Effects of Childhood Trauma

We know childhood affects us as adults, but we may be unaware of the extent to which this is true. Childhood trauma, whether you know about it or not, may be impacting you or someone you love in ways you don’t realize. Identifying trauma symptoms and finding healing can make an immense difference in your life today.

Trauma isn’t something we want to spend a lot of time thinking about, but it’s a vital topic to consider, not just for the adults who are affected with post-traumatic stress, but for children who’ve experienced it.

Let’s start by defining what we mean by childhood trauma. The National Child Trauma Stress Network defines it this way: “When a child feels intensely threatened by an event he or she is involved in or witnesses, we call that event a trauma.”

Risk Factors for Childhood Trauma

The Trauma Services Network lists a number of factors that increase the risk for childhood trauma, although they are not established as definitive causes. They are:

  • Disabilities
  • Social isolation (family)
  • Lack of parental understanding of child development or children’s needs
  • Domestic abuse (parents’ history)
  • Poverty
  • Family disorganization/violence
  • Lack of cohesion
  • Substance abuse
  • Young, single non-biological parents
  • Poor parent-child relationships and negative interactions
  • Parental thoughts and emotions supporting maltreatment behaviors
  • Parental stress and distress, including depression or other mental health conditions
  • Community violence

While some of these factors may constitute traumatic experiences, some are not directly traumatic but contribute to an unsafe environment that increases the risk that the child will experience trauma. If, for example, you are a parent of a child with disabilities and you are socially isolated and/or a single parent, you may not be able to change all of those factors, but you can be aware of the risks for trauma and take action to make your child’s environment as safe as possible.

Types of Childhood Trauma

The NCTSN lists several types of trauma that are commonly experienced in childhood:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Early childhood trauma (ages 0-6)
  • Traumatic grief
  • Medical trauma
  • Complex trauma
  • Domestic violence
  • Bullying
  • Community violence
  • Refugee trauma
  • Disasters
  • Terrorism and violence

Look Through Their Eyes is another organization that works to identify, prevent, and heal childhood trauma. Their list of most common childhood trauma includes most of those listed above, as well as:

  • Accidents
  • Chaos or dysfunction in the house (such as domestic violence, parent with a mental illness, substance abuse or incarcerated)
  • Emotional abuse or neglect
  • Separation from a parent or caregiver
  • Stress caused by poverty

From both of these lists, we can see that abuse, neglect, and violence within the family cause traumatic stress for children, and so do wider-scale disasters, war, and terrorism.

So, if a child experiences any of these things, how does it affect them? How do they respond?

The difference between a child’s stress response and an adult’s stress response is that children are still developing. They don’t have the understanding that adults do, and their brain hasn’t finished growing.

This reality means that trauma can have a different impact as the child grows older than it would on an adult who has already reached full cognitive development.

Physical Responses to Trauma

While most people are aware of the “fight or flight” response to frightening events, the “freeze” response is not as well known. “Freeze” is a type of dissociation that means the person perceives the threat to be so severe that neither running nor fighting back is a possibility.

Freezing is the body’s reaction to being flooded with stress. A child, who is smaller and more vulnerable in every way than an adult, may experience the freeze response in a variety of different traumatic situations.

What happens if a child is exposed to trauma over a long period of time? Their trauma response continues, and this unhealthy state of physical stress, with hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol coursing through the body, can lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or C-PTSD (complex PTSD). The American Psychological Association notes that, “Children exposed to chronic and pervasive trauma are especially vulnerable to the impact of subsequent trauma.” (APA)

Regardless of whether the trauma response turns into a full-fledged disorder or not, the stress it causes can make a lasting impact on a child’s development.

How Trauma Affects Development

Researchers have noted that trauma in childhood can actually reduce the size of the brain cortex, which is a significant effect on a child’s physical and mental health and development.

Besser van der Kolk, who wrote the book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, explains that, “Children’s brains are literally shaped by traumatic experiences, which can lead to problems with anger, addiction, and even criminal activity in adulthood.” In an interview with Side Effects Public Media, he explained:

“The human brain is a social organ that is shaped by experience, and that is shaped in order to respond to the experience that you’re having. So particularly earlier in life, if you’re in a constant state of terror; your brain is shaped to be on alert for danger, and to try to make those terrible feelings go away.

The brain gets very confused. And that leads to problems with excessive anger, excessive shutting down, and doing things like taking drugs to make yourself feel better. These things are almost always the result of having a brain that is set to feel in danger and fear.

As you grow up and get a more stable brain, these early traumatic events can still cause changes that make you hyper-alert to danger, and hypo-alert to the pleasures of everyday life…

If you’re an adult and life’s been good to you, and then something bad happens, that sort of injures a little piece of the whole structure. But toxic stress in childhood from abandonment or chronic violence has pervasive effects on the capacity to pay attention, to learn, to see where other people are coming from, and it really creates havoc with the whole social environment.”

As an adult who experienced childhood trauma, you may have mental health effects, including anxiety or expression, continued PTSD, substance use disorders, problems with relationships, or struggles with self-harm and suicidal ideation. Even if you do not have serious mental health problems, you may struggle with psychological issues. Psychology Today discusses four subtle but real effects of childhood trauma in adulthood:

Creating a false self that we think will be accepted (burying feelings, wearing a mask)

  1. Victimhood thinking (negative self-talk)
  2. Passive-aggressiveness (suppressed anger)
  3. Passivity (buried feelings = buried personhood)

Of course, these things can lead to problems with relationships and difficulty at work and in other areas of your adult life.

Harvard Health has reported on research conducted on adverse childhood experiences, shortened to ACEs, many of which include traumatic experiences, and these experiences have drastic effects on health, and are linked to negative outcomes in adulthood.

The bottom line is, if you have experienced childhood trauma—even if you are unaware of it—you may still be suffering from post-traumatic stress as an adult. And this stress can manifest in a number of ways: physically, mentally, and psychologically.

Child Trauma Symptoms

How can parents, caregivers, or teachers know when a child is exhibiting trauma symptoms, even if they are unaware of the trauma itself?

A child who is experiencing trauma, or has post-traumatic stress, may exhibit signs of clinginess, fear, aggression, and impulsivity, and have difficulty regulating their behavior and emotions. They may become fixated on death and/or safety. They might have trouble eating or sleeping. Other common symptoms are irritability, difficulty focusing, or separation anxiety.

While just one or two of these symptoms may be part of a normal developmental stage for a child, if you know a child who is exhibiting several of these symptoms, it may be time to find out if there is a more serious explanation.

Preventing and Responding to Childhood Trauma

Although it’s not possible to remove all risk factors for childhood trauma, we can work to create safe environments for children, and then educate responsible adults in how to respond in the best way to alleviate the aftereffects of trauma.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network says that resilience is the biggest factor in a positive outcome for childhood trauma, and the biggest factor in resilience is the presence of one consistent caregiver in the child’s life:

“Research on resilience in children demonstrates that an essential protective factor is the reliable presence of a positive, caring, and protective parent or caregiver, who can help shield children against adverse experiences. They can be a consistent resource for their children, encouraging them to talk about their experiences, and they can provide reassurance to their children that the adults in their lives are working to keep them safe.”

The American Psychological Association adds that “The majority of children and adolescents manifest resilience in the aftermath of traumatic experiences. This is especially true of single-incident exposure.”

