Surviving Child Abuse

Does being abused as a child damage your soul? Is it possible that the current received wisdom of psychology is incorrect?

I was adopted as a baby and raised by two very abusive parents. They were abusive in every way, except I was not sexually abused, nor was I neglected. I actually lived a life of material privilege. On the surface, my parents seemed wonderful. In private, they were horrors.

I was removed from my home and put into protective custody, and after that into a group home. Therapy was mandatory. Once “in the system”, everyone treated me like I was irreparably damaged. It was the first time I’d ever been regarded that way. Growing up, I was a star: a gifted student, athlete, ballerina. I was the one with a bright future.

I had never considered myself to be damaged. I always felt my parents were the damaged ones. I was quite shocked to be told in so many ways, either directly or by the way people treated me, that I was broken in ways that were deep and irreversible. In therapy I was continually coaxed to look for this damage. I received poor reports from the therapist because I continued to assert that this was not my reality. I was told I obviously didn’t know my own reality. I was, to them, in denial. Making no progress. Going through therapy was horrible. It was akin to a kind of brainwashing. If I gave in to it, I would have received lots of praise and approval. I would have been a “good patient”.

But I stuck with my reality. They made sure it was a hard and unpleasant road. They had a world view that was as sacred and irrefutable as any religious dogma. There could be no exceptions. I was a heretic.

I was told about the statistics. Obviously, I would grow up to abuse others. I should not work with children, or anyone who was vulnerable. I would have to work very diligently my whole life not to continue the “cycle of abuse” because I was most likely to abuse any children I had. Somehow, living through abuse would cause an irresistible urge to do the same. Better not to be a parent at all.

None of this made any sense to me.

As an adult, people who were close to me knew about my family history. Not because I talked about it per se, but it ended up being something I had to disclose due to circumstances out of my control. Even as an adult, my parents would sometimes find out where I lived and do crazy things like try to break into my house in the middle of the night. Or they would see me on television and call the producer and harass me. So people knew. And even though I was the most sane and grounded person, work colleagues would look at me differently. Friends or lovers insisted that my “inner demons” must be buried so deep down. Paradoxically, the fact that I was well adjusted and did not ever blame anything in my life on my parents or childhood trauma was proof I must be in serious denial.

Finally in my mid twenties I decided to dedicate myself to finding out if anything was there. People said I was avoiding it out of fear. Fear that if I looked deep inside I would find a bottomless pit of sadness, grief, rage or whatever. People seriously believed that I had to be damaged. Not because I exhibited any signs or symptoms of this, but because it was an inevitable outcome.

So I sat every night and looked inside, in my typically direct and objective way. I breathed and I looked. I breathed and I felt. Whatever was there, I was willing to see it, to feel it, and know it.

This is what I found. I found a brilliance, a radiance that defies all description. I found a hardness that was not made for defense or out of armour or in response to pain. It was like a perfect diamond, hard by its basic nature, indestructible, untouched and…pristine. Absolutely pristine. I kept looking, trying to go deeper. I did this every night for the better part of a year.

I never found anything other than this utterly natural perfection. Nothing could be added to it and nothing could diminish it. It’s not what I expected to find. I thought I’d probably find a bunch of persona-level stuff, psychological stuff. At least some sadness or anger. That stuff was there, but it wasn’t on the “inside”. It was on the outside, more like stuff on the very surface. Looking inside uncovered something so astonishing to me. Primordial clarity and radiance.

Obviously, everything that was ever told to me was utter rubbish. I am not damaged, not abusive, not in denial.

I’m not denying that some people feel much deeper wounds from this kind of experience, but you are not these wounds. My indestructible, pristine being was just there, right under the surface. Easy to find. You may have to look a little more, but it is there. I am not unique in this. I’ve seen people regard their painful life stories as though they were on the “inside”, when they were more like tattoos. Indelible? Maybe, but still….on the surface.

I don’t think of myself as a survivor of child abuse. Other than…I got out before they killed me, which was actually a real concern. So literally, I survived. But this is not in any way part of some identity that I walk through life with.

I share this only because I know some of us have been handled roughly in life, in childhood, in past lives, with the memories carrying over. We are not our joys or sorrows, both pass through us. We are this pristine consciousness, totally undisturbed by good or ill fortunes, happiness or heartbreak.

Society, and people, can encourage you to believe all kinds of things about yourself that may or may not be true. They can pressure or influence you to make connections where there are none. In my adult life, I have found myself to be loving, generous, loyal, grounded, patient, even tempered, fair and courageous. I’ve known people who’ve had very ordinary childhoods and lives not marked by extreme trauma who were terrible parents, alcoholics, self-loathing and unable to love others. One such person blamed her troubles on the fact that her father was “distant”, though otherwise she said she had a happy and boringly normal upbringing. Are we so very delicate? Can the record be so badly scratched so easily?

My message to you here is not about abuse or about the dangers of psychologists. My message is this: be independent. In all areas, including and especially spirituality. Observe deeply, challenge your own assumptions, hold “beliefs” ever so lightly if you need to hold them at all, don’t be afraid to road test them.

Look at your spiritual search and see where you might be falling into the “good patient” trap. I guess in this case it would be a “good seeker” or good student, however you look at it.

Should you believe what I tell you, that you are this indestructible, radiant awareness? It sounds pretty, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t matter at all unless it is your lived reality. Most spirituality provides you with a whole world view, when it should be unburdening you of all views so that you can simply see.

One comment

  1. Maury Lee says:

    Nicely written. I was severely abused as a child. I was never told I was damaged as a child, or when I left home and was in college. It was my individual experience and perception that led me to realize I was damaged. I was in school in Southern California, and all the other students seemed profoundly happy compared to me.

    I had terrible mental anguish, and anger. Suicidal at times. I read every self help book and psychology book, which was some help. Mostly it was being in a secure relationship with regular sex that calmed me down enough to feel some contentment.

    In my mid twenties I went looking for a Gestalt therapist because that was the one therapy that appealed to me. I found an ex minister that ran Gestalt groups and went to him. I did a lot of dream work, etc. and got much relief. Then I read the Primal Scream.

    When I went to group the next time, I wailed on the floor for 45 minutes while the stunned people in the room watched. After that, any time a painful memory started to arise, I would feel it in the back of my skull. I would go to my room, lay down, and the pain would come out. I lost my voice from screaming so much.

    That pretty much cleaned me out. Still some neurotic tendencies, but not bad. I can relate to the rock hard center. During great stress I became aware of a center, it seemed in the middle of my chest. It was rock solid, unmovable, sure, unaffected, and unafraid. I have no idea what it is, but I know it is there.

    Of course there were the Kundalini experiences, good and bad. Wanted to keep the ecstatic ones, but of course, they pass as well.

    I am so pleased that you did not feel abused. Perhaps you were in touch with that rock solid center always, and identified with that. I did not. Sorry that your therapy experience was forced on you. Mine was chosen, and I took responsibility for it. It worked for me.

    Of course, therapy isn’t the be all and end all, either. Knowing myself as Absolute Awareness, and being that, no matter what BS my personality gets into, or feels, is the true place. Being that is OK. Nothing else to prove. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. Just enjoying.

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