You Are Beautiful and Strong, Sweet Child of Abuse — Beauty of a Woman Blogfest

by Kassandra Lamb, retired psychotherapist and trauma recovery specialist

Have you ever seen an ugly child?

I haven’t seen very many. And the few I have seen, who happened to be less than beautiful, were still adorable! Because they were sweet innocent children, doing cute innocent little kid things.

Unfortunately all too many kids lose that innocence, and are left feeling ugly inside, at an all too tender age.

This post is part of the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest  (see August McLaughlin’s site on Feb. 22nd for the list of other posts, and a contest!) In this Blogfest, there are tender posts, funny posts and more serious posts like this one–all intended to help women learn to honor rather than judge themselves and their bodies.

Beauty of a Woman Blogfest badge

But why do women need this ego boost? Where did all this harsh judgement of ourselves get started? There are several potential causes for such poor self-esteem, but the most horrendous of these possible causes is child abuse.

Whether in the form of verbal, physical or sexual, nothing but nothing says to a child that they are worthless quite like being abused does. Especially if that abuse is perpetrated by a loved one, as it all too often is.

Here are the kinds of comments I’ve heard from survivors of abuse through the years*:

Of course it was my fault that my mother drank. She told me so every day.

How could I not see myself as fat and gross when my father’s nickname for me was Miss Piggy.

It had to be something about me that made my mother beat me; she never touched my siblings.

When I reached puberty, I stopped eating. I didn’t want the boys to look at me like that. I wanted to disappear. I didn’t think I was even worthy of something as basic as food.

These sound like extreme cases, but they’re far more common than one might think. Here are some statistics from the National Children’s Alliance:

  • In 2010, over 3.4 million children received services from Child Protective Services agencies around the U.S.
  • Of these children, 78% experienced neglect, 17% physical abuse, 8% psychological abuse, and just under 10% were sexually abused (this adds up to more than 100% because kids often suffer more than one type of neglect/abuse).
  • The perpetrators of these abuses are almost always someone the child knows, and at least 50% of the time, they are relatives.

And these are only the reported cases. Quite a few incidents of abuse still go unreported. I should also point out that abuse doesn’t just happen in poor families. Abuse is an equal opportunity phenomenon. It cuts across all socioeconomic and racial lines.

How To Move From Victim to Survivor

The first step is to acknowledge that, if you’ve made it to adulthood, you are strong. You are already a survivor.

This was an incredibly powerful lesson for me. I was one of those unreported cases. I came into adulthood with self-esteem somewhere around minus 10. But there was a strength in me, a will to survive that had me going from therapist to therapist, trying to bring that number up.

I was in my early thirties, on the third or fourth therapist, when I finally acknowledged that I had been an abused child. That therapist was not a trauma specialist but he knew enough to correct me every time I called myself a ‘victim’ of abuse. “Survivor,” he would say in his quiet but firm voice, no matter what I was in the middle of saying. It used to piss me off sometimes, when he’d interrupt my train of thought.

Once I had sliced through the denial and other defenses I had wrapped around those memories of abuse, I realized how much now made sense. Including my low self-esteem.

Step two is coming to realize that the abuse was not our fault.

Children are by nature egocentric. They assume that it’s all about them, because they don’t know any differently yet. This egocentrism is actually helpful. It allows us to discipline them. When we punish them, they assume they did something to cause that negative reaction.

But when bad things happen to or around them that are not about their behavior, they also assume responsibility for causing those events. We’re most familiar with this reaction when we hear young children saying they were bad and that’s why Mommy and Daddy are getting divorced.

So the abused child assumes that s/he did something to cause the abuse/neglect. “I must have done something. I must be a bad person.”

No you did not and no you are not! You were an innocent child. When an adult verbally or physically attacks or sexually molests a child, it is because there is something wrong inside that adult.

scared child

(photo by D. Sharon Pruitt, Pink Sherbert Photography, creative commons 2.0 license, Flickr)

Why abusers abuse is a complicated topic. The short version of the explanation is that most often they themselves were abused as children. They are projecting their own self-blame and self-hate onto their victims. They are re-enacting their own abuse out of ignorance and/or a sick need to reclaim their sense of power that was stolen from them, by taking on the role of the powerful abuser (this applies to all kinds of abuse).

Now before I get accused of parent-bashing, let me point out that this isn’t about blaming anyone. It’s about understanding what really happened. Most parents, even fairly abusive ones, love their kids. And a lot of bad parents are that way out of ignorance rather than malice. They don’t know how to appropriately discipline their children without doing serious harm to the child’s self-esteem.

The bottom line: it’s not the child’s fault if s/he was abused. There is no behavior a child can do that deserves name-calling, shaming, beatings or molestation as a response.

Recovery is doable, and so worth it!

I am living proof of this!

The rest of the steps of recovery are a bit too complicated to get into in a blog post, but they are doable steps. And every survivor of abuse owes it to themselves to take those steps. It is extremely helpful to find a good therapist, preferably a trauma recovery specialist, to walk the path with you. But if you can’t afford that, there are free resources and support available. Below are some sites to check out.