So, in a way, it’s possible to set children up for success both before and after any traumatic events have occurred. According to the Trauma Survivors Network, the following are protective factors in a child’s life that can help them with trauma and recovery:

  • Supportive family environment
  • Nurturing parenting skills
  • Stable family relationships
  • Household rules and monitoring of the child
  • Parental employment
  • Adequate housing
  • Access to health care and social services
  • Caring adults outside family who can serve as role models or mentors
  • Communities that support parents and take responsibility for preventing abuse

In other words, a child needs a safe environment with adult support. The good news is that if you are a parent or caregiver of a child, you can be that safe person for them, a consistent presence, and you can make a big difference for that child.

What about a child who has already undergone one, or multiple traumatic experiences? There are evidence-based treatment options, including Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with a trauma focus. There is even inpatient treatment if necessary. The Gil Institute recommends trauma-focused integrated play therapy, and there is some evidence that neurofeedback can successfully treat trauma, even in children.

The bottom line is not to hesitate to get a child evaluated for professional treatment. It can make a big difference in the possibility of a positive outcome and trauma healing.

If you are an adult and you think or know that you were traumatized as a child, it’s not too late to get help. You can explore childhood trauma with a licensed counselor or therapist, and work through treatment for those issues.

Revisiting the past can be very painful, and a licensed counselor can help you walk through the process safely and compassionately. Contact our office today to take the first steps towards trauma healing for you or your child.

Resources:

  • https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types
  • https://www.ecmhc.org/tutorials/trauma/mod2_3.html
  • http://lookthroughtheireyes.org/
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201507/trauma-and-the-freeze-response-good-bad-or-both
  • https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects
  • https://www.traumasurvivorsnetwork.org/traumapedias/777
  • https://www.samhsa.gov/child-trauma/recognizing-and-treating-child-traumatic-stress#types
  • https://www.kidsmentalhealthinfo.com/topics/child-trauma/effective-treatments-child-traumatic-stress/
  • http://www.gilinstitute.com/services/treatment/tfipt.php
  • http://www.istss.org/public-resources/what-is-childhood-trauma/effects-of-childhood-trauma.aspx
  • https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/past-trauma-may-haunt-your-future-health
  • https://www.addictionpolicy.org/blog/adverse-childhood-experiences-and-trauma
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-anger/201706/4-ways-childhood-trauma-impacts-adults
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-anger/201804/9-steps-healing-childhood-trauma-adult
  • https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/childrenz-trauma-update
  • https://www.sideeffectspublicmedia.org/post/childhood-trauma-leads-brains-wired-fear
  • https://childmind.org/article/signs-trauma-children/

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The Hidden Hurt: Signs of Physical and Mental Abuse

The lasting effects of childhood physical and mental abuse can take their toll on adult survivors. Learning to recognize the signs of maltreatment will enable you to step in and assist a child in need. However, children are not only the only targets for abuse. Spouses and elderly parents are often victims of domestic violence.

If you are an adult survivor of abuse, there is hope. You can find treatment to help you cope with the painful memories and negative thoughts.

Signs of Physical Abuse

Although not necessarily easy to spot, physical abuse is prevalent in domestic violence cases. Abuse can take the form of physically hitting, punching, or whipping another person. Other forms include sexual abuse and neglecting or withholding the basic needs of another human being.

Common signs of physical abuse include:

  • Bruises and cuts – Unexplained wounds that the victim probably tries to hide. They may wear clothing that covers their bruises, even during the hottest days of the year.
  • Burns – Small cigarette burns or burn marks from something larger being pressed onto the victim’s skin, such as a kettle. Typically, the victim isn’t even given proper medical care for these burns, resulting in scarring.
  • Frequent sprains or broken bones – Hospitals and emergency care centers will report frequent hospital visits for sprains and broken bones if the wounds cannot
    be explained satisfactorily by the victim (or the victim’s parents or guardians).
  • Concussions – Concussions from hitting or shaking the victim. Infants shaken to control their crying may develop Shaken Baby (Impact) Syndrome, which can lead to seizures, retinal hemorrhage, coma, and death.
  • Bite marks – Bite marks are signs of abuse that show in a pattern. Other items that are used to physically abuse a victim that leave patterns include belts and flyswatters.

Neglecting a person’s basic needs is withholding or not making sure a person has housing with clean living conditions, heat during the cold winter months, food, clothing, and medical care. Neglect also includes leaving a child or elderly (or disabled) adult alone for extended periods of time.

Since children receive bruises and cuts throughout normal childhood adventures, it is critical that you view the child’s entire physical and emotional wellbeing before assuming it is child abuse. If you are in doubt, speak to a licensed professional for confirmation, such as a child’s school counselor or an elderly person’s primary physician.

Signs of Mental Abuse

Signs of mental abuse in both children and adults can be harder to pinpoint. The caregiver may not even be aware that their words and actions are abusive in nature since it is not physical abuse.

Some of the signs of mental abuse include:

  • Withholding affection until the victim does whatever they demand.
  • Isolating the victim from friends and family.
  • Calling the victim names or spiteful pet names.
  • Sarcasm or joking meant to belittle the person or their achievements, dreams, or goals.
  • Yelling and slamming things to intimidate their victim.
  • Threatening the victim or the victim’s loved ones.
  • Keeping a close eye on where their victim is if they are an adult.
  • Controlling all of their adult victim’s finances or withholding money for basic needs.
  • Treating the adult victim like a child including making and canceling plans.
  • Giving commands and expecting them to be followed without question.
  • Ignoring the victim’s attempts at conversation.
  • Gaslighting the victim by pushing their buttons and then denying one has done anything.
  • Turning others against the victim with social manipulation and relational bullying.

Abusers frequently use emotions against their victims. The victim doesn’t know how the abuser will react to anything; they may show rage, love, or indifference. This is another way emotionally abusive parents or spouses can control their victims. When the victim reacts, the abuser may tell others that the victim is crazy or mentally ill.

Children living in a mentally (or physically) abusive home may worry about going home or how their parent is going to react to certain news. This anxiety is beyond the occasional bad report card. The child may become physically ill or develop a headache with the thought of going home.

The child may have learning delays or require the services of a speech-language pathologist. Children and adults under the strain of mental abuse can develop low self-esteem and mental health conditions like depression.

The Effects of Past Abuse

The scars from past abuse are sometimes harder to bring into the light as they are hidden, sometimes deeply, within the person’s psyche.

These wounds from physically or emotionally abusive parents can result in survivors with mental health conditions or adults who are emotionally distant from loved ones.

Some of the more common effects of abuse include:

  • Anxiety – Anxious thoughts can lead to physical ailments like anxiety attacks, sudden panic attacks, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal distress.
  • Depression – Survivors may experience bouts of deep depression, although they may be unaware of the root cause if the abuse occurred at a very early age. Some survivors develop manic-depressive states, an extreme swing between “high-highs and low-lows.”
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – PTSD can occur in both children and adults. The disorder dredges up the victim’s memories and feelings about the traumatic event with intrusive dreams/nightmares and thoughts. PTSD can also create hallucinatory visions.
  • Trust issues – A victim may not be able to lend trust freely after abuse, especially if the abusive relationship was long term. They may be afraid they are going to lose the love or approval of people, and therefore, appear emotionally distant.
  • Self-destructive behaviors – Eating disorders, self-harm behaviors like cutting or burning, and living a high risk-taking lifestyle are self-destructive behaviors created to numb the pain of the trauma. These survivors are not thriving but trying to control the only thing they can – their bodies.
  • Suicidal thoughts – A survivor may find negative thoughts too much to endure. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, seek help from a mental health professional or faith-based counselor immediately. Hope and healing are possible.

