Engel, Beverly. It Wasn’t Your Fault: Freeing Yourself from the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion. New Harbinger, 2015.
Abuse, neglect, addictions stem from corrosive shame which poisons love, kindness, and authenticity. Self-compassion eradicates shame by reversing entrenched patterns of self-judgment and self-loathing that harm a person on an internal level and also possibly relationally in close relationships, school, and work environments. Rather than live with the horror that a significant other is abusive or dangerous and the child is trapped in a helpless situation, the child will internalize blame and responsibility for early adverse abuse or neglect. Feelings of unworthiness follow that child into adulthood where the rage and pain is projected either outward (bullying to others), inward (struggles with depression and anxiety), or some combination of the two.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMF) Everly developed the Compassionate Cure program to help clients struggling with debilitating shame. Her interest in the field was based both on seeking to help people and her own personal experiences. Much of her work is based on the ground-breaking research on self-compassion of Kristin Neff. Everly spends the first third of the book discussing why shame is so negatively pervasive and how compassion functions as the antidote. The second part explains the Compassion Cure program lays the background explaining how hard it is (and why) for people who feel shame to feel self-compassion and accept compassion from others. There are five stages to self-compassion in part three: self-understanding, self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, self-kindness, and self-encouragement. Realistic and well-explained exercises pepper each stage to get readers more compassionate toward themselves. Readers learn grounding, identifying with parents and the inner critic, developing a more self-compassionate and encouraging inner voice, utilizing phrases of self-kindness, and develop ritualistic ways to encourage oneself.
One thing to keep in mind is while Everly heavily cites herself and the aforementioned Kristin Neff through the actual text of the book. She does, however, provide a list of references at the book’s end where readers can go for more information. It is also important to note that while Everly uses the term cure, many experiences shape who people are and are impossible to completely forget, so coping and self-growth may be a more appropriate term to keep in mind while following Beverly’s program.
See Also Family of Origin
Nakazawa, Donna Jackson. Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal. Atria, 2015.
Nakazawa provides lots of research toward how chronic unpredictable toxic stress (CUTS) in childhood is a public health concern that ripples all the way to adulthood and even into subsequent generations. Vincent J. Felitti, MD, came upon the link between childhood trauma and the later onset of adult disease in one-on-one interviews with patients at the Kaiser Permanente’s obesity clinic in the 190s. Stunned, he teamed up with CDC epidemiologist Robert Anda to replicate his findings on a larger scale with chronic health conditions beyond obesity. Anda and Felitti developed the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) based on clusters of early struggles that patients had reported: emotional abuse and neglect, physical abuse, separation from a caretaker (death, divorce, prison), and exposure to addiction or a witness to violence. The results replicated on mass scale. Sixty-four percent of American adults with grapple with one ACE; forty percent grapple with two or more. It is more likely than not that each adult in the United States has been exposed to at least one adverse childhood experience.
CUTS alters the expression of our genes (epigenetics), by chronically exposing the body to stress hormones and sending the sympathetic (flight or fight system) into overdrive. This consistent exposure to stress aggravates physical inflammation which leads to a whole host of problems into the body. Research into the anatomy and mechanics of these processes fill the early chapters; later chapters are quite optimistic in paralleling the stress with techniques to limit the damage of ACES. Most optimistic are the chapters outlining many ways (mindfulness, EMDR, etc) to see alleviate ACES with professional help. For those looking to go beyond healing only themselves, Nakawaza includes fourteen research-based principles for being a loving, empathic, and soothing parent.
Nakawaza demonstrates with clear evidence the scope of ACES its epigenetic and public health ramifications. Childhood CUTS has a high likelihood of causing adult chronic health conditions, and in treating what seem purely “physical” conditions, patients (and their doctors) also need to look at the holistic history of the mind as well as the body. This is an excellent book for diving into ACES information and most importantly, channels to seek professional help from medical doctors and mental health conditions.