Teddy Bear on lonely gray steps

[photo by Ullrica (@Ullie) creative commons 2.0 license, Flickr]

If you’re thinking this is too hard, and the outcome too unlikely to be that much of an improvement, let me set you straight. Yes, it’s hard. But as one of my clients so aptly put it, “I’ve already been through hell as a child. Going through it again as an adult has got to be easier.”

And the outcome can be wonderful. Even though I’ve gone through a lot of pain in my recovery process, the majority of my adult years have been good ones. And I am now (and have been for over two decades) one of the most confident people I know, with one of the best attitudes toward my body of most women I know. I now have the good life I always deserved, that every woman deserves.

So please, if this post has resonated for you, if you’re realizing that you may be a survivor of child abuse–even if the perpetrators didn’t mean to harm you–then please get the help you need to heal.

Because you are a strong and beautiful person, and you deserve a good life!

By all means, comment below, but also please go check out the other BOAW Blogfest posts.

Links to resources that can help:

Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

Survivors of Incest Anonymous

And a list of yet more resources

[*These were not direct quotes from actual clients (that would violate confidentiality) but rather similar to things abuse survivors often say.]

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.


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42 thoughts on “You Are Beautiful and Strong, Sweet Child of Abuse — Beauty of a Woman Blogfest

  1. K.B. Owen

    Kassandra, thank you for taking on such a difficult topic, especially one which is so personal for you. I’m sure that it has helped a lot of people to be able to read this. I also feel that it’s important for adult bystanders, those who suspect something may be wrong in the lives of the children whom they are close to, so that they can intervene and help protect them.

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Thanks, Kathy, for your support! This is a tough topic to deal with. I almost didn’t put the word ‘abuse’ in the title, for fear it would turn people off. But the reality is that all too many women (and men) have experienced this phenomenon, and they need our love and support to overcome it.

      And yes, we need to resist the urge to put our heads in the sand when we think something is going on with a child we know. They are so innocent and helpless.

  2. Marcy Kennedy

    Thank you for tackling such a difficult and personal topic. I want to underline and put it in caps where you say “Recovery is doable.” I have a very dear friend who was sexually abused as a child. In her teens, she took to cutting as a way to deal with the emotional pain, as well as developing an eating disorder. She moved into severe depression and took medication for years. And now not only is she mentally and emotionally healthy, but she’s one of the kindest, sweetest, internally beautiful people I know. She’s also an amazing mom. Her life is proof that even if you sink low and feel like there’s no hope, there is hope.

    1. Kassandra Lamb

      Thanks so much, Marcy, for giving us yet another example that recovery is doable. It’s hard, but the end results are so worth it, and the alternative is to stay stuck in feeling bad about ourselves.

      Seek the life and the self-love that you deserve, ladies!

  3. Jennette Marie Powell

    Thanks for sharing your story, Kassandra. It’s something I thankfully never experienced, but others close to me have. I especially appreciate the emphasis you give to the fact that you’re not a victim, you’re a survivor. There’s so much power in those words.

  4. Renee A. Schuls-Jacobson

    Kassandra: I was raped when I was young. It was a nightmare, and it took me decades to get over it. Truly. But you are right, it is possible to recover and come out the other side and feel whole again. Thank you for writing this post.

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Oh, no, I’m so sorry that happened to you, Renee! I’m not surprised that you’ve come out the other side not only whole again, but strong and beautiful. From reading your blog, I can tell that you are an amazing woman!

  5. Jess Witkins

    Kassandra, thank you both for sharing your story and for taking a serious topic and making it about support and love. It was a beautiful blog post and an important topic. I hope more survivors read your words and find strength and support from all of us. And then one day their own stories will change to that of survivor and their journey will make all the difference.

  6. Shannon Esposito

    Though it’s tough, abuse must be talked about like this…must be brought out into the light because fear grows in the darkness. I think one of women’s greatest strengths is the ability to share our stories, to open our pain to each other and heal each other. Too beautiful for words.

  7. Kassandra Lamb

    Thank you, Jess and Shannon. You are so right! When women share their stories, we aren’t just venting feelings (which is important too); we’re sharing our strength, support and love.

  8. Rebekah Loper

    I (and my siblings) could be considered some of those unreported cases as well. My father was never physically abusive, only verbally, and I’ve only recently cut off all non-essential communication with him. Sadly, I can’t completely get him out of my life because he and mom are still married, but he doesn’t get any personal information about me and my life anymore.

    He’s still baffled as to why I can’t stand him. I’m just like “Um, because it’s not normal to threaten to kick your 16-yr-old daughter out of the house or call her a stupid idiot because she doesn’t know if/where she wants to attend college yet? Among many other things.”

    We are survivors. And we are beautiful :D.

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      I eventually cut off contact with my father also, after he and my mother divorced (I was grown). He too was completely baffled. It just shows how they are modeling how they were treated, and think it’s normal to be so hurtful.

      But as I used to say to my clients: The fact that your abuser was also abused is an explanation, not an excuse for their behavior.

