Brian Johnson said, "Depressed people have good memories for bad stuff."
Do you still carry around painful memories from long ago? Unhappy childhoods happen to many people. Touching on such issues as trust, denial, self-acceptance, forgiveness, and faith, they account for a lot of the difficulties people experience as adults. Patrick Roche's poem, "21" (for which he won an award two years ago, at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational) is a haunting reminder of the awfulness of a dysfunctional childhood. Here is a recording of him reciting his poem at this event:
Listen to the podcast to hear it.
There are many forms of childhood adversity, ranging from physical abuse to emotional neglect. Here is a list of the top 10:
- Sexual abuse;
- Emotional abuse;
- Emotional neglect;
- Physical abuse;
- Physical neglect;
- Substance abuse in the home;
- Mental illness in the home;
- Incarceration of a family member;
- Parental separation or divorce;
- Witnessing violence against one's mother.
Research shows that individuals with 4 or more of those 10 adverse childhood experiences are:
- Twice as likely to smoke cigarettes;
- Four times more likely to engage in drug abuse;
- Seven times more likely to suffer from chronic alcoholism;
- Eleven times more likely to abuse drugs via injection;
- Nineteen times more likely to attempt suicide.
Sufferers often feel compelled to hide childhood adversities because of elapsed time, shame, secrecy and social taboos against deliberating these topics. One fifth of the children (aged 11-17), who were physically hurt by a parent or guardian, did not tell anyone else about it. More than a third of the children who experienced sexual abuse by an adult kept it a secret, and that figure rose to four out of five when the sexual abuse was from a peer. Roughly every tenth adult has experienced four or more of these adverse childhood experiences. This information comes from psychcentral.com.
In every childhood, there are at least some good times and we all have a responsibility to ensure the protection of children both inside and outside the home. Research concludes that if we are to prevent negative and health-harming adult behaviour, children must first have had stable and secure childhoods. Creating safe, positive environments for children is essential. No child, no matter how wild, rambunctious or naughty, deserves abuse. Adults never forget unexamined, buried, and suppressed past events. They become one's present and one's future. The past does not go away. We don't inherit our personalities form our parents but develop character traits through the experiences we pass through in life. Adults with all their behaviour and personality traits are just extensions to the childhood experiences that shape the child.
Here's how 2knowmyself.com describes the damages that could occur to spirit, mind and body through dysfunctional childhoods:
Neglect is the most common type of dysfunctional childhood. These are children who were neglected, ignored, or abandoned by their parents or caretakers. Kids who were neglected in childhood grow up with a lack of food at home, dirty clothes, poor hygiene, unpaid bills that result in water and electricity cuts, dirty homes, inadequate health care treatment, absent parents or parents who offer them little guidance or rules. These kids fend for themselves, often by stealing. Many end up on the streets or in jail. South Africa has a huge problem in this regard.
Then there are the effects of physical abuse. These are children who were physically beaten and often blamed for their parent's inability to control their frustration and anger. Parents reinforce the idea that the child is bad, stupid or lazy. These kids are often the victims of corporal punishment in the home.
We can't ignore sexual abuse. In Soul Searching Episode 22, titled, "The Emotional Damage of Child Sexual Exploitation" we discussed this form of child abuse in detail. Any type of sexual contact directly or indirectly by an adult with a child is abusive. Most often it is someone known to the child who is the sexual predator, not a complete stranger. Many children never tell others about their sexual abuse and end up carrying it with them into adulthood. Sexual abuse does not only happen to girls. The number of sexual abuse cases with boys is growing as more speak up. Sexual abuse manifests and impacts adult life in so many different ways. Adults and adolescents who were sexually abused as children find it difficult forming intimate relationships. They often try to cope by engaging in promiscuous behaviour, sexual addictions or by avoiding sexual contact altogether or it flips the other way, resulting in messy neglect of one's appearance and attire, and often in serious obesity.
What about emotional abuse? These children bear the brunt of parental emotional outbursts, yelling, cursing, playing psychological games, humiliation, anger outbursts, and other types of manipulative behaviour. Adults rarely speak up about the emotional abuse they experienced as children because this form of abuse isn't always recognised for what it is, another serious form of child abuse. As adults, these people often shrug the abuse aside by saying, "At least I wasn't beaten up."
