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  1. #1

    The Child Within

    The Child Within
    From Grant Cameron's What About Me? © 1994
    A guide for men helping female partners deal with childhood sexual abuse

    Reprinted by Permission of the Author

    It's a strange concept. Bizarre to say the least. You'll be sitting there, talking to the survivor, when all of a sudden you realize she isn't even listening. Instead, she'll be staring at some faraway object as though deep in thought.

    At that moment, you wonder if she's losing her marbles. She's not. And neither are you. The survivor is merely getting in touch with a part of herself that hasn't healed. It's something deep inside her called the child within, something that's been with her for years.

    She's never seen it, probably never talked to it, and likely didn't know it existed. But it's probably always been there, locked somewhere in the crevices of her mind. And now that she's started the healing process, it's come to the forefront. It wants attention and it wants it now.

    The child within is one of the most difficult things for supporters to understand, but it's also something you'll probably have to come to grips with.

    For the survivor, the child is a real thing, although not in the physical sense. The survivor is able to feel what the child feels, talk to it, even console it. Sometimes, the survivor can picture the child inside her. She can see her sitting in a room, playing with her things.

    Usually, the child resembles what the survivor thinks she looked like as a child. At times, the survivor will be totally in touch with the child within. Other times, she'll be completely at its mercy.

    I've been told by some therapists that survivors sometimes don't have a child within. In other cases, the child just doesn't come out. It depends a lot on the severity and nature of the abuse. Usually, a survivor can only be put in touch with the feelings of the child through therapy.

    Accepting the Child
    If you think about it for a moment, it's not all that complicated or startling. Think about how old the survivor was when she was abused. Now picture yourself about that age. Now ask yourself how you would have felt if someone you had trusted came into your room in the middle of the night and abused you. Remember, you didn't know anything about sex. You didn't know if it was right or wrong. How would it have affected your emotional development? How would it have affected your trust for people? How would it have affected your self-confidence and your own self-worth?

    The extent of psychological damage can vary widely, depending on the abuse. It depends, for example, on how long the abuse continued and the relationship of the offender to the child. It also depends on such things as the kind of and degree of sexual abuse, the age of the child, if others were involved and whether or not the child disclosed the abuse and how it was handled. Each person is different. Each situation is different.

    Some trends have appeared, though. For example:
    • Psychological effects of child sexual abuse are usually greater when the abuse has involved physical violence.
    • The psychological distress is usually greater if the child was abused by a trusted person rather than a stranger.
    • Brief incidents of child sexual abuse usually have less of an impact than abuse that continues over a long period of time.
    • Children abused when they are very young usually show fewer psychological effects than children who are abused when they are older.
    How The Child Forms
    The child within forms because the abused child is unable to handle emotions like an adult can. Although the child may feel the abuse is wrong, a young child gets very confused because the perpetrators enforce the notion that what happens is right. Plus, the child is usually rewarded [in some way, even if only by the avoidance of punishment] for all the actions. Because they get so confused about it all, abused children lock the emotions deep inside. It's somewhat like forming a child within a child. In the end, the abuse may have caused them to feel guilt and shame, as well as anger and fear.

    The survivor might feel angry at the perpetrator for putting her through the abuse. She may also be angry at herself for letting it happen. She could carry a lot of anger towards one or both parents for not stopping the abuse. She may just be angry at anybody and everybody for what happened.

    Dissociation
    Often, the only way for a child to hang on is to dissociate herself from the abuse. The dissociation results in a child self being formed inside the subconscious of the survivor. The abuse may stop and the child may grow up, but the child within does not. All the thoughts and feelings that were there during the abusive years are still inside the person. So, if the abuse took place twenty years ago, the survivor has been carrying around the thoughts and feelings for twenty years.

    Survivors cope with the abuse and adjust to its effects in different ways. But ignoring the situation and hoping it will go away usually ends up backfiring. All the bad things that got locked away when the survivor was a child eventually come up in some way. And they can be triggered by a number of things.

    An adult survivor of abuse may end up with a deep lack of trust for everyone, low self-esteem, depression, sexual and parenting problems. Survivors can also have memory blocks of their childhood years, recurring depression, and suicidal tendencies. They may also have their feelings completely shut down, shut off, or made inaccessible to anyone. Sometimes the survivor disassociates herself from any stressful situation or perceives the adult self and child self as two separate individuals.

    As an adult, feelings of self-hatred, guilt or shame may lead to high-risk activities such as alcoholism, drug addiction, or sexual promiscuity. One common symptom among survivors is eating disorders. In a 1990 study of 158 women with eating disorders, more than half divulged they had suffered some form of earlier sexual trauma.

