Childhood abuse has the very real capacity to damage a person’s sense of self. A damaged sense of self creates complications in a person’s relationships with others.
In many ways, childhood abuse gives you the blueprint for what not to do in relationships. The difficulty is recognizing the blueprint is faulty when it has become so foundational to your psychic structure growing up.
How are you to know where the blueprint is faulty if that’s the only blueprint you know? The answer, to me, is to study a different blueprint—a healthier one. Then, as you come to understand the strengths and advantages to the new, healthier blueprint, you can begin to substitute in parts from it to your natural one. Remember, you are not set in stone. You are a work in progress and change is possible.
Below are five ways to consider when finding a better perspective in your relationships.
Learn to be realistic about who you are.
In my experience, childhood abuse can create two opposite extremes. On the one side, some who have been abused as children internalize their abuse and blame themselves. They take responsibility for every bad thing that happens to them. On the other side, some are so full of rage about the injustice they suffered, they refuse to accept any responsibility at all for the choices they make. On the one side, they are responsible for everything. On the other side, they are responsible for nothing. Neither extreme is true.
Learn to forgive yourself.
Forgiveness is an amazingly powerful tool for creating and maintaining healthy relationships. (I’ll talk more about the power of forgiveness in the final chapter on spiritual healing.) Forgiving yourself is an act of love and, as a survivor of childhood abuse, you may find it difficult. If you believe you are unlovable, this will be difficult. If you are fueled by anger and rage, this will be difficult. People can and do mess up, including you.
Be your own best advocate.
An advocate is someone who lends support to another. In your case, learn how to best advocate for yourself. Discounting your own needs by constantly giving in to others does not support you in the long run. Overstating your own needs by being pushy, loud, demanding, or angry does not support you in the long run. You become your own best advocate when you learn how to present your needs appropriately for support. You also support yourself by finding people who are willing and able to provide that support.
Be honest and gentle with yourself.
You’ll notice I added “gentle” to the characteristic of honesty. There is such a thing as being brutally honest. Brutal truth hurts; gentle truth heals. I don’t know about you, but I know for myself I am much more willing to accept a difficult truth when that truth is delivered with gentleness. I have a much easier time grasping that truth if it isn’t white-hot with anger, rage, or condemnation.
Remember the positive.
I believe there is such a thing as a negative mindset. I’m sure you know people who can look at just about any situation and see the negative. The negative says, for example, that soft and cuddly puppy so quick to lick your nose will only grow up to bite your leg. When that happens, you let go of the puppy. Stop. Don’t let go of the puppy! Learn to enjoy life’s positive, beautiful, and uplifting moments for the gifts they are. Putting down the puppy isn’t prudent; it’s sad, especially when the puppy is someone you love.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, voted a top ten facility for the treatment of depression in the United States. Dr. Jantz pioneered Whole Person Care in the 1980’s and is a world-renowned expert on eating disorders, depression, anxiety, technology addiction, and abuse. He is a leading voice and innovator in Mental Health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 37 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.