No, to couples counselling when domestic violence/abuse is the issue

I’m writing this after having presented a presentation on domestic violence/abuse for the BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) in 2018, and having brought this important point to the table, on this very event.

I was distressed to learn that people in the field of counselling and psychotherapy and working with survivors still challenged this and disagreed, regardless they hear from survivors and victims themselves why this is dangerous, when many other voices have spoken and research carried out  raising awareness of the dangers.

I was told that they were in the domestic abuse field, for twenty years and thought they were clever to challenge a survivor and professional myself who had experience of how it is from a survivors point of view. (Having my own personal experience of domestic violence and abuse). It really concerned me they would still believe this dangerous myth, after so many years in practice an after so many years where we should know better.  I was also concerned at how they were not prepared to grow and learn but to continue to put others at risk.

This is a profession where we strive to better ourselves professionally and personally, where professional development and personal development is a part of our work and where it is our responsibility to keep our clients safe and feeling safe as much as we can and in our control. I explained my reason and stuck to my guns and I will be explaining my reasons here in the hope that others may learn and take from this.

Couples counselling is for problems and issues that occur in a ‘romantic’ relationship but if a partner is being abusive and domestic abuse is present, then this isn’t about a couple’s problem, this is about an abuse problem. This isn’t something to work out together, this only puts the blame on the victim and takes away the responsibility from who should be held accountable; the abuser.

Abuse is an abuse problem, it is not a relationship problem. 

The victim isn’t doing anything to cause it, abusers cause it with their mental attitudes and beliefs based on abuse and their desire for power and control.

Abusers are masters of manipulation and will seduce professionals and make themselves out to be the victim. Professionals themselves can be manipulated and deceived and especially if they are not aware to recognise these tactics. A victim of abuse will still be under the control and fear the abuser in the same room with them and will say all is okay and fine to point the counsellor or therapist may believe this and that all has been successful. The victim cannot feel safe and cannot speak candidly or without restrictions. It can also place them at greater risk, because abusers punish their victims for speaking out or defying them. Another example, is that it could create a false sense of safety and security for the victim, who feels able to disclose things having the therapist present feeling safe, but once out of the counselling room the abuser will take back their power and control by punishing them for that disclosure.

Couple counselling takes away the focus on the problem which is abuse, and suggests that the victim somehow contributes to this, many victims already blame themselves and the abuser brainwashes them into believing that it is them and their fault and so the therapist or counsellor meaning to or not, encourages this and gives the abuser an added reason to use as evidence. The abuser may turn to their victim and say: ‘See! Even the therapist thinks and says you’re the blame.’ This not only takes the attention away from the abuser but helps keep them in a state of denial of their own abusive behaviours.

It enables abuse and keeps victims stuck in their abuse and further feeling unsafe and that nobody understands and that nobody will help. Why are we forcing anyone to have to stay and work things out when their lives depend on it, their well-being depends on it? This is like asking rape victims to marry their rapists.

It can also be hard for therapists or counsellors to feel comfortable challenging the abuse or if seduced they may see the perpetrator as the victim, such failure then to directly confront abuse or the abuses will only contribute to minimisation and denial.

Counselling must be done separately, the victim should be supported and offered this not to be blamed, but to have her pain validated, to help her gain back her sense of worth and self esteem that has been effected, to help her explore her feelings and help her to gain back self compassion and recognise the tactics abusers use, support them with boundaries and to let them know that in no way did they cause the abuse or are at fault.

Abusive partners who want to change (it is rare that they do, due to the privileges they derive for it, but change is possible, however, it must come from them wanting it not because we want them too), have access to programs themselves.

These programs are often referred to as Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs (BIPPs), although they can be referred to by other names. They focus on teaching accountability and non-violent responses. These programs can be effective, but only if an abusive partner is truly committed, as real change is a difficult process that can take months or years.

For more information on domestic violence and abuse, check out my eBook – Shattering the myths of abuse: Validating the pain; Changing the culture –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shattering-Myths-Abuse-Validating-Changing-ebook/dp/B07PSCF9B5

Poem: Domestic Violence

Fear of abandonment, low self worth, wanting the cure to kill loneliness and more. Dependent on anyone to ease the pain, an emotional painkiller that can’t be found, in agony your soul drowns.
Wanting to feel loved, for approval and acceptance, burning with the pain, someone is going to play a horrid game. The water and tides get high you are reaching out for anything to keep you afloat, even if it’s not what and who you’d want. You grab manure if it keeps you afloat, drink polluted water if it keeps you from the thirst, eat the mouldy food if it stops you dying from hunger, emotional needs are just as strong.
Predator smells the fear, the vulnerability and sees the sadness and the un-shed tears. A perfect target they see, to be found, to control at will, manipulating love and needs to justify what they do, you have been caught and once fed, led to the slaughter house to be tortured and eventually killed, psychologically if not physically.
Smiles your way and enters the opened door, seeks out those vulnerabilities to cause extra injuries and more. Holds you hostage without a gun; with manipulation, hatred, and in making you weaker and weaker finds jubilation.
Feeding on your needs, your hunger for belonging in a world unsafe, you are alone in this isolated cave. Abuse starts so gradually and slow, confusion and entrapment, caught in the quick sand of abuse, swallowing you whole, your escape isn’t easy, trapped in a situation so complex and dangerous, sink, rise or die, remain calm and survive.
Learn their every move, to defeat the enemy or else you lose. Everybody judges, you’re in the wrong, bad boys is what you want, you’re crazy, a liar, attention seeking, too sensitive and a whore, you made your bed now lie in it, nobody has compassion or sees your value, the message is break the silence no more you are not worthy or have the right to be safe, you’re the one that made the mistake. You deserve it, you’re bad, you need to be perfect and even then there is wrong in that. Extra lies from more toxic people unable to hear your story and pain, unable to help you set yourself free, they keep you trapped and then ask why didn’t you just leave?
It echo’s the messages of the abuser;” you did this, you asked for this, you deserve it, nobody will believe you, you’re crazy, you stupid bitch….” No win situation is what you’re in.
Everything you do to survive will go against you and scrutinised, you might as well be dead. In loneliness and pain in this dungeon you stay, every day it gets harder to escape, traumatic bonding are the new chains that hold you down, no key is to be found.
Screaming doesn’t help; you’re all alone with the devil in hell. You no longer know who you are, the identity you had is long gone, your worth is dead, and there is nothing left but an empty shell. So hungry you eat and enjoy the crumbs, for they give you relief for a while, at time compliance and submission frees you from further pain, better days and ‘kindness’ make you forget reality for a while, maybe it will end is what you have to keep telling yourself to survive, sacrifices you endlessly make.
But behold a new fear emerges, that of dying all alone, killed by their very hands, like the assassination of your soul, staying will get you dead, a fear that has you being brave like never before, you head straight for that door. No looking back as you run and keep on running, bleeding from within, escaping the horrors that you were locked in.
Alas, you’re free, but this is just the beginning, as reality sinks in, the horrors that now become intense and deep. Building a life and recovery takes time, no longer can you hide behind denial, you are faced with the horrific truth, abuse is traumatic and fatal; you feel burning shame and to blame, nobody understands the complexity, the dynamics at play, they point the finger and the blame.
How more isolated can you feel? Abuse is fatal and it’s real.
Education is needed, awareness the key, without it and action we can’t be free.
© Antonella Zottla
For more information on domestic violence and abuse, check out my eBook – Shattering the myths of abuse: Validating the pain; Changing the culture –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shattering-Myths-Abuse-Validating-Changing-ebook/dp/B07PSCF9B5

