Also, remember that some of
these mistaken beliefs will be so familiar that they're invisible to your client. Although they may even be using the exact wording of the belief as they speak to you, (i.e. "It's all my fault, everything is always my fault."),
it may still come as a shock to them when you put it into the same words & reflect it back.
Seldom are people consciously
aware of the mistaken beliefs that operate their behavior & life.
Lack of confidence:
This is the most common symptom & it stems from mistaken beliefs, developed in childhood, of guilt & an innate sense of 'badness' or feeling defective. (Mistaken
beliefs may be: I'm not good enough. I'm ruined. I'm bad. It's all my fault.)
Low self esteem:
This feeling is often associated with the person's outward appearance, believing
they are ugly & repulsive, regardless of what they actually look like or positive input they may receive, but is also
associated with their inner feelings of not being 'enough'. (Mistaken beliefs may be: I'm
not good enough. I'm ruined. I'm contaminated. I'm bad. I'm ugly, repulsive)
Strong feelings of inadequacy:
A belief of innate 'badness', guilt & blame prohibits personal achievement, that in turn is followed by self sabotage.
This person's vocabulary will be full of 'I can't' statements. (Mistaken beliefs may be:
I'm bad. I ruin everything. I can't win. I don't deserve happiness. It's always my fault.)
Inability to trust:
When trust in a respected & trusted adult, particularly a parent, is broken
at an early age, the child quickly learns to believe that no one can be trusted.
As an adult they'll
be unconsciously responding to the belief that others will let them down. Often victims of abuse will sabotage friendships & intimate relationships by initiating a cut off from the person they care about.
It seems easier
to cut off & hurt yourself before others have a chance, particularly when you believe the hurt is inevitable. This cutting off is often done by setting unrealistic tests for the person cared for, when the test
is failed, the person's belief that no one can be trusted is strengthened.
That in turn strengthens
the feeling / belief that it's safer to stay behind emotional walls.
Others believe that they'll
not be accepted if others know about the abuse. Although most are crying out for love & acceptance, their fear & erroneous belief system keeps them trapped within themselves, feeling isolated & hopeless. (Mistaken beliefs may be: No one can be trusted. I can't trust myself. People will hurt me. There is no safety.
To feel is to be unsafe/vulnerable. I can never tell. I can never be known. I'll always be trapped with hurt ? there is no
Many symptoms on our list (sexual dysfunction, inability
to touch, inability to trust, etc.) cause serious relationship problems.
Victims of abuse often choose an abusive or inadequate partner because damaged personalities feel more familiar & 'normal' to them. This is because the experience
of growing up in a dysfunctional family causes dysfunctional people to seem familiar & it's natural to be drawn to what
Some people choose an inadequate
partner as a result of believing that their own 'unworthiness' prohibits a partnership with a 'nice' person. (Mistaken
beliefs may be: I'm bad. I'm ruined. I don't deserve happiness. I should be punished. I don't count. I'm not good enough.
No one can be trusted. I'm unlovable. I'm useless.)
Approximately 2/3 of people
who are sexually abuses as children are sexually repressed, while the remainder are often promiscuous. Many lack accurate sexual knowledge &
therefore don't have proper information of their body functions or sexual organs. Many have become frightened of their sexuality,
believing that their bodies are dirty or shameful. Some have had many sexual experiences but haven't shared love with those partners.
Others may use sex as a way of gaining acceptance or as a manipulative tool (learned behaviour).
Still others put up a mental block concerning their sexuality, sex no longer matters.
There are some who enjoy a
full sex life, however these are usually people who were given some support & proper information at the time of (or since) the abuse & who have a supportive, emotionally healthy & loving partner. (Mistaken beliefs
may be: I'm bad, dirty, ruined. I'm defective. I don't count. I'm contaminated. I'm not important. I don't deserve happiness.)
Food abuse can be manifested by either anorexia or bulimia. Some people who have experienced
abuse sometimes hold the erroneous belief that they'll not have to face their sexuality if they're unattractive.
It's also another
form of self punishment. Those who are obese can also use food as a form of comfort & their excess weight as a defense
against feeling small & vulnerable.
Drug or alcohol abuse
can be used as a form of self punishment, a dulling buffer, a comfort / crutch or a memory blocking devise. American statistics
substantiate that a large number of drug & alcohol abusers were sexual abuse victims during childhood.
may be: I'm bad. I don't count. To be ugly (or fat) is to be safe. I deserve to be hurt/punished. I'm not important.)
Low or over emotional
Some people will perceive ordinary stressful situations as a crisis,
resulting in that person going into shock or emotional shutdown. They're often termed 'dramatic or hysterical types'. Others
are in a fairly consistent state of emotional & physical numbness, not much really 'gets' to them.
Those people who have low
emotional control are generally seen to over react very quickly, easily bursting into tears, having outbursts of anger, pacing
agitatedly, laughing loudly / inappropriately & generally appearing demanding & vulnerable.
