Children who are subject to abuse of any sort often look for help outside of the family in their quest for recovery. Often abandoned emotionally and bruised physically, they cannot find solace within the family unit which was often responsible for the abuse in the first place. The following quote says much about why children turn to a “higher power” in their search for inspiration. This, unfortunately can be a negative concept with alcohol, drugs and promiscuity taking over. Consider this quote:
“There is an old saying in Alcoholics Anonymous: In the disease of alcoholism, spirituality is the first thing to go and the last thing to come back. Compared with alcohol, the troubled family may be far more efficient at committing what Alice Miller calls a “soul murder”. Abused children are robbed of their faith in the goodwill of other people and their belief in a safe world”
I firmly believe that children brought up in dysfunctional, neglectful or violent homes have their self-esteem “robbed” by their parents and the environment they live in. they look to these same parents for evidence that they are not worthless and unlovable. If the parents cannot provide them with the comfort and reassurance they need, they adopt a belief system about themselves and carry a “worthless, unlovable” thinking schema into adulthood. Often they will look for redemption outside the family home.
For an abused child to recover this faith, his or her view of the world must be reconstructed. Violence and abuse change a child’s image of his or her surroundings as just and orderly, along with their view of self. It is not surprising that many survivors turn to spirituality in all its various forms. Spirituality with basics beliefs suggesting that there is a higher power that offers faith, connects people to others and their surroundings is obviously attractive to anyone who has not experienced faith. Survivors often find in spirituality a world they could not find or did not exist as an abused child.
As children, our first role models were our parents. They are our first idols, all-knowing, all-powerful and as children we wonder at their endless intelligence and insight. This view is fine if this faith is handled properly and gives the child a positive view of this “higher power”. In troubled families, this higher power shows inconsistency and is not caring, leading the child to find other role models who are “less vengeful and violent”.
Many children turn to God or Mother Nature to find what is missing in their world, meaning a non-judgmental higher being. In particular, nature presents a world with all the characteristics missing in the humans that the child knows , namely consistency. Nature rolls on year after year despite human intervention and a love of nature plus the loyalty shown by animals such as dogs and cats has helped many abuse victims to put their world into perspective. Many also seek help with local church organizations, with the priest taking over the role of “idol”. Many survivors state that their beliefs came from their early contact with the church following abuse.(Sandford, chapter 8). Also the way death is handled has a bearing on a child’s faith. In “good enough” families, children lead very innocent lives and death is handled properly by caring parents. Their first experience of death is usually through a pet or elderly relative and parents can put this into its proper context by reducing the fear of death in the child. In families where violence and drug-taking are the norm, death is ever-present, threatening and can give the child a distorted view of death and its meaning. Spirituality can help to change this.
Children tend to lose faith in all around when they are abused and this is usually replaced by fear. Often, to control this fear, survivors of child abuse try to control everything around them to avoid being thrown back into their fearful childhood. They often seem powerless to stop it and this leads to havoc in relationships. Finding faith turns this powerlessness into acceptance that they are not responsible for everything that happens or happened. Faith has no doubt been returned to some survivors through being guided by “power greater than the self” and at the same time “transforming their lives”.
This recovery process is essential if faith is to conquer fear. The first step is often for survivors to forgive themselves as forgiving unclutters ones life. However, forgiving does not mean forgetting but just letting go. Some believe that child abuse victims need a spiritual “ritual of healing” to let go of the feeling that we deny our experiences and believe that when we are once damaged, we are always damaged. This has worked significantly with Vietnam War veterans through the memorial given to them by the US Government. Finally, the attitude shown by survivors when recovering is an essential part of recovery. This is where spiritualism can really help. Trying to avoid the “why me?” attitude and understanding what to do with the pain is vital. Many survivors say that some of the more positive things that came from the abuse were the “coats” they wore to avoid the abuse. Such things as sense of humor, sensitivity and optimism are now part of their character in adulthood.