The Nature of Codependency

My analogy of co-dependency which is people pleasing is being like X-Men character Mystique. In the sense not that one takes or can take the physical shape and appearance of another but in the sense that as co-dependents we shift ourselves to accommodate others, we base our identities on mirroring others, on being who they want us to be or we think they want us to be.

We create and live through a false self because we allow others to define us, we shift ourselves for approval. If I’m who someone wants me to be or like them, I don’t risk rejection and abandonment. I can be loved; I will be seen as enough. I can only be seen this way; I can only be heard if I don’t speak my truth but agree with others. I can only be accepted if I’m everything but me.

Codependency is the reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity. The need to be perfect and defined by others. It’s a loss of control and giving away our power. It’s a loss of our authenticity, our potential, our values, our morals, our boundaries… In fact, the absence of boundaries plays a pivotal role and the fear of setting them, this is why co-dependent people later in life are at risk of ending up being taken advantage off and further abused, not because it’s their fault but because others chose to abuse them by exploiting these very vulnerabilities. In addition, co-dependents fear that having boundaries make them bad or selfish because many times as children they were shamed for having their needs or denied their rights.

Gabor Mate said children need two things; authenticity and attachment.

What happens in codependency is that authenticity is sacrificed for attachment.

In the fear of being abandoned by others, the result is that we sacrifice our own needs and self-love and abandon ourselves.

Co-dependent people don’t have a solid sense of who they are, because co-dependency is a natural reaction to trauma that develops in the formative years and childhood and is due to having experienced developmental trauma. Trauma or abuse robs us of our sense of self amongst other things. Many times it wasn’t okay to be ourselves, to be a child with needs and curiosity and test boundaries and be dependent and needing of nurture, the messages we received were; you are not okay as you are, you are too much, you are not enough, you cannot be accepted or loved for being you, you are not valuable, you’re not lovable…these messages can be subtle and don’t even need to be verbally made. When a child fears these things, they feel rejected and fear being abandoned. For a child abandonment is like murder. Co-dependency develops as a survival strategy, because children are dependent on survival by the adults. These patterns don’t just automatically vanish when someone turns of age. Being an adult is more than just about age.

These patterns follow us into adult relationships, many times seeing us end up in abusive relationships. The trauma response that co-dependency falls into is the fawn response.

The ‘please‘ or ‘fawn‘ response is an often overlooked survival mechanism to a traumatic situation, experience or circumstance. As any survival response; like flight, fight or freeze, a please or fawn response is to manage a state of danger or potential danger.

We may have learned that if as children we utilised the fight response and challenged our parents or protested their mistreatment of us, it only led us to being or feeling punished. This robs us of our assertive skills and silences us into subservience and submission. It also does one of the most destructive things ever that others utilise later in life to hurt us and that’s it deletes our ability to say no, to the point the word no loses all existence. This is why it’s hard for co-dependents to say no, to set boundaries and why they fear doing so will occur a negative action or response. Flight really isn’t much of an option since children depend on the adults in their lives and can’t just easily run away and some go into the freeze response where they dissociate from their toxic environment or people around them.

Many co-dependents were parentified in childhood. Parentification is also linked to childhood trauma and often made invisible just like the child may feel. It occurs when the roles are reversed between a child and a parent, where the child has to step up as the caretaker, mediator, or protector of the family. It is a form of mental abuse and boundary violation.  Again, we see that a codependent has grown up in a dysfunctional family setting where lack of boundaries were to be found. 

This sense of becoming a carer was damaging yet made the child feel they were needed and had a purpose and that if they gave of themselves, they could finally be accepted and loved.

‘Love’ very often came with conditions of worth. Conditions of worth were coined by Carl Rogers, the founder of the Person-Centred approach which is a way of being not doing. Rogers said that conditions of worth are what we develop when we take on board other people’s values and ideas about how we should be. When we are children, we learn what pleases those around us (parents, relatives…) and what gains us approval. This is what sets the stage later to people pleasing and why I mentioned at the start of the article why we become like chameleons or Mystique in X-men.

We also learn what gains us disapproval, for some this can be as simple as making mistakes and the reason why perfectionism is also linked to co-dependency and the child becoming the ‘perfect’ child who is always obedient and polite. Co-dependents are extremely loyal to those that are toxic and can allow mistreatment without seeing it as this because of their past history and conditioning.

