Sexual abuse and healing my inner child

Deviant Daeva writes in an article on complex PTSD and Healing your Inner Child: “Victims of complex trauma have often gone through long-term abuse, neglect and abandonment during childhood. That has left them with an extremely hurt and wounded inner child that has never felt the safety to just be a child, that has never felt the love and care they needed, that has never learnt about boundaries or self-protection.” How true. And, even though I had been working for several years on my complex PTSD in therapy, and also had made a lot of progress (or so I thought), I never ever managed to establish a connection with my inner child – that is, until towards the end of February this year. And that was the beginning of the process of healing my wounded inner child.

Deviant Daeva continues: “For someone with trauma during childhood, that inner child is wounded and hurt. The needs of this child are not met, especially emotionally. The child has never received the guidance for building self-confidence, self-love and boundaries. This is child is vulnerable, needs protection and love. To be able to overcome or handle many of the symptoms of C-PTSD, it is important to take care of that child, that child within you that is sitting in the corner of your mind, scared, small, sad and confused.

On 21 February, I wrote: “At last! At last, I think, I have found the child that was me, hiding and protecting themselves. I see them sitting on the ground in a corner, their knees as close to their body as possible, arms covering their head and covering their ears and eyes. But I see them.” And: “In the early morning, when I was already awake, I cried again frequently. I started to see this child - my inner child - for the first time. I look at them, and I see that they look at me when they think I'm not looking at them. I don't know who is more afraid, my inner child or my adult self. … This morning I shyly said "Hello" to them, in Spanish, but they didn't react, but I had to cry again. I think we both need time. Time to get used to each other. Time to trust each other. I don't want to go too fast, only for them to hide again. For now I just look at them, leave them alone, so that they stop covering their ears and eyes, so that they take confidence.

This was the beginning of a long process, sometimes very painful, but on the other hand also beautiful. An article by the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City explains: “Sometimes our inner child is stuck in the past, alone, scared, worried, sad, angry, neglected, and hurt. It is up to us to show up for our inner child to nurture, love, offer compassion, and kindness. But most of all to bring the inner child to the present moment, nurture, protect, and ultimately heal them. You more than anyone has the power to do that. A way of doing this is to bring awareness to the presence of the inner child.

This is especially true with not just emotional abandonment and neglect in childhood (in itself sufficient for complex PTSD, as my psychologist pointed out to me in one session), but even more so with childhood sexual abuse. The process of healing my inner child also allowed me to come to terms with my abuse, to close my permanent internal dialogue – something I think I would never have been able to do without the help of my inner child.

On 2 March I wrote about my process with my inner child:

Just looking at my inner child, sitting on the floor in a corner, knees as close to the body as possible, arms covering their heads and covering their ears and eyes, makes me ache, my stomach tightens, I feel all the fear and pain of my little inner child, and I often have to cry, as I do now.

Where is there room for so much pain and so much fear in such a little child? Where do this pain and fear come from?

I try to talk to them, and I tell them that they don't have to be afraid, that I will protect them and take care of them (in German). Sometimes they look at me, but they don't take their hands away from their eyes. They continue to protect themselves. And when I say "I love you" in German, I feel a wave of fear and my little child tries to protect themselves even more. Possibly, the people who said "I love you" hurt them very badly, and these words seem more like a sign of danger than something comforting.

My child still doesn't talk to me. But they don't try to hide again. They stay where they are, sitting, knowing that I can see them, that I can always find them. I don't want to try to get any closer either. I think my little child needs time to gain confidence, and approaching them too quickly only makes them more afraid.

A slow process of building confidence, of building trust. Of showing my inner child that I do respect their boundaries, something they never experienced in their life. A few days later I was able two write about some progress:

I had another intense night of emotions and connecting with my inner child. I had a super fat knot in my stomach. (...)

Again I connected with my inner child, crying a lot (me, the scared child at the beginning), and I spoke to them that now they are safe, that now I can protect them and that no one can hurt them anymore, and that this child was me, and that back then I couldn't protect them. At the end my inner child came to me and we hugged each other, and we cried together. They are so small and so afraid, but they also need someone who really loves them. They feel very lonely, very abandoned, very in danger. And they can't take it any more.

We were hugging, and I tried to calm them and reassure them that they are safe, and to make them feel that I love them without saying these words that make them so afraid.

Then I had a little less of this knot in my stomach, but we cried together for probably another half hour. I probably slept after three in the morning, but also not without waking up several times. I slept some, but not much.

Another few days later I wrote this: “The day before yesterday, connecting with my inner child was very painful. I found them sitting in their corner, with their dress next to them, and crying. When they saw me, they came and hugged me, crying non-stop. I hugged them too, and told them that they were safe, etc. I asked them if they had been hurt, and they said yes. I asked them who, and they said 'daddy'. They didn't answer my question about what had happened to them.

We spent a long time hugging and crying. Sometimes I managed to calm them down, but they started crying again (or we started crying again) several times.

Slowly my inner child opened up, and they in their way showed me that they had suffered sexual abuse. They never talked much, but in a way it became more and more clear with the images that came to my (or my inner child’s) mind when my inner child was crying because of their pain and fear. These were they same images that invaded my frequently.

Beyond the issue of sexual abuse, the other main issue was the gender identity of my inner child. From day 1 on I always saw my inner child in a dress, and the first shy smile I got from my inner child was when I complimented them on the dress. They obviously felt comfortable wearing the dress.