Often, a survivor of abuse is trying to figure out how to cope with past trauma while moving forward with their life. Talk therapy (also referred to as psychotherapy) and other techniques can help to replace those intrusive memories and beliefs with constructive and positive emotions.

Treatment for Physical and Mental Abuse

Children removed from an abusive relationship can heal from the trauma. A licensed therapist can assist the child through play therapy, art therapy, family therapy, and (depending on the age) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is commonly used with children and adults for a variety of mental health conditions. It is extremely beneficial for survivors dealing with PTSD. The therapy helps to identify the thoughts, memories, and emotions related to the event. Then the patient learns techniques on how to reframe the event and replace those negative thoughts, thus changing the emotions.

When they change how they feel about the memories, their behavior will also change. This can help reverse some of the self-destructive behaviors such as an eating disorder.

Talk therapy is effective in one-on-one sessions with a therapist or in a group therapy setting. These group or family sessions can be held at the therapist’s private office or in a facility. Some facilities offer faith-based counseling services that combine professional mental health resources with the Christian faith. These treatments focus on the healing of the mind and spirit after the trauma.

In these settings, the survivor will learn how to rely on God and prayer as well as psychological techniques to overcome the negative thoughts and memories. Depending on the specific circumstance, the patient’s treatment may focus on forgiveness and grace, not only for the abuser but for the victim.

As a survivor learns how to overcome and move on from a childhood of abuse or adult relationship maltreatment, they will realize that not only will they survive what happened to them in the past, but they will thrive. Although their hurts are hidden many times from the outside world, a victim of abuse should never feel alone. Help is only a phone call away.

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The Fear of Abandonment: Getting the Help You Need for Abandonment Issues

The fear of abandonment can create lasting problems from childhood long into adulthood. Adults with abandonment issues may sabotage, consciously or subconsciously, personal relationships with others. This can take the form of pushing a partner away after a period of time to keep that person from eventually leaving first.

For example, a man with abandonment issues may leave his wife of ten years for another woman for fear that his wife would have eventually left him. Before the marriage ended, he may have emotionally pushed her away. In another five or ten years, he may repeat the behavior with his second wife due to his fear that she too will someday leave him.

Although these issues can stem from childhood neglect, abuse, or trauma, adults can develop a fear of abandonment as a result of traumatic experiences later in life.

Abandonment During Childhood

It is common for children to become teary-eyed and sad when their parent leaves them at daycare. A child may cry when their guardian leaves them in the church nursery for an hour or two while the adult worships in the sanctuary. However, children with healthy emotions will move on and play with toys after a while. Or, if they are new to daycare, they will adjust within a week or so of consistent attendance.

Children with emotional abandonment issues, on the other hand, may panic at the thought of the guardian leaving them. The child might develop a severe case of anxiety or refuse to sleep alone. Sometimes this behavior is due to the fear of being left alone. Other times, it is the result of a child having been abandoned.

Abandonment can come in many forms. The parent may physically leave, such as when one parent leaves indefinitely due to divorce or death. Or, it might be from emotional abandonment as when the parent refuses to meet the child’s basic needs for love, attention, and nurturing.

If the child comes from a poor family where the basics of food, running water, power, and heat are not provided consistently, the child may associate that with a lack of love. Loving parents try to provide for their children’s basic needs, and on some level, children instinctively know this.

However, it is not only children from low-income households at risk. Influential families can raise their children without meeting their emotional needs. Children who feel that their parents or guardians are withholding love and attention may develop abandonment issues.

Abused or neglected children from all social-economic backgrounds are at a higher risk of developing a fear of abandonment. These feelings of rejection can shape a child’s mind and their self-belief. This can lead to issues later in life as they try to manage personal relationships.

A child’s mind also perceives events differently than an adult would. A child might conclude that a parent leaving the family permanently due to divorce is because the parent no longer wanted the child in their life. They may believe that the parent felt their life would be easier (or happier, richer, etc.) without the child present. The child may begin to show signs of separation anxiety with the remaining parent.

Separation anxiety is common in children for whom one parent is gone due to death. The loss may have been forthcoming, such as a long illness, or sudden, like a tragic accident. The loss is still deep in either case. Some children suddenly become hyper-aware of the remaining parent’s presence and are afraid of losing them. Other children may feel a sense of betrayal, especially if the living parent is domineering, abusive, or emotionally distant.

During the aftermath of a parent’s death, the surviving parent must cope with their own emotions. Sometimes this means that they wind up neglecting their child’s emotional needs. This isn’t necessarily done on purpose; both child and parent are hurt.

If you are the parent or guardian of a child with abandonment issues, let the child know you are open to hearing how they feel. If it is your own child, they may feel awkward or afraid that they might hurt your feelings. Assure them that you will not overreact. Allow them to express their fears.

If you are worried about the child’s emotional health, seek professional help. You can speak to your child’s pediatrician or school counselor. Sometimes the act of sharing their fears and having someone reaffirm that they are wanted and loved can place a child in a better mental state. Your child’s doctor may refer you to a therapist if the anxiety from the fear of abandonment is extreme.

Abandonment Issues in Adults

Adults are at a higher risk for developing abandonment issues if they experience a traumatic event. This can include sexual assault, domestic violence or abuse, the end of a relationship, or another high-stress situation. It is not only the fear of physical abandonment or neglect but of emotional abandonment as well; the feeling of the other partner pulling away and leaving the person unloved and rejected.

These adults may leave relationships to keep from getting hurt. This fear of intimacy can also result in shallow relationships. The person wants a deeply committed relationship but is terrified of someone they love eventually leaving them. The hurt they will feel at the dissolution of the relationship (not on their own terms) is an emotion they need to avoid at all costs.

This person may sabotage their relationship by becoming emotionally distant, verbally abusive, or indifferent to their partner. They may engage in extramarital affairs or choose work over family life. They may start arguments and contradict their spouse when the spouse tries to confirm that they would never leave the marriage.

The adult with abandonment issues may accuse their spouse of infidelity or some other betrayal. Furthermore, to widen the emotional gap, they may tell others about this alleged betrayal, so that no one will blame them for leaving the spouse.

The behavior from the fear of abandonment causes a reaction from those involved. Unfortunately, the adult with these issues may get a sense of satisfaction from these reactions and the attention they garner and cycle through the behavior again. To the outside world, these people appear full of drama and consistently in new relationships. However, the truth is that the person is hurting with an emotional need that is still unmet.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, fear of abandonment can cause a person in a bad relationship to stay longer. The fear of loneliness outweighs the fear of staying in the relationship. Even if their partner is emotionally or physically abusive, the person with abandonment issues cannot break free for long. This “stuck” feeling can lead to additional mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Getting the Help You Need

If you recognize the symptoms of abandonment issues in your own life, seek the help of a licensed mental health care professional. Your primary physician can refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counseling center near you.

A faith-based counseling facility can help you overcome the fear of abandonment while reassuring you that there is One who will never abandon you. By relying on your faith in God, you can resist the urge to ruin and flee a loving relationship. You will find the necessary courage to leave an abusive relationship that does not adhere to your Christian values that love is patient and kind, not jealous, boastful, or proud (1 Corinthians 13:4).