      Thanks so much, Rebekah, for sharing your story!

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Hi, Kathryn. Those numbers shock me every time I hear them as well. They haven’t come down significantly in decades, but they did stop going up (which was happening for quite awhile before all this came out of the closet).

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Aw, thanks, Catherine! I don’t know about a beacon of light, but I do try to shine my flashlight on the path to recovery, every chance I get, to say, “Here, this way. You’ll feel so much better when you get to the other end.”

  9. August McLaughlin

    What a powerful post, Kassandra. You are a hero for surviving and thriving, and for using your life and voice to uplift and bring healing to others. This post is as beautiful as you are.

    My mother was abused as a child, and the repercussions were devastating…worse so because it wasn’t reported. Her healing has shown me that ANYthing is possible. May many eyes and hearts find you and your post for that same reason. 🙂

    Thanks for contributing to the BOAW fest!

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      I am so touched by your words, August! And thank you for sharing about your mother, as even more validation that recovery is most definitely doable.

      I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am that you put the BOAW fest together, and helped me reach beyond our own blog followers with this message.

  10. Debra Kristi

    It’s wonderful to have someone like you who won’t shy away from the difficult subjects. That being said, I am glad that you stress how recovering is possible. So many in our society are victims of broken homes and families. It breaks my heart. We need more strong people to broach these tough subjects. To stand up for them and help them stand up for themselves. I realize it isn’t easy putting yourself out there the way you have and I want you to know I appreciate you opening up and sharing of yourself the way you have. It’s a beautiful, hard and amazing thing that you do. And it’s your passion that makes you a better driving force in this battle. You really are a BEAUTIFUL woman.

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Aw, gosh, Debra! *shuffles feet and blushes* Thanks for your kind words and support.

      I’ve dedicated most of my professional life to helping abuse survivors. It feels so good to still have an outlet to do that, through my blog, now that I’m retired.

  11. David N. Walker

    Although never a victim myself, I cringe every time I read an article in the paper about some child’s abuse. When I read such stories, I sometimes think we need to restore “cruel and unusual punishment” in our arsenal of weapons for dealing with criminals.

  12. Sabrina Garie

    What a powerful post. You are an extraordinary woman. Thanks for sharing your story, your courage and your commitment. Its a necessary and important topic, one that blog fest is strengthened to have.

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Thank you, Sabrina! I’d wanted to do a lighter, more fun post, but this seemed to be the one I needed to write, to perhaps help some women move a little closer to finding the beautiful person they are inside.

  13. Donna Galanti

    What a heartbreaking and beautiful post and so brave for you to write. As a child also of abuse, believing that I wasnt bad and I didnt deserve what happened to me – was the first major step for me to recovering. It took many pills and therapists for me to get to that point until I found a therapist who truly helped me help myself. And confronting my abusers – who would not be held accountable – helped too as I realized they would not change but I could! And I did. Having a son now reinforces for me how we should raise our children with love and respond with love to them. I wrote about this in my BOAW post. My heart aches for the lost child I was and for all lost children dealing with abuse everywhere. I hope to make a difference by breaking the cycle for me and for my son. You are a survivor, Kassandra, and helping others I am sure by posting this as well as the work you’ve done with others. Thanks for an amazing post.

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Thank you, Donna, for sharing your story, and for bringing up the point about breaking the cycle with our own children. Another extremely important reason for walking the path of recovery (sometimes staggering down it).

      I know I wasn’t perfect by any stretch but I did a much better job of parenting than my parents did. And when I did slip into some of those old patterns with my son, I usually caught myself (and if I didn’t, my husband was quick to point out what I was doing. :))

  14. Kourtney

    What an amazing post from the BOAW Blog Fest. I like how you focused in on the causes of issues later in life and devoted your post to child abuse. I hope it helps more abuse victims become survivors. 🙂

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Thanks, Kourtney! Part of me really wanted to write something lighter. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to reach so many potential survivors of abuse with the message that they are strong and beautiful.

  15. Julie Glover

    What an absolutely beautiful addition to the BOAW Blogfest! Thank you for speaking up on behalf of abused children. It’s hard to see any beauty in yourself when you feel worthless from your childhood. But abuse survivors are valuable, beautiful, and inspiring.

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      So glad to see your smiling face, Pat!

      I’d be lying if I said that I would not change my childhood if I could, but a big part of me is glad that I can’t. It gave me a level of understanding that helped me immensely as a therapist.

  16. Ellen M. Gregg

    I’m a survivor. That’s not to say there aren’t days during which I slip into victim mode, because there are and I do. The cool thing is, I can recognize it and rebound from it faster as time goes on.

    Thank you for highlighting this topic.

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Sliding backwards now and then is part of the process, Ellen. Which is why it’s called recovery. We’re never “cured” but in some ways, after we have enough recovery under our belts, we’re often stronger than folks who’ve never been through what we’ve gone through. Iron goes into the fire and comes out steel–stronger and more flexible!

  17. Pingback: 5 Benefits of Therapy for Creative Artists | August McLaughlin's Blog

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