Shift Happens Therapy

Childhood Abuse & Neglect

Childhood Abuse & Neglect

Abuse is always terrible, but childhood abuse and neglect can shape the entire way you see the world. Sometimes, the wounds left by the trauma you experienced is obvious. Sometimes, it’s hidden away.

If you experienced childhood abuse and/or neglect, you may have trouble having compassion for yourself and what you experienced when you were young. We rarely voice the truth that we are so aware of as children: we are dependent on our parents for survival. When your parents both provided for you and abused you, the confusion and hurt runs deep.


Is How I Feel Normal?

It’s common feel frozen in the same reactions you had as a child. Or, you may feel disconnected and have a hard time feeling like you can trust others. Maybe you recognize that you’re playing out some of the same unhealthy patterns you experienced and witnessed as a child, but feel powerless to stop your reactions. You may struggle with how to set boundaries with your parents and family of origin now that you are an adult.


Was What I Experienced Abuse?

Denial is a common defense children use to survive hurtful situations, so it may be hard to even admit you were abused. You may say to yourself, “It wasn’t that bad,” or “Maybe I’m just overreacting – my parents did the best they could.” And, of course, abuse occurs on a spectrum, so it’s always easy to find someone who had it worse. So, how do you gauge the truth?

It’s often easier to be objective if you imagine someone else experiencing what you do so. So think of a child the same age as you were when you experienced the worst treatment from adults in your life. This can be a child you know and feel protective towards, or just an image of a loving, innocent child. As an adult now,imagine the child experiencing the same situations that you did. Ask yourself:

  • Was the child abused, treated poorly, unfairly, or disregarded?
  • How would you imagine that child feels about him/herself and towards the adult(s)?
  • As an adult now, how do I feel about the way the adults treated the child?
  • As an adult now, how would I feel about myself if I treated a child in this way? What would I do differently?


Sometimes Coping with Childhood Abuse Gets Harder When Your Life Gets Easier

On the surface, this may not make much sense. Why are you falling apart now that your life is better? But it makes sense when you consider the picture. When you were experiencing the abuse or neglect, you were doing all that you can just to survive. It’s likely you didn’t have the emotional safety, then, to be able to process your feelings and bodily sensations. When that happens, all those feelings and sensations get buried in your body, and resurface when you are more equipped to handle them.


The good news is, now that you are an adult, there is a lot that you can differently. When you ignore them, the wounds of childhood abuse have a tendency to fester. However, with the right care, deep healing is possible.


Important Therapeutic Tasks for Healing from Childhood Abuse

  • Naming what happened to you and sharing as much or as little of your story as you choose
  • Releasing shame and guilt
  • Learning about how trauma is stored in your body and how to help your body heal
  • Recognize reactions and behaviors related to your abuse and how to interrupt learned patterns
  • Feeling safety with others – exploring and repairing safe and healthy relationships
  • Affirming healthy boundaries – learning how to say no and how to say yes
  • Feeling safe in your body and with yourself

How Long Does Healing from Childhood Abuse & Neglect Take?


One of the challenges of healing from childhood abuse is that most often, the abuse and neglect you experienced reoccurred for years and years. Completely healing those multiple wounds takes time. As well, every person and situation is different. Most commonly, people invest between 6 months – 2 years working intently on healing. After that, they may come back for maintenance sessions as needed.


Most people who invest in counseling report that they notice the benefits almost immediately, so you don’t have to wait a long time to start noticing positive differences.


How Can I Trust Anyone If I Couldn’t Trust My Parents?

Absolutely, this is a big task. Part of you may be terrified of letting anyone in at the same time as you are desperate not to feel so alone.


Trust is a big part of the therapeutic relationship, and I know that doesn’t happen all at once. In fact, I encourage you to use counseling as a way to test out the process of establishing trust a little at a time.


Books and Resources for Healing from Childhood Abuse


The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis

“Classic book that provides a comprehensive guide for healing and multiple firsthand accounts from survivors.”


Allies in Healing: When The Person You Love Is a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Laura Davis


“Companion book to Courage to Heal for family members and loved ones.”


The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller

“Best selling book on childhood trauma and the enduring effects of repressed anger and pain.


Obsidian Mirror: Healing from Childhood Abuse by Louise Wildchild

“Autobiography of a healer’s journey into healing her own childhood abuse and healing her splintered parts.”

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