It is a need for any child to feel wanted, enough, loved, seen, heard, accepted and to feel they belong and nurtured and it is as much of a requirement as food, shelter, water…Because as children we rely on these for survival we end up doing what is needed to get them (please).

What can add to not feeling enough or unwanted and linked with conditions of worth in later life is also society and how in order to feel like we belong, we are expected and told to be a certain way or act a certain way.

Boys and men don’t cry. Girls and women are not ladylike if they do certain things, gender stereotypes are good at this, advertisements that label certain aspects as flaws in order to make business and work on our self-esteem or create and generate this lack of low self-esteem. Women need to look a certain way to be attractive to men, men need to be macho and have a six pack, success is seen as wealth…This can open the original wound and create added layers making one never feel accepted, wanted, loved or enough as they are or it can create codependency from adolescents and adulthood only. The danger of placing value on these things and believing these conditioned lies, is that if we don’t have these things (if we are not ‘perfect’) then our worth can feel challenged.

 Pete walker defines trauma-based co-dependency as:

‘a syndrome of self-abandonment and self-abnegation’.

He also explains the implicit code of the fawn type is that it is:

  • To listen rather than talk
  • To agree than to dissent
  • To offer care than to ask for help
  • To elicit the other than to express self
  • To leave choices to the other rather than express preferences.

It is only with learning how to apply and carry out boundaries, when we find our voice, are able to offer ourselves our own love and acceptance can we break free of co-dependency and start to become our authentic selves and learn who we truly are or set free the person we always were but that was prisoned.

Why Christmas may be a dangerous time for victims of domestic violence

Christmas is a time that can intensify the loneliness that one may feel or has been battling with. Add to this that abusers use a tactic called isolation, which is a means to isolate the victim so that the victim becomes dependent on the abuser who is the only person they may have. The abuser tries to isolate the victim from friends and family so that these relationships can be lost, and the victim is left vulnerable and the power and control of the abuser tightens. If this support system is lost, the victim may feel more compelled to return to the abuser. Financial difficulties may also come into play. Christmas can highlight the shame of not having a loving relationship in one’s life, or company and someone to share the magic with.

Abusers are opportunists, and what better time to seize an opportunity than at Christmas when loneliness can be a killer and emotions may be overwhelming for those who feel alone, unloved, unwanted, abandoned and rejected, or who may have no family and friends? This is why abusers may try to, and many times do, entice a victim to return to them around this time. When an abuser returns it’s not because they wish to change, not because they miss the victim, not because they love the victim, not because they are interested in a romantic relationship, but because they want that power and control, and to prove they have this to the victim; to demonstrate that they can always be accepted back, that the victim needs them: “I have power over you”. They are missing having what they see as a privilege, using the victim as a supply, that they see the privilege to treat someone badly and see how the victim has traumatically bonded to them.

Abusers are masters of manipulation and know exactly what they do. It is very tempting for the victim to return, to soothe the pain of loneliness, to have to be in denial because the truth is scary. The pull of the chains of traumatic bonding is very powerful.

The no contact rule the victim has put in place can be hard to do, as the toxicity of an abusive relationship can feel like an addiction; you know it’s bad, dangerous even, but you need a fix to believe the reality is different, to numb the pain even temporarily; the addiction from the positive rewards the abuser uses and then again abuses. All these are tactics that are not separate but part of the game. Knowing that the victim will crave those “happier” days, moments and experiences, believing it means that there is a better side to the abuser, that this means they can be changed and that love will lead to this change. It’s a dangerous myth and lie sold to victims by the abuser who promises to change, by messages given by society, especially to females.

It can be so tempting to go back, but an abuser becomes more dangerous after a break-up and sometimes wishes to return to gain revenge upon what they see as an act of defiance from the victim. How dare they think they can leave? That they are better than me? How dare they demand respect or see through the games, deceit, lies and techniques? The victim must be taught a lesson so they don’t step out of place again. This can be what an abuser may be feeling and thinking, and highlights the danger of returning.

The more a victim stays or the more they return the tighter the grip, the harder it gets, the more dangerous it can become and the consequences can and have been fatal.

Please make sure that you have a strong support system in place around times that can make you more vulnerable. Please stay strong knowing you deserve so much more; please know that the pain of loneliness can be a killer but being with an abuser who is an empty human being can make you, in the end, feel more alone than you ever felt before. Please know that you are not alone. Please pour that energy and love unto yourself, give yourself the love that you feel you need to get from others. Please be safe, know that it’s not your fault for feeling the way you do, for feeling that temptation, know that someone understands but, if you can, please don’t return – one can’t find happiness in the same place that has destroyed them and made them unhappy.

We all want a happy ending but many times it can and has resulted in a tragic ending, and if an abuser ever were to change, the only person who can make this happen is themselves, because they and they alone choose to, but you cannot place yourself in danger waiting for this, and even then you deserve to be free from abuse and have your time and space to heal.

Merry Christmas to all victims who have gotten out, who may be trying to, who have and may feel compelled to return and all those that may be reminded of the trauma experienced around this time. You are not alone.

For more information on domestic violence and abuse, check out my eBook – Shattering the myths of abuse: Validating the pain; Changing the culture –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shattering-Myths-Abuse-Validating-Changing-ebook/dp/B07PSCF9B5

 

Children of Narcisstic Parents

Growing up with a narcissistic parent is not only traumatic in nature, but also debilitating and detrimental.

As a child growing up with a parent like this, one is loved on conditions – that is, as long as the child meets the parent’s needs, continues to adore and idolise the parent, and act as an extension of the parent and not their self, then all is good. Many other times, the child who rebels by having their own identity and refusing to be controlled is verbally abused and mistreated in other ways. Narcissistic parents view their own children as a threat and as competition. They react in extreme ways to being criticised, and this can lead them to even severely punish their children either verbally, physically, or psychologically. The parent feels that, as a parent, they are entitled to control you, and also believe that they can never do wrong or be wrong. So, not only do they never hold themselves accountable, but they also may never offer an apology, or a genuine one, at least. They tend to deny accusations and even shift the blame and guilt onto you.