Van Der Kolk, Bessel.The Body Keeps the Score. Penguin, 2014. *
Developmental and relational traumas shape our experiences at the physiological level. Early abusive or neglectful events shape how the brain sees and responds to exterior circumstances. Serious trauma can unfortunately lock people into “survival” mode as observers of life rather than participants….unfortunately, people impacted by trauma also have more difficulty in forming and maintaining close relationships. They again feel at a distance from others, or keep themselves at a distance from intimacy to prevent further hurt. Van Der Kolk documents trauma’s history as an area of study by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals. He further describes in great detail and at times in an academic tone how a traumatized brain functions differently than a non-traumatized brain. Van Der Kolk devotes his last part of his book to interventions that have shown empirical ability to help people heal from or at the very least minimize the impact of trauma in their lives and live more authentic and joyful lives.
* See Also Prepare for the Long Haul
Spring, Janice A. How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To. Harper, 2004. *
Spring explores the process of forgiveness for both offender and hurt party. We can refuse to forgive as a shield of invulnerability (so we think) and hurt along just as much as if cheap forgiveness is our go-to move. We will find ourselves many times having something to forgive and also needing to earn forgiveness. Spring walks readers through the process of earning forgiveness, forgiving another person genuinely, or if forgiveness is not possible, encouraging acceptance of a situation for one’s own health and peace of mind. While a book discussing the freedom to not forgive may seem an odd choice on a trauma bibliography, and immovable refusal to ever forgive is bad for a marriage (or any LTR), the way Spring covers the spectrum of forgiveness, including what the hurt party must do to earn forgiveness, can put in perspective for readers whether their harm-doer is truly seeking to empathize and tune into the injured party.
* See Also Repair & Apologize
Most of these articles are going to be free online (ie, Open Access). If the article is not freely available, I will indicate that. In that case, check with your local librarians! Please first ask your librarian at your local library before buying online – many times you can get an article at no cost through one of your library’s databases or interlibrary loan.
Colier, Nancy. “Why It’s So Hard to Build Healthy Relationships After Growing Up in Chaos.” Psychology Today, 24 July 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201907/why-its-so-hard-build-healthy-relationships-after-growing-in-chaos
Davis, Vauna. “Recognizing the Red Flags of Shame.” Reach 10, n.d., https://reach10.org/recognizing-red-flags-shame/
- See the Map of Emotions in the body
Fabian, Renee. “Ten Unexpected Ways You May Have Experienced a Fight-Flight-Freeze-Fawn Response.” The Mighty, 5 Feb. 2020, https://themighty.com/2020/02/unexpected-flight-flight-freeze-fawn-responses
MacCutcheon, Megan. “Intention Isn’t Everything: 7 Ways to Inadvertently Invalidate Feelings.” Good Therapy, 25 Oct. 2017, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/intention-isnt-everything-7-ways-to-inadvertently-invalidate-feelings-1025175
Pearl, Reaca. “11 Things That Will Help You Hold Space for Someone.” Good Therapy, 23 May 2017, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/11-things-that-will-help-you-hold-space-for-someone-0523175
Pollock, Anastasia. “When It All Falls Apart: Trauma’s Impact on Intimate Relationships.” Good Therapy, 11 Feb. 2014, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/when-it-all-falls-apart-traumas-impact-on-intimate-relationships-0211145
Roddick, Marjie. “Big T and Little t Trauma and How Your Body Reacts to It.” Good Therapy, 19 Oct. 2015, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/big-t-and-little-t-trauma-and-how-your-body-reacts-to-it-1019154
Summers, Dyhan. “How to Recognize and Overcome Childhood Emotional Neglect.” Good Therapy, 18 Feb. 2016, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-recognize-overcome-childhood-emotional-neglect-0218165
Disclaimer: This site is informational only and its resources are not substitutions for professional therapy. If you need professional help, see the Find a Therapist page to locate a qualified mental health professional.