by Alice M. Givens, Ph.D.
Even with the spotlight of publicity on child abuse today, confusion and misunderstanding reign regarding its occurrence. Hostility and even hatred of children exist in our culture and in other cultures as well, but the prevalence of abuse and the enormity of its effects are still not recognized. A large segment of the population still believes that child abuse is insignificant and are convinced that children lie about and exaggerate such abuse.
When Freud first wrote about sexual abuse in 1896, his theory that neurosis was caused by sexual abuse in childhood drew a horrified reaction from medical and lay communities. Thus, he was forced to rescind his theory and shift the source of neurosis to the child’s fantasies of abuse, rather than to actual events. Today it is generally conceded that Freud changed his belief only because his work would not have been recognized and accepted if he had insisted that parents’ abuse of children caused neurotic problems later in life.
Though we now live in a more enlightened age, information about child abuse is still lacking. Child-care personnel and child therapists tend to blame children for drawing abuse upon themselves, probably because such professionals have not released the energy that remains from similar events and feelings from their own childhoods.
Types of Abuse
The most dramatic type of abuse and the one which receives the most attention is sexual abuse. However, other kinds of abuse, such as neglect, physical cruelty, and emotional abuse, can cause serious long-term damage.
Neglect (Alone, Hungry, Dirty)
Distress over being neglected emerges clearly in depressed infants who are left alone in their cribs. They never bond or learn to relate to another human being. Children of all ages are sometimes left for days or even weeks with little or no food and no sanitation. Later they learn to steal at the neighborhood store, or they collect bottles and sell them to buy food.
Physical Cruelty (Whips, Boards, Electric Cords)
The old adage, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” still exists today in many homes. Physical abuse takes many forms: twisting ears and arms; grabbing the upper arms and shaking until the infant or child is dizzy, unconscious, brain damaged, or dead; beatings with switches, belts, boards, purses, ropes, or any other handy item; throwing the child into bed, against walls, down the stairs; tying the infant or young child by his hands and feet in his crib, in the closet, or to a tree. Many adults can think of ingenious methods of torture, such as burning with cigarettes, holding hands over a flame, or strangling to near death.
Emotional Abuse (Screaming, Criticizing, Silence)
In the past, and to a large extent today, emotional abuse has not been understood or considered serious. However, damage to the emotions persists for a longer time than any other type of abuse. There are homes in which a blow is never struck and sexual molestation never occurs, yet the emotional climate is so pathological that the child is permanently maimed. In these homes children grow up exposed to deep depression, to continual screaming and criticism, to iron control, or to continual chaos and crisis.
Sexual abuse ranges from the subtle, such as rubbing breasts and legs, to the extreme, where the infant or child is raped anally, vaginally, or orally. In sexual torture the child is held or tied while foreign objects are forced into the orifices of the body. In all sexual abuse, even the most subtle, the child feels trapped, powerless, and humiliated.
Indications for Treatment
This disorder originates in one or more of the following situations: when the mother is depressed during the prenatal period; when the infant is left alone in a room and life becomes perceived by it as hopeless because no one comes to pick it up or hold it; when the caretaker during childhood is a depressed mother and/or father; when fear and anger are so great in early childhood that depression is used as an anesthetic to keep the pain from being felt.
Generalized Panic Disorder
In this condition the person has panic attacks at unpredictable times. Childhood is terrifying. So as such persons grow up, terror can be triggered by small events or even by thoughts. One can expect to find any and all kinds of abuse underlying episodes of panic.
Borderline Personality Disorder
The person is emotionally unstable and shifts from a happy mood to anger, to fear, to rage, to depression within a short period of time. This disorder is chronic, long-term, and extremely difficult to change. It seems to originate in very early cruel and painful abuse. The infant internalizes its mother’s rage and fear as well as its own rage and fear.
The source of this disorder lies in intolerably cruel and painful experiences in childhood, where part of the personality splits off to avoid unbearable pain and fear.
Addictions: Alcoholism, Eating Disorders
All of these disorders anesthetize the pain from childhood.
Fear of People
Whether the fear is of men or women or both, it stems from childhood. The more intense the fear, the greater the abuse in the source experiences.
Paralysis in Work and Relationships
Under this paralysis lies fear of doing anything, and fear of people. It can be manifested as anger; however, it is still fear and the roots lie in childhood.
The most common complaint is inhibition in the sexual response cycle. There may be no interest, no excitement, no erection, no orgasm, or no resolution. Other sexual disorders include exhibitionism, fetishism, sexual masochism and sadism, pedophilia, paraphilias, and other sexual disorders. In my experience they all originate in the prenatal experience or in childhood.