This leads to children not feeling valued, and when they do feel valued it is not because of who they are but rather because of what they do. This can lead to the child feeling used, for they are seen more like an accessory to the parent rather than seen as a human being. Considering this, the child can come to adopt the false belief that they are unlovable or unworthy, because if someone close to us (such as a parent who is meant to love, value and protect us) proves incapable of doing so, then who will? This can then lead to trust issues with the child, and in later adult life not knowing who to trust, but also not trusting themselves.

The child will often feel invisible, not seen or heard, because the parent will dismiss, invalidate and ignore the child’s emotions and feelings and, in many cases, all will go back to the parent and how this makes them feel. The parent will get angry at being criticised rather than take it as an opportunity to look within themselves and change any hurtful or unhealthy behaviour. It will be all about them and nobody else; narcissistic parents lack empathy and cannot attune to their children’s emotional needs. They are very self-centred and selfish. They will use guilt trips and gaslighting to turn the attention away from having to hold themselves accountable, and so the child’s feelings and reality are not acknowledged. This will then contribute to the child experiencing self-doubt and not being able to trust their own judgement and feelings – therefore the child often suffers from crippling self-doubt, wondering what it is that they have done to deserve such treatment.

As Jonice Webb stated, ‘a parent without empathy is like a surgeon operating with dull tools in poor lighting. The results are likely to produce scarring’.

The parent can, at times, have a child whose role is the scapegoat, and another whose role is seen as the golden child. Very often, the narcissistic parent will play their children off against the other. In fact, it is not uncommon for difficulties and conflicts to arise between siblings. In order to survive, one must be on mother or father’s good side and avoid being on their bad side, which can see siblings take the mother or father’s side and even join in the verbal abuse and gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a psychological tactic based on manipulation, where someone makes you feel crazy or causes you to doubt your own reality of events and sanity.

The child that most reflects the narcissistic parent will take the role of the golden child, and the child who doesn’t resemble the parent is seen as a disappointment and becomes the scapegoat; the one who is their own individual. This is because the narcissistic parent likes to play favourites.

Many times, the parent will manipulate the situation, and in doing so always retains the focus or spotlight on themselves and avoids being held accountable. The parent needs to feel and be in control at all times.

The parent often cares about others approval and not losing face at the expense of their own child’s needs and welfare; they tend to be self-absorbed and only value their children according to how well they reflect their own achievements as a parent. The child grows up believing that they don’t matter; they can become a people pleaser and put others needs above their own, find it hard to self care for themselves, and rely on external factors rather than internal to determine their worth and value.

The child can grow up never feeling good enough, feeling that what they do is either always wrong or not good enough, and feeling lonely, as for most of their life they have been due to being emotionally abandoned. They can find it hard to express themselves because they have never had a mirror to reflect back what they felt; they may have difficulties knowing or determining who they truly are because they have never been allowed autonomy, but controlled and conditioned to become an extension of the parent.

The parent often is always critical, damaging the child’s self-esteem which they can carry into adulthood, and perfection can result. Often, children of narcissistic parents tend to become overachievers because they feel loved or valued only through conditions of worth and when they are able to make their parents ‘look good’. This makes a child feel used and manipulated.

Since narcissistic parents are often superficial in nature, image is incredibly important. Looks will, therefore, be important for them so much that children could be taught that their looks and appearance is more important than who they are or how they feel. When this occurs, image can be viewed as more important than authenticity, individuality, and diversity, since the myths of the ideal beauty standard in society are both unrealistic and limited, again limiting self-discovery, self-love, and the ability to develop one’s own sense of self and worth.

As a child or adult, the individual may seek the love, approval, and attention of their parent in vain, through achievements, looks or other ways, hoping that things will change, seeking that acceptance, and believing their parent will change. Children of narcissistic parents can spend many years carrying this hope – after all, children never give up on wanting these things from their parent. Hope for any human is the last to die.

Some children can only survive by identifying with their narcissistic parent, and they become like them or develop some of the same traits. Others will break free but may still struggle with the necessary abilities to separate their ‘selves’ and individuality from their parent’s identity. The child has had to be the extension of their parent, has had to be controlled, has been given their identity instead of allowed to explore it, that understandably confusion and difficulties in this area naturally can arise. Many times, it is when children are teenagers that they go through the stage of self-identity and want independence, and the narcissistic parent is threatened by their child’s independence.

When the child is small, parentification may result, which is when the child is there for the parent but nobody is there to for them. This is, therefore, when the parent uses their child as an emotional crutch to cater to their own emotional needs. This can lead to children feeling emotionally empty and lacking in nurturance, which is what children need, and, on occasion, this can stunt emotional development and deprive the child of having a healthy role model in life for behaviours, boundaries, and healthy emotional connections.

The narcissistic parent will want their child to be the best, most wealthy, successful, and beautiful, but should the child outshine them at anything, the parent can then become resentful and jealous, and may resort to putting down their child through techniques of shame and humiliation.

The child may receive credit only when it suits the parent, and on other occasions receive none, and this can result in children not giving themselves the deserved credit they need. Whilst most children can grow up to become overachievers, they can also develop patterns of self-sabotage, or develop both of these traits but in different areas.

It is not uncommon for children to form or develop psychological distresses such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorders later in life. Other issues include co-dependency, weak boundaries and difficulties saying ‘no’, chronic feelings of guilt and shame, self-loathing, poor self-image, weak sense of self, trust issues, addictions, poor relationships, self-hatred, perfectionism, people pleasing, low self-esteem, emptiness, unidentified feelings of unhappiness, and an inability to express emotions, to name a few.

Feelings of guilt can be very strong, even in the healing process, as in addition to having to be made to feel guilty by the parent and others, additional cultural messages reinforce that children should obey their parents, that family is everything, and that children should never abandon or leave their parents especially when they are old, adds pressure.

