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I think that most Christians would say that the most significant moment in their life is when they discovered the love of God. Unfortunately, for me, that was not the case. When I was six years old I learned that the world was not all sunshine and roses. It was made clear to me that I could not always trust the adults in my life to make good and healthy decisions for me. My biological father molested me. From that moment, my life was forever changed.
I cannot say that it was changed for bad or for good, but it was changed none the less. I do know that it affected my behavior as I grew into adulthood and probably well after. I was very shy and withdrawn because I carried shame and guilt. I did not think that I deserved to be loved or treated well. That line of thought must have burned like fire inside of me because, much like a moth drawn to a flame, another abusive person came into my life.
He fed off of my self-loathing and further convinced me of what I knew my whole life, that I was ruined. It was easy for him to control me. I was abused in all of the ways that a person should never have to be. It was abhorrent to me when I learned that I was not alone in my experiences. I was not the only child ever abused. I was not the only teenager to fall into an unhealthy and abusive relationship.
Both of my abusers suffered this same childhood trauma as me, which led me to think that the cards must have been stacked against me. Was I genetically doomed from the beginning of my life? I have had to ask myself what role biology and psychology play in who I became as an adult. Is this cycle of abuse connected in some way? I did not become an abuser, so what changed the cycle for me? Lastly, what can I do to help change the cycle for others?
Was I biologically and psychologically inclined to live a life filled with abuse? Meyers (2015) explained the human make up as combined and intertwined systems and subsystems that can be understood when studied together;
“We have also realized that we are each a system composed of subsystems that are in turn composed of even smaller subsystems. Tiny cells organize to form body organs. These organs form larger systems for digestion circulation, and information processing. And those systems are part of an even larger system—the individual, who in turn is part of a family, culture, and community. Thus, we are biopsychosocial systems. To understand our behavior, we need to study how these biological, psychological and social systems work and interact.” (p. 53)
So, being a part of a “family, culture, and community” does play a role in behaviors. My father having been abused as a child influenced his outlook on abuse. Meyers (2015) confirmed this when he stated, “Although most abused children do not later become violent criminals, extreme early trauma may nevertheless leave footprints on the brain,” (p.200). He goes on to say that this exposure increases the risk for mental health issues, addiction and criminal behaviors (Meyers, 2015). In the journal “The Effects of Children’s Exposure to Domestic Violence: A Meta-Analysis and Critique” Crooks, Jaffe, Lee, & McIntyre-Smith (2003) find similar results, “…such exposure is part of a group of harm-producing contextual factors (such as child abuse, harsh parenting practices, and other forms of trauma and violence) that interfere with normal development and lead to unpredictable, but generally negative, outcomes in the short- and long-term.” The authors showed that children who were abused or exposed to abuse were prone to negative effects that carry on into adulthood such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD and other psychological disorders (Crooks et al., 2003).
This research helped me understand that my father having been abused played a role in his abusing me. This does not excuse him from the choices that he made, but it did give me a better comprehension on the cycle of abuse. It also leads me to the conclusion that I entered into an abusive relationship as another negative side effect of early childhood trauma. Being exposed to abuse at a young age changed who I would be and made me susceptible to further victimization. To elaborate, this could be explained using another of Meyers (2015) statements, “Our genes, when expressed in specific environments, influence our developmental differences… We are more like coloring books, with certain lines predisposed and experience filling in the full picture,” (p. 152). The exposure to trauma as a child impacted my self-esteem and views on relationships, thus leaving me open to another abuser.
Once I looked at and learned about the cycle of abuse, I found myself reflecting on the factors that rescued me from it. The only conclusion I could come up with is God. From Scripture, we know that depression and anxiety affect the entirety of a person, just like any other physical disease. Depression medication could work on the chemicals in my brain to help suppress the darkness, but only God could heal the pieces of me that felt broken. I had to rest in the knowledge that I was worthy. God calls me His child and says that I am worthy of love. Learning that is what brought me out of the darkness and into the light. Psalm 40 1:3 (New International Version) says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” These verses shone light into dark places, gave hope to my hopelessness, and allowed me to have God’s perspective rather than my own dismal view. No matter what, I was loved and made new by my true Father.
With this new life, I was set on a path to seek out ways to help others who had fallen into the same despair I once knew. My journey led me to Trauma Informed Care (TIC). Trauma informed care is a treatment approach that recognizes the effects and roles trauma plays in an individual’s life while creating a treatment plan to meet their emotional needs. I first heard about this form of treatment being used in homeless shelters. Bassuk, Hopper and Olivet (2010) describe it as strength’s based;
“Trauma-Informed Care is a strengths-based framework that is grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma, that emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and survivors, and that creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.”
The journal goes on to explain that although the trauma informed care approach was effective in homeless service settings, there were issues with implementation. This type of treatment could prove to be useful in social work as well. Martinez and Kawam (2016) wrote in the article Trauma Informed Care in Social Work, “As social workers, we work with populations with long and complex histories of abuse and violence combined with pressing physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual needs.” The article discusses using trauma informed care as a method of treatment that approaches the patient as the facilitator of their recovery, returning the clients sense of self. The social worker or counselor must be able to determine the trauma affecting the client in order to discover what needs can be met to implement healing. Martinez and Kawam (2016) suggest making this a part of the regular intake process, thus ensuring that the trauma is addressed and a personalized treatment plan created. In the article 9 Ways Adults Can Heal Their Childhood Trauma, Brandt (2018) expresses once again the need for full healing after experiencing childhood trauma, “Trauma generates emotions, and unless we process these emotions at the time the trauma occurs, they become stuck in our mind and body.” She goes on to say, “Instead of healing from the wounding event, the trauma stays in our body as energy in our unconscious, affecting our life until we uncover it and process it out.” In the article 4 Ways That Childhood Trauma Impacts Adults, Brandt (2017) wrote,
“Because of childhood emotional trauma, we may have learned to hide parts of ourselves. At the time, that may have helped us. But as adults, we need our feelings to tell us who we are and what we want, and to guide us toward becoming the people we want to be.”
Healing is an intricate part of changing the patterns of self-abuse in people’s lives and the way the person feels about their self.
Abuse violates everything about a person from his or her understanding of self to physical boundaries to spiritual connection with God. In a child, these things are so barely established that they are often altered for life and without appropriate help may not ever heal. Meyers (2015) wrote, “If everything psychological is simultaneously biological, then our ideas, emotions, and spirituality must all, somehow, be embodied,” (p. 93). We are more than just our genetic inheritance. Everything we say or do leaves the imprint of our lives on those around us. As long as there is breath in your body, there’s an opportunity to leave a rich legacy of hope, “their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work,” 1 Corinthians 3:13 (NIV). We must help one another to heal and find peace, so that our children do not have to endure the same traumas that we once did. Trauma Informed Care coupled with spiritual healing can be life changing for victims of childhood trauma and defeat the cycle of abuse once and for all.
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