Helping Adult Victims of Child Abuse or Trauma using Psychotherapy at 1066 Therapy
covering East Sussex, Battle, Hastings, Bexhill, Rye, Heathfield, Hailsham, Eastbourne, Crowborough, Brighton, Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Ashford, Maidstone and Kent.
I have successfully helped a variety of clients who are either adult victims of child abuse, (whether the abuse is emotional / psychological, physical, sexual, or a combination), or who have experienced some form of trauma in their childhood, using a trauma-informed psychotherapy at my practice just outside of Battle, East Sussex.
I am, sadly, often asked for help by both men and women who have experienced some sort of abuse or trauma in their childhood and they have on-going problems as a result.
Trauma comes from the Greek word meaning ‘wound’. A person is traumatised when they are emotionally overwhelmed by an experience (almost always they go into ‘survival mode’ of fight/flight/freeze) and they feel out of control and unable to defend themselves. Our brains aren’t ‘wired’ for trauma which is why we struggle with overwhelming experiences, especially when we are children because our brain is still developing. Children can be traumatised by events such as the sudden loss of a loved one i.e. through death or divorce, enforced separation such as a parent or the child having to stay in hospital (IF it isn’t handled sensitively enough for the child), a serious illness or operation (again if it isn’t handled sensitively), war (obviously), and natural disasters. They can also be traumatised by being serially abused, or neglected (emotionally or physically) especially by those who they have a close relationship with.
The word ‘abuse’ is an emotive word and especially so for the words ‘child abuse’. People often think ‘child abuse’ only refers to sexual abuse or being beaten. However, the dictionary definitions of “abuse” are ‘to speak rudely to’, ‘to treat cruelly’, ‘to use wrongly/to misuse’, and in childhood this covers a wide range of adverse and painful experiences including:
- Psychological and emotional abuse – e.g. regular belittling or criticism of a child, humiliation, verbal bullying, shouting and yelling. Children don’t need to be spoken to ‘rudely’ necessarily (although some are) to be deeply distressed, just unkindly, e.g. ‘ You’re more trouble than you’re worth’, ‘You’ll never amount to anything’, ‘I wish you had never been born’ and so on.
- Physical abuse – e.g. smacking, hitting, which may be done with e.g. open hands, fists, belts, shoes, spoons, canes. People often think that this kind of poor treatment ‘did them no harm’, or they tell me that ‘it didn’t matter, it was only the occasional smack’; but when I ask them how they would feel/react if someone hit them or slapped them occasionally now, I get a different response which helps to start changing their perspective.
- Sexual abuse – e.g. being exposed to pornography/sexual acts, inappropriate touching of the child or coercing/grooming the child to touch someone else, being molested, incest.
- Neglect – physical neglect is quite straightforward to identify – the child is perhaps not given enough to eat, clothes may be dirty, and so on, it is the failure to meet a child’s basic physical needs. Emotional neglect on the other hand is more difficult to identify as it the absence of something intangible – emotional attunement, emotional support, empathy and so on – which should have been there but wasn’t, either during a crisis moment or regularly during childhood.
Often I am consulted by people who have had some previous counselling or other therapy for their early experiences but they are still struggling with unwanted behaviours or problems – e.g. anxiety disorders, confidence and self-esteem issues, problems with sex, drink or drug issues, weight control problems, eating disorders, emotional problems, or any number of other difficulties. The previous therapy may have been helpful for them to a varying degree, or may not have been helpful at all for whatever reason, so they feel ‘stuck’ somehow and unable to move on properly.
This might be because many therapies involve talking things through on an intellectual level and therefore don’t always ‘connect’ to all of the unresolved emotions involved in these types of adverse and painful experiences. Having unresolved and conflicting emotions, and negative ‘core’ beliefs about the self, (usually held on a subconscious level and/or in the body), is generally why people can continue to have problems despite having had some therapy. Also, many adult victims of child abuse will have developed problems with dissociation and/or be suffering from a complex form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (cPTSD), both of which require a specific therapy approach.
In addition, many adults do not connect their present day problems with their early experiences: they tend to think that ‘it was such a long time ago, it can’t be that’, or that they are ‘over all of that now’, or ‘it wasn’t that bad, people have worse’. They also very often think that ‘it’s just the way I am’ or ‘I am an anxious person’ etc. However, decades of research and studies and recent advances in neuroscience are able to show us the impact on the developing mind of painful experiences generally, and the connections and correlations between adverse childhood experiences and a wide range of problems in adulthood. The same research shows us that we don’t just ‘get over it’ with the passage of time. For more information on this you can, for example, search for the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study: this is a USA-based study which contains some elements which perhaps would not apply in the UK but it is otherwise very useful.
As challenging as this subject is, the term ‘child abuse’ is an adult term which we do not have a proper understanding of when we are children; we certainly do not process what we are experiencing (often with a trusted adult, a close relative, or a caregiver) when we are children as ‘abuse’ – we simply don’t properly understand what we are experiencing, or what it means, in order to be able to process things effectively. It also seems ‘normal’ to us at the time, especially if it is happening in our own home. The situation is further complicated if active abuse is coming from a parent/caregiver: in these situations, the child may love the adult as well as being fearful of them sometimes, and this conflict will very often result in the negative feelings, and sometimes even the full memory of the events, being completely suppressed, denied, disavowed, dissociated.
I have trained in several trauma-informed therapy models specifically designed to help people who have experienced some form of adult abuse or trauma. I am a fully qualified and certified PICT practitioner. For more information on PICT click here. The PICT process has been created to specifically help people recover from childhood trauma / abuse. I have also trained in Lifespan Integration Level One – see here. I have also had training in working with dissociation and complex PTSD: please check out the ‘About Me’ page for details.
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