Every adult and adolescent was once a child, whether or not their childhood was “typical.” I cannot think of an individual who has made it through childhood completely unscathed. Bumps and bruises are a natural part of living, learning, and taking risks. Sometimes, however, deeper wounds may result from the experience of childhood trauma, such as abuse or neglect. I want to take a moment today to hone in on an invisible type of abuse - psychological abuse.
Psychological abuse occurs when words or actions are used to control, manipulate, hurt, weaken, or frighten a person mentally or emotionally. A common form of psychological abuse is gaslighting. Gaslighting occurs when someone influences another to question their own sanity. When a child is chronically gaslighted, they may experience a number of unwanted symptoms, including confusion, self-doubt, anxiety, depression, guilt and shame. They may acquire maladaptive beliefs - beliefs that hinder them from living a life they value most and from meeting their goals. These beliefs may sound like “I will never be good enough” or “I have to be perfect to be accepted.” While these beliefs are often rooted in childhood experiences, they can follow us into adulthood when unaddressed. In adulthood, there may be parts of us with unmet needs and with wounds that have never properly healed. The wounds may have been bandaged up, but they may not have been cleaned and treated with care before they were concealed.
Through therapeutic interventions, such as Internal Family Systems Therapy and Parts Work, counselors can facilitate individuals in the healing of their inner child. This reflective work can help us to recognize unmet needs, past and present hurts, and where we truly want to go from where we are.
Many who have experienced psychological abuse wrestle with shame and feeling unworthy. By approaching the inner child with gentleness rather than harshness, we are more likely to accept, understand, and foster positive change in those parts of ourselves. Imagine approaching another person, or a child even, and telling them “you will never be good enough” or “you have to be perfect for me to accept you.” Most of us would never imagine doing this, and yet these may be some of our automatic thoughts towards ourselves. With intentionality, mindfulness, and therapeutic support, we can begin altering our thoughts and consciously choosing which thoughts we want to focus on and attend to and which thoughts we would like to let go. At Cornerstone Counseling & Wellness, we are happy to help. To request an appointment, please visit our website at www.cornerstonecounselingnc.net.