How to Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse
Over the past several weeks, I have interviewed several guests on the Passion Struck podcast who have experienced the consequences of abuse and neglect. These include Kara Robinson Chamberlain, who was kidnapped by a serial killer and sexually assaulted, and Carrington Smith, who was emotionally abused and neglected for years by her parents and sexually assaulted while in college. I also recently interviewed Rabbi Avrohom “Avremi” Zippel, who was sexually abused for ten years during his childhood. Along with them, I also am healing from sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.
Many people go through life today with deep, unhealed wounds they’ve suffered from previous traumatic experiences caused by the consequences of abuse. If you look up the topic of abuse on the internet, you will find that it is a widespread issue that has touched and still touches many people, both children, and adults.
“I think the biggest takeaway is that we all go through difficult things. And we get to decide after something challenging happens, what we take from that situation, and how we can move forward. I do not choose to let that person continue to control me by defining me by what decisions he made.“ — Kara Robinson Chamberlain
The consequences of abuse are experienced by everyday people and celebrities alike. Billionaire talk show host Oprah Winfrey suffered physical and sexual abuse from a cousin and a family friend growing up. Singer Christina Aguilera was physically and emotionally abused by her father during childhood. Iconic actress Charlize Theron suffered from the consequences of abusive from a father who frequently threatened to kill the whole family. Film producer Tyler Perry, in his youth, suffered from physical abuse from his father and sexual abuse from several adults. Rock legend Ozzy Osborne was sexually molested frequently by two male mates while he was in high school and so many more cases.
The many people we know who have experienced abuse only account for those who have publicly talked about it. Imagine how many more whose stories we have not heard. This shows how widespread this issue is and why I decided to write this article to bring awareness to this critical topic.
There are severe adverse effects for those who are yet to heal from the trauma of abuse, and it is only after they have healed that they can live a wholesome life. This article is about this need to heal and the necessary steps to take to heal.
Let us now look at what abuse encompasses and how it happens.
Forms of abuse
In the context of this article, abuse entails any action done to harm a person physically, psychologically, or both — as happens in most cases. It comes in different forms, which will now be briefly explained.
- Verbal and emotional abuse
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a common phrase that expresses indifference to an insult or abuse. But the honest truth is that words can and often do hurt. Hurtful words spoken to a person, especially at a young age, inevitably negatively impact them, causing them to lack confidence in themselves or even hate themselves. That is why I think author Cassandra Giovanni’s tweak of this statement provides a more realistic perspective, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words they’ll destroy me.”
In fact, a 2001 research study found that verbal or emotional abuse can increase the risk of the victim developing a personality disorder. Research also shows it can negatively alter the development of the brain and have harmful physical effects on the child, which grows with them into adulthood.
- Physical abuse
This involves any harmful activities that cause a person to feel pain. It includes kicking, slapping, hitting, biting, and any other physical action that may injure the victim, who may develop cuts, bruises, broken bones, and so on.
But physical abuse also can lead to long-term chronic health issues. These health issues not only affect the victims mentally, causing anxiety and depression, but can also lead to heart and digestive problems, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
- Sexual abuse
This is another form of physical abuse wherein the victim is sexually violated against their will, with the perpetrators using force or taking advantage of the victims. Studies have shown that in most cases, victims and perpetrators know each other. Asides from the health risks it poses to the victims, it also has a negative psychological effect on them that could last a lifetime if not adequately dealt with, including anxiety, fear, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sexual abuse has been linked to the development of psychotic symptoms in abused children. It can have a far-reaching influence on the victims’ behaviors.
Neglect is another form of abuse that is not often talked about. It is the ongoing negligence of providing a child’s basic needs and the most common form of child abuse. A neglected child is often left famished or soiled without proper clothing, shelter, supervision, or health care. It can lead to brain development problems and leave many victims emotionally, socially, or psychologically impaired.
How abuse happens
Simply put, abuse happens when a person decides to take advantage of a weaker person and treat them in harmful ways. Let us take the case of sexual abuse of a child, for example. According to Joelle Casteix, who was sexually abused for two years at the age of 15 by her high school choir director, the victim is carefully groomed before the abuse starts. The child sex predator weeds out the strong kids with high self-esteem because they don’t want to deal with that and target the weaker ones. The abuser always looks for an easy victim.