A common treatment for emotional abandonment and the fears that accompany it is psychotherapy. This includes talk therapy which can be done in an individual setting with the therapist or in couple’s sessions.

The therapist will help you to identify the thoughts and emotions that accompany these issues and change your responses. It will take time to learn to react with the new behavioral patterns, but this is something you can do. It is not only for you but for the future of your relationship.

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Therapeutic Activities for Children You Can Do at Home

The brokenness of life affects everyone, including children. But since children’s brains aren’t fully developed, sometimes we struggle to help them cope with difficulty or trauma. If you have a toolbox of techniques and activities for children, you can consider which one(s) might help an individual child in their situation.

Since you care about your child, you form a big piece of the puzzle to help them through their struggle. Let’s discuss some therapeutic activities for children that you can use at home with your child.

Therapeutic Activities for Children

These activities can help both children and adults, but let’s talk about them in the context of helping a child who needs therapy. You can use them at home as a parent, and they can also be used in a school or child care setting.

Drawing/Artwork

Children don’t have the cognitive or verbal capacity to fully express what’s going on inside. Even as adults, we sometimes struggle to explain what we’re thinking or feeling.

As the adult, when you want to help a child who’s struggling, it can be really demoralizing when you realize you can’t pick their brain. How are you supposed to help them if you don’t know what’s really going on?

And expressing internal thoughts isn’t just important so we can get help, it’s important because outwardly processing our experiences and feelings helps us heal. For children, art can unlock their self-expression and provide healing.

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Drawing utensils (crayons, colored pencils, chalk, etc.)
  • Drawing surface (paper, chalkboard, etc.)

You can proactively implement art in your daily routine, even if your child doesn’t need therapy at this time. The routine of drawing, coloring, or painting will become a familiar ritual. If and when your child does need a therapeutic activity, she’ll already possess the tools and habits to express herself.

Journaling

Journaling and therapy often go hand in hand. Some experts believe that journaling can benefit your mental health just as much as traditional therapy. If your child is old enough to write easily, he might enjoy journaling as a way to get thoughts of his brain and onto paper. Later, he can look back and see how he’s changed.

Healing often happens when we self-reflect, and it’s no different for children. A journal doesn’t have to be a traditional diary with a lock and key, full of pages of longhand introspection. It’s not meant to be another homework assignment; the child can decide when, where, and how he would like to journal.

If he would enjoy it, he can incorporate art – drawing, painting, adding found paper or ephemera, creating word clouds, etc.

You can also provide prompts to help your child briefly focus on a specific topic, such as:

  • What is one thing you would like to teach someone else?
  • What do you hope will happen this week?
  • Did you get to relax today? What did you do?
  • What was the weather like today?
  • Who did you enjoy talking to today?
  • What did you enjoy doing today?
  • What emotion are you most aware of right now?
  • What do you do when you’re afraid?
  • What did you think your day would be like when you woke up this morning?
  • What is your favorite scent? What does it make you think of?
  • If you could spend time every day with a particular friend, who would it be?
  • What is something you disliked about today?

If you think your child would enjoy journaling but is too young to write anything longform, you can serve as the scribe while he plays the narrator. You can even “interview” them using journaling prompts and write down their answers.

The older the child is, the more he’ll need to be confident in his journal’s privacy. If you are concerned about unsafe behaviors, you might need to have a conversation with your child about sharing thoughts they’re having with an adult they trust (preferably you). Make sure to set privacy boundaries with your child based on their age and level of maturity.

An older child or teen may want to use a digital platform or app for journaling. No matter how he chooses to do it, writing out his thoughts can help your child therapeutically. You can set an example by keeping a journal yourself.

Role Playing

You can use imaginary scenarios between you and your child to help them develop social skills and learn how to interact with others. Practice makes perfect in so many areas of life, and role-playing various scenarios can increase a child’s confidence so she’s able to use those skills in real-life situations.

Here are some areas where you could use role-playing to help a child overcome specific struggles:

  • Grow confidence to overcome shyness.
  • Learn to resolve conflict and ask for help when experiencing bullying.
  • Manage anxiety on a day-to-day basis.
  • Say no to peer pressure.

If you’re going to use role-playing, it’s important to find out as much as you can about what the child is going through. The more realistic you can act, the easier it will be for her to do the same. Change up your expressions and tone of voice so she can develop confidence as she responds naturally.

Prayer or Meditation

Everyone can benefit from speaking quietly to the Lord or learning to calm their thoughts and direct them to pleasant topics. Prayer and meditation have healing potential for children as well as adults.

In the beginning, a child might listen to you pray, but eventually, he might be willing to pray on his own, whether alone or with you there.

Meditation can sometimes include secular or religious concepts that don’t fit into a Biblical worldview, but when used properly, it can provide a sense of calm and allow the mind to focus on that which is good, true, and beautiful, including (but not limited to) the words of Scripture.

Scripture is replete with examples of prayer and meditation that you can use as you teach your child how to practice these disciplines:

Therapeutic Prayers

Now hear my prayer, listen to my cry. – Psalm 88:2

Listen to my prayer; rescue me as you promised. – Psalm 119:170

Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help. – Psalm 86:1

So today when I came to the spring, I prayed this prayer: ‘O Lord, God of my master, Abraham, please give me success on this mission. – Genesis 24:42

O Lord, hear my plea for justice. Listen to my cry for help. Pay attention to my prayer, for it comes from honest lips. – Psalm 17:1

Listen to my prayer for mercy as I cry out to you for help, as I lift my hands toward your holy sanctuary. – Psalm 28:2

Now, a child may not be able to completely understand all of these verses, so if you can, have a conversation with him. You can tell him that:

  • Peace and healing come from God.
  • God always hears our prayers through His Son Jesus.
  • These prayers can apply to our specific needs today.

As mentioned, meditation offers another approach to achieving a calm, peaceful state of mind. This particular idea allows the child to stay engaged during the meditation exercise:

Simple Meditation Idea

  1. Find a quiet place free from noise and distractions.
  2. Explain that the purpose of meditation is quieting our thoughts so we can focus on God, His Word, and the beautiful world He has created. Emphasize that the child can choose whether and how to participate.
  3. Suggest that your child can close her eyes if she wants to. Ask her to join you in breathing slowly and deeply.
  4. If your child is younger, use the word “fun” and ask her where she likes to go to have fun. If she is older, you can use the word “relax.”
  5. Ask her to picture that place and go there in her imagination. What does she see? What smells can she identify? What sounds does she hear?
  6. Suggest that the child think about her emotions when she pictures that place. Don’t push her to share her emotions; just offer the thought as a suggestion for her to reflect.
  7. Ask her to take another deep breath, and let her know she can open her eyes if she wants to.
  8. Ask her about her experience during the meditation.

Self-Care

Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed and exhausted, like you just want to check out of life?

Kids feel that way, too! But they might not be able to express it in a helpful or pro-social way. Instead, they might have a meltdown or get really whiny or demanding, or beg for treats, or any number of other behaviors that can grate on parents’ or caregivers’ nerves.

Part of helping kids learn to self-regulate is teaching them self-care skills. When a child learns to identify what they’re feeling and what would make them feel better, they can manage those negative emotions a little bit better.

When does your child need a break? When are they headed toward a crisis? Even at a young age, kids can learn to be intentional with their time and to figure out which activities bring them joy.