This behavior may temporarily
give a sense of comfort from the attention received, but comfort is short lived because the attention is usually negative.
Surprisingly enough, a connection is seldom made by this person between their behavior & the response people give them.
inappropriate behavior has become a second skin & to them, it feels right. In their point of view, the other
person is wrong.
Some people are extremely
over controlled emotionally, almost robot-like. They are often terrified of their anger, believing that to show any strong emotion could cause them to lose control & give into the violent rage they fear. At other times
over control stems from the misguided childhood belief that the less emotion displayed, the less chance of being noticed; a hope that this control would lessen the risk of further
abuse - it's an illusion of safety.
Some children learned that
they had no rights to emotion, therefore finding it difficult to laugh, cry, complain or even express an opinion. Parents
or carers may well have crushed any sign of emotion from these children from an early age.
As adults they often build
an invisible wall around their feelings, promising themselves that no one will ever see the pain they've suffered, no one
will be allowed in to hurt them again. (Mistaken beliefs may be: I don't count. It's not
safe to have feelings. I can't be known. No one can be trusted. Hurt other people first. People will always hurt me. I'm bad.
I'm not important.)
Panic attacks can include the following physical symptoms: Difficulty breathing, throat
closing up, heart racing, vision changes, sweating, shaking, nausea, desire to run, feeling out of control, feeling trapped,
desire to scream, feeling like you're going to pass out, feeling like your body will explode & a fear that you're going
crazy or will die.
A full blown panic attack
is terribly frightening. Panic attacks are triggered by some thought, smell, taste, sound, feeling or action that somehow
reflects the abuse suffered in childhood & most of the time the victim doesn't have a clue what that trigger might have been.
Some people who haven't yet
remembered abuse suffer from panic attacks & are understandably very confused about the cause. Panic attacks seem like they come from
nowhere, but there's always a trigger. (Mistaken beliefs may be: I have no control. I'll
always be unsafe. There is no safety.)
Phobias can be a form of self sabotage, self punishment, an underlying feeling that; I'm not worthy
to enjoy life, therefore if I can't function properly then I will not enjoy life.
It can also take the form
of a distraction. When a person has a serious phobia or illness to deal with then the fear of facing the deep emotional scarring
of childhood abuse can be put off. (Mistaken beliefs may be: I deserve punishment. I don't count. I'm bad,
dirty, contaminated, ruined.)
Emotional trauma that has never been resolved can produce physical illness. Migraines, stomach
disorders, asthma, skin disorders, bowel disorders, back problems, gynaecological problems & general aches & pains
are the most common. (Mistaken beliefs may be: I'm bad, dirty, contaminated, ruined. I
deserve punishment. I don't count. My body is bad.)
Common examples are: biting or clawing limbs, cutting
body with razor blades or knives, burning body with cigarettes, repeated bruising injuries or banging head on the wall or
with an object, but self-harm can be as inventive as a person's imagination makes it.
Self-harm is sometimes used
by victims of abuse to control their experience of pain. It can also provide an intense feeling of relief & release that is often craved.
It can be an attempt to control something in one's life; a type of self punishment; a means of expressing anger or a way to
It can be a futile attempt
to call for help or needed attention . It can be manifested in both children & adults.
Sometimes the physical pain
can be a distraction from the more feared emotional pain or it can be an attempt to indicate to others just how strong the
emotional pain is or a place to express anger - on the only one safe to vent it towards - self. (Mistaken
beliefs may be: I'm bad, dirty, contaminated, ruined. I can't be angry. I'm defective. It's all my fault. I deserve to be
punished. I can't let the pain out.)
Reoccurring nightmares is the most common sleep
disturbance. Insomnia is also a frequent experience, but others may use excessive sleep as a form of escape, a method of coping.
(Mistaken beliefs may be: I'm bad, dirty, ruined, contaminated. It's all my fault. I'll
never have peace. It's unsafe to be still.)
Flashbacks can be in the form of quick visual pictures, like a slide compared to a film, or in
the form of feelings (emotional or physical). These often take place during
intimacy, but can also accompany everyday activities or perhaps reading or hearing about other victim's abuse experience.
triggered by some connection with the abuse thru visual, auditory (a partners heavy breathing during intimacy is a common one),
kinesthetic, gustatory or olfactory sources.
are usually fragmented views of the abuse & can offer a 'way in' to a more complete memory. On rare occasions a flashback can take a video form & go on for
quite a while with the client associated in the event.
was reported to have lasted 4 days & for her safety, the woman was placed in a psychiatric unit for that
period. (Mistaken beliefs may be: I have no control. I will never be safe. There is no
safety. I'm trapped with the pain.)
Inability to touch or
This problem can be triggered by feelings of dirtiness (a fear that the other person will somehow know of the abuse & be rejecting); fear of contaminating
others (an irrational thought stemming from feeling dirty & bad); low
self esteem (not worthy, self punishment) & the fear that in some way,
by allowing physical contact one is at risk of further abuse (loss of control, being at another's mercy).