Then, they use manipulation, time, gifts, flattery, and attention to fill the holes in a child’s weak and suffering self-esteem. When the abuse is in full force, they manipulate their victims into thinking what’s happening is not rape but love and do it to isolate them from friends and family and make themselves the center of their world. And this is how they create a compliant victim who is too scared to say No, fight back, leave and become too afraid to report. By the time the abuse is over, the victims are wounded, broken, scarred, and alone.
Whichever way abuse happens, it is essential to realize it is never the victims’ fault. And that is why victim blaming is so dangerous because it marginalizes the victim and makes it harder for them to come forward and report the abuse. The bottom line: abuse is a deliberate choice made by the perpetrator.
How common is abuse?
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a person is abused in the United States every 9 seconds. Statistically, it is estimated that 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will be molested in their lifetime. Child protective services (CPS) received 676,000 reports of individuals experiencing the consequences of abuse or neglect in the United States in 2016. Child abuse resulted in 1,849 child fatalities in the U.S. in 2019.
According to the National Statistics Domestic Violence Fact Sheet, in the United States, almost 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. If you consider that over a year, this equates to more than 10 million men and women. Additionally, one in four women and one in nine men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, sexual violence, and/or stalking.
According to the world health organization, one in five women and one in 13 men report having been sexually abused as a child aged 0–17.
What are the possible influences on the abuser?
Any form of abuse is obviously an abnormal and unacceptable behavior, leaving us to wonder why it happens in the first place and why it is so common. Sometimes the abuse is caused partly by issues that parents or caregivers are dealing with, which must also be addressed. These could be financial stress, unemployment, mental health challenges, or substance misuse. They, too, could have been abused as youngsters.
An abused child is likelier to harm others as an adult, resulting in violence being passed down from generation to generation. It is thus vital to break the cycle of violence to avoid developing harmful multigenerational effects.
This is not in any way to make excuses for the abuser, but to properly understand where such behavior originates and to be in a better place to tackle it.
The consequences of abuse on victims
As earlier mentioned, abuse often results in both physical and psychological wounds in a person. The following are common consequences of abuse for victims:
- They have low self-esteem
- They frequently feel fear
- They have increased anxiety disorder
- They experience social withdrawal
- They may hurt people who love them
- They often experience issues in intimate relationships
- They are inclined toward alcoholism and substance use as a means of coping
- They can experience chronic health conditions
- They may develop eating disorders
- They often experience insomnia
- They may have an erratic or fluctuating mood
- They are prone to panic attacks
And so many more negative effects.
What are the dos and don’ts for handling an abusive situation?
Dealing with the consequences of abuse can often be a traumatic experience. Any type of abuse is a severe infraction and must be dealt with correctly. Here are some dos and don’ts for handling an abusive situation.
- if you are in immediate danger, call 911
- know when to seek help: find a therapist, and if not, reach out to a hotline or local shelter
- acknowledge the abuse
- allow others to support you
- attempt to keep exchanges with the abuser to only public areas
- reflect on why you want to stay affiliated with this person
- engage in self-care
- set healthy boundaries
- prioritize your emotional, spiritual, and physical needs
- blame yourself for your abuser’s actions
- feel shame
- encourage or belittle the abuser
- escalate the situation
- try to pacify or reason with the perpetrator
- engage the abuser when you’re alone
- burry your emotions
- try to heal overnight
- allow others to make you feel as though you’re imagining things
How to tackle and heal from the consequences of abuse
Now to the main point of this article, here are five helpful tips on how to heal from abuse:
Choose not to stay a victim
The power of choice can never be overemphasized. Abuse is not something the victim chooses, but their circumstances after the abuse are their choice. This is not easy, and it is understandable why some don’t get to heal fully, but it is worth every ounce of your effort to try.
Kara Robinson Chamberlain discussed this in our interview, where she said:
“I think the biggest takeaway is that we all go through difficult things. And we get to decide after something challenging happens, what we take from that situation, and how we can move forward. I do not choose to let that person continue to control me by defining me by what decisions he made. So I choose to be refined by what happened. I choose to take only the things that make me stronger from that situation. And that is something that’s within everyone’s power when you go through difficult things, to choose the parts that make you stronger.”
Know that you can’t change the past but have to make peace with it so you will be able to heal. So make that intentional and conscious decision to move on from your past trauma so you can step into the blissful future ahead.
Don’t shut out your emotions.
