Can emotional abuse be healed?

When you are a child, all the deal with the grown ups around you revolves on a single question: are they going to help you grow, develop and survive as to be happy as an adult? Or they either don’t care about you, getting you in serious danger of life, or are they going to provide less than good care, enough to survive but missing love and appreciation?

Given the terrible fact that people can’t give beyond of what they themselves experienced, the odds of any baby receiving consistent good care delivered with love and respect are few. We all have been raised by parents who could not express love, or did not how, or were abused children themselves. Some of them, for reasons still not clear enough, even became abuser parents themselves.

In all the conversations about how to deal with the trauma of abuse, persisting after we grow up in hidden and obvious forms, the issue is how to heal and repair the damage. We all tended to assume that we could repair the damage through a mix of care, support and time.

Is that true? are emotional abuse wounds able to heal after some time? Are the scars left by factors like negligence, pressure by parents and peers, sexual abuse, aggressive environment at home with screams and scolding, physical beatings or public humiliations by parents or siblings able to heal and disappear?

What we know now is that childhood stress due to emotional negligence or abuse, especially when combined with genetic factors can result in structural changes in the brain and may make people more vulnerable to get depression afterwards.

The child receives, through early abuse, an indelible imprint of himself, of his parents’ image of himself, and of human relationships in general which will follow him the rest of his life and make the development of trust almost impossible.

Scientific research done on 24 severely depressed people from 18-65 years showed that abuse had caused some structural alterations of the brain, associated with a higher vulnerability to depression. They were investigated with high-resolution structural MRI and childhood stress assessments, and compared with healthy people from the same age group.

What does it tells us? That this is the most tragic event in the life of a young person. Being abused in any way is a serious violation of personal boundaries that not only attacks a baby now, but determines the future of her relationship with others and the world in her future.

We are talking here about damaging the capacity to experience love and trust in a relationship with others unhindered by fear. It is what makes us humans, the capacity to trust others and be with them. How someone is willing to trust others if the brain configuration has been altered precisely in the aspect of connection with others who could again abuse?

If you recognize the scars of abuse in your perception of the world and of others around you, (mistrust, suspicion, fear) perhaps you can explore the possibility of looking for abuse in your childhood. Going ahead, we could talk about some process that, beyond repairing your self-image so you feel that you have the right to be loved and cherished in the right way, would allow you to cross the bridge of blame and guilt and forgive.

Why forgiveness? I can’t find any other resource who could help mend the damaged relationship between the parents or relatives who abused us and ourselves. There has to be a way to clean the past, bury the abusive child-raising practices, begin a new one relating to the children now in our lives showing love and respect.

Does forgiveness help reshape the brain? We don’t know yet. Probably not, but what it can do is to manage the abuse experience as one more of the memories of our childhood and archive it. We have learned through tears our lesson: there is no growth or balance or love in interpersonal violence and abuse. We have learned resilience.

What is, then, left? You tell me, what’s your experience? from this side, forgiveness is a process that takes time, and begins not with forgetting, but with remembering our emotional abuse with the question: what do I have to learn from this experience? and how do I move on afterwards?

Neil Warner

Neil Warner

I’m the “relationship guru,” and my main focus is to increase the quality of love-based relationship experiences. In this ground-breaking guide I offer useful strategies on healing a difficult angry relationship with love and compassion. You don’t have to stay in an unhealthy relationship one more minute. Let us share our tools with you today.


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