On 15 March I wrote about my inner child and sexual abuse:

I know from my inner child that there is a lot of fear, especially fear related to their body, to being touched, sexually or not. It has been very difficult for me to gain their trust so that they allow me to touch them, to hug them, and sometimes, when something might have happened to them, they still don't allow me to do that, and I need to regain their trust. I mean, it's pretty clear to me that my post-traumatic stress now has to do with my body, with the violations of my body in my childhood, whether they were in a sexual way or not. I also know that my mother has used me (or my body) as her doll, to satisfy her affective needs, ignoring mine and overriding my rejection.

But there is something else. From my conversations/meetings with my inner child it is quite clear that the subject now is my father, and not my mother. I no longer think about my mother's abuse and intrusions. They happened, but I feel that I have come to terms with them and overcome them. What hurts me now are abuses/violations by my father, and I am still not clearer about what kind of abuses/violations/maltreatments (clearly related to my body) they are.

It took probably another two weeks for me to accept the sexual abuse as a fact. Abuse principally by my father, but also by my brother. On 28 March, I first wrote about accepting the sexual abuse, and I wrote in relation to my inner child: “My inner child cries a lot, there is a lot of pain and a lot of fear. And, when I ask them about my father, my brother, they cry harder, and images of abuse come to my mind - I don't know if it's my mind or my inner child's mind. How can my inner child tell me what happened to them? They don't talk to me. They cry a lot, but also sometimes, especially when I complement them on their red dress, they smile shyly. But They don't know how to play. They are very sad. Very hurt. And, they feel dirty. Dirty because of the abuse they don't talk about - they just cry.

I think the only way for me to resolve this ongoing internal dialogue is to trust what I feel, and to trust my inner child. Their fear and pain are not lies.

In a way, this was an extremely important step. Accepting the sexual abuse allowed my inner child (and myself) to start healing. Two weeks later I wrote in respect to my inner child: “My inner child also gradually calms down. I feel that there is less and less fear. My inner child cries less, and trusts that these abuses are in the past. They still cry, there is still some fear, but nothing compared to a fortnight ago or more. I hardly ever find my inner child crying. The crying comes when we hug, and they feel safe and loved. They are still sad, yes, they are still not able to play, yes, but they are getting calmer and calmer.

Another ten days later I wrote: “this connection with my inner child has been a very important part of my process for more than six weeks now. I doubt very much that without this connection I would have been able to close my permanent inner dialogue. And it is true that in the last few days my tears are coming from a deeper and deeper place. The images of the abuse are no longer the most dominant thing, rather it is this "tremendous feeling of loneliness" of my inner child, but also their despair of having to continue to live in the house with their abusers. Especially during the last two days, this connection with my inner child has been very painful because of this desperation, because of their scream "Ich will hier raus!" (I want to get out of here!), and I can do nothing but try to calm them, to love them, to reassure them that the abuse is in the past, to tell them that they are strong, that they can cope with this. And hug them, accompany them in their crying.

On advice of my psychologist I started to talk to my inner child about myself, where I am now (in Sevilla in Spain), and that they are with me now, that they are no longer in this house of their childhood, and they are now safe. It took I while for this to set in and for my inner child to feel safe in relation to the abuse, to be sufficiently confident that the abuse is a thing of the past now.

Once that was achieved, the issue of gender identity took centre stage. On 2 May I wrote: “I have started to think about my gender identity since my childhood because almost always when I visualise my inner child, when I connect with this child, I see them in a dress. And when I tell them that I like their dress, that I am proud that they wear a dress, they sometimes respond with a shy smile (they smile very little). I'm almost sure I've never worn a dress before (whose dress? my little sister's? my mother's?). I would have been too scared to do it, and probably too ashamed. But, my inner child I almost always see in a dress. And I feel his fear of being discovered, a huge fear of my/their parents, but also of other children (who? No idea). I feel their shame, shame because others bullied them for not fitting in with what it meant to be a boy. I don't think they even knew what it was - to be a boy.

Did they feel like a girl? I doubt it. I imagine they felt rather confused because they didn't understand what was wrong, because they couldn't and wouldn't fit in, because they didn't understand anything... and they didn't have anyone they trusted, anyone they could talk to.

It took another week or so for my inner child to trust that now they are also safe to express themselves, that nobody will ever again judge them because of their gender identity, that they no longer have to hide who they are. Again, this has been another painful process, but now, when I connect with my inner child, I often find them playing with dolls, happy about their fingernails painted in red. Sometimes I help them to put on lipstick, and they smile. There is no more crying, no more fear. They are shy, but they do smile, especially when we repaint their fingernails or put on lipstick.

I’m still struggling with the pain and sadness about not having lived my gender identity in childhood and adolescence. But even though I sometimes have to cry – either because of this sadness, or because something triggers me to think about the sexual abuse I suffered in childhood – this does no longer seem to have an impact on my inner child. When I connect with them, when I visualise them, I often see them playing with their dolls. We usually do hug, but there is no crying any more, no fear.

I feel my inner child has now arrived at the present. They have come unstuck, and feel loved and cared for, they finally feel calm and safe. They finally can be just a child.

I still have work to do. But it is really nice to see my inner child without fear, to see them expressing themselves freely. This is so different from just a little less than three months ago.