Dysfunctional childhood can also occur in homes where parents are alcohol and/or substance abusers: Children who grew up with one or both of their parents abusing alcohol or substances can sometimes have intense feelings of guilt, shame, desires for perfectionism, and the need to rescue and protect others. Many children who grow up in such environments often become the parent to their very own parents. These kids take on enormous adult responsibilities by looking after siblings, doing housework, often abandoning their childhood altogether. People like this often lack spontaneity and fun and can become overly responsible adults.
Children who witness domestic violence between parents are badly affected by these experiences. These children live in fear that one of their parents could be killed. They feel powerless and often have warped ideas about the meaning of love.
Dr. Shpancer writes for psychologytoday.com, saying that Clinical psychologists are of course, no strangers to the trauma-trouble link. Many patients report chaotic, troubled childhoods and traumatic life experiences. Linking early trauma and subsequent patterns of maladaptive behaviour, emotional dysregulation, and distorted perception is part of how therapists help their patients establish a coherent narrative within which they can frame their difficulties. However, in light of the emerging understanding of its complex nature, therapists must address the trauma-trouble link thoughtfully in the context of therapy, lest they mislead their patients and themselves. Shpancer goes on to make a really good point that there isn't always a simple, direct connection between a person's childhood experiences and his/her current patterns of behaviour. The temptation for therapists is to seek simplistic links between their patients' past and present. Those who suffer similar early circumstances rarely share a similar symptom profile or outcome as adults. The brain/body link is a very complex one and every childhood abuse experience doesn't always result in illness, bad habits and mental disorders. The line that links a person's past and present is convoluted, sometimes moved along by the person's innate resilient in spite of the trauma, particularly if these people have positive social relationships, if they learn to problem-solve, and if they develop competencies valued by self and society. In other words, humans are wired for survival, recovery, and adaptation. While adults seek answers to their dysfunctional patterns of behaviour, they may find that addressing the sources of their unwanted patterns of behaviour under the guiding hand of a therapist is helpful, it is important for them to locate, acknowledge, nurture, celebrate, and capitalise on their reservoirs of strength too. The person's ability to cope, no matter how meagre, should be fully utilised when dealing with his/her deficits. Damaged people are never entirely damaged, just as healthy people are never entirely healthy.
If you were abused as a child and still carry around painful memories from your past, what can you do now to find relief from your pain?
Rita Mae Brown jokingly said, "One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory." But it's naïve to believe that one's childhood experiences of abuse can be dealt with by sweeping them under the carpet. There are of course a lot of strategies that you can employ to help you to reframe the past so that you might have a brighter future. I advise you to seek the help of a skilled, compassionate and understanding therapist who can guide you through this process.
The first important point to remember is that you cannot erase your past. It is indelibly written into your personal history. But it is equally important to know how your mind works whenever you relive those past experiences. It may be hard to grasp at first but your past and future do not physically exist. The only record of these events lies in your mind's memory banks. Every time you connect with a past happening, your mind references the event and recreates the whole experience afresh in the present moment. As the past memory is relived in the present moment, it provokes emotional and physical responses, as if it were happing to you right now. In the face of danger, whether it is real or remembered, when your survival is threatened, your heart beats faster, muscles contract, breathing becomes rapid in preparation for fight, flight or freeze. To dissipate these feelings, you might then alienate yourself from others, behave inappropriately or find compelling reason you escape, using alcohol, drugs, food, sex and a heap of other things.
The important things to remember are: (1) the past does not actually exist somewhere in reality; (2) your mind and body will respond to threat whether real or remembered; and (3), the most important of all you get to choose what you focus your mind on, good or bad, happy or sad, the wanted or the unwanted. That makes all the difference!
"But it can't be that a simple! There has to be more…" I hear you ask. Actually, no! This is the complete solution: change the way you think about something and you'll configure your whole being around that new idea. This is a universal principle. Although the principle is simple, the methods used to hurry this process may be vast and varied and I'll share some of them with you now.
