Finding My Lost Childhood After Sexual Abuse

Aug 15th, 2010 | By | Category: All Posts, Steps Toward Healing

by Christina Enevoldsen

I could never take a vacation for more than four days. I didn’t understand how people could be happy just “wasting time” or how they could prefer fun and games over tangible results. Hard work was my fun.

It was frustrating when my son and daughter were young and I tried to get “important” things done while they wanted me to watch their new ball-catching skills or to admire their fingerpainting. As they got a little older, I learned that good parenting required nurturing a child’s emotional needs, which meant “entering into his or her world”. I really wanted to be a good mother, so I did my best to engage in play, to enjoy the moment. But all the time, I watched the clock and thought, “I wonder if they’ve had enough”.

In their teen years, it was easier to relate to my children and enjoy our activities together. By then their interests were more serious and adult-like. I was also learning the balance between work and play for my own benefit. I adjusted my schedule in an attempt toward balance, but recreation was stressful; my thoughts drifted back to, “I wonder if I’ve had enough.”

My children are grown now, but a few months ago a friend expressed the challenges of balancing her role as a mother of children still living at home and working toward her goals. I felt relieved that I didn’t have that challenge anymore. In the midst of that thought, a little girl’s voice interrupted me, “I’m still here.” I immediately knew it was my inner child. I still had a small child at home.

On my healing journey from childhood sexual abuse, I’ve been very aware of my inner child. She was the one exposed to adult experiences and left with the adult responsibility of protecting herself. She never got a childhood. She was never allowed to express herself. Her pain, fear and anger still awaited expression, but so did her playfulness. Part of my healing is to nurture her—nurture that stifled part that missed the carefree abandon of play and the wonder of discovery. Her little voice was tugging at my skirt, reminding me of her presence, asking me to consider her needs.

One of my greatest sources of pain is to know how many times I turned down invitations to play with my children. Finally listening to my own inner child, hearing her longing, gave me some idea of how much it must have hurt them. Even so, I knew if I could go back to change things, I’d still be the same person I was then–driven toward accomplishment. My years of attempting balance didn’t do anything to relieve me of this inner struggle. I was way overdue to confront whatever it was that was keeping me there.

I saw myself as a two-year old. My parents were caring for my infant brother and I needed something. They laughed at me and said, “Do you think you’re the only one who matters? You’re not the center of the universe.”

I felt shame for needing. My parents’ response told me I didn’t matter. Since I didn’t matter, I had to do something so people would want me. I needed to produce tangible results to prove I was important. It became the way I earned my right to live on the planet.

My parents may not have filled my needs, but I’m not bad for having needs. No matter how I am treated, I am important. My value doesn’t come from anyone else; their opinions don’t change my value. My value does not go up or down based on what I do. I am valuable because I exist.

Knowing that truth released the kid in me. I’m liberated to have fun and be silly. Now I’m happy to cooperate with my inner child and provide her the playful expression she never had. I read Nancy Drew books and play Charlie’s Angels at the store with my friend. I give in to spontaneous urges to jump on the bed or spin across the room or doodle in my coloring book or make up funny endings to classic stories. Fun is FUN!

Christina Enevoldsen

I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. My passion is exploring new ways to express my empowered new life. I’ve recently discovered the joy of waterslides, the delightful scented lotion from Bath & Body Works, “Dark Kiss” and hosting princess tea parties for my granddaughters. My husband and I live in Scottsdale, Arizona and share three children and six grandchildren.

[read Christina’s story here]

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  1. oh gosh i soooo get what you have said here, i have been told that i became very demanding when my brother was born when i was 11 mths old. from then on i was a constant source of hassle for my mother, and that has continued till about 3 wks ago. even before i was born i was to blame for how her life turned out, how she suffered for us children, and as an adult and i parent i get some of the things she said but i would never put that blame on my child. i even planned for the epidural during labour so i didnt have pain to attach to her birth, sometimes awareness is not as freeing as it should be.
    not that im letting that stop me from keeping on trying to regain the joy in life others have

  2. Christina,
    OHHHHHH I can relate to this post on so many levels! I was so much like this.. I forced myself to play with the kids, hoping that they didn’t catch on that I wasn’t really into it. I felt guilty when I was tired, but I was in so many depressions that I laid on the couch a LOT.. it was quitre a conflict, a real whirlpool of guilt and shame and beating myself up.
    In my recovery process, I have learned to take care of myself so much better. I have been on several two week vacations with my husband and kids! I have several more planned. My kids also learned to relax because they picked up the guilty vibe about wasteing time. My husband was a workaholic up until 3 or 4 years ago, and he never took a break so the kids got mixed messages from both sides! It has been wonderful trying to model balance for them so they don’t end up in the same whirlpool as we were in!

    I love your post! Thanks for sharing it!
    Hugs, Darleene

  3. Carol,
    I can identify with so much of your experience. I was told A LOT that I almost killed my mother when I was born. I don’t think parents know how damaging some of their comments are. I’m so glad that you’re not letting those things stop you from being a better parent and from regaining joy. 🙂

  4. Darlene,
    Seeing your vacation photos and hearing about your plans is very inspiring! I love how your transformation has so much impact on so many people– including me!

  5. I’m with you on this one, Christina. I’d learned to play alone as a child when I wasn’t trying to be invisible. I had no idea how to play with my own children; life was all about “doing” and nothing about “being” or being playful or happy. Today though I”m learning to find balance as I come out of hiding in shame and lay claim on being who I choose to be and letting go of any relationship that doesn’t honor me as I am.