Taking this on board for the child of a narcissistic parent, the guilt trip is felt not only by the manipulative parent, but society as well. However, it does not make anyone a bad daughter or son to distance themselves from a toxic family member, or to remove them completely from their life. Nobody is obligated to make room for people who cause you pain or make you feel small. It’s one thing if a person owns up to their behavior and makes an effort to change, but if a person disregards your feelings, ignores your boundaries, and continues to treat you in a harmful way, they need to go.

Parents don’t own us – we belong to ourselves. It is healthy and good role modelling to place boundaries that protect us, and to not accept unhealthy and damaging behaviours in our life; it is not up to us to change the other person, but up to them to change their hurtful ways – we can only control how much we allow them to do this by staying and how we react. We deserve to be treated with respect and to be safe. We cannot heal by staying in the same environment that caused us emotional and psychological harm. The best way is either to limit contact, have strictly controlled interactions, such as on the phone, where if someone crosses the line you can just put the phone down or, if necessary, remove them completely.

To accept that a parent did not love, value, protect, cherish or accept us is one of the most painful things one will do; it will take time and it’s a process. Often, one can find themselves flickering from denial, which is their child part who still needs to hang on to a sense of hope to survive, and the adult part who recognises that this was never acceptable and is identifying the damage done.

To heal the inner child wounds, one must re-parent themselves and give that inner child the love, value, and nurturance that it lacks and needs, the loving words it needs to hear and to be accepted by self unconditionally. If left unresolved, these wounds will continue to affect our life, our adult choices, and our behaviours.

For further reading to help you understand it is not your fault, please read this excellent article published by CPSD foundation.org and written by Shirley Davis.

https://cptsdfoundation.org/2020/06/22/the-neuroscience-of-narcissism-and-narcissistic-abuse/

Understanding our Inner Child

Many times when we have had a difficult childhood or trauma, we develop certain coping strategies and survival techniques that later in life no longer serve us. We are not always conscious that the hurt and wounded child within us is still very much at the forefront and requires our immediate attention. This makes sense if we consider that only an estimated 12% of our life and our knowledge is in our conscious awareness, in contrast to 88% that is in our unconscious awareness.

We may have denied or not been aware of how much our childhoods have had an impact on us. We may dismiss it because we believe it ‘wasn’t that bad’, ‘others have had it worse’, ‘I was never hit’, ‘I wasn’t sexually abused’… we may still be that child that in order to survive cannot see our parents as they were and not wish to see them in a bad light.

This isn’t about blame, this is about owning the fact that something has had an impact and that everything results in consequences. This isn’t about comparing but acknowledging that we all have a right to feel the way we feel and that many things can be damaging. Everyone feels and reacts and experiences things in different ways, all are valid.

Childhood difficulties occur due to many diverse reasons:

  • Bad experiences at school.
  • A single event trauma.
  • Cultural shame.
  • Emotional neglect.
  • Emotional abuse.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Physical abuse.
  • Psychological abuse.
  • Living with domestic violence.
  • Having to grow up with absent parents.
  • Living with a parent who is ill.
  • Losing a parent… and any situation that causes wounding.

Sometimes, we can come to believe that if we survived and it’s in the past then it no longer is relevant but burying it doesn’t resolve it.

What happens is that the wounded inner child never leaves us, our bodies change and transform regardless of whether we are ready for that psychologically and emotionally. Our bodies will develop into an adult body and time waits for nobody. This means that we can feel like children trapped in an adult’s body. We don’t instantly wake up the next day having turned 18 and 21 and become adults, by law only. When we have had a difficult, traumatic and painful childhood our development and growth gets compromised. Therefore, those stages of development have not been completed. Adulthood like anything is a process. So that lost, afraid and lonely child can be found within and at times wounded parts of us are frozen at the age we got hurt.

Imagine a five year old or a 10 year old thrown into adulthood, having to be an adult in the world, form adult and romantic relationships, take on a job and all the responsibilities that come with being an adult? How frightening must that be and seem? Can a child deal with this all? With the adult world all alone, having to fend for self?

So it is any wonder that things may go wrong? That the inner child may look for partners to meet their unmet and unresolved needs, that they become more vulnerable to predators? That they may develop self-sabotaging or self-destructive behaviours? We act out because it has never been worked out.

These wounds can then manifest in psychological conditions such a:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • low self-esteem
  • addictions…

Self-care may be hard to do due to the fact that as children, we may not have learnt how to comfort and soothe our own emotions or learned healthy ways around this. We may have not had our sense of self and feelings reflected back to us. What happens is that the hurt inner child within creates havoc in our adult life and takes the driver’s seat.

The inner child is calling for attention, for compassion, for resolution, for the love and nurture it craves for. Yet many times as the child-adult we have learned to dismiss, ignore, and abandon this part of self. We can end up doing to ourselves what was done to us.

We may have a hard time loving self, being comfortable within our own skin, accepting praise, knowing our boundaries and rights. We develop low self-worth, low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence. We seek these from others unable and not knowing how to give to self. Yet all these, have the prefix ‘self’ in front of them because only we can give ourselves these gifts.

Yet like the child, there can still be that sense of dependency on others, or independence so great that we don’t let anyone help us or let them in. Just like we can trust people all too easily or not at all and push others away. Both resulting in desperation later for all that has been deprived and all we have deprived ourselves off. Our needs can become greater than our wants; leading us to accept the crumbs.

Other issues that develop are many, amongst these:  

  • All or nothing thinking.
  • Control issues.
  • Anger.
  • Being over-responsible.
  • Neglecting our needs.
  • High tolerance of inappropriate behaviour.
  • Soft or rigid boundaries.
  • Fear of abandonment.
  • Difficulty handling and resolving conflicts.
  • Straying away from the actual core issue.

What also can happen is that our self of ‘I am’ is lost. We are made to live as a false self. This is due to the fact that nobody was there to reflect feelings, identity and thoughts back to us. We may have been parentified (when a child is expected to take on the role of a parent). In cases like this, as John Brandshaw states: “no one gets to be who they are. All are put in service to the needs of the system”. Use is abuse and the child is being used.