I would consider any serious chronic emotional disorder an indication of child abuse. Occasionally we find that the disorder originates in an event that occurred later in life, such as the Vietnam War, or from being victimized by crime; but these are all post-traumatic stress disorders, related in aetiology to the tenor and anger of early childhood experiences.
We Are Our Past
Past experience determines the course of our lives. Although most therapists are aware of this, they do not always know how to transform negative experience. Fortunately, knowledge about every detail of our past remains deep in our unconscious mind—our memory extends back to the earliest beginnings of life, through our past lives, from the most primitive humans up to the present time. The uniting of sperm and ovum in our conception can be brought into our awareness, as can the cutting of the umbilical cord. The feelings and events that occurred during our earliest development can be relived and resolved.
For permanent change, the energy must be released from these past traumas, including fear, anger, humiliation, and hopelessness. Simply talking about the past is useless. Too often people merely repeat old myths and legends about their family and themselves. Merely knowing about the past is not enough; old fear and hopelessness must be relinquished. Regression therapy is a process of returning to the past, reliving the experience, and removing the energy from old feelings and beliefs. Reliving details of the experience leads to expression of the feelings, and this in turn contributes to healing.
This paper deals with child abuse that has occurred in this life time and regression to childhood of the current life in order to resolve the trauma. However, often it is helpful, or even necessary, to go further back to past lives for full resolution of the consequences of child abuse.
Induction to the Past
Hypnosis is a natural state of mind, just as waking, sleeping, and unconsciousness are natural states of mind. These states are also known as beta, alpha, theta, and delta. We are in the alpha state, or hypnosis, at least a third of our lives, just as we are in sleep almost a third of our lives. All that is required to induce an alpha state is to distract the critical factor of the mind so that messages to the unconscious are not blocked. The critical factor is distracted by fatigue, fear, awe, shock, anger, relaxation, intense interest, repetition (fatigue), pain, and other conditions.
When a client enters my office, I begin to center on his feelings. I note the feelings that he experiences at home, at work, while driving, or during any current experience. The objective of therapy is to erase the disturbing feelings he has described. The induction centers on this feeling. It begins when the patient enters the door because from that moment on, we are talking about feelings—the stress and trauma from the past and present. If the problem is fear, then he is already in fear, and his unconscious mind can quickly go back to an old and frightening experience.
Example of an Induction
In the first session with a patient named Mike I made the following notes: “wakens suddenly in a panic—can’t breathe, shakes, shivers; is deeply anxious, has shortness of breath and fears loss of control; fears that he is going crazy or that he won’t do anything right. He often feels spaced-out, cut off, distant, and unreal. He is convinced he can’t get anything done, and he wants to get away from having to try.” This patient expressed enough feelings during this first session to produce induction material for months.
Before the first induction and regression to the past, I explain to each patient what regression therapy is and why I use it. This explanation is followed by an initial induction statement, such as:
Therapist: We will return to your experiences of your childhood and your infancy, clear back through your birth, your prenatal experiences, and even back to your past lives. The memories are all in your unconscious mind and can be remembered as I direct you back to them. Each person has all the memories of the past in his own mind. All I have to do is help you reach the experience and relive it.
Most patients respond at first with skepticism about the possibility that they can contact such memories.
Patient: I don’t think I can do it. I can’t remember anything except what I’ve told you.
Therapist: I have no doubt that you can do it. Your unconscious mind knows everything.
Patient: You have more faith in me than I do.
Therapist: I have faith in your ability to work through your problem.
It is true that I have faith in the person with whom I am working. I trust his unconscious mind to return to the appropriate experience and work through it. I have found that the efficiency of our minds is miraculous.
I routinely suggest that the patient sit up or lie down on the couch, according to his preference. In Mike’s induction he chose to lie down.
Therapist: You can close your eyes and we will go back into a childhood experience. We are going to the origin of the feeling that you are shaking and shivering and afraid. Your unconscious mind knows where to go. You are shaking and shivering. Be right in the scene and tell me the first thing that comes to mind.
Patient: (After about 30 seconds) I see my grandmother’s kitchen.
Therapist: Feel your body there. What are you doing?
Patient: I’m standing around a corner. She’s going to get a switch. Oh, no, here she comes…I don’t wanna go through this!