There is a tendency for a person who is experiencing or has experienced some trauma to deny its existence. This behavior prevents them from appropriately processing the thought and thereby getting on the healing journey. In a previous episode, I talked about How to deal with your pains in healthy ways to find emotional healing.
Carrington Smith expressed it well in our interview,
“At every moment, you have a choice about what I will do with this — Choosing kindness over anger. You’re choosing joy. Choosing empathy. Choosing humor. Because otherwise, you’re opening yourself up to being re-traumatized. I hope that by sharing my story that it has touched lives. And I think the magic part of the story is that I talk about how I took what happened to me, and I learned to look at it and claim it as part of who I was instead of rejecting it.
Instead claiming it and saying, ‘what did I get from this experience?’ And ‘how can I use that to propel me to greatness and change my viewpoint?’ Instead of looking at something that had been done to me and had harmed me, turning it into something that was now part of me and part of the fabric of who I am. What did I get from this? How can I use it to move me forward and propel me forward? And that is probably the most important aspect of that story is that I was successful doing that.”
By learning to be emotionally vulnerable and letting out your emotions, for example, by crying when you feel to, you will be able to deal with them properly rather than giving in to harmful habits as a means of coping.
Find a professional tailored to your specific needs.
Do your diligent research and find a trusted therapist that can adequately listen to you and be of help. Make sure you are clear about what you want from your therapy. By doing this, you will be able to get the treatment that is tailored to your unique experience and personality, as there are different methods for each person.
During our interview, Carrington Smith advised:
“I spent a year on the couch doing psychoanalysis with a therapist to deprogram all these messages that I’ve received. Whether it was from my father telling me I wasn’t pretty to some of the other horrible things that he told us. But also deprogramming the messages I got from the rape and really dealing with that trauma. I mean, five days a week, for a year on the couch. It was the best money I’ve ever spent. I would encourage people to reach out for those resources and not be ashamed that they’ve experienced trauma. That’s the worst part is the shame, which shouldn’t be there.”
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective therapies for dealing with abuse-related issues. This type of talk therapy aids in treating depression and anxiety by improving the relationship between the mind and the body. In addition, cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a distinct type of cognitive behavioral therapy proven effective in reducing the symptoms of PTSD. Look out for as many options of professional treatment as possible, and discover what works best for you.
Consider biofeedback therapy to treat the consequences of abuse
Biofeedback therapy is a non-invasive treatment where patients learn how to control their heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure with their minds. Typically, they are connected with electrodes and monitored by therapists. Through trial and error, they learn which relaxation methods work best for them.
Studies show this method work best as an intermediate state before psychotherapy and can be very effective in making other methods work best.
Practice meditation and breathing exercises
Meditation and breathing exercises might seem like a simple fix, but they provide substantial relief to those dealing with abuse, PTSD, and anxiety. It’s something I cover in another recent solo episode from the Passion Struck podcast. Also, the interview I did with Dr. David Vago, who is a professor at Vanderbilt University and an expert on the effects of meditation practices and on mental health and well-being.
Although meditation might not provide the same class of treatment as a professional therapist, it could be a good start, especially if you’re not ready for therapy or lack the means to fuel consistent therapy sessions.
Give yourself the time and grace to find yourself again after abuse
This article’s goal was to provide awareness, tips, and support so that you, the reader, have a better understanding of the types of abuse, as well as providing guidance to allow you to be better equipped to heal.
It’s a natural tendency to downplay the effects of abuse. Often victims beat themselves up for not healing more quickly because their abusers have conditioned them to blame themselves.
The abuse issue is crucial, and healing from its effect can be long and challenging. But it’s always worth the effort. There is no time limit on recovery. It’s about taking one small step at a time and choosing to heal.
You might not have been a victim of abuse yourself, but you might know someone who has. Share this article with them, offer them your support in whatever capacity you have, and you will be doing the good work of helping them heal.
If you require help and want to speak to someone about your experience, try these resources:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Sexual Assault Hotline
- National Dating Abuse Hotline
- Helping Survivors Organization
- Pathways to Safety International
- National Center for Victims of Crime
- Casa de Esperanza (Spanish-speaking hotline)
- National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
- Asian and Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence
- The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community
- National LGBTQ Task Force
This article is based on an episode of Passion Struck with John R. Miles. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or your favorite podcast platform.
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