One technique that the inner child and the child uses as a coping strategy is called ‘magical thinking’. We hope and believe that if we prove we are good enough, pretty enough, the perfect partner, successful enough, obedient enough, that we will be finally noticed and loved and protected. This can be seen from the social conditioning in particular with females of a prince charming saving them from their own helplessness and misfortune. Yet, we need to find the hero inside ourselves. Know that we have the power within us.

As Carl Rogers stated, conditions of worth are placed on us as children.

‘Conditions of worth are transmitted to the child, who learns that s/he is acceptable or lovable if s/he behaves, thinks and feels in certain ways’ (Tolan, 2003: 4).

What these do is put pressure on us as individuals to feel and behave in particular ways, even when contrary to how we feel. This can be found to still haunt us by societal expectations later in adult life. Where society tells us to be who we are and expects us to be anything but ourselves in order to feel valued. This is seen by beauty standards, competition in workplace etc.

Recovery and healing of our inner child requires us to integrate the inner child part and our adult part. To learn to be that healthy role model and protective, loving and nurturing parent to self. To develop our own self-love and compassion. To listen, hear, validate, comfort, nurture, love and give attention to that part of us; that wounded inner child who needs us to reclaim it. It needs to feel valued. We must also grieve our lost childhoods and our unfulfilled developmental needs. We must embrace our original pain by embracing the child within us. It also requires us to start from scratch and learn who we are (our authentic selves), to take those baby steps all over and support ourselves as we do to that journey of healing and self-discovery.

As Ron Kurtz said: “The child wants simple things. It wants to be listened to. It wants to be loved… It may not even know the words, but it wants its rights protected and its self-respect unviolated. It needs you to be there”.

Healing is a process not an event. An exercise you can try out is to draw or write about how you feel. Connect to your inner child by either drawing with the opposite hand to the one you draw with, like a child not thinking about how it should look or be or producing a great picture. This is not about being an artist. Just owe the drawing. Let that inner child communicate with you.

With writing again, use the opposite hand to the one you write with, this is to feel like a child would and write a letter to your inner child expressing what you would like it to know. You can also ask a question by writing it down as an inner dialogue. Use the dominant hand to write as an adult and the other hand as the child responding. This can take time, as the inner child needs to feel safe. If we criticise it or feel hostile to that part of ourselves it may not want to be there or come out.

Here is an example of a love letter to your inner child:

Dear beautiful inner child of mine,

You are so lovable, so full of beans and light and love. You radiate and your empathy and wisdom are the gifts you offer to the world. Such a gentle and sweet soul you are.

I’m sorry that your original wound was that of abandonment. So, sorry that you felt invisible, not valued, unloved and engulfed for so many years by loneliness due to lack of connection with self and others.

How so many didn’t deserve you, they didn’t value or care. You had to protect yourself and felt so alone, carrying burdens on your small shoulders that crushed your very psyche. The unbearable pain and weight of so much, no child has the tools to handle. How you became so depressed, withdrawn and socially anxious due to the unpredictable, chaotic and unsafe environment that was to be home. The rejection of so many, and adults around you that constantly failed you and were no role models. How you were never loved unconditionally, there saving everyone and who saved you? Who was ever there for you?

The humiliation and bullying you suffered at the dinner table, the freedom you lacked. The never feeling enough and the inner cries of why me? The anger that could never be expressed and burned you from the inside. The tears that were silenced and not allowed to flow, the pain that had no outlet, the identity that was forbidden, learning you couldn’t be accepted or loved for you. That nobody would love you. You soul screaming to be noticed, you pain aching to be soothed, your heart crying for connection, protection and to be understood.

I see you; I hear you; I’ve got your back; I will fight for you. I will nurture you, I will hold you and your pain, cry it all out as you fall into my loving and accepting arms. Don’t be afraid, I’m here making the commitment never to abandon you again in the same way others have or hurt you. It’s time you were set free, I see how tired you are, the toll the years have taken on you. I want to lay you at rest, save you from under the rubble of rocks such as shame, abuse, parentification, being used that crushed you.

Please come home, please trust me, I want you to be cared for and experience my love. I want you to know that I am proud of you. You didn’t deserve the adversities you were faced with, to have to survive in the wilderness.

Don’t compare yourself to other’s who had it worse, you matter and your pain matters and is valid. You don’t have to go through worse to be deserving of love or have your pain be legit.

Forgive yourself for the things you hold remorse for and have changed and corrected. You don’t need to be perfect.

Let me allow you to be the child you never got the chance of being, let me give you back a sense of wonder, playfulness and celebrate all these precious qualities that are a part of you. I love, appreciate and adore you. You are not alone, I’m here from now on.

Loving you always.

Adult me xx

Remember that when we harshly punish self or criticise self we are doing this to our inner child and if we wouldn’t say nasty or hurtful things to a child, we need to recognise that we too matter, we too deserve our love and our inner child is asking us not to abandon it but to finally put it at peace. Only when it feels safe that our adult part can look after it, love it, and will protect it, will it start to take a back seat and heal.

Your inner child needs you. It is precious and lovable.

Further resources: 

Reading: Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing your inner child by John Bradshaw.

 

Invisible Scars – Emotional Neglect

When looking at our childhoods we can often miss pivotal clues as to how emotional neglect can contribute to later difficulties in adult life. As a society we often focus on abuse in terms of what was done to us as children and yet what actions our parents may have failed to take can be just as damaging. If parents failed to act to meet our emotional needs, reflected things back to us so that we had a mirror to understand our feelings, emotions and needs and reflect back positive parts of self, then growing up it is likely that we become adults unable to express ourselves or be in tuned with our feelings. This can leave us unable to recognise our needs or emotions, have problems knowing what we need and how to express ourselves. We may have difficulties calming ourselves down and soothing ourselves from painful emotions which can lead us to escape them through compulsive behaviours. We might have difficulties with emotional regulation, expression and ways to articulate our feelings. We may even have difficulties asking for what we need.

