedly reviewing the same scriptures to have our minds renewed by His Spirit and Word. But know this: the LORD is passionate about you and “wants not to take from you; rather, He has already given His best for your healing and freedom. He sets the captive free.
Additionally, I would like to address something I have seen in the Body of Christ that can be extremely confusing and hurtful to individuals dealing with the long lasting effects of abuse. It seems the church views emotional and mental suffering differently than physical suffering. Although they may not mean to be hurtful, it is their lack of understanding that is at the root. The human brain is an organ just like the heart. If the arteries in a person’s heart are damaged in some manner, it will take time and maybe a skilled surgeon to help the organ recover. When exposed to repeated trauma the brain under goes biological changes. Much like a computer processing information the brain will set up different folders to store information. And just like a computer, when something that can harm the internal systems enters, the computer takes steps to mitigate the damage or shuts down. So it is in the brain of a child when overwhelmed with situations that are perceived as threatening; the brain begins to use defenses in order to protect the child.
In order to gain understanding, let’s compare a soldier in battle and a child in an abusive home; both are war zones. First, the soldier is taken to basic training where her personality is stripped of “me” thinking so she can work with her fellow soldiers as a team; so that whatever danger they may face, they will work together to help everyone survive. She is trained in the use of weapons and to wear her protective armor. Additionally, she is given exercises to further her experience by practicing her skills so when she faces the enemy, she will know how to respond. She has comrades in arms. She is not in the war alone. She has a commander over the team. Generally, the commander will have more experience and knows how to take the troops in and out of dangerous situations. Also, she will have peers that have been through the same training and so they are able to support each other. Now, assume the soldier makes it through all of her training and she is taken and dropped in a war zone. She is dropped into a very dangerous area, but she is not alone. She has a commander, her peers, her training, and if raised in good enough home, where abuse was not present and she was supported and loved, she is also going into the war zone with a brain that has developed physically and emotionally throughout her life; a brain that has not been flooded with stress. And even with all these things going for her, she may experience such terrible things, whether through watching the death of her comrades from road side bombs, or any other tragedies, that even your most skilled solider will not come home without collateral damage.
Now, let’s look at another soldier but one that has never been trained. One that did not realize she was being dropped into a war zone; rather she was born in one. She is a young child; her brain and body are still developing. The commanders of the soldier in the first example are experienced, they are there to protect and guide the soldier through the challenges. But the commanders of the second soldier, a child, has been left with are self-absorbed and lost in their own war; escaping their pain possibly through drug or alcohol abuse. There is no one really watching over the child, in fact they may be the ones who are abusing the child. When the first soldier was faced with challenges, she could use the tools and weapons she had been provided with to protect herself. She had been taught strategy to keep herself safe when harm was surrounding her. The child has not been given any of those tools; rather, what will happen is the child will rely on defense mechanisms such as denying her reality and repressing memories to keep them from interfering with her everyday life. In this combat zone, the child is not able to focus on learning and exploring her world; often she may be doing her best not to be heard or seen, as this is the only way to remain safe. If the child is being physically or sexually abused, she may disconnect from herself. In the time when a child’s personality and self-concept should be developing, she is focusing on how to survive.
When children are raised in homes with violence and abuse, they often will try to be good, believing this will give them some type of control over their environment. The child’s mental software concerning themselves, others, and relationships is being hard wired.
Some of the lessons they may be learning is that rather than protect, authority takes; rather than nurture and ensure the child’s needs are being met, the authority uses the child to meet their needs. Their understanding of themselves may become skewed with shame, believing they are bad; shame becomes the toxic element in their personality development, followed by fear of intimacy. They believe there is something evil about them, and that if they are ever truly open with anyone, they will be rejected. The child tries to keep people at a distance, further isolating themselves, remaining without healthy human connection for comfort. God created us to be in a relationship, and when children are left without a safe place and without comfort as they grow, they may become involved with drugs or alcohol to numb their reality.
Additionally, they may become self-injurious in an attempt to escape emotions that are overwhelming. All of these issues can be traced back to their inability to self-soothe or regulate emotions which can be directly related to the lack of nurturing that occurred in their chaotic young life. The child’s world is not safe or nurturing, and often they keep secrets they will carry into adulthood. When soldiers come home from war that have been injured physically or psychologically, we often view them with the understanding they have seen things that we have not. They probably have seen horrific violence and experienced losses in the theater of war. I understand when they have nightmares and flashbacks.
