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When Talking About Your Childhood Abuse and Neglect Leaves You Feeling Worse

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence, sexual abuse or assault the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233. You can also contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.


When I was a kid, I was hurting, but I couldn’t verbalize anything about my experience. I couldn’t say my mother’s abuse was terrifying. It just was. I had emotions without meaning. I did not understand the cause and effect of what was happening to me, not that there was any real logic. I didn’t have words to describe the chaos. I didn’t have words beyond a first-grade reading level. I didn’t have words to tell the ones who weren’t asking. I was a kid alone with my hurt. 

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Why did she hit me? When would it stop? Was it because the house was dirty? Or because I slept too late? Was it because she loved my sister more? Or was she jealous my father loved me more? And worse, when she wasn’t hitting me, why did she ignore me? Why didn’t she ask me about my day or my friends or my favorite color?

I was too young to process any of these questions. I just absorbed the pain, hurt and confusion. I isolated. I cried. I hurt myself with self-inflicted unhealthy behavior. I had no comprehension, no words, no perspective from outside myself. And that is how I lived until I was old enough to go off to a school away from home at 15 and make my way to a different path.

And then I grew up. I learned to put words to my experience. I learned to verbalize the emotions. I told therapists. And then I told friends. I told boyfriends. And then I told more therapists. Today, I understand mostly everything. I understand my mother may not have known why she hit me. As an adult, I can empathize with the fact that my mother was an unhappy woman with demons of her own to battle. I understand my responses in some relationships today are whiplashes of what happened to me then. And I know that her abuse — but more so her neglect — caused me to grow up with an insecure attachment, caused my brain to develop differently than most and caused a cycle of behavior I have been replaying ever since thanks to embedded triggers in my brain. And… I say it out loud now. I find the words.

I talk about my pain, my hurt, my confusion. I tell my stories about why I feel how I feel. Or how what happened to my childhood self still echoes in my adult self. I say it out loud and people – even those who know me, love me and want to understand me – they still can’t hear me. In fact, my words sometimes frustrate them, annoy them, disturb them or exhaust them. These are not words you tell people. They are not stories most people want or know how to hear. Tragically, the voice I’ve developed, I’ve found, I’ve fought for… the words I’ve come to piece together… this story I can now tell – because of life experience, perspective and lessons I’ve learned – reinjures me.

Could it be? How is that fair?

When we recite our feelings of pain – though in some ways it would seem freeing – it also cements that reality. You are what you think. Isn’t that kind of how it goes? So here I am — an adult survivor of child abuse and neglect. I can pronounce the ugly truth with compassion for my once hidden self. And still that act I’d expect, I’d hope, to be empowering… the act of saying what happened and what’s still happening, out loud… is ironically punishing.

It has become my internal label, an identifier, an owned story I perhaps hold too close. Tell me why? If you have compassion, understanding or words for me, say it out loud.

Unsplash image by Timothy Paul Smith

Originally published: October 9, 2019
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