Developing a positive sense of self becomes challenging as children. Our sense of identity and self tends to get lost if emotional neglect has taken place in our childhood, and this leads to feelings of emptiness, feeling disconnected, unfulfilled and not being able to know why. As adults, we may then not be able to trust our own emotions. Individuals who have experienced this may therefore have problems taking care of themselves and knowing how to nurture themselves and their wounded inner child. They can remain unaware of the impact of what has happened to them and in the process neglect themselves.

Emotional neglect renders the person invisible, it’s a failure to notice, attend to or respond appropriately to a child’s feelings. It remains invisible as it goes unrecognised and so the child’s experience feels invalidated. It remains an overlooked issue and children themselves remain unaware until symptoms manifest in early adulthood. Even then confusion is to be found due to the fact this is an invisible scar and hidden pain.

There are a few parenting styles that can result in emotional neglect:

  • Absent parents – Reasons could be due to family break ups such as divorce or separation, a parent absent due to illness or addiction or mental health, a parent that may be serving time in jail, a deceased parent or a parent that has left the home and family.

Some situations are not the result of bad parenting, however the impact remains:

  • Authoritarian parents – those who cut off and silence a child and by this silencing their feelings and needs
  • Permissive parents – who leave the child to fend for themselves, so that the child is never shown how to recognise their own feelings by never having them recognised
  • Narcissistic parents – where the child is used to cater the needs of the parent alone, never being able to have their own and theirs met
  • Perfectionist parents – who project their own need for perfection on a child and the child never feels good enough.

All these behaviours ignore a child’s needs and feelings and require the child to sacrifice their own needs and feelings to accommodate others.

Like everything in life, the things that are not visible to us tend to get ignored, yet they are just as damaging and the damage is being done. Let’s take the example of drugs, alcohol, refined sugars and tobacco. These damage our bodies – we cannot see the damage that goes on within our bodies but these toxic substances are doing just that. After much abuse, we see symptoms and start to notice the effects; this is much like the invisibility of emotional neglect and the fact that just because it cannot be seen doesn’t mean the damage hasn’t or isn’t occurring.

Psychologist, Dr. Jonice Webb states: “Childhood emotional neglect is often subtle, invisible and unmemorable”. Emotional neglect can be at the root of emotional disorders and mental illness such as depression and anxiety. Its symptoms include:

  • Sensitivity to feelings of rejection
  • Pervasive feelings of emptiness
  • Sense of not feeling fulfilled
  • Unhappiness
  • Perfectionism
  • Need to people please
  • Feeling like a fraud
  • Disconnection from self
  • Excessive fears and worries
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Difficulty identifying or expressing feelings
  • Being seen as aloof, arrogant or distant.

Children may develop ‘toxic stress response’ and this makes the process of growing up an extremely challenging one. Parents who have experienced emotional neglect themselves may emotionally neglect their own children, not knowing any better as not having experienced any other way of being themselves.

Emotional neglect however is not limited to childhood and is just as damaging in adult life. This can happen within intimate relationships; it feels like rejection and rejection can be painful. In fact feelings of rejection and abandonment are said to send a signal to the part of our brains known as the amygdala, which the triggers intense fear. This is the fear that we are not good enough, unacceptable or unlovable. We then can no longer feel safe and secure.

To heal these wounds as counsellors, we need to not only be aware of what has happened in our clients childhood but what has been missing in it and the gaps created. We need to offer our client’s unconditional positive regard so that they can learn to nurture themselves, through self love and self compassion, and connect to their self so that they become aware of their own needs and feelings and how to nourish these. Clients need to find their own empathy to reconnect to the self, for empathy drives connection and through our empathy to clients this can help drive that connection. Many inner conflicts and addictions or mental health problems, or emotional disorders can be the result of being disconnection from ourselves and life.

As professionals we need to help spread light into the hidden corners that often go unnoticed.

Hidden Sexual Pain – Sexual Trauma

When sexual abuse/violence is experienced at any point in a survivors life, not many people are aware of how this may impact on the survivors sexuality, their sexual concept, their attitudes towards sex, their beliefs, the negative mindset left by the abuse, and how this affects the survivors sexual identity. Not much is discussed to highlight this pain and expression of unresolved pain.

Firstly, it is important to make clear that sex abuse/violence is not sex or about sex but about power and control upon another and using sex as the weapon. As someone once quoted: you don’t hit someone with a spade and call it gardening.

Survivors can become very conflicted after the event and can turn two ways; becoming hyper-sexual or suffering from sexual anorexia (avoidance). It is important to realise that survivors can fluctuate from periods of hyper-sexuality and sexual avoidance or vice versa and they can also have elements of both of these normal reactions. These reactions are as normal as bleeding if you are stabbed. There is no right or wrong way to react to trauma. We are all individuals and everyone’s experience will be different.

When a survivor becomes hyper-sexual, many chose to further discredit and victim blame victims by suggesting they couldn’t have been abused or raped, and say hurtful comments like “they would be having trouble if it was really bad and they had been raped”, or they can be negatively labelled as promiscuous with derogatory terms aimed towards them (such as slut shamed)..

Matt Atkinson (2010), in his book ‘Resurrection after rape’, talks about sexualised grieving and that hyper-sexuality after abuse is about grief.

It is important that clients realise that their sexual actions are not the result of faulty morals, their worth as a person or badness. It is important that they don’t label themselves negatively, and that this belief is challenged and the clients are helped into understanding the effects of abuse and the impacts.

Their sexual actions are a result of their inner pain, and it is their inner hurt, not their personal worth, that is driving the cycle. These actions are a sign of despair that cannot be expressed in words and can only be brought to life through certain behaviours. Actions are seen as a way to meet a need and if we take the time to understand the needs we can then uncover the pain and hurts that is buried underneath these behaviours.