Here a few ideas to start with when teaching your child how to engage in self-care:

Daily Self-Care for Children

  • Use the ideas listed above: prayer, meditation, journaling, or artwork.
  • Play a board or card game.
  • Take a relaxing bubble bath.
  • Take a nap.
  • Put together a puzzle.
  • Read a book.
  • Paint your nails.
  • Go for a walk in the neighborhood (obviously, with another person if the child is too young to go alone).
  • Go outside just to enjoy nature.
  • Cook or bake something (with help if needed).
  • Go swimming or do something else that’s active.
  • Turn on music and dance or sing along.
  • Play an instrument.

Consider helping your child develop non-digital ways to relax. Screens actually stimulate children’s minds more than we might realize, making it harder for them to be calm and rejuvenate. You can help them by setting an example of putting the devices down and spending time together as a family on interesting activities or hobbies.

The younger children are when they develop self-care habits, the more naturally they’ll be able to self-regulate and destress as they get older.

And as an adult, please don’t forget to practice self-care for yourself! Sometimes we struggle to support the kids in our lives emotionally because we feel like we’re barely surviving ourselves.

You don’t have to view the self-care ideas as a list of ways to entertain your child; many of them can be done independently. You can also help your child come up with their own list of ideas they might enjoy. Self-care for children and adults can have long-lasting positive effects.

Should Your Child See a Therapist?

These therapeutic activities can be a great beginning towards helping your child manage stress in their life. But sometimes at-home care isn’t quite enough. In that case, having your child come in for a few sessions with a Christian counselor may be just what they need to find healing and emotional health during a difficult season in their life.

Your child’s therapist can work with you to help you continue what you’re doing at home and find new ways of achieving wellness together.

Photos:
“Young and Sweet”, Courtesy of Jordan Ropwland, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Child of Light,” courtesy of Matheus Bertelli, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Dear Jesus,” courtesy of David Beale, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Smug,” courtesy of vborodinova, unsplash.com, CC0 License

What is Emotional Abuse? Causes, Effects, and Recovery

There are many types of abuse, but emotional abuse is in a category of its own. This type of abuse includes a number of ways to abuse others – as a parent, a child, a co-worker, and so forth. At Newport Beach Christian Counseling, there are expert counselors who are available to help recover from the varied results of emotional abuse.

Most emotional abuse seems to accompany parental neglect or emotional assault in some form or another, but because each person is unique, therapy can be different for each patient. Everyone is wired in an individual way, so an abusive history will impact each individual differently.

While one person may take cruel judgments from others, knowing the abuser is in the wrong and suffering no hurt, another person may take the situation in another direction entirely; reacting with self-hatred and despondency, while another reacts with openly aggressive angry behavior.

That is a simplified picture of how abuse affects individuals, but it points out how each person suffers equally but in their own unique way.

What is Emotional Abuse?

When another behaves in a snide, demeaning way on a consistent basis, eventually the person it is directed toward begins to believe that the abusive comments are true. If it is a parent constantly telling a child that they will never amount to anything, or calling them stupid, fat, or a host of other belittling statements, they are being abusive.

It can simply be a sneering or disgusted look from members of the family, downgrading the simple presence of the abused person, eventually making every encounter uncomfortable or even physically painful.

Shaming, belittling, and consistent denigration are forms of emotional abuse. This treatment can come from anyone, whether from family or their friends to a person’s classmates, peers, boss or a co-worker.

Anything that aims to make us fearful, makes us feel crazy or dirty, useless, or hopeless is considered emotional abuse.

How Abuse Starts

Abuse can start as early as from birth. A newborn grows his/her sense of self from how he/she is treated from the start. From the very first moment of life, children turn to the person who feeds them or protects them. This is the person they trust, and therefore, whose opinion is irrefutably more important than any other. This emotional structure is likely to be the root of the problem many people face.

If the person or persons we trust most are abusive or belittling toward us, we begin to believe the words, feeling that the abuse is deserved. A trusted person who yells, threatens, or shames us on a regular basis will eventually teach us that only negative responses make sense. The abuse has come full circle, and the abused begin to validate the toxic information by believing it is deserved. Some of the abusive words can include some of the following:

“If you’d quit eating so much junk food, you wouldn’t be so fat,” when in fact, it is simply that the child is experiencing a growth spurt. The child believes they are fat after it is said to them often enough, and they may begin to miss meals, thinking that cutting down on food will make them acceptable to the toxic parent. When they are not complimented or even acknowledged after losing weight, the behavior continues and the child becomes anorexic.

“If you weren’t so worthless, you’d have friends,” brings the victim to believe they are dirty and unable to deserve happiness. They become withdrawn and stop taking care of their appearance; in effect, encouraging the people around them to avoid them entirely.

“I’m so sick and tired of you. I wish you had never been born,” brings feelings of self-loathing and self destruction. When a child hears this enough, he/she begins to believe that they are hated; simply a “thing” to be tolerated. Destructive behavior starts, and the child may begin acting out in rage and self-hatred, hurting others around them.

There are thousands of stories out there, but the point is that there are thousands of victims as well. This is what the professionals at Newport Beach Christian Counseling are there for. They can help reverse the damage done by the abusers. The stories others have may be worse or less damaging, but all of them deserve to live a life free of abuse.

Living with Emotional Abuse

Those toxic people in the life of the abuse victim are experts at demolishing the ability to have a positive self-image, even to the point of making the victim question not just their worth, but their own sanity. When there is a malignant person twisting facts about the victim, even starting damaging rumors, the self-confidence of the victim plummets.

Without even physically touching the victim, the abuser has a powerful hold on the abused that can leave long-term damage. Emotional maturity suffers, and the victims find themselves powerless. Emotional abuse is devastating and much harder to recognize than physical abuse. There is rarely outward proof of the situation, like bruises or scars, so it can be explained away as just in the imagination.

Explaining away the behavior of the abuser eventually leads to codependent feelings. The dysfunctional family life begins to bleed into every part of their life; to relationships with friends and co-workers, for example. Friends become estranged or jobs are lost, strengthening the lack of self-confidence. Damaging feelings become ingrained in every aspect of the victim’s life.

Long-Term Effects Caused by Emotional Abuse

Because the victim is now holding stress and anger, they begin to suffer physically as well. Stress and anxiety that is held inside rears its ugly head in constant aches and pains, even neurological damage.

If the abuse starts early enough in life, it can stop emotional maturity completely. This leaves the victim in a constant state of powerlessness. The victim literally does not know how to process the feelings that abuse causes, and cannot find the right place to apply the blame for the negative feelings.

Perhaps the parents of the abused child were always distant. They may never have been exposed to unwavering unconditional love expressed by the parent. As they begin to marry and have their own children, perhaps, though they may love their own children, they find themselves unable to show love to their own children. Perhaps they even begin the cycle of emotional abuse toward their own loved ones, their children and their spouse.

The abused person has likely started having problems with trusting others, holding relationships, or making friends in the first place. They may even have trouble eating and sleeping. The abuse victim begins to believe that they are useless and unlovable, as well as being unable to show love to others. One of the hardest steps to take is to recognize that the abuse is undeserved.

With Christian counseling, there is a path to recovery. It starts with the first step, and that is recognizing that help is needed.

Stopping Abusive Behavior

Realizing that they are continuing the legacy of abuse to new victims, the next step is when healing needs to begin. This is when finding a mental health professional who can undo the damage of all of the past traumas. Taking into consideration how the actions of the victim later in life will damage others, everyone needs to be involved in the recovery from the cycle of abuse.