We are now well into the incident. With most people the induction is that simple, although the first experience can take a little longer. No formal hypnotic induction is necessary. I have the patient close out the present time by closing his eyes. Then I keep the message of where he is to go both short and simple, and I trust the unconscious mind to select the appropriate incident. Even if the incident doesn’t seem right, what works is simply to trust the process.
Usually the patient enters the scene either before or after the fearful trauma. If he enters after it has taken place, it is best to direct him back to the beginning of the incident and then take him through it to the end. Use a description of the scene to help take him back, such as “Be back at the time when Father is beating you,” or “Be back at a time when you are tied up.” With Mike I repeated his own words: “Be right where you are, shaking and shivering. Your unconscious mind knows where to go.” The unconscious mind is already there because the patient has just been talking about the situation.
A word of caution is in order. The induction begins when the patient walks in and begins to talk about his old disturbance. If he deviates subsequently and spends some time talking about a more recent event, be sure to take him back to what he has first talked about. Otherwise the patient becomes confused when the recent event and the words in the induction, which refer to the original complaint, do not tally, and the process is slowed down. Explore the person’s current stress and any other material, such as past-life memories, as far as is feasible, and then direct him back to the childhood trauma and the scene from the past before the actual induction.
The key to simple and quick inductions is an understanding and trust of the unconscious mind. This deep-level self is extremely efficient.
Words and Fear Lead to Hypnotic Programming in Early Childhood
Messages, both verbal and non-verbal, given to us in childhood and sometimes later as adults, program us and control us for life. Messages transmitted to us during experiences that are fearful, humiliating, or painful are especially powerful. Particularly in the abusive family, the child spends a great deal of time in hypnosis because the fear and pain paralyze the critical factor in his conscious mind. Thus, words that are said during these periods are accepted and preserved in the unconscious mind. This is the basis for the belief that many people maintain—that they are worthless, wrong, lazy, or evil. Words spoken to a person who is already in a deep hypnotic state induced by fear or other strong feeling are the major cause of incest, molestation, and rape so often being kept secret. The hypnotic words tell a victim that the sexual abuse is his or her fault, that he wanted it, it felt good, that he had been asking for it, and that he shouldn’t tell anybody or they would know it was his fault. The victim then forgets the pain and fear, and believes that whatever the perpetrator said must really be true.
An example of this is a girl named Winnie who, when she was 12 years old, was taken to the store by her uncle. On the way home he stopped the car in an empty and raped her. Winnie cried and tried to push him away, but he was brutal and insistent. As she grew up she remained ashamed of the experience and never mentioned it to anyone. Months after she began therapy, she returned to the scene. During the regression she cried in pain as he forced her.
Patient: But it was my fault because I liked him.
Therapist: Let your unconscious mind take you to the words that tell you it is your fault.
Patient: I’m telling him that it hurts and I never want to see him again.
Therapist: Say the next words that he is telling you.
Patient: Don’t tell me that you don’t wanna see me again. You know you loved it. And don’t you dare tell anybody. Your dad will know you wanted it and it was your fault. You wanted it when you came with me.
Therapist: Winnie, recognize that his words are not true. You didn’t want it. It’s not your fault.
Patient: I just feel confused.
Therapist: Be back in the time when he first stopped in the empty lot and tell me how you feel.
Patient: I feel confused. I don’t know why we’re stopping.
Winnie goes through the experience again, crying in pain. At the height of her pain and fear, I help her into a correcting statement.
Therapist: Say to your uncle whether you want this or not.
Patient: Get off me! Quit holding me down. I hate you!
Therapist: Recognize what your real feelings are while he is raping you. You didn’t want it. It is his fault, not yours.
We complete the experience, repeating all of the uncle’s words so that Winnie can recognize the truth, and that his words are lies that he is uttering to justify himself and assure her secrecy, such as when he tells her that she has been wanting it for years and that she had better be quiet when she goes home or her family will be angry at her. At the conclusion of the session Winnie is no longer confused. She has come to understand that his words—and not her own knowledge of her self—have been responsible for her feeling that she is the guilty one, the bad one. In order to do this I took her into the scene where she could hear the words spoken and could be aware of her feelings and her body pain, and could clearly recognize the reality of the situation—that the words that had hypnotized her all these years were not true.
The words spoken during other kinds of abuse are just as damaging and hypnotic as they are in sexual abuse. In traumatic scenes the young person feels trapped, fearful, and helpless. The same words are repeated over and over in scene after scene. One mother says, “What’s the matter with you? Are you dumb?” Another favorite is, “You deserve what you get.”