I encourage them to seek help even beyond the church doors in order for them to process and work through their experiences.
But this is not the case for abuse survivors. Adult survivors may be viewed as “not forgetting those things which are behind,” a verse often taken out of context; Paul is clearly talking about his own righteous acts in an attempt to gain righteousness before the Lord. But there is little understanding that these combatants were shoved out of the plane into dangerous territory without training, armor, or an experienced commander.
Just as one may bear scars from being deployed, these troopers have scars on the inside and because they are not visible they may be ignored, or chalked up to a “lack of faith,” or not having a deep enough relationship with Jesus. I am not minimizing the trauma that our military members experience. I am attempting to shine light on warriors who have fought in battles long before they were old enough to serve in the armed forces. Desolation and destruction may seem to surround an individual’s life, but I can say from experience that “Jesus is a restorer and healer,” and He has been my portion for almost 60 years, especially when time are
Adult survivors are abuse conquerors; I say that not because it is churchlike, but because of Romans 8: 37 “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” It is about God’s love for us; that alone will strengthen us and restore life to the broken areas of our heart.
Beloved of the Master, know that Jesus is intimately aware of your struggles and that He is drawing near to heal and comfort you. Use the experience of pastors, counselors who not only know Jesus but also have training and experience in working with trauma survivors. Use medication when advised to by a doctor; trauma changes the brain and there is no shame in that.
I offer two nuggets with which to end this introduction. First, Hebrews 11: 27b: “For he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” The scripture is talking about Moses and how he endured the wrath of Pharaoh as he led the Children of Israel of out Egypt. As you learn to walk towards freedom, and away from the lies the enemy has told you about yourself and God, focus on Jesus because the Pharaoh will attempt to tell you that freedom is not for you.
This devotion is written to help you see the One who is invisible; ask Jesus to open your eyes.
Next, Genesis 50: 22: “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall, the archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him. But his bow, remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob.” The scripture records the words concerning Joseph from his father, after Joseph had been a captive. It declares Joseph was a fruitful bough that is by a well, and that his branches went over the wall that was there to hold him back. So it is with abuse conquerors; because of Jesus, we break out of the prison that tries to hold us back and we are fruitful in our life. Even though others abused us, our hands are now strengthened by hands that were pierced for our freedom.
Take some time to share your thoughts and heart with the LORD. What is He saying to you through these promises? What do you want to share with Him?
Understanding child abuse and neglect
Child abuse is more than bruises or broken bones. While physical abuse is shocking due to the scars it leaves, not all child abuse is as obvious. Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, or making a child feel worthless or stupid are also child abuse. Regardless of the type of child abuse, the result is serious emotional harm.
|Myths and facts about child abuse and neglect|
|Myth: It’s only abuse if it’s violent.
Fact: Physical abuse is just one type of child abuse. Neglect and emotional abuse can be just as damaging, and since they are more subtle, others are less likely to intervene.
|Myth: Only bad people abuse their children.
Fact: While it’s easy to say that only “bad people” abuse their children, it’s not always so black and white. Not all abusers are intentionally harming their children. Many have been victims of abuse themselves, and don’t know any other way to parent. Others may be struggling with mental health issues or a substance abuse problem.
|Myth: Child abuse doesn’t happen in “good” families.
Fact: Child abuse doesn’t only happen in poor families or bad neighborhoods. It crosses all racial, economic, and cultural lines. Sometimes, families who seem to have it all from the outside are hiding a different story behind closed doors.
|Myth: Most child abusers are strangers.
Fact: While abuse by strangers does happen, most abusers are family members or others close to the family.
|Myth: Abused children always grow up to be abusers.
Fact: It is true that abused children are more likely to repeat the cycle as adults, unconsciously repeating what they experienced as children. On the other hand, many adult survivors of child abuse have a strong motivation to protect their children against what they went through and become excellent parents.
