“Am I possessed?”
Startled, I looked at this beautiful woman in her late 30s, sitting across from me. Dark circles under her eyes suggested sleepless nights and deep-seated worries.
“Why do you think you are possessed?”
I am asked this question a lot as a spiritual healer.
“I think I am going crazy. I have suddenly turned into this huge monster with so much rage inside me. I just want to attack people especially my poor husband. I have tried to control myself but I cannot.”
On further inquiries, she also suffered from other symptoms such as nightmares, headaches, and depression. There was no other possible explanation for her current behavior. Aside from the usual ups and downs of life, she was happy in her work and marriage.
“Out of the blue, I would suddenly feel fear and dread. And … for no reason, I would start crying:”
“Tell me about your childhood.”
She looked perplexed. She was probably wondering what her childhood had to do with her problems. Her face softened and took on a faraway look.
“My parents fought very violently. My father sometimes beat my mother. My mother was a deeply, unhappy woman. When she went into one of her uncontrollable fits of rage and hysteria, she would start hitting me. Sometimes, she would start screaming and yelling at me for the slightest mistakes or for no reason at all.”
Unbeknownst to my client, she was suffering from a form of mental-emotional wounding called post-traumatic stress disorder. When we have been subjected to constant and overwhelming stressful events or abusive treatment, we may experience PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms may include difficulty sleeping, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, recurrent flashbacks to traumatic incident or nightmares, and lost of interest in life. Symptoms can sometimes occur months after the traumatic incident.
In the previous issue, I discussed the necessity and importance of healing emotional wounding from an energetic perspective. I will continue the discussion from a psychological point of view. PTSD is a form of mental-emotional wounding. This trauma was first diagnosed for soldiers returning home from war. Mental health practitioners have now broadened the category of traumatic events that can trigger PTSD. As in the case of my client, growing up in a seriously troubled or abusive family can also cause PTSD. She was subjected to physical and emotional abuse by her mother. She was also a witness to domestic violence. A witness to violence can also experience psychological trauma.
To understand how childhood abuses can cause trauma, imagine for a moment that you are captured by the enemy and thrown into prison. Your entire survival needs depend on the whims of your guards. From time to time, you are taken out for a beating. Even if you were to escape the beatings due to good behavior, you watched your fellow prisoners being beaten. One of the favorite games of the guards is to humiliate and belittle you. “Filthy pig! Stupid! Good for nothing!” Continue to pretend that you are subjugated to this mistreatment for several years. Do you think you will escape imprisonment without any scars? Your physical scars will heal in time but the most difficult scars to heal are the invisible ones: the mental-emotional wounding or psychological trauma.
Some psychologists have made the analogy that children who are raised in abusive households are like prisoners of war. They are entirely helpless and dependent on their parents for their survival needs. Trapped in their family systems of violence, children are usually unable to escape any abuse their families inflict on them. If enduring cruel imprisonment can cause psychological trauma, think of the long-term impact that an abusive childhood can have on the physical and psychological wellbeing of a person.
What are the effects of growing up in a troubled family? As well as psychological trauma such as PTSD, an abusive childhood can cause other forms of mental illnesses, personality disorders and poor health. Many addictions such as alcohol, gambling, sex, drugs, work or religion have roots in childhood traumas. Abuse simply kills the spirit and potentiality of human beings.
Many of us do not understand what abuse is. In a public lecture in Singapore, I once asked the participants to raise their hands if they were ever physically abused. No one raised their hands. This surprised me. On deeper reflection, I inquired if anyone was ever physically beaten. Almost everyone in the room raised their hands.
Emotional abuse is even more unfamiliar. The most insidious fact about emotional violence is that there are no visible scars. However, do not underestimate the damage that emotional abuse can wreck on a person. We can all relate to “limping away” from a violent argument where cruel words were exchanged, feeling battle weary and deep pain. For those of you involved in an emotionally abusive relationship, whether with a boss, a parent, or a spouse, you can probably relate to the saying that “words can hit as hard as a fist.” Without realizing it, you may have watched your self-confidence erode away slowly with time. You may suffer from depression and lack of motivation without understanding why. You may have increased feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and self-blame. These are all symptoms of living with emotional abuse.