The victim may believe in the commandment “honor your father and mother” and may have endured the continual victimizing, believing that it was expected. God does not want His children to be abused. The professionals at Newport Beach Christian Counseling will be able to set their thinking right, helping the abused learn new habits and ways to deal with the feelings abuse brings.

Choices for Healing from Emotional Abuse

There are a number of methods of healing that are available, which can be discussed with a counselor. Here are a couple of examples:

1. Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

This is simply the victim and counselor talking through the problems and finding out what the specific problems are that need to be tackled to bring about healing.

2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

With this approach, the victim is able to recognize the behaviors that cause the negative self-image, identifying the items to focus one. It includes finding the negative self-talk and learning positive replacements for them and finding what triggers the damaging behavior and developing new habits to overcome them.

Where to Turn for Help

The first step, after the victim recognizes that they are being abused, is to find a therapist who is trained in helping the victim recover. That mental health counselor can help unravel the painful emotional bonds the victim has developed through the years. At Newport Beach Christian Counseling, professional experts can help start the healing process.

When trying to heal from years of abuse, these counselors are trained to walk through the process of learning new habits and new ways of thinking. There is no magic answer to recovering from abuse. The professionals at Newport Beach Christian Counseling Center know this and will work at the pace needed. Understanding without judgement is the best way to help a victim.

There may be breakthroughs and backsliding, but when the counselor depends on mind, body, soul, and spirit as ways to bring healing, success will happen. Each hurdle in the therapy will be able to give new self confidence that shows up in everyday life. The benefits of changing the destructive patterns in life will lead to a rewarding new life, not just for the abuse victim, but also for anyone’s life who is affected by the victim.

Start Your Journey to Healing

Contact Newport Beach Christian Counseling at (949) 386-7178 to set up a risk-free appointment to assess needs.

Photos:
“Stories”, Courtesy of Sydney Sims, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Victim”, Courtesy of Zach Guinta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Tear”, Courtesy of Cristian Newman, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Worthy of Love”, Courtesy of Tim Mossholder, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

5 Common Symptoms of Fear of Abandonment

Connection is a hardwired human need. Fear of abandonment usually stems from the loss of a parent through death, divorce, general absence, or even adoption. If children are limited in their ability to form secure, safe attachments then these wounds can influence adult behavior and healthy relationships.

If a child has endured consistent loss, all of those feelings and memories can be reignited in adulthood when triggered.

If your biological father abandoned you as an infant, that fear and pain might prevent you from having functioning and thriving relationships.

On a broader level, intense fears of losing a connection with a loved one can fuel abandonment concerns. Usually, these fears originate from moments when someone let you down or failed to take care of you. Abandonment can be real or perceived, emotional or physical. Some examples of childhood abandonment include:

  • Children who felt deserted due to divorce, death, foster care, or daycare
  • Children who felt forsaken because of verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Children whose basic needs were not met by their parents.

There are many other forms of abandonment that may be less obvious but by no means less significant.

  • Parents who were emotionally unavailable
  • Siblings who constantly teased their brother or sister
  • Children who felt routinely ignored and were left to solve problems without guidance
  • Adolescents who were criticized and made to feel that making mistakes was prohibited
  • Other abandonment wounds occur from peer rejection, chronic illness, relationships ending or prolonged singleness

Common Fear of Abandonment Symptoms

Fear of abandonment is involuntary. Because of life events that were out of your control, this fear has been instilled inside of you. Here are five symptoms that are associated with a fear of abandonment.

1. Chronic insecurities

Abandonment can cause a severe fear of rejection, damage self-esteem, and bring about a host of other insecurities. The insecurities crop up and, in an attempt to hold onto someone out of fear, you end up pushing him away.

Your thoughts might immediately go to, “I’m unlovable. Nobody will ever love me.” The need for constant reassurance from other people causes stress in relationships. It’s important to be able to affirm yourself without needing someone else to affirm you.

You hold deep feelings of unworthiness. The insecurities intensify as the fear that abandonment will occur again plagues your mind.

2. Re-enacting Trauma

Habits are hard to break. Because of low self-esteem and past experiences, people with a fear of abandonment often find themselves being drawn to the same patterns in adulthood. Many people place themselves in relationships that end with being discarded or abused.

When someone re-enacts trauma it’s a subconscious effort to resolve past trauma. This could manifest by being attracted to the “wrong” person who is noncommittal and hurtful. You begin to project your insecurities on those around you.

As you cling to those around you, they feel suffocated from accusations that are thrown at them like, “You will leave me. You don’t love me anymore. You don’t need me.”

3. Growing Distrust

People with pain from abandonment were usually deserted by someone they trusted. As a result, these people learned to create boundaries and only rely on themselves for protection. They build an emotional barricade that keeps others from getting too close.

This growing distrust coupled with heightened sensitivity can create conflicting behaviors. On the outside, the person acts tough, but on the inside, the criticism, feelings of being misunderstood and other negative comments will cause emotional destruction.

4. Mood Swings

A breakup or fracture in a relationship is hard to handle on a normal day, but for someone with a deep-seated fear of abandonment, a wave of depression and anxiety can crash over you. In an effort to self-protect, you might try to numb your pain or detach completely from it. The feelings of emptiness and loneliness chip away at your heart.

You are constantly paranoid that the ones you love will leave you at any moment, and you over-analyze what others think of you and say about you. You struggle with feeling defensive and misunderstood. A surge of jealousy toward others can consume you.

5. Self-Sabotaging Relationships

Shame and condemnation bombard you daily. An onslaught of thoughts around worthlessness fills your mind. Those who can relate to a fear of abandonment normally find themselves wanting to cling to people, yet wanting to avoid intimacy at the same time.

To someone with a fear of abandonment, the thought of intimacy can mean being controlled and surrendering independence. To risk fully exposing their heart puts them in a vulnerable space. They reject first before they can be rejected by someone else.

Christian Counseling Helps Overcome Fear of Abandonment

Living with a fear of abandonment can make you feel unwanted and not good enough. If you believe you might be struggling with some of the symptoms outlined in this article, a Christian counselor can help redirect you to confidence boosting, uplifting thought patterns.

You don’t have to stay stuck. Refuse to allow this fear to become an obstacle between you and healthy relationships. Counseling is a safe place to navigate your story and find the strength to move forward in life.

Photos:
“Self-hate”, Courtesy of Louis Blythe, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Abandoned”, Courtesy of Christopher Windus, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Boots,” courtesy of holeysocksart, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Contemplation,” courtesy of Simon Powell, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)

A Counselor’s Trauma Definition: 10 Common Examples

If you’ve ever wanted to wake up from a nightmare only to realize it’s a reality, you might have experienced a form of trauma. Often trauma comes after a life-threatening experience, but it can also develop after an incident that is perceived as life-threatening. Trauma invades our individual sense of control after a deeply terrifying circumstance. How we perceive what has happened to us is where the trauma lies.
 

Trauma Comes in Many Shapes and Forms

Let’s take a moment to look at the 10 most common types of trauma in order to understand and to consider whether it could be what you are experiencing.