One patient’s mother told her at least once a day, “Just look at you. You’re so dirty. Your hair is ugly and stringy. Your teeth are crooked and you’re fat as a blimp. How did I ever get such a child?” This little girl, grown up, is attractive, slim, and has beautiful hair. But until recently she felt ugly, fat, and worthless, no matter how slim and well groomed she was. Her mother’s continuous criticism programmed her unconscious mind.
Research tells us that messages heard during an altered state tend to be programmed in, just as in a computer. These messages must be deleted and reality recognized while one is in an altered state (hypnosis). The person must be taken back into the scene, as was done with Winnie and her uncle. The words that were said by the parent or other powerful person must be reheard. The patient must develop recognition of the reality of the situation so that he can understand that the hypnotic words were not true.
Infants and children see the adults around them as all powerful and all knowing. What these big people say must be true. The words of parents and abusers are hypnotic and become the beliefs of the child. To wake from this long-ago hypnotic state is to recognize reality and to feel one’s own goodness and innocence.
You Are a Good Child
Simply to remove the hypnotic words that are programmed in is not enough. Each person needs messages that help develop compassion, love, and self-respect. The messages must be said in a child’s words while the patient is in an altered state. This does not mean to reprogram with words that have no truth. We state reality. “You are an innocent, good child.” Or, as in the case of the girl who was told that she was ugly, dirty and had stringy hair, a true evaluation is that she is a normal, good child—normal children get dirty and their hair can become stringy while they are playing. Utter truisms that the child wants to hear and that unfortunately seldom get spoken: “You are trying your best to please Daddy. You are a good girl.” This is true even though the child might have accidentally dropped a bowl of cereal and broken it.
Nearly all punishment of children is for normal child behavior: Innocent, good children wet their clothes and beds, soil their pants or diapers, speak in a loud voice, slam doors, spill their milk, drop dishes, defend themselves verbally (talk back), stay out too long, are jealous of the baby, get hungry and cry. They cry because they want to be loved, touched, and consoled. They cry because they don’t want to be left alone. Children are cruelly punished for all of these behaviors and also because they are curious and sometimes look at their own or other people’s genitals. Always defend the child in the memory, even though the adult patient may insist that in his current perception he or she was a bad child. If a therapist feels judgmental of the child in the patient, then the therapist needs to deal with the hypnotic critical parent that has been programmed into his or her own unconscious mind.
Mike—A Child Threatened with Satan
Mike was the patient mentioned earlier in the section on Induction. He was a slim young man of about 35, who was referred because of his panic attacks and his cut-off, spaced-out feeling that often made him feel paralyzed and unable to do things that he wanted to do. His father had left before he was born. He grew up with a grandmother who was a psychotic and sadistic religious fanatic, and with a stern and religious mother. His therapy centered on terrifying religious fanaticism and physical abuse. His first regression took him back to his grandmother’s kitchen where he was switched on his bare legs.
In another session Mike described waking up from a sound sleep in a panic, shaking and shivering. As he talked his teeth chattered and the word Satan kept coming to mind, I told him to lie down and close his eyes.
Therapist: Let your unconscious mind guide you back to a time when you are shaking and your teeth are chattering. The word “Satan” comes to mind. You are afraid of Satan.
Patient: I’m in a shower. She’s holding me there. It’s cold water coming down on me.
Mike’s body begins to shiver as he lies on the couch.
Patient: She’s saying, “Satan, get out of him. You’re bad. Get the demons out.”
Grandmother hits him all over his body and then pinches him. (At 18 months of age he is left every day with his sadistic grandmother). He is in terror. All he can do is cry.
Therapist: Let your crying talk!
Patient: “I’ll get the demons out of you. Out, Satan, out! I must beat the demons out of you. The devil must die. You’re bad. You have to go to hell.”
Therapist: Recognize that you are not bad, Mike. You are an innocent baby.
Patient: I’m all alone. She’ll hit me. I have to go to hell.
Therapist: Those are grandmother’s words and none of them are true. You are a good boy. You are not going to hell. Her words are not real or true. You are a good boy.
With Mike I had to remove hypnotic messages and replace them with affirmations of his own goodness and innocence. (Fanatical religious messages are most hypnotic, both in childhood and in past lives, where we often find satanic cults and ancient religious rituals). Grandmother took care of Mike until he was six years old, regularly beating Satan out of him and threatening him with poison. We worked on her cruel punishment for months.
