If you lived through child abuse, you’ve no doubt experienced messages of family shame. Do you remember hearing messages like the following?
Message #1: “You’ll never amount to anything.”
Message #2: “Can’t you see how much I’m sacrificing for you?”
Message #3: “You need to…” (be or do something your family approves of)
Maybe they were communicated in subtle ways rather than stated out loud. But the messages still got through loud and clear, and in the process, your confidence took a major hit. Healing from abuse is never easy. It’s true that children are the quickest of learners. Their minds are so flexible and open they pick up anything – including messages and beliefs that can hurt them. So if you heard anything like the above, it’s time to start letting them go. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Tip #1: Grieve your pain. Cry. Scream. Hit a pillow until you’re blue in the face. It’s important to discharge all the anger and sadness you’ve built up as a result of internalizing the messages of family shame. Grieving is how you process painful events and integrate them into your life so you can move on.
Tip #2: Give up guilt. Messages such as “can’t you see how much I’m sacrificing for you” were designed to keep you feeling guilty so you could be controlled more easily. If you had a parent who said that to you, know that it is the job of a loving parent to make sacrifices on behalf of their child to ensure their child’s needs are met. It’s not your job to feel guilty because your parent couldn’t handle the adult responsibilities of parenting and the stress that goes with it.
Tip #3: Set clear boundaries with others. If you’re in the midst of the healing process, you need to make your healing a priority. If that means you need to put some distance between you and your abusive family, that’s what you need to do. You don’t need to do or be anything or anyone but yourself. Give yourself the space to heal. You deserve it.
Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Child abuse is a serious issue and deserves serious attention. If you have supportive friends who are willing to listen that’s a good start. But if they can’t understand everything you’re going through because they themselves haven’t been abused, don’t be afraid to get a good therapist. A good therapist will help you learn to trust others, and more importantly, yourself.
Tip #5: Set goals and take action. Change doesn’t happen without goals backed up by action. Set some realistic goals for yourself. It can be outside the realm of your healing, such as a fitness goal. Make a goal that says “I will walk 2 miles three days a week by October 15, XXXX.” Then do it. Setting goals and achieving them gives you a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. Accomplishing something you set out to do empowers you and helps you override the messages of family shame that say you won’t amount to anything.
The amount of natural happiness that starts coming into your life when you stop believing shameful messages is amazing. Happiness starts to feel effortless. It’s a natural outgrowth of your self improvement.
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