1. Sexual Assault, Abuse or Harassment

According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Normally, sexual assault can fall into three categories:

  • Acts of penetration either with objects or body parts.
  • Forced physical contact with the genitalia, breast, buttocks, or other intimate body parts through groping, fondling or kissing.
  • Exposure of genitalia, breast, buttocks or other intimate body parts. This includes being subjected to explicit materials like pornographic images, texting nude photos to minors or exploiting a child sexually. It can also be a neighbor exposing himself to children as they walk by his home.

2. Physical Assault or Abuse

Physical abuse or assault is intentionally inflicting pain or harm upon another person. An example might be a parent throwing his child against the wall after making a mistake or a teenager stabbing another teenager during a fight. If a person is deliberately hurt by someone else, this is physical abuse.

3. Emotional Abuse

Most people have a pretty clear and accurate idea of physical abuse, but emotional abuse is easier to miss. If your friend experienced physical abuse, bruises and scars might be left as reminders, but emotional abuse leaves invisible bruises like feelings of humiliation, shame, and depression.

Emotional abuse can be an aggressive shout or giving someone the silent treatment to intentionally isolate him. Emotional abuse is designed to make the victim feel like they are to blame and often leaves the victim feeling unworthy, unloveable and fearful.

4. Neglect

Experiencing trauma has serious implications for mental health. Neglect can begin during infancy when the parents don’t have the capacity or willingness to properly care for their child. Neglect, in a nutshell, is a failure to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, medical care, proper hygiene or shelter.

It’s often found in cases of children or the elderly. If a baby is crying and a parent refuses to feed and comfort her child, trauma begins to form. Not acting on a child’s need when the caregiver has the power to act is considered neglect.

5. Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is often hidden because it happens behind closed doors under the roof of a home. It looks like physical violence, sexual violence, or emotional abuse among adults in a relationship.

Verbal threats also fall into this category. Domestic violence victims often feel helpless or terrified to leave the abuser. Children who witness the circumstances absorb the negative activity and can internalize it, causing traumatic behaviors.

6. Serious Accidents or Illness

Car accidents, house fires, medical procedures or a major injury can be traumatic. If you faced and defeated cancer, you could exhibit lingering trauma behaviors. Children that experienced various medical procedures might harbor a fear of hospitals or doctors and lash out.

7. War-related Trauma

Most are aware of the term post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. This can occur when someone has returned from a war zone where they experienced threats to life and other terrifying experiences. Memories are lodged in their mind and often flashbacks occur.

Many countries around the world are submerged in war and millions of displaced people have become refugees. These people might not personally be involved in combat, but have experienced shooting, torture, bombings, and forced separation from their country of origin. Families don’t know when they will be able to return to their homes and begin settling in other unfamiliar areas.

8. Natural or Manmade Disasters

If you keep up with current events, you have seen many natural disasters in the news lately. There have been hurricanes battering many states and countries, wildfires devouring property and sending people fleeing, earthquakes leaving a path of destruction and mudslides claiming many lives. In these instances, properties are swept away and lives are lost.

9. School Violence

When the Columbine High School shooting happened, it shocked the nation. It was hard to imagine such an atrocity occurring in a place where innocent children and teens go every day to learn. Unfortunately, the school shootings have continued to increase. Even if you weren’t injured during a school shooting, the sights, smells, and emotions can still leave severe symptoms of trauma.

10. Bullying

Kids on the receiving end of bullying wake up each day anticipating the moment they will be teased and tormented. School bullying is the reason why some young children commit suicide. It has devastating effects on young children. Social media has introduced cyberbullying.

It’s running rampant as keyboards become weapons for cutting others down. The computer screen offers security from the scars that are left. But behind that screen is a real person traumatized by the onslaught of negativity.

However, bullying doesn’t just occur on the school playground. Many adults in the workplace admit to having experiencing adult bullying. It’s not always something children grow out of since it’s an aggressive negative behavior. If you were bullied as a child, chances are it has impacted your adult life too.

Recovering from Trauma

If you can relate to any of the forms of trauma discussed in this article, a Christian counselor is ready to walk the road of recovery with you. Healing is a process and should never be forced. There are several methods of therapy and exercises that help with various types of trauma. Trauma recovery is designed to improve your quality of life on a daily basis.

Photos:
“Fishing boat,” courtesy of Alexander Andrews, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hair,” courtesy of Aricka Lewis, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Love Shouldn’t Hurt”, Courtesy of Sydney Sims, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “War”, Courtesy of Stefan Keller, Pixabay.com, CC0 License

Common Abandonment Issues: Do You See Yourself Here?

Most people have struggled with some level of fear of being ‘abandoned.’ For many of us, this may be intrinsic to our thinking. We can often feel as if we are inadequate for the people that we are in a relationship with, and we may worry that they will suddenly leave us because of this.

As a result, this can lead to trust issues which can manifest themselves as an inability to commit to those same relationships that are so dear to our us. It is so important to recognize these abandonment issues before they start affecting the way in which we interact with those around us.

10 Common Abandonment Issues

Here are 10 of the most common abandonment issues. Are any of these true of you?

1. You Struggle to Let People In

Do you feel as if you constantly have to keep your guard up? Do you set up boundaries around your life in a way that protects you from giving too much away to your loved ones? Some of this can be healthy, but when you are unable to be vulnerable before those who are dearest to you, you have a problem.

2. You Detach Yourself From Those Nearest To You

Do you ever feel as if you are distancing yourself from those around you? Are you closing off from your partner? While over-dependence is never healthy, it is relationally appropriate for you to have some level of dependence on your loved ones. This helps nurture a deep, lasting relationship.

3. You Are Overly Clingy

We all get a bit clingy sometimes. When something happens in your life that threatens to rock your foundations, it is natural to want to cozy up with your partner.

But a perpetual state of clinginess is not healthy and may indicate that you are harboring a deeper issue related to abandonment. Clingy people can be overly demanding, and their relationships are likely to be dysfunctional.

4. You Struggle To Feel Love

Do you struggle to give and receive affection? Do you often feel numb when you are around your loved ones? People who fear abandonment often struggle to engage in any physical affection and may withdraw from situations where this has the potential to occur. Bonding becomes very difficult, and relationships often become strained.

5. You Seek To Control

Those who struggle with abandonment live in a constant state of relational uncertainty. This often produces controlling behavior. Do you commit yourself to knowing everything about your partner’s whereabouts at all times? Do you “blackmail” your partner in order to keep them from leaving you? This kind of behavior undermines any foundation of trust you are seeking to build and renders the relationship stilted and unhappy.

6. You Think The Worst Of People

Does the worst-case scenario always seem like the most likely outcome to you? Do you constantly think that those closest to you harbor ulterior motives as to why they want to spend time with you?

Do you always shy away from conflict, fearing that you will fall out with people and that they will abandon you? These negative core beliefs about yourself and others can lead to fractured and damaging relationships.

7. You Are Always Looking For Flaws

Do you compile a list of your partner’s failings? Do you dwell on the small wrongs you have suffered at their hands? Are you always on the lookout for flaws that you can pick up on in others? This mindset often stems from a fear of closeness. In order to protect yourself, you seek to find imperfections in others and demand perfection from yourself.

8. You Fear Intimacy

Do you run at the first sign of any real intimacy? Those who harbor an issue related to abandonment tend to go either way when it comes to engaging in a relationship. They either hold on far too tight and smother their partner, or they fail to show adequate commitment, leaving their partner feeling discouraged and insecure.

9. You Have Very Weak Boundaries

Those dealing with abandonment issues may find themselves in codependent relationships. Do you constantly seek to keep your partner happy because you are afraid they might leave you?