If you have been abusive, whether mentally, emotionally, or physically, it is important that you do not see yourself as a bad person, a shameful person or a monster. Our purpose here is not to blame our parents, our teachers, other perpetrators of violence or ourselves. In fact, many psychological researches have concluded that 100% of all abusers come from an abusive environment. Interestingly enough, when studying men and women who stay in abusive marriages, a very significant number of them have been raised in abusive background. When we grow up in an aggressive environment, we become immured to cruelty and violence. Many come to believe that abuse is a way of life.
There is a tragic story about frogs. Did you know that if you put a frog in cold water and slowly heat up the water, it slowly boils to death instead of leaping to safety? It does not realize that the water is killing it slowly. Children who are raised in an abusive environment do not know what abuse is. They have normalized and adapted to their environment.
We are all caught in a trance of abuse. Violent behavior and aggressive patterns are handed down from generation to generation. We were raised with the belief of “spare the rod, spoil the child”. We believed that the most effective way to teach is through shame and humiliation. We sincerely thought that humans need to learn through fear and punishment. We are like the frogs, slowly boiling to death in increasingly hot water. We have numbed ourselves to the fire.
If you are reading this Lapis newsletter, I imagine that you value compassion and non-violence. You can take an active part in creating a more peaceful world BY DECIDING RIGHT NOW TO END the cycle of abuse ONCE AND FOR ALL.
Steps to ending the cycle of abuse:
- Understand what constitutes abuse. Learn about the different types of abuse: spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical. Realize that all types of abuse destroy people in one form or another.
- If you are abusive or being abused in a relationship, seek psychological help. You probably came from an abusive environment yourself. You may not realize that you carry deep pain inside. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed. The only way to stop this damaging pattern in your life is through education and healing the pain of your childhood.
- Learn non-violent and effective strategies of communicating your needs and wants. You do not have to bully, intimidate, scold, blame or yell to get what you want.
- If you are a parent, study compassionate methods of child-rearing. Please understand that sparing the rod is not spoiling the child. This is black and white thinking. There is a middle way where we do not have to use violence and we do not spoil the child. Spoiling a child is equally destructive. There are children who are treated as little gods by their families. They either have servants trailing them everywhere or they have families who indulge their every whim. These children grow up to be very inconsiderate and self-indulgent. Children need discipline and teaching but we do not have to employ methods that are destructive to the human spirit.
- Learn healthy ways of coping with anger and insecurities of life. Develop safe ways to release stress. Modern lifestyle is increasingly stressful. It is not easy to balance full-time work with health, family and financial concerns. When we are stressed, we become more prone to being abusive. If you are highly stressed at work, I recommend that you find a way of releasing stress before returning home. I have observed many people release pent-up stress from work by yelling, screaming or beating innocent ones at home e.g. maids, spouses and children.
- Do family of origin work. We often repeat the patterns and behaviors from our original family unconsciously. This is known as repetition compulsion. Some examples of repetitive compulsion:
- You marry someone who later begins to resemble the parent you resent.
- You discover that you have started to act just like the parent you may hate.
- You start treating your spouse or lover the way your parents treated each other.
- You find yourself having the same career or money conflict your father or mother had.
- You find yourself reenacting the same illnesses, upsetting events or upheavals that one or both your parents went through.
- You re-create in your adult life emotionally upsetting situations very similar to the unresolved incidents of your childhood. (Only the characters and settings have changed.)
Many people who are new to inner journey sessions and inner work have difficulty believing that our childhood constitutes such a powerful influence in our lives.
“It is over.”
“My parents did the best they could. They worked very hard.”
“I grew up alright. It was not too bad. I had food on the table and a roof over my head.”