Touch may bring
back memories of unwanted touch from childhood or touch which produced some pleasurable feeling but now brings shame &
self disgust. It can also reflect a fear of one's sexuality. (Mistaken belief may be: I
am bad, dirty, ruined, contaminated. I have no control. My feelings are bad. I don't count. I deserve to be punished.)
People with abusive childhood backgrounds will experience depression because they believe they'll never change, their environment or relatives
will never change, they're so bad & dirty that they don't belong with 'nice' people, no one understands them, etc.
If a person has
no memory of abuse, depression will result because there's no logical reason for the symptoms s/he is experiencing. Having said that, many people
don't associate the symptoms they have with the experience of abuse, even when they do remember it. (Mistaken beliefs may be: I am bad, dirty, ruined, contaminated.
I am trapped with the pain. There is no escape. I will never be safe.)
People who have suffered abuse may see suicide as their only way out of the pain. Until recent years there was very little help offered to adults who were
victims of childhood abuse in this country. Some of those who have displayed acute symptoms of abuse have been judged mentally ill & sent for psychiatric treatment.
As a result of
not being understood, little help was forthcoming & the client often left sessions with ill-informed psychiatrists / therapists
feeling more suicidal than upon arrival.
Typical advice given (as reported by clients) was "Well, that's all in the past. Do you feel that you
will abuse? No? Well then, go home & concentrate on your partner & family, find yourself something else to think about. Take
your mind off it & stop dwelling on it."
The inference taken was often,
"I think you're wasting my time, it's a lot about nothing." With the person's last hope shattered of finding someone to help
& understand, suicide may have seemed the only way left to stop the pain.
This is particularly true
for the person who has struggled with symptoms for a long time & feel they're in a losing battle. (Mistaken beliefs may be: I can never escape. I am bad, dirty, ruined, contaminated. There is no way out.)
quick note: feeling isolated is a symptom of depression & suicidal thoughts!
High/Low Risk Taking:
Some people find they almost have a compulsion for "daring the fates". Their
work or social life can be a series of very high risk taking events. On the flip side of that, there will be other people
who go the opposite direction & find it impossible to take even the smallest risk. (Mistaken
beliefs may be: I don't count. I'm not important. I can never be safe. There's no safety.)
In stressful situations this person may actually hide or cower in a corner. Nervousness is evident when this person feels they're being watched
& often they report feeling watched when no one is actually around. They're usually hypervigilant & have a strong
startle response to surprise situations, which may be followed by anger or nervousness.
there's a need to be invisible. (Mistaken beliefs may be: I have no control. I can't be
safe. There's no safety. No one can be trusted. I can't trust myself.)
Alienation from body:
This person isn't at home in their own body, there's often a failure
to heed body signals (pain, fatigue, hunger, thirst) & a lack of care
for their body in either fitness or health areas.
usually a poor body image & sometimes a manipulation of body size to avoid sexual attention. (Dovetailing with food/drug/alcohol abuse & low self esteem listed above.)
Many times this
person spends much of their time in a disassociated state, i.e. 'watching' their life happen rather than experiencing it.
(Mistaken beliefs may be: I don't count. I'm not important. I'm bad, dirty, ruined,
contaminated. My body is bad, dirty, etc.. I'm not safe.)
to making noise:
This includes sex, crying, laughing or body functions. This
person is often soft spoken & may pause a lot while speaking as they monitor their words. (Mistaken
beliefs may be: I don't count. I'm not important. I'm not safe. Feelings are unsafe.)
People who have memory blanks of a
year or several years during their childhood & have several of the above symptoms are typical examples of people who've
repressed abuse memories. This usually happens when trauma experienced during childhood is so threatening the child shuts off all memory
of it as a coping mechanism.
I also point out here, if someone has memory blanks but shows no symptoms of abuse, please don't feel obligated to diligently search for abuse or announce with the flair of Sherlock Holmes, "Aha! Memory blanks, just as I suspected, childhood abuse!."
If there are no symptoms,
it's probably just a case of fairly uneventful events blurring into each other & appearing as a blank.
common experience for those with repressed abuse memories is that they'll have strong emotional reactions to information concerning anything they actually experienced.
Often a client will hear about
some horrible experience someone else has had & be moved & upset by it - that's natural. However, when they have an
over the top reaction (as though they're experiencing it) it isn't natural UNLESS
THEY'VE EXPERIENCED IT AT SOME TIME.
There will sometimes be certain
words they don't want to say & don't want to hear although they don't know why. Certain behaviors they can't do or watch
(often sexual in nature if it was sexual abuse) but don't know why.
there will be ordinary, everyday events that they can't bear but don't know why. All of these will more than
likely be connected with the abuse experience they're blocking off.