Do you make excuses for your partner’s poor behavior because you fear the consequences that standing up to them or pointing out any of their faults would bring? Do you constantly feel as if you must prove your worth in the relationship? Inevitably, this leads to an unhealthy relationship.

10. You Are Overly Sensitive

Do you often find yourself overreacting? Do you put up walls of defense at any sign of danger? If you feel as if you are going to be abandoned, you may find yourself incapable of dealing with any criticism, even if it is offered in love. Relentlessly attempting to justify your behavior produces frustration in those around you and often results in poorly maintained relationships.

The good news is, there’s hope! You do not have to be driven by your fear of abandonment. With the right help from a professionally trained counselor, you can be equipped with the right tools to help you throw off insecurity, doubt, and anxiety, and participate in therapy that is tailored to suit your emotional needs. You will be given the help required to start building healthy, lasting and life-giving relationships with those around you.

Photos
“Empty,” courtesy of Eddy Lackmann, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Diselo a la mano!” courtesy of Pablo, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Angry,” courtesy of Forrest Cavale, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Morning Chills,” courtesy of Ian Dooley, unsplash.com, CC0 License

9 Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children to Watch Out For

It’s been a watershed season of exposing men and women who committed sexual assault and harassment. Businesses are taking legal actions to terminate employees or pull contracts indefinitely.  If the #Metoo movement teaches us anything, it’s that sexual assault and abuse is often silenced and that there’s strength in numbers.

Parents never want to hear these heartbreaking words uttered from their child’s mouth, “I’ve been sexually abused.” Children are often under the care of other adults at school, church, a friend’s sleepover and even under their own roof.  In these seemingly harmless settings, horrendous acts are carried out.

9 Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children to Watch Out For

Parents must be vigilant to monitor who their children interact with on a daily basis. Because sexual abuse is often a confusing and paralyzing experience, children may not verbally express what’s happening to them. But if a child is being abused, it’s likely you will see the following signs.

1. Increased Fear and Anxiety

Fear is one of the biggest hallmarks of a child who has suffered abuse. Children can become hypervigilant, constantly on the alert.  You may see mounting fear and anxiety as the specific time of day approaches when the abuse normally occurs or if you mention inviting the abuser over.

2. PTSD Symptoms

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not only reserved for military veterans returning from combat overseas. The same symptoms are present in children who have suffered abuse. Panic attacks occur when certain “triggers” bring feelings of immediate stress.

Triggers could be a certain smell like the cologne the abuser wears, people who sound like the abuser, or certain sights that bring flashbacks. Another form of PTSD in children is having disturbing dreams or problems getting a good night’s sleep. Nightmares become prevalent and memories of the trauma can disrupt their concentration at school.

3. Mood Changes

Unreasonable crying or sudden excessive crying that wasn’t present before are expressions of children suffering from abuse.  On the other end of the spectrum, children can have angry outbursts and get frustrated easily spouting out hurtful words to those around them.They might withdraw from adults in the belief that every person wants to harm them or they may become hostile toward those in authority who neglected to protect them.

Because these times of abuse were often out of their control, they will grow up wanting to control everything in their lives. Eventually, children numb their feelings and become detached and emotionally absent. They self-protect by creating an impenetrable wall around their hearts.

A point can even be reached where they disassociate from the abuse altogether by either diminishing the effects of the abuse in their lives or never admitting that the abuse happened to them. Children who experienced sexual abuse are more likely to grow up into teenagers who contemplate suicide, have self-inflicted wounds, and show signs of depression.

4. Guilt and Shame

Children find ways to blame themselves for the abuse. Guilty thoughts invade their minds like, “I should have said something to someone else,” or, “I was aroused so does that mean I wasn’t abused?”

The abuser often reinforces this message telling the child that somehow the child made the abuser touch them. It’s a tug-of-war in the mind for children in this situation. They know something feels wrong, but the mixed messages, instilled fear, and false responsibility can create turmoil in their minds.

5. Fear of Intimacy and Closeness

Intimate relationships can be a challenge after enduring abuse. Although children may still embody an outgoing personality, they learn how to keep people at arm’s length to prevent further harm. Physical contact, which is often terrifying, may cause them to lash out at someone who innocently tries to give a hug.

Other children become overly clingy needing constant physical and verbal affection. Children that have experienced abuse find it hard to know the difference between appropriate displays of physical affection and inappropriate sexual touch.

6. Sexuality

Sexually abused children usually grow up not wanting to have sex at all or view having sex with multiple people as the only way to receive touch and attention. This ends up creating a bigger web of pain in their lives.

Children who have been hypersexualized from assault may make sexual comments to other students or have an advanced knowledge about sex. Of course, in today’s world children are often exposed to movies that are not age-appropriate and they pick up the terminology.  But if a five-year-old girl can describe certain adult acts in detail, this should set off alarms.

Some children who have been abused by someone of the same gender end up confused about their sexual orientation. Due to confusing (maybe even somewhat pleasurable) physiological responses related to their abuse, they may silently wonder whether or not they are actually gay.

Some people may try to reduce their distinctive gender features by cutting their hair, hiding their breasts, eating more food to gain weight and becoming unattractive, or neglecting basic hygiene routines in order to repel people.

7. Alarming Forms of Creative Expression

Children love to play. It’s a normal part of childhood. However, if the dolls are not just playing mommy and daddy, but participating in strictly mommy and daddy activities it is a glaring red flag.

Often creative expression becomes a safe outlet for children to be honest without verbally admitting to the pain forced upon them. Journal writing, social media posts, poems, and pictures can all tell a story that’s been silenced inside. Today, teenagers swarm to social media to share their fight with depression or struggle with suicidal thoughts.

8. Not Behaving Appropriately for Their Age

Of course, some little girls want to imitate their moms by dabbing on some lipstick or painting their cheeks with blush when they see their moms getting ready for the day. Wearing more revealing clothing or always wanting to put on perfume, makeup and doing their hair could possibly point to past abuse.

Some older children will revert to their younger behaviors like wetting the bed or sucking their thumb. These aren’t always signs of trauma, but these signs merging with some of the others mentioned here are good indicators of abuse.

If you hear of older friends being mentioned frequently begin to investigate. Yes, there are good mentors and influences out there, but someone showing an unhealthy amount of attention toward your underage child requires some additional attention from you. Normally, children form friendships with kids around their same age.

9. Turning to Alcohol and Drugs

Alcohol can be used to not only numb pain from the past but make someone feel alive at the same time. Drugs and alcohol are a way to cope with the suppressed feelings and distressing thoughts. Drug and alcohol use can be a common coping mechanism for those who have experienced trauma in order to deal with disturbing thoughts.

If you are seeing unusual signs like these in the children around you, don’t ignore it – report it. Call your local CPS Office or the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

Finding a Place of Healing

Christian counseling Newport Beach is just one way to begin a journey of healing and freedom. The Lord comes to heal the brokenhearted and to bind up our wounds (Psalm 147:3). If child abuse is a part of your story, Christian counseling Newport Beach offers a safe place to experience wholeness. Freedom is found by bringing things in the darkness into the light. Will you let someone help you today?

Photos
“Child of Light,” courtesy of Matheus Bertelli, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Silent,” courtesy of Kat Smith, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Wounded,” courtesy of Min An, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Play time,” courtesy of pixabay.com, pixels.com, CC0 License