Hope is one of the most essential elements of so much that is precious and coveted in the human condition. Courage, achievement, perseverance, and confidence are all impossible without hope. The most striking role of hope for me, though, is in the survival of trauma and abuse during childhood.
One of the most confusing consequences of childhood abuse for most people is understanding the virtually ubiquitous self-blame and shame of adult survivors of childhood physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Survivors are often plagued by shame and self-blame, yet they were clearly and obviously victims at the hands of trusted adults and caretakers.
This shame, guilt, and self-blame is often one of the most challenging consequences to overcome in therapy and healing. From the perspective of the rational, logical adult it makes no sense. How could you be to blame when you were the child and an adult did horrible things to you? It’s THEIR fault, not yours! You were innocent, dependent, and only a child!
These and similar thoughts often create unyielding obstacles to the understanding necessary for healing.
These seemingly illogical and nonsensical sentiments actually make a lot of sense when considered from the perspective of the abused child who is actually often in a situation that is genuinely hopeless, and in which they have no power or control. We as educated adults are often utterly perplexed when pondering how adults can abuse children in such horrific and startling ways. If we as adults can’t make sense of it, imagine a child without even the ability yet for abstract thought trying to make sense of being hurt and abused by those who are supposed to be protecting and caring for them.
Children being abused are faced with three enormous problems: understanding, powerlessness, and hopelessness. It is particularly the hopelessness that can break the human spirit. In blaming themselves (falsely) abused children suddenly have the illusion of a solution for these three terrible problems.
If I’m being beaten or otherwise abused because I’m bad and it’s my fault, then that means I have not only an explanation (because I’m bad), but also the illusion of hope and power. If I’m bad, that means I can be good and stop it from happening.
Suddenly the abused child has both an explanation they can understand (and young children naturally are ego-centric and relate everything to themselves), but also hope and power (I can change and things will be better).
The sad reality, of course, is that none of these beliefs are true. However, illusion of hope, though false, allows these children to survive, and these false beliefs persist into adulthood in the form of self-blame and shame.
Beliefs responsible for your very survival, as ugly as they might seem, can be very frightening and difficult to shake.