There is a fairly good understanding in society about physical self harm – such as cutting, burning etc.
But, there isn’t anywhere near as much insight and understanding, as to all the many ways child abuse survivors – emotionally self harm.
The following are ways survivors of child abuse – harm themselves. Often completely unaware they are self harming. It is often not a deliberate act of self harm.
When considering whether a behaviour or thinking is harmful, it is necessary to look at the result of it. Is there something negative occurring, as a result? If there is, and the survivor keeps repeating it, then this is emotionally self harmful.
I want to make it clear prior to anyone reading this – there is no judgement about any of this. I am simply pointing out what I see are understandable – but unhealthy ways child abuse survivors harm themselves. And only in identifying these, can a survivor choose to change and heal.
This is a particularly common form of emotional self harm. It understandably results, from being treated badly as a child. When adults have harmed us, especially caregivers – this can result in the survivor hating themselves. They can see themselves as ‘bad’, ‘damaged’, ‘unlovable’.
The survivor needs to address this, by starting to understand they are worthy of treating themselves with compassion and care. The survivor needs to learn they are worthy of being treated kindly and with dignity. And that starts with self.
Blaming Self For The Abuse
Again this is common when children have been abused by adults. They often blame the child for the abuse. They can make the child feel the abuse is deserved. This emotional abuse – can continue on in the survivors ‘inner critic voice’ – perpetuating the emotional abuse in childhood. The belief system of the child being the problem and deserving of the abuse, is a typical and very harmful abusive tactic of toxic people.
Challenging the belief systems and the inner critic, is how the healing of this begins. Until the survivor can accept 100% they were never to blame, the shame of self blame will continue.
Survivors of child abuse, understandably cope in many ways. A child does not have the capacity to cope with abuse and trauma, as well as an adult can. This can result in coping which may have been adaptive at the time of being a child. But, when that continues on into adulthood, it is a problem. This can be being continually angry, withdrawing from people and remaining alone. The survivor may use methods to dissociate from their inner pain, such as unhealthy levels of gaming, watching TV etc.
These need to be addressed in order to reduce them and to find more healthy ways of coping, that lead to a better quality of life.
Drugs & Alcohol
It is very understandable that survivors of child abuse, would turn to drugs and/or alcohol to cope with the pain and many mental and physical health issues that result. Self medicating is common with child abuse survivors. But, this is dangerous, can lead to death and if the drugs are illegal – this could lead to criminal proceedings and jail/prison.
Long term use of drugs and alcohol, cause further health issues. Often professional support is required to deal with addiction and substance abuse.
Failing to seek help, is self harm.
Working Too Hard
Some child abuse survivors, learn to minimise and avoid their pain, by working too hard. The work fills that void within and helps reduce the emotional pain. However, this means the survivor is not dealing with their trauma. They are avoiding it. Which does not lead to healing. And many survivors who use work as an avoidance method, can fall apart, and no longer maintain their excessive work behaviours.
Exercising Too Hard
Exercise is good for physical and mental health. That is well known. However, some child abuse survivors exercise in excess. They punish their bodies and themselves, with unhealthy levels of exercise.
Exercise can be addictive for some survivors. But, this is unhealthy and can cause further physical health issues. Over-exercising can cause heart attacks, muscle damage and other health issues.
Confronting the addictive nature of over-exercising, and choosing to change to more healthy levels of exercise, is how the survivor will begin to address this.
Some child abuse survivors, use sex as a way of dealing with the pain. This can be addictive and it can be harmful and unsafe. If they allow people to treat their bodies in a harmful way, they are self harming. Survivors can also fail to ensure they are safe, and this can lead to being sexually violated.
Child abuse survivors often seek love and attention, in unhealthy ways. They often are targeted by people who abuse this, and use and abuse the survivor again. This is re-traumatising.
This is especially common with child sexual abuse survivors. When a child’s body is violated in this heinous way, it can lead to the adult survivor putting themselves in continually traumatic situations, not protecting themselves, and continuing the abuse they endured in childhood. They often do not understand why they do this.
This requires compassion, and for the survivor to begin to know their body is precious, is not to be used and abused, and that only healthy and appropriate treatment is then considered.
This may require very sensitive and empathic therapy.
Anger is a necessary emotion for child abuse survivors to feel, as part of their healing. It is necessary to be angry at being a vulnerable child and abused.
Anger is okay, unless it is being directed at people who are not responsible for the abuse. When survivors are continually angry, they hurt others and they are hurting themselves.
Learning to control anger and manage it, is vital.
A survivor is not going to have healthy relationships with others, if they are continually angry. This means the survivor is hurting themselves and unable to form healthy relationships.
Excessive anger also affects the physical body. There is an increased risk for heart attacks, stokes and other health issues, when a person is consumed with anger to an unhealthy level for longer than is needed for healing.
Being Consumed With Thoughts Of Revenge
Some survivors of abuse, do have thoughts of wanting revenge, or for the perpetrator to have something happen to them back, so they know how the pain of abuse feels.
Excessive thoughts about this, and being consumed by this need for revenge, only harms the survivor. It keeps the survivor locked in pain. It keeps the survivor bound emotionally to the perpetrator.
Understanding that healing is not about the perpetrator at all, but about how the survivor improves their life, is how someone will change this thinking.
Lack Of Self Care & Lack Of Healthy Boundaries
Child abuse survivors often struggle with self care. This can be physical self care and emotional self care. A lack of healthy diet, exercise, body hygiene, caring for appearance etc.
Often child abuse survivors often don’t have any self worth, so they don’t care for themselves with love and kindness.
A lack of healthy emotional boundaries can lead to further abuse and harm. Especially as toxic people sense these soft boundaries, and use them fully for their own toxic needs. And when toxic people are your ‘normal’ from childhood, this is often all the survivor knows. So they continue to engage with toxic people in adulthood.
Some survivors of child abuse have very strong inflexible emotional boundaries, and these keeps them from forming healthy relationships, and often keeps them stuck in isolation. Missing out on the good that comes from healthy attachment and loving relationships.
The survivor needs to learn healthy self care, healthy boundaries, and how to implement them.
Using An Identity To Cope & Avoid Dealing With The Trauma
All too often I see survivors of child abuse, taking on a persona/identity to cope. This often will be described as a ‘warrior survivor’. This is understandable, but not healthy if the survivor is using this identity as a protection shield, and is failing to process the trauma, failing to grieve the trauma.
This ‘identity’ can feel like a very strong thought process, yet it often keeps the survivor in a state of avoidance.
In self reflecting and truly looking at all the behaviours and thinking a survivor of child abuse can have, this promotes changes to healthier ways.
A survivors needs to have self compassion and understand, they were doing the best they could within this terrible situation of child abuse.
As the adult we become, we can choose to look at what will help our lives improve. And know we deserve to have good lives.
It takes time and often support, to make these changes. To form healthy and true beliefs. To develop healthier ways to cope and live. I always suggest trauma informed therapy as this can provide the safe place and relationship, within which to process the trauma.
It is possible, and it is my hope for all survivors, to know if they have any form of self harm, they can change and this will promote such healing.
(And please also note, this is not an exhaustive list, there are more ways of self harm).
For more information about child abuse, complex trauma and more, see my Website @ https://www.healingfromcomplextraumaandptsd.com/
My Website, is supported by many mental health professionals and clinicians.
(This article has been very well received, and I am glad to see many mental health professionals and clinicians sharing this. I received feedback from Natalie Waco, LCSW MSG –
“Thank you for this article. Excellent!”).
~ Lilly Hope Lucario
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