When Childhood Abuse Leaves You Feeling Stunted


On my more lighthearted days, when my depression and anxiety don’t hang quite so heavily on me, I will sometimes joke about being a big kid trapped in an adult’s body, or a not-so-big kid, because I am shorter than most kids over the age of 12. However, on those deeper, darker days, when my mental illness bears down more heavily on my mind and soul, I’m painfully aware that all the abuse I have endured has stunted me in many ways.

I always try to embrace my inner child because there’s such a pure sweetness inside of me, a love for life, thirst for knowledge and a hunger for anything creative and fun. Even at 40, I love swinging on swings and having water balloon fights. I can never resist twirling in sun showers, catching raindrops on my tongue or making snow angels in the first real snowfall of the season.

Yet the other side of that inner little girl is present more often and is far more vocal. I rarely talk about her, though she is present more often than the sweet, little playful youth I so thoroughly adore. Emotionally, I don’t think I ever fully matured beyond the child I was when the abuses and traumas were at their worst. While I might fully embrace my inner child, with her innocent wonderment and playful silliness, beneath that resides this scared little girl who has been battered and abused, who never learned the tools to cope and lives her life terrified of the monsters in the closet, under the bed and in my own head.

Like a child, I am often overemotional and easily wounded. Like a child, I cannot understand the cruelty and indifference of other people. Deep down, a part of me still clings to those innocent fairy tale stories with their happily ever afters and knights in shining armor. A large part of me cannot understand why my life is so hard, my struggles so arduous and my heart so broken. Like a child, nothing quite makes sense to me and I have that overwhelming desire to just ask “why?” a thousand times a day.

I have trouble processing, trouble understanding and trouble coping with everything, whether it is a smaller, every day occurrence or an event with a larger impact on my life. I cling too tightly to those I care about and need because I am terrified of being alone, abandoned and left to fend for myself again. Like that child I was years ago, I find myself starving for approval and love, willing to do anything, be anything, just to have someone stay and love me. I reside in a terrifying place of confusion, loss and desperation. My inner child wants to cling to everyone and cry out, “Please don’t leave me! I’ll be good! I promise! I’m scared! I don’t want to be alone!” over every single thing in life because it all seems too big, too overwhelming to deal with on my own.

While the other facets of my mental illness can be approached with practicality and reason, addressed with therapy and medication, I honestly have no clue how to deal with the fact that I have been stunted in many ways. How do I learn to grow up when I am already a grown adult? How do I stop being that frightened little girl inside, overwhelmed by the entire world, scared to come out, terrified of being hurt again? Children are usually nurtured as they are ushered into adulthood, being taught how to cope and given the tools to adjust along the way. I was thrown into the harsh realities of a cruel and unjust world before I was ever ready to face them, and have spent my entire life scampering around, stuck in the mentality of that terrified little girl who just wants all those monsters to go away and for everything to be OK again.

I honestly don’t know how to address or change that part of myself. I don’t know how to stop being that clingy, confused, lost little girl who is terrified of the world around her. Part of me wishes I could be stronger, braver, more grown-up and able to adjust, cope and problem solve all my issues away. Unfortunately, a much larger part of myself cannot stop crying inside and just wants someone to scoop me up, hold me tightly and reassure me that everything will be OK, that this has all just been a bad dream.

This blog originally appeared on Unlovable.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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