Child Abuse Hotlines:
- US or Canada: 1-800-422-4453 (Childhelp)
- UK: 0800 1111 (NSPCC Childline)
- Australia: 1800 688 009 (CAPS)
- New Zealand: 0800-543-754 (Kidsline)
- Other international helplines: Child Helpline International
Effects of child abuse and neglect
All types of child abuse and neglect leave lasting scars. Some of these scars might be physical, but emotional scarring has long lasting effects throughout life, damaging a child’s sense of self, ability to have healthy relationships, and ability to function at home, at work and at school. Some effects include:
Lack of trust and relationship difficulties. If you can’t trust your parents, who can you trust? Abuse by a primary caregiver damages the most fundamental relationship as a child—that you will safely, reliably get your physical and emotional needs met by the person who is responsible for your care. Without this base, it is very difficult to learn to trust people or know who is trustworthy. This can lead to difficulty maintaining relationships due to fear of being controlled or abused. It can also lead to unhealthy relationships because the adult doesn’t know what a good relationship is.
Core feelings of being “worthless” or “damaged.” If you’ve been told over and over again as a child that you are stupid or no good, it is very difficult to overcome these core feelings. You may experience them as reality. Adults may not strive for more education, or settle for a job that may not pay enough, because they don’t believe they can do it or are worth more. Sexual abuse survivors, with the stigma and shame surrounding the abuse, often especially struggle with a feeling of being damaged.
Trouble regulating emotions. Abused children cannot express emotions safely. As a result, the emotions get stuffed down, coming out in unexpected ways. Adult survivors of child abuse can struggle with unexplained anxiety, depression, or anger. They may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb out the painful feelings.
Recognizing the different types of child abuse
Abusive behavior comes in many forms, but the common denominator is the emotional effect on the child. Children need predictability, structure, clear boundaries, and the knowledge that their parents are looking out for their safety. Abused children cannot predict how their parents will act. Their world is an unpredictable, frightening place with no rules. Whether the abuse is a slap, a harsh comment, stony silence, or not knowing if there will be dinner on the table tonight, the end result is a child that feel unsafe, uncared for, and alone.
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me? Contrary to this old saying, emotional abuse can severely damage a child’s mental health or social development. Examples of emotional child abuse include:
- Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating a child
- Calling names and making negative comparisons to others
- Telling a child he or she is “no good,” “worthless,” “bad,” or “a mistake”
- Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying
- Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving him or her the silent treatment
- Limited physical contact with the child—no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection
- Exposing the child to violence or the abuse of others, whether it be the abuse of a parent, a sibling, or even a pet
Child neglect—a very common type of child abuse—is a pattern of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs, whether it be adequate food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision. Child neglect is not always easy to spot. Sometimes, a parent might become physically or mentally unable to care for a child, such as with a serious injury, untreated depression, or anxiety. Other times, alcohol or drug abuse may seriously impair judgment and the ability to keep a child safe.
Older children might not show outward signs of neglect, becoming used to presenting a competent face to the outside world, and even taking on the role of the parent. But at the end of the day, neglected children are not getting their physical and emotional needs met.
Physical abuse involves physical harm or injury to the child. It may be the result of a deliberate attempt to hurt the child, but not always. It can also result from severe discipline, such as using a belt on a child, or physical punishment that is inappropriate to the child’s age or physical condition.
Many physically abusive parents and caregivers insist that their actions are simply forms of discipline—ways to make children learn to behave. But there is a big difference between using physical punishment to discipline and physical abuse. The point of disciplining children is to teach them right from wrong, not to make them live in fear.
The difference between discipline and physical abuse
In physical abuse, unlike physical forms of discipline, the following elements are present:
Unpredictability. The child never knows what is going to set the parent off. There are no clear boundaries or rules. The child is constantly walking on eggshells, never sure what behavior will trigger a physical assault.
Lashing out in anger. Physically abusive parents act out of anger and the desire to assert control, not the motivation to lovingly teach the child. The angrier the parent, the more intense the abuse.
Using fear to control behavior. Parents who are physically abusive may believe that their children need to fear them in order to behave, so they use physical abuse to “keep their child in line.” However, what children are really learning is how to avoid being hit, not how to behave or grow as individuals.
Sexual abuse: A hidden type of child abuse
Child sexual abuse is an especially complicated form of abuse because of its layers of guilt and shame. It’s important to recognize that sexual abuse doesn’t always involve body contact. Exposing a child to sexual situations or material is sexually abusive, whether or not touching is involved.