  6. Susan,
    I played with other kids when I was young, but the play was intense. It always had a purpose or a goal. I organized neighborhood parades, I put on musicals, plays, skating shows and all sorts of things. Hooray for us learning to “be” and being well!
    Hugs, Christina

  7. I felt shame for needing and think I’m bad. I always thought I owed like money to my parents for bringing me up. That message has been reinforced by my sister in law saying that I was never ill with chronic fatigue and disclaiming my experience and saying I had caused my mother to go mad. I was trying so hard at the time to make my life work and they made me cry with this sort of judgement every day and I couldn’t defend myself – I just swallowed all their judgements and doubted myself even half believing them. They must after all be right because they have jobs and a home and a nice family. Whereas I had nothing.
    I can’t believe how cruel that was. And I felt I owed them too for their incredible kindness at trying to ‘help’ me. My brother said nothing. I honestly would be happy if I never had to speak to them or know them again. Except I’m an aunty so. It’s this sort of judgement that makes me frightened to go out in the world and makes me want to kill myself. Not that I would now but that’s what it does it just reinforces my inability to interact with people, to assert myself – mainly because there’s nothing there to assert with

  8. Your parents comment/vision reminds me of a recent comment at work, that I should think of someone else for a change. I’ve always put others needs first, probably because as a child I was taught others needs were more important, but things had been wrong for a while and I finally got courage to ask about a few things which I needed to know. I was left feeling pretty rubbish and wrong for asking. As someone just wrote on EFB, it’s an awful feeling when you don’t have a voice, that what you say, think or feel doesn’t matter.
    It really helped to read “I’m not bad for having needs. No matter how I am treated, I am important. My value doesn’t come from anyone else; their opinions don’t change my value. My value does not go up or down based on what I do. I am valuable because I exist”. Something which I intend to remember. Thanks

  9. Louise,
    I can identify with so much of what you expressed. I also remember wanting to make myself small or invisible so I’d inconvenience them as little as possible. I didn’t want to give them anymore reasons to want to get rid of me. I used to be so hard on myself when I didn’t seem to be like a ‘normal’ adult, but when I think about all I lived through, I’m quite impressed with how much I could function.
    Hugs to you, Christina

    That comment you got from work is horrible. Who says those kinds of things anyway? I used to hear those things and think that maybe they knew better, but now I think that healthy, mature people don’t go around saying things like that whether it’s true or not. So that got me thinking that maybe it wasn’t true, which led me to more examination… I’m so glad you’re seeing the truth about yourself!
    Hugs, Christina

  10. It took many, many years after being sexually abused for me to be willing to embrace my inner child. Ignoring her was my way of pushing to the back what had happened and to not deal with it. Not until more than ten years later did I get fed up with my misery and decide to face that little girl head-on. My inner child was obviously very intimidating! So personally confirming to read this and other’s responses.

  11. Violet,
    I can relate to that too. I was afraid of my inner child because she represented the most vulnerable part of me. Thanks for sharing!

  12. I was told from the time I was little that I was the reason the family had problems. I heard it from my mother (along with the constant implication/outright being told there was something “wrong” with me), then my brother picked that up and ran with it right up until ten years ago when I cut off my birth family. “You are the reason this family has problems” was one of the last things he said to me before I finally snapped, asked him who the heck he thought he was, and told him never to bother me again.

    A lot of the things for which I was blamed as being the problem-maker were needs. I had undiagnosed disabilities, including PTSD… ironically, you might say THEY are the reason *I* have had problems. My mother pushed me into therapy repeatedly as a child but it was under the pretense that I came pre-equipped with all these problems, with no accountability on her end. Even though one of my disabilities didn’t have a name yet (and wouldn’t until I was an adult), and the other was the elephant in the room everyone ignored… how was my needing extra TLC as a kid such a horrible thing?

    Any time the therapist tried to talk to her about things that came up or invited her to come in and sit with me, my feelings and needs were used against me, to threaten me because I had a “big mouth.” I also got to hear that I was “ungrateful” – well, exactly how many times am I supposed to bend over backwards and say thank you? Should I lick the mud off your boots too? I learned to stop talking in therapy and became convinced it was useless until a few years ago, when I found someone around whom it was safe to talk.

    When I told my husband about being blamed for the family’s problems, he got angry. He said, “How can you be to blame when you were the last one to come along? How can they blame you for problems that were already there before you were even born??”

    Yep, I’m the youngest… and yet somehow, their perfect world got screwed up when I entered it? What, wait, seriously? Did they have a bridge to sell me too? Wow.

    A light bulb went off in my head the night my husband said that, and then, I finally became angry over it too. Until then I stuffed my emotions every time they said it. It took decades for me to be able to reject that bull. I thank God my husband helped me find the voice to do so.

    In reconnecting with old classmates and teachers over the years, they remember me as being a very different person than the one my parents and brother told me I was. They saw the good in me, and it has been healing to hear them say so.

    It is wrong to blame a child for an entire family’s dysfunction, and to dismiss a child’s need to be a child. That’s evil and wrong, and it’s a terrible burden to put on an innocent soul.

  13. PS,
    Yes, it is! I couldn’t agree more that it’s so evil to put that on a child. What they did to you is horrible! I’m glad you see the truth about yourself now! Thank you for sharing that.

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