It is true that your childhood is over. It is true that your parents did the best that they could. It is also true that you grew up “functional” if that means you can keep a job and raise a family. However, unless you have consciously worked on your childhood issues, your childhood is unconsciously exerting its influence over you.
Human babies learn a lot from imitation. This is a fact! Watch young children. Watch how they mimic adults around them. A lot of our behaviors and ways of dealing with the world are learned in childhood. Many of our conclusions about life are formed during childhood. They establish the foundation for our life now. Unfortunately, some of these learned patterns may be self-defeating and no longer serve our happiness as adults.
A study was conducted by Harvard University to explore the extent of parental influence. Harvard students were given questionnaires about their parents. 35 years later, the same researchers contacted everyone and took detailed medical and psychological histories. What they found was quite amazing. 100% of the people who rated their relationships with their parents as cold, developed diseases in midlife such as high blood pressure, duodenal ulcers and heart problems. Only 47% of the people who rated relationships with parents as warm and friendly, developed diseases.
The researchers concluded, “The perception of parental love and caring may be a powerful predictor of future health because parental love and caring involves and integrates so many potential mechanisms.” These include:
- Nutrition, stress and loving energy before and after birth,
- Healthy and unhealthy behaviors developed during childhood,
- Coping styles such as anxiety, anger, hostility, depression, optimism, and self-esteem,
- Choice and stability of relationships and friendships,
- The presence and support of parents in one’s adult life,
- Spiritual values and practices.
If you had a childhood that was dysfunctional and abusive, you probably have learned many strategies that do not support you in developing your maximum potential in life. You may be “functional” but you may not be living from your true self. Let me give you an example.
A graceful woman in her mid 50s complained about feelings of emptiness. She has all the trappings of success; a devoted husband, adult children and an expensive house in a prestigious address. During her journey session, she saw an image of her life as a beautiful songbird imprisoned in a cage. As we deepened into the session, deep sorrow emerged. She realized that she had locked her spirit away for many years. She remembered playing piano when she was nine. Every time she played the piano, her mother would make belittling and sarcastic remarks like, “Would you stop making so much noise? Practice when I am not at home.” Or, “Who do you think you are? You are a good-for-nothing girl.”
One day, she was to invited to play Schubert in a concert. One of the guests was her mother. She waited in the wings of the concert hall for her turn, so excited to make her mother proud. She had practiced and practiced. Guess, what happened when she started to play? She totally froze.
The 9 year old child never played the piano again. She believed every word her mother said about her to be true. She was stupid, ugly, and worthless. No one in her family comforted her or helped her understand that performance anxiety was perfectly natural. It was a loss when she gave up the piano. However, the greater tragedy was that she continued to live life as if she was stupid, ugly and worthless. She chose a safe husband based on her secret fear that no one could love her. Her ambition was to pursue a life of art. She went to art school but after the first exhibition, she gave up art to become a housewife. When no one bought a painting during her first exhibition, the voice of her mother haunted her again. She truly believed that she was a failure. She spent the next 20 years raising children, never daring to risk anything again.
We can all relate to voices of prophetic doom from our childhoods. “You will never make it.” “You are stupid.” “You will always a failure.” Tragically, many of us believed these voices.
Take a moment now and fantasize. Imagine being born into a loving and supportive family that loved you unconditionally. Imagine being born into an environment that nurtured your talents and interests. Would your life have taken a different turn?
As a child, you were helpless to do anything about your life circumstances. You had to mold and adapt yourself to the kind of parents you had and to the world around you. You are no longer a child now. As an adult, you can give yourself whatever you want and whatever your heart desires.
The power and choice lie within you!
- Physical abuse: Any intentional physical injury, such as pinching, slapping, beating, including ones that result in bruises, scars, broken bones or internal injuries.
- Sexual abuse: Any exploitation of a child for the sexual pleasure of an adult.
- Emotional abuse: Any verbal attacks such as humiliation, shaming, belittling, name-calling, constant criticism.