While news stories of sexual predators are scary, what is even more frightening is that sexual abuse usually occurs at the hands of someone the child knows and should be able to trust—most often close relatives. And contrary to what many believe, it’s not just girls who are at risk. Boys and girls both suffer from sexual abuse. In fact, sexual abuse of boys may be underreported due to shame and stigma.
The problem of shame and guilt in child sexual abuse
Aside from the physical damage that sexual abuse can cause, the emotional component is powerful and far-reaching. Sexually abused children are tormented by shame and guilt. They may feel that they are responsible for the abuse or somehow brought it upon themselves. This can lead to self-loathing and sexual problems as they grow older—often either excessive promiscuity or an inability to have intimate relations.
The shame of sexual abuse makes it very difficult for children to come forward. They may worry that others won’t believe them, will be angry with them, or that it will split their family apart. Because of these difficulties, false accusations of sexual abuse are not common, so if a child confides in you, take him or her seriously. Don’t turn a blind eye!
Help for child sexual abuse:
1-888-PREVENT (1-888-773-8368) – Stop It Now
1-800-656-HOPE – Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
Or visit ChiWorld.org for a list of other international child helplines.
Warning signs of child abuse and neglect
Child abuse is not always obvious. But by learning some of the common warning signs of abuse and neglect, you can catch the problem as early as possible and get both the child and the abuser the help that they need.
Of course, just because you spot a red flag doesn’t automatically mean a child is being abused. It’s important to dig deeper, looking for a pattern of abusive behavior and warning signs, if you notice something off.
Warning signs of emotional abuse in children
- Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong
- Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive)
- Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver
- Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums)
Warning signs of physical abuse in children
- Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts
- Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen
- Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt
- Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home
- Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days
Warning signs of neglect in children
- Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather.
- Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).
- Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
- Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.
- Is frequently late or missing from school.
Warning signs of sexual abuse in children
- Trouble walking or sitting
- Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior
- Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason
- Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities
- An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14
- Runs away from home
Child abuse and reactive attachment disorder
Severe abuse early in life can lead to reactive attachment disorder. Children with this disorder are so disrupted that they have extreme difficulty establishing normal relationships and attaining normal developmental milestones. They need special treatment and support. See: Attachment Issues and Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Risk factors for child abuse and neglect
While child abuse and neglect occurs in all types of families—even in those that look happy from the outside—children are at a much greater risk in certain situations.
Domestic violence. Witnessing domestic violence is terrifying to children and emotionally abusive. Even if the mother does her best to protect her children and keeps them from being physically abused, the situation is still extremely damaging. If you or a loved one is in an abusive relationship, getting out is the best thing for protecting the children.
Alcohol and drug abuse. Living with an alcoholic or addict is very difficult for children and can easily lead to abuse and neglect. Parents who are drunk or high are unable to care for their children, make good parenting decisions, and control often-dangerous impulses. Substance abuse also commonly leads to physical abuse.
Untreated mental illness. Parents who are suffering from depression, an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness have trouble taking care of themselves, much less their children. A mentally ill or traumatized parent may be distant and withdrawn from his or her children, or quick to anger without understanding why. Treatment for the caregiver means better care for the children.
Lack of parenting skills. Some caregivers never learned the skills necessary for good parenting. Teen parents, for example, might have unrealistic expectations about how much care babies and small children need. Or parents who were themselves victims of child abuse may only know how to raise their children the way they were raised. In such cases, parenting classes, therapy, and caregiver support groups are great resources for learning better parenting skills.
Stress and lack of support. Parenting can be a very time-intensive, difficult job, especially if you’re raising children without support from family, friends, or the community or you’re dealing with relationship problems or financial difficulties. Caring for a child with a disability, special needs, or difficult behaviors is also a challenge. It’s important to get the support you need, so you are emotionally and physically able to support your child.
The above articles are found: Child Abuse and Neglect
Blog note from Arline Miller, Sipping Cups of Inspiration blogger and author: All of us may seem normal and secure but if we are willing to share our thoughts and feelings with others, we can overcome many hidden fears and weaknesses. A child is innocent and is not given to us by Our God to abuse in any fashion. If you are a parent and/or caregiver, and you feel like you have to abuse a child in any way, seek help immediately. The child you save may be your own.
(c) Copyright 2012-2017 Arline Miller with all rights and privileges. All third party material sourced to original location for reference credit. Photos may not be property of blog unless specified.