More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
The Child Within

From Grant Cameron's What About Me?, 1994

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.

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.

Update:Unfortunately, this book seems to be out of print, so the Amazon prices are inflated. You can find better prices at AbeBooks, though. See grant cameron - what about me - AbeBooks
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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.

I don't think that these statements are neccessarily true. I learned a long time ago, while working for an organisation that deals with children who have been abused that it doesn't matter what age or how long the abuse went on for, the psychological impact was the same.

as adults who have survived being abused as a child the same principal applies as the emotions connected to the abuse are relatively the same also.

in each case the survivor or the child has to go thru or relive the abuse
(in away,)in a safe envoronment with a trained abuse counselor in order to come thru it and heal the wounds caused by that abuse.

these are just my opinions on the 2 statements above, otherwise the article is a good one.


David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Note the word "usually" in those statements, nsa. Based on all the research I have read (which is quite a bit), I would say the statements are true in most cases. Of course, there are individual differences both in the victim and in the way the family reacts to disclosure of the abuse, and there are several other relevant factors as well not mentioned in that excerpt.


It was actually through this article that I became friendly with the doc a couple of years ago.

The child within is a statement that I have always used. And one that I believed to be true since I did not really have a normal childhood.

I feel that this article is so important for survivors to read and to understand.

Also, I'm not so sure I wish to merge, per say, that child within. At this point in my life we have been together for a long time, and I think we help each other at times, though at others I think we create some conflict in life as well.

I'm still in a thought process with all of this, so I am sure I will have more to say later on.


I just read this, and have to reply even though it's an older post. I didn't know that 'the child within' was a common manifestation among abuse survivors. I've just always had mine with me...I don't even remember when I first noticed her or became aware that she had a recognizable appearance and personality. I actually see her in a very dark cell in a deep pit, completely alone, very sad, very angry, very hopeless, sometimes hiding, always a prisoner. She only gets my attention when I am also very sad or very angry, she wants to tell me something, she wants help, she wants to get out, but I can never reach her. Sometimes a massive thick sheet of glass or ice keeps us apart, sometimes her cell is too far down in the pit. Sometimes she is yelling or crying but I can't make out what she wants to say. She usually frightens me or makes me feel ill, and I don't actually try very hard to reach her, often I try to ignore her. I've always thought of her as my waif. I'm her warden. I'm the only person she knows, the only one who could help her. And I don't. It was the adults in her life who put her there, but somehow I separated from her, grew up, and neatly took over the job of being her jailer. It's weird how concrete my perception of her is. It's almost freakish. I've always had problems with explosive rage and morbid sadness...when I'm hit with those feelings I can actually FEEL where she 'lives' inside of me, I can feel waves of rage or sadness pushing up from the pit of my stomach where I visualize her cell. Sometimes it almost feels like sadness and rage are a living rope binding us. Ugh. Enough. This all sounds super dramatic, and it's 2am here. I'm going to try to get some:sleepy:
I've had the same thing happening for me. I could only remember my early childhood and some fragments of my teenage life, there were so many gaps and holes and there still are. I am not sure that this child within is a guarantee thing for all survivors, I haven't yet seen mine so I am not sure it applies to all survivors.
As for how memories will come, I'm just going to share my experience with you so it might still be different for you. I've had a complete block on my memories, from time to time I'd feel an unreasonable fear, anxiety and shame but until I've got into a real relationship I haven't found out the reason. The memories came in fragments and every time I experience a flashback something gets added to it. You might feel like it's real and worry that it's just the work of your imagination. I think imagination would get involved in somehow but what you feel (maybe not what you'd see) would be real and REAL, your body can't fake emotions unlike your mind, your mind might get confused.
Even though I have been dealing with flashbacks for 6 months now there's still a memory that's not completely finished yet and I have no idea whether it's real or not but it seems so vivid.
That's just my experience.


I know this is an old thread, but it really caught my attention.

I never would have said this before, but the 'child within' is real. In my case though, I think it's more like 'children within'. And I have tried so hard to ignore them and deny their existence, mostly out of shame and embarrassment I guess.

I am starting to be aware when they pop up now, whereas before, I just didn't realize what was going on. And evidently, my husband and kids have been trying to tell me this stuff all through the years and IDK, I guess I didn't pay attention or listen, or I forgot or something.

But now that I am aware, and have a better understanding, I don't have so much shame and embarrassment about it. My T keeps reminding me that I didn't do this to myself, it's because of things that were done TO me. And I think(hope) that as I keep working on all the traumas, these 'children within' will eventually be healed.
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