On Sundays his mother took him to a fundamentalist church where the preaching was about hell and brimstone. As he grew up, every night he was required to sit in the kitchen and listen to the radio evangelists and his mother chose the preachers who were the most fanatical in their beliefs. Mike was afraid to believe and afraid not to believe. We returned many times in regressions to the scenes in church and to listening to the kitchen radio, hearing the actual words because the unconscious is efficient and had recorded all of the words Mike listened to.
Patient: “God is all powerful. Repent or you’ll burn. God kills people. God will crush me. Jesus sheds blood for a perfect world. No way out. I’ll go to hell.”
Obviously Mike was repeating the preachers words combined with his own thoughts. Each time we went back to the fanatical religious messages, I made statements to replace the damaging religious beliefs.
Therapist Say all of the preacher’s words and recognize that he is wrong. God is a force of love. You can remember that now. Let the words go. God is the creative force in the universe.
We kept returning to the origin of his cut-off, spaced-out feeling. He was constantly listening to frightening religious predictions about wars, famine, eternal damnation, doom, burning forever. His thinking was confused: he didn’t know what was true.
Mike’s case is an extreme example of the hypnotic programming by the words and physical abuse in childhood. I had him repeat all the words of the preacher each time he was in a childhood scene. Saying the words out loud helped him to release the power of those beliefs and the fear that they generated. Messages from me to him were given while he was in the alpha state. My objective was to replace the fanatical, terrifying religious programming with a belief in a loving God, rather than in a punitive, tyrannical God. My affirmations to him when he was in the cut-off, spaced-out state were to give him faith in his own ability to think and choose his religious beliefs. I reminded him that he had a good brain, could think clearly, could know what was real, what was true, and what was false.
Mike recovered from his panic attacks and ceased having periods of feeling cut-off and spaced-out. His was a difficult case because the long exposure to fanatical religion, combined with physical abuse, had thoroughly programmed his unconscious mind.
Jeanie, Who Cried All the Time
Jeanie, 24, was referred because she cried uncontrollably and was failing in her college classes. She had consulted psychiatrists and psychologists since she was 16 but experienced only temporary help. Memories of her childhood included scenes of screaming, fighting, and terror. When she said, “I was the bad one” I knew that this statement was a hypnotic belief.
Jeanie is easy to regress back to childhood.
Therapist: Close your eyes and be back in your childhood in the source of your feeling of crying.
Patient: I hear his footsteps. I’m too scared. I hope he doesn’t come in here. He’ll hit me. I’m afraid of his eyes. I’m bad. There’s something wrong with me.
Therapist: Jeanie, tell me the words that Father is saying that suggest you are bad, that there’s something wrong with you.
Patient: He’s saying, “Stop crying. You’re a bad girl. I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”
Therapist: Know that you are a normal, good child, Jeanie. There is nothing wrong with you. You are a good girl.
Patient: Could that be true?
Therapist: Yes, I know it’s true.
Jeanie cries through Father’s whipping. Then she is alone. (The sadness and hopelessness always come after the terror, so the scene is not over when the violence and pain end). Jeanie lies on her bed afraid and depressed.
Patient: They’ll always hurt me. I can’t stand it. I want to die. I’m all alone and can’t get away. Nobody wants me. Nobody will ever want me.
Jeanie was three years old in this scene, and there were similar ones all through childhood. When she was 16, Father hit her in the face and knocked her down on the floor.
Through the first few months I saw Jeanie twice a week, then only once a week. She relived the painful trauma that had paralyzed her in work and school. We removed the hypnotic words that had made her believe that she was “bad, wrong, never doing anything right, never doing what she was told.” She released the notion that she was stupid and that nobody could help her. The words must have become powerful programming, because they were repeated over and over in all the scenes during her growing years.
It was a happy day when Jeanie came in to tell me that she had earned an “A” in a college course. She was no longer terrified of her teachers and other authority figures. She had stopped crying in the evening after coming home from work and was now able to go and visit her father and mother without panic after not having seen them for two years.
Children Are the Future
Child rearing is the most important task in the world, and yet there is little preparation and education for it. The survival of the human species is dependent upon how children are treated while they are growing from infancy into adulthood Too often their most impressionable years are lived in an atmosphere of heavy control, intolerance, violence, and anger; and they grow up to create the same kind of world. We can begin to solve the world’s serious problems by helping children to grow up in an environment of love, respect, and tolerance.
In regression therapy the effect of childhood trauma is clearly revealed. Behind adult disorders lie painful childhood experiences. We are shaped by our past, and through the process of expressing old fear and grief, we can begin a creative and loving way of living that is based in the very different reality of today.
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