Trauma and painful memories associated with it is a challenging subject to bring up in any conversation. It’s not often that you even hear about it, despite the alarming fact that 60% of adults report some kind of abuse or trauma in their childhood.  And then we hear even less about helpful resources and tools to heal trauma — to dig it up first, face it, feel the pain associated with it, and then let it go.
I was two years old when I was introduced to my abuser. He was a diabolical abuser who knew how to hit where no one would see and put me down so I wouldn’t think I deserved any better.
Every day for the next 10 years of my life he told me I was stupid, ugly, and worthless. The beatings started soon after. If my mother walked into the room, he would laugh and say we were playing, not fighting. When I cried, I was told I would be given something to cry about.
There was never a time that I thought what was happening in my home was normal, or even acceptable. And he never once threatened me with anything to keep me quiet. I still didn’t speak up.
Yes, I was afraid of his reaction and for the safety of myself and my mother, but it was much deeper than that. I thought all the adults in my life knew what was happening. After all, the adults had all the answers to any question I asked – they were like superheroes.
You see, I thought they all knew and were choosing to do nothing. I thought I wasn’t worth saving. Those words he spoke to me had become my truth, and everyone sitting by letting it all happen was the evidence – I wasn’t good enough.
Eventually, my mother discovered the truth and immediately reacted to save me. Everything changed in an instant, but not necessarily for the better.
The moment my mother asked me if this abuse was happening, I realized she had never known. That meant that she hadn’t chosen him. It also meant I had lived in that hell for so much longer than I needed to. The shame I felt was greater than anything I had ever experienced in my short twelve years of life.
That is what made me start thinking I had wanted this, even asked for this. After all, I could’ve spoken up every single day for ten years, yet I chose not to. My reasoning had been sound, I had thought, but now I was learning otherwise. I felt foolish, guilty and shameful.
Those feelings acted as evidence for all my self-loathing thoughts that he had placed in my head but now had become my truth. As a result, I made this place of self-hatred my comfort zone.
I saw the evidence of my ugliness, stupidity, uselessness, and unworthiness everywhere I looked. Every relationship breakdown, friendship crisis, and disappointing experience was obviously because I was too stupid, ugly, worthless and useless to do better.
Life at that time was all about what others were doing to me. He had abused me; someone else broke up with me; yet another bullied me. Everything was about people going out of their way to prove my unworthiness to me.
One day, in my early twenties, a message came through. I still cannot place where I learned this – was it something I read or something someone spoke to me? I have no idea, but it was profound enough to be the catalyst to the life I now live, and it was this:
Your abuse was never about you.
After hearing those words, I delved deep into self-help books and began learning about the reasons behind people’s actions and reactions. Slowly, I came to realize that statement was true – he was not abusing me, he was abusing.
If I could be magically picked up and replaced by someone else, anybody else, during those years, the same fate would have fallen to them. That’s because my abuser was an abuser, plain and simple.
By taking myself out of the equation, I suddenly saw my existence from a completely different light. No longer did I fully believe that people were going out of their way to hurt me. Instead, I started realizing that they are all living their own lives, making decisions that best suit them.
They were not factoring me into the equation at all – not because I wasn’t worthy, but because it wasn’t about me!
With this revelation, I began experiencing life differently. Here are the next steps I took in my journey to thrive because of my abuse, not despite it.
Challenging my beliefs
If I had been wrong about people going out of their way to hurt me to show me just how unworthy I was, then could I be wrong about other things I believed were my truth?
This question fuelled my desire to investigate all the other beliefs I held near my heart.
I tried my hardest to relive some of the experiences I had that contributed to the formation of each belief, in a safe way of course. I allowed myself to look at the other people involved with fresh eyes.
Could they be meeting their own needs by acting in this way, separate from a desire to actually hurt me?
Is it possible that I had nothing to do with their actions?
The answers hit me like a ton of bricks and I quickly came to realize that my beliefs about myself were built upon the words and actions of others who were not motivated by destroying me, but by empowering themselves.
How they met their need for empowerment was on them. It was never about me, which meant the belief that became my truth existed because of how I chose to experience those situations.
This empowered me to relook at all my major life events with fresh eyes, including all the ‘evidence’ I had seen to prove my belief of being ugly, stupid, worthless and useless.
I needed to believe those things and find the evidence for them, so that’s exactly what I did.
Now that I was aware of this, I could make some serious changes.
Energy flows where attention goes
Realizing that I had been looking for evidence of my lack of worth really opened my eyes. I realized at that moment that the very act of seeking that evidence allowed me to find it.
In fact, despite many amazing people in my life who were more than willing to show me my value and worth, I wouldn’t allow myself to accept or even see that. Instead, I insisted on only seeing the negative.
Since I was putting all my attention onto my flaws and the self-loathing I had, that was all I could see around me.
But now that I was making this realization, I was able to see the truth. I could reflect back upon many moments in my life and very clearly see the love and support that had been there, instead of the hatred I saw at the time.
By purposely placing my attention towards the knowledge that people are not trying to hurt me, but help themselves, I was able to allow myself to see the evidence for this.
I wasn’t quite able to see myself as beautiful, intelligent or worthy yet, but I could see that I wasn’t the focus of another person’s hatred. Even if they were spewing out hate, it wasn’t because of me, it was because of them.
Eventually, I could even start to see that I was the focus of some people’s love and respect.
Becoming my own hero
Right around this time, I saw a quote for the first time and it rocked my world:
‘She needed a hero, so that’s what she became.’
A light bulb flicked on the moment I read and understood that quote.
It dawned on me that I had been waiting for someone else to swoop in, like a knight in shining armor, and treat me like a queen. I thought if someone else could love and respect me, it would prove my abuser wrong.
The problem had always been the same. At the time, I thought the problem was that there was nobody that would love or respect me. In actuality, because I fully believed I wasn’t worth loving or respecting, and therefore didn’t love or respect myself, I couldn’t accept love or respect from anyone else.
Many people had actually tried to love me and show me respect, but that didn’t match my self-limiting belief, so I couldn’t see it. I would push them away, or be very dramatic and start arguments that were sure to end these relationships.
Because the reality was not matching my internal belief systems, I just couldn’t cope with the discrepancy.
But when I read that quote, I realized that I had to love and respect myself. No one else could do this for me, not because no one ever would, but because true love needs to come from within.
So, how did I do it? I had to start at the beginning. I spent some time recounting all the things I had experienced in my life, now with my new-found sense of understanding.
With each memory, I looked at how young, inexperienced and naïve I was, and instead of chastising myself for that, I accepted it. I was two when I was introduced to my abuser. What skill was I to have to properly defend myself against such a person?
Instead of berating myself over what I should have done, I praised myself over what I did do: I coped the best way I could under the circumstances.
I had survived. Not only did I survive the abuse itself, but the long-term effects. I survived the emotional and psychological self-harm I inflicted towards myself for over a decade after finding safety.
With acceptance, comes pride, respect, and love.
The power of gratitude
I no longer have any shame about my abuse, how I dealt with it at the time, or how I dealt with it long after. I am secure in the knowledge that every step I took in my journey of recovery was a step worth taking.
How could I know light if I hadn’t experienced the dark? Yes, it took me years to find that light, but I found it! And I am proud of every single bump along the way because the life I live now wouldn’t exist without those experiences.
I do not know who or what I would have become if my childhood and subsequent adult years hadn’t been what they were. Would I have learned my value and worth? Would I truly love and respect myself? Would I help others do the same?
While I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, including myself, I am truly grateful to be the person I am today. There is no doubt in my mind – my abuse shaped who I am, but it doesn’t define me. There is a difference.