For survivors, sex may have lost its value and they may be trying to gain a false sense of control from feeling helpless and afraid. They may believe giving means they will not be hurt again. Many are reconnecting to the meaningless and humiliation of the abuse through meaningless and humiliating sex in an effort to give their grief an opportunity to finally be expressed and emerge. Therefore, Atkinson states that “sexual grieving is an attempt by a rape or sexual abuse survivor to grieve their brokenness through the desperate effort to reconnect their body and emotions”.

Survivors will become hyper-sexual for many reasons. Some of these may include:

Expectations: The belief that everyone wants sex or expects it. Some survivors can come to believe that sex was the reason they were harmed. They may feel that sexual violence is inevitable, also because rapists believe that if people can get away with rape, then most will and this may be communicated to the victim, along with the fact that women (in particular) are from a young age warned about sexual violence and conditioned to fear this happening or expected to have to ‘protect’ themselves from rape with the issue even being seen as ‘women’s issues’. Many have been sexually harassed at one point in their lives. When someone is raped, it may make being raped again more of a possibility than ever before.

Punishment: Survivors often may come to believe and feel that they are bad or that they deserved it or told this and so they may use sex as a punishment, believing they are so bad and deserve to be harmed. Sex is used as a way to self- injure.

Control: Rape or sexual abuse of any kind, takes away someone’s control and choices. Survivors may become hyper-sexual as a way to regain back a sense of lost control, to take their power back. It’s a way to control the process of sex  itself even when meaningless and harmful. It’s to regain control over that sense of powerlessness and helplessness felt during the traumatic event. The survivor is now trying to gain control over the situation, choices and over their bodies and others. Survivors may feel “If I let them do it, it’s okay! (false sense of control).

It can be an attempt to prove they ‘are not a victim’ of their trauma or not affected. A way to prove that if they can go through the act of sex, have it, get through it that they are okay, they can still function, their abilities and sexuality hasn’t been robbed. Some don’t enjoy the sexual encounters or experiences they have even if they pretend or act like they do.

Addiction: Some become addicted and like all addictions it’s trying to fill a void, or numb the pain. They feel compelled towards it and something that is out of their control just like abuse taught them sex was an uncontrollable urge, rather than desired.

Sexual orientation: For men raped or sexually abused by other men, this may lead them to question their sexual orientation and feel conflicted,  so they may become hyper sexual as a way to prove their sexual orientation.

Low self worth: Sex might be for survivors especially those abused as children, all they have known that gives them worth. It can be the only way they have learned to received affection, attention, ‘love’ or have other needs met so sex becomes a way to meet unmet needs.

The brain is trying to understand the trauma, redo it differently or undo it.

The other side of the coin is sexual anorexia termed by Dr. Patrick Carnes to describe the denial or repulsion of sexual appetite. He identifies the following traits in sexual anorexia:

  • A dread of sexual pleasure
  • A morbid and persistent fear of sexual contact
  • Obsession and hyper vigilance around sexual matters
  • Avoidance of anything connected to sex
  • Preoccupation with others being sexual
  • Distortions of body appearance, real or imagined
  • Extreme loathing of bodily functions
  • Obsessive self doubts about sexual adequacy
  • Obsessive worry or concern about the sexual intentions of others
  • Shame and self loathing over sexual experiences
  • Depression about sexual adequacy and functioning
  • Intimacy avoidance because of sexual fear.

Both hyper-sexuality and sexual anorexia are two sides of the same coin. Sexual anorexia is also a surviving tool but it also keeps the client stuck in their pain. It minimises the real role the trauma created in the victims sexual life. It can wrongly persuade individuals to believe that they just don’t want or like sex altogether, or it’s due to timidity, fragility or sense of weakness.

Survivors can also develop sexual dysfunctions as a result of rape; all these are normal reactions just like the result of hearing loss after an explosion that hits us.

It is also important that we realise that sexual trauma isn’t limited to acts of rapes, but any unwanted sexual encounter, coerced sex, sleazy mockery, sexual harassment and deliberate exposure, exposure to pornography as child, or physical trauma to body that makes you feel it’s unattractive. We can even feel traumatised when we have given consent to sexual behaviour and yet felt traumatised without understanding why.

Atkinson talks about women he has counselled who report consensual sexual experiences that have left them feeling ashamed or degraded, including losing their virginity in ways that were seen as distressing or traumatic, these can include being ignored or left after sex after thinking they had a relationship. It is not okay for a partner to sexually abuse another, it doesn’t make it okay because you would have sex with them on another day or you find them attractive or consented in past, or wanting sex but not in way offered or given. You need to feel ready, not pressured or forced and consent means only in the way you have consented with care and respect.

Lundy Bancroft states: “Exploitive, rough, uncaring sex is similar to physical violence in its effects, and can be worse in many ways”.

Atkinson states that these episodes are then programmed into our brains to define sex and an encounter that is seen as shameful and overpowering. This then not only changes and affects our beliefs about sex but our very own brain structures. This means that when we approach a similar situation, our brain fires in similar ways as when we first experienced sex as a trauma.

It is important to realise that boys also do get sexually abused and raped by female and male perpetrators and for most survivors (both male and females) the perpetrator is mostly always someone known and trusted such as a family member, friend, partner, boss, teacher, babysitter…and very rarely is it a stranger.

Recovery and healing is possible, and as counsellors we must be aware of these conflicts and behaviours and have an understanding of the complex ways that sexual abuse/violence can impact on survivors and the struggles they may be experiencing. It is important that we help clients in their healing journey and recognise the many forms in which their pain is expressed, and how that pain may be unresolved and stuck.

For more information on sexual violence/abuse and domestic violence and abuse, check out my eBook – Shattering the myths of abuse: Validating the pain; Changing the culture –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shattering-Myths-Abuse-Validating-Changing-ebook/dp/B07PSCF9B5

References: ‘Resurrection after Rape – A guide to transforming from victim to survivor’, 2nd Edition, Matt Atkinson (2010), RAR Publishing.

‘Sexual anorexia – Overcoming Sexual self hatred’, PhD. Patrick Carnes, 1997.

Copywrite: Antonella Zottola

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