Overcoming Trauma from Childhood

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Reader’s Question

I am from the Philippines, and as a child I was outgoing and friendly. I used to have a lot of playmates, and I even played in the streets without concern until late. Then, one day on a vacation, my cousin did something unimaginable to me while I lay down next to his bed in his room. He did this thing several times for years. Finally, when I was already in high school, he stopped.

I have to say that my life now seems pointless and with no direction. I think my behavior is the result of my experience. I even get bullied in school and sometimes by my relatives. My auntie who took care of me along with my mother ever since I was born even said to an old woman that I am the only “gay” man in our family — and the way she said that you wouldn’t like to hear. I want to show what my real self is, but there’s always something that hinders me. I want to be happy, genuinely happy, but I can’t seem to be.

My auntie also used to say that I am ignorant when I was a kid — like I don’t know what’s this and that, I don’t know how to use this or that, etc. Even now it sticks in my mind, what she said to me. I feel useless and hated by others. Although others may say that I’m handsome, or I’m good at singing or I’m smart, I still lack confidence and burn out with everything I try.

Should I tell my parents what my cousin did to me when we were still kids? How will I gain back my self-esteem? And please advise me on how will I handle my studies without being problematic?

Psychologist’s Reply

Early life trauma, especially sexual trauma, can have a considerable impact on a child’s emotional and psychological development. As strange as it may sound, one of the more common responses children have to abuse is to blame themselves in a variety of ways for what happened. They might fault their naivete, their inability to stop the abuse, or what they perceive to be their weakness. If, on top of everything else, they experienced any type of arousal (which is not at all uncommon), the experience can give rise to all sorts of doubts about oneself, including one’s sense of identity. But there are some things you can do to make things better:

Stop blaming yourself.
You are not the cause of your abuse. Your perpetrator bears responsibility for what was done to you.
Take care of yourself.
Although it might go against your unconscious self-beliefs, you’re a person of worth who deserves fair and nurturing treatment. Abuse survivors often become their own worst enemy by denying themselves the things the really need. Counter this by ensuring that you get proper nutrition and exercise, and that you resist the temptation of isolation by developing yourself socially, academically, and spiritually.
Set limits.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” when you need to. It’s much easier to let people into your life when you set firm limits and boundaries for them to respect.
Seek help.
Some folks consider it just another sign of weakness or defect to admit they need help. But overcoming the scars of abuse often involves working with a professional specially trained in abuse and/or childhood trauma issues. Therapy can also be a way of unlocking the door to unhealthy secrets you’ve been keeping as a way of salvaging an already damaged sense of self-esteem.

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