    Sometimes, survivors don't manifest symptoms until they marry or have children. Occasionally, powerful, overwhelming feelings may arise from sexual activity or activities like diapering a helpless baby.

    It doesn't happen all the time, but the child within usually disappears as the healing process nears an end. There's no time limit on all of this. Like the other parts of the healing process, it doesn't happen overnight. In the majority of cases, the adult and child become one. That's because, as a survivor heals, the child's emotions will heal too. In the end, the child no longer exists.

    Points to Remember
    • The child within is real.
    • The child acts and feels like a real child.
    • Children dissociate themselves from abuse.
    • Learn to accept the child within.
    • The child within usually disappears.
    The book What About Me? is available from major bookstores, including Amazon.ca, or may be ordered from the publisher at

    Creative Bound Inc.
    151 Tansley Drive, P.O. Box 424
    Carp, Ontario Canada K0A 1L0
    Tel: (613) 831-3641
    Fax: (613) 831-3643
    Last edited by Into The Light; April 24th, 2007 at 09:54 PM. Reason: removed odd characters, fixed lists

  2. #2

    The Child Within

    That is such a good article.

    The child within forms because the abused child is unable to handle emotions like an adult can. Although the child may feel the abuse is wrong, a young child gets very confused because the perpetrators enforce the notion that what happens is right. Plus, the child is usually rewarded [in some way, even if only by the avoidance of punishment] for all the actions. Because they get so confused about it all, abused children lock the emotions deep inside. It's somewhat like forming a child within a child. In the end, the abuse may have caused them to feel guilt and shame, as well as anger and fear.

    The survivor might feel angry at the perpetrator for putting her through the abuse. She may also be angry at herself for letting it happen. She could carry a lot of anger towards one or both parents for not stopping the abuse. She may just be angry at anybody and everybody for what happened.
    This part just really struck me. I can relate to that so well. There were such huge "rewards" to me for all the things that happened. I thought it was love and I wanted and needed love so much. We all do. But it wasn't love really. I'm just really letting myself see the truth and it's hard. I don't know if what I'm saying makes any sense. I wish that I could put into words what I want to say. There's more, but I don't know how to get it to come out and make sense.

    Thank you for posting this.

  3. #3

    The Child Within

    What you say makes perfect sense, Janet. And it will make more sense to you as you continue to progress toward healing...

  4. The Child Within

    You really do make a lot of sense, janet. You're dealing with things much better than you think you are. It's never easy to talk about the bad things in our lives. Those are things we wish we could forget. We certainly can't expect ourselves to just open our mouths and let it all come rolling out. That's not going to happen, in most cases. Yet, every word we utter that addresses these "monsters in the closet" brings us closer to healing, and gives our hearts and minds that much more freedom and trust.

    Hugs to you, hon. You're really an amazing person!

  5. #5

    Re: The Child Within

    At times, the survivor will be totally in touch with the child within. Other times, she'll be completely at its mercy.
    This is how I feel most of the time, completely at the mercy of something inside me that is out of control, a child or whatever. Sometimes I think I'm demon possessed or something like that. I scream inside, silently, because what would be the point of screaming out loud if no one can hear you or if no one would listen anyway? That's how it has been so many times. No one would/could help me.

    It's very tiring to be so many different things or different people.

    Maybe we're all like that though. I think so, in some ways.

    I think none of this even makes sense. I want to run as far away from myself as I can.

    I'm just talking, no replies needed.

  6. #6

    Re: The Child Within

    In the majority of cases, the adult and child become one. That's because, as a survivor heals, the child's emotions will heal too. In the end, the child no longer exists.
    Could this really be true? That you end up as a whole adult?

  7. Re: The Child Within

    Quote Originally Posted by Janet View Post
    Could this really be true? That you end up as a whole adult?
    I am really hoping so.

  8. #8

    Re: The Child Within

    Yes. With the right combination of medication and psychotherapy, and a commitment to the work that you as a therapy client need to do, it's true.

  9. #9

    Re: The Child Within

    I hope so. I want to believe that. When I think of the concept of the child within I feel so angry at myself when I was little. I can't think of myself as a child much at all.

  10. Re: The Child Within

    Quote Originally Posted by David Baxter View Post
    Yes. With the right combination of medication and psychotherapy, and a commitment to the work that you as a therapy client need to do, it's true.
    I take my medication and go to therapy regularly but staying committed to the work when it becomes so painful during the process is what I find hard. I want to be committed and do the work but the pain is so much that I just want to quit and give up. The whole process just seems too long when in the middle of it. How does one stay committed when the pain is overwhelming?

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