Let's go back a step or two: your mind fetches one of its past experiences and fully reconstitutes it in the present moment. But where in your brain does this occur? It happens in your subconscious imaginary space. Here, in this part of your brain, you are incapable of differentiating between realtime, live experiences and imagined ones. Irrespective of whether these mental images are real or imagined, your body and emotions will react them as if they were happening to you right now. Each time you have incapacitating thoughts and feelings, from having remembered something of your past, you wrap these old memories in fresh, new emotional layers. This reinforces them and gives them more power over you. Since all this happens in your subconscious imaginary space, in my experience, the best way to change the way you think is to do so directly in the imagined, subconscious space itself. If you listened to Episode 29 of this show, "The Eight Hypnosis Rules of the Mind, a Key to Self-Understanding" you'll remember that Rule number 3 of the 8 Rules of the Mind states, "Imagination is more powerful than knowledge." No amount of logical reasoning can fix these problems; they must be fixed where they began, in the subconscious mind itself.
Gary Craig's Emotional Freedom Techniques [EFT] might alleviate some of the emotions and feelings you have regarding your childhood abuse. Let me walk you through the process: (1) The first thing to do is identify the issue — let's say for example that it is a sexual abuse issue. (2) Next, calibrate on a scale of 1-10, the intensity of the feelings you experience when you recall this experience (one is very mild and 10 is very intense). (3) While tapping two or more fingers firmly against the fleshy outer edge of the other palm, say this affirmation out loud, "Even though I was sexually abused as a child, I deeply and completely accept myself today." (4) Then carry out a tapping sequence on each of the following locations, saying the affirmation out loud as you tap on each point in the sequence. (a) Curl the fingers of your hand slightly to form a small circle with your fingertips and then tap firmly all over the crown of your head, saying your affirmation out loud, "Even though I was sexually abused as a child, I deeply and completely accept myself today." (b) Taking the tips of two fingers tap firmly on the inner starting-point of either one of your eyebrows (it doesn't matter which one you choose), and repeat the affirmation. (c) Next, tap firmly with two or more fingers on any one of your cheek bones, as close to the outer edge of your eye as you can get, again repeating your affirmation. (d) The next tapping point is located on one of your cheek bones that lies about an inch below the pupil, again repeating your affirmation out loud. (e) Continue by tapping on your upper lip, directly beneath your nose, repeating your affirmation. (f) Then tap firmly on the midpoint between your bottom lip and the lower edge of your chin, reminding yourself out loud once more. (g) Now curl the fingers tightly and tap firmly, not with your knuckles but with the inside flat of your four fingers on a point at the top of your ribs in the middle of your chest. This is the point between the lower ends of your collarbones. As you do this, say your reminder phrase, "Even though I was sexually abused as a child, I deeply and completely accept myself today." (h) The final tapping point is found directly under either one of your armpits, on the uppermost rib. Tap it firmly with your fingertips and say your affirmation. (5) Now loop right back to very beginning of this exercise and assess the intensity of your feelings once more. It is common to notice that these feelings feel far less intense having already tapped the seven points once before. The intensity might not yet be as low as zero. So, repeat tapping each of the points again in sequence, saying your reminder phrase as you tap on each point. Do this again and again until you either reach an intensity level of zero or you plateau out at some number on the scale.
Another, more spiritual way of reframing your childhood abuse is by asking, "What did these experiences teach me that I could not have learned any other way?" Then spend time jotting down these insights. This becomes a list of your innate resilience, your ability to problem-solve and ways that you developed competencies, in spite of the trauma, that are valued by yourself and others in society. In some sense, you can take away your abuser's power by casting him/her in a new role in your life: as your guru or as one of your finest teachers. The curriculum sucks but the wisdom and skills you get from it are invaluable.
Lastly for now, there is a very useful technique borrowed from Neuro-Linguistic Programming [NLP], known as the Cinema Technique. It goes like this: Imagine that you are sitting in the audience watching a movie. It's a full account of what you went through in your childhood. Nothing is censored and it's explicit, raw content is there for all the other patrons to see. Notice your feelings as you sit there watching this movie and witnessing what's happening to this innocent child. Connect with the trauma and hurt of it all. Become the child. Now rewind the movie and play it all again, this time imagining yourself as the projectionist in the projection booth. You are now peering down, looking at the other-you sitting down there in the audience. Notice how you feel about this other-you watching the film. Now rewind the movie again and imagine what it is like to watch it as another member of the audience. Notice what new feelings and insights arise. Lastly, rewind the movie and imagine that you are an experienced movie critic whose job it is to write an article about this film. You choose to take the journalistic angle of hope and describe to your readers the wisdom, strength and courage that flows from these scenes. This method works best when you are hypnotised.
I think it's soon time to teach you how to hypnotise yourself.