WORKING TOGETHER TO CREATE AN ABUSE-FREE FUTURE
Publisher: Beverly Engel
Thank you so much for the positive feedback I continue to
receive about this newsletter. I’m happy to hear that you enjoy reading it
and that it is adding something to your life. Thank you also for your
support of my new book, Healing Your Emotional Self.
April is Child Abuse Awareness Month and many events are
scheduled to honor it. In the News from Beverly segment this month I will
include announcements of some of these events, including some that I will be
Please feel free to send me announcements you feel readers
will find of interest.
In the News from Beverly
segment I include announcements of upcoming events, workshops or conferences
relevant to the treatment or prevention of abuse. Feel free to send me
announcements you feel readers will find of interest. I cannot guarantee I
can include them all but I will do my best to include what I feel is
relevant. I will also announce my own upcoming workshops and books. I ask
that you order books directly from Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com as I do not sell
individual books directly to readers. If you would like to attend a
workshop, feel free to email me directly at
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IDENTIFYING AND COUNTERING NEGATIVE CORE BELIEFS
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never
hurt me,” I was taught; one more lie among many. In truth words penetrate
the unlidded eye and land in the spirit. Words carry hatred and passion and
love and fear. Words have the power to shoot down or raise up. Sharp cutting
words can whirl for years afterward like the rotating blades of a lawn
Wisechild, The Mother I Carry
In this issue I want to focus on the negative effects of emotional abuse on
children and how we carry the negative messages we receive from this form of
abuse into our adult life.
If a child is constantly told “You’re no good,” he
ends up believing it. If he is told he will never amount to anything, he
will most likely grow up to prove his parents right. Children who were
emotionally abused or deprived almost always internalize the negative
parental messages they received. In order to eliminate these negative
internal messages we need to identify their presence.
Parents communicate negative messages to their children in various ways.
Some are overtly critical of their child or his behavior. Comments like,
“You’re stupid,” “You’re a lost cause,” and “You’re an embarrassment to me”
are common examples of messages passed on by emotionally abusive parents.
Other kinds of negative and debilitating beliefs are communicated in less
obvious ways. For example, in response to the rejection or abandonment you
experienced as a child you may have come to see yourself as unworthy or
flawed. If your parents did not mirror back your value you find it difficult
to see value in yourself.
In my case my mother passed on to me the negative core belief that I did not
deserve good things. Whenever good things happened to me when I was a little
girl my mother would either warn me that something bad was going to happen
or she would do something to make me feel bad.
The most powerful experience of this occurring was when I was 15 and a
junior in high school. My first two years in high school hadn’t been very
good for me. I had transferred from another school district and didn’t know
very many people. Because we were poor and my mother hadn’t taught me how to
take care of myself I didn’t look as good as I could have. But by my junior
year I had learned a little from classes in Home Economics and from watching
how the other girls dressed and I began to dress more appropriately. I made
some new friends and I was doing well in school and had gained the respect
of some of the more popular kids in my classes. When two seniors asked me to
join their YWCA club I was honored. Things were definitely looking up.
On this particular day, I was feeling especially great. My English teacher
had complimented me in front of the entire class on an essay I had written.
She said I was a very good writer and that I should seriously consider it as
a career. I remember feeling so proud. Later, after school, I was elected
President of my YWCA club. Again, this was incredible validation for me.
I sailed all the way home, buoyed up my success and validation. I re-lived
the experience of my teacher praising me over and over in my head and felt
the warm glow of acceptance and admiration from my club members. It was my
mother’s day off and so I bounded into the apartment, eager to tell her
about both of my successes. I don’t remember what she said about
them—certainly she did not praise me or tell me anything positive.
I telephoned my best friend about what had happened in class. I continued to
feel good about myself for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. I
don’t know how I was acting but clearly my mother didn’t like it. All I do
remember is that in one of my trips past my mother, who was sitting on the
couch drinking beer, she said to me, “You really think you’re something,
don’t you?” I stopped short, not knowing what she was talking about. “You
really think you’re something because your teacher praised you and because
you’re President of your stupid club. Well, let me tell you something. Let
me tell you who you really are,” she said in a mocking tone.” “You’re
illegitimate. You were an unwanted child who ruined my life.”
I stood there shocked, not quite comprehending what she was telling me, but
feeling wounded by her words. The word, “illegitimate” rang in my ears. In
those days, the mid 60’s, being an illegitimate child was still very
shameful. I remember feeling as if I was going to pass out as shame passed
over me like a dark cloud.
I sank to the couch and she proceeded to tell me, for the first time, the
truth about my father and my birth. As she explained, I was in fact,
illegitimate—my mother was not married to my father when I was conceived.
She was actually still legally married to another man, even though she had
deserted him. She never told my father about me but left town as soon as she
discovered she was pregnant. In the moments that followed, my entire concept
of who I was changed. I had always felt different and less than others
because I had no father, because my mother was so much older than other
mothers and because we were so poor. Now I had another reason to feel
inadequate. Now I was illegitimate. And even though I had always felt
unwanted and guilty about my existence, now it was confirmed—I was unwanted
and I had ruined my mother’s life. Needless to say, all the good feelings
I’d had about being acknowledged that day had absolutely disappeared.
Although my mother had not physically slapped me in the face this time, I
felt slapped “down to size,” nevertheless.
The juxtaposition of the events of this day had a profound effect on me. For
many, many years I could not experience joy or the feeling of success
without fearing that something bad was going to happen to me—that I was
going to get “slapped down to size.”
Negative parental messages like the one I received from my mother cause us
to develop certain core beliefs about life and about ourselves, including
basic assumptions about our value in the world. Core beliefs about yourself
can determine to what degree you perceive yourself as worthy, competent,
loved, safe, powerful and autonomous. The core belief I developed from
experiences with my mother such as the above example was that I didn’t
deserve good things. After all, “who did I think I was?” as my mother had
said. This belief colored my perceptions of myself to such an extreme extent
that whenever something good happened to me I immediately sabotaged it in
Examples of Negative Core Beliefs
Negative beliefs and negative thought patterns can continue to affect your
identity and self-concept unless you consciously work on changing them.
Below are some other common examples of thought patterns that those who were
deprived and/or emotionally abused (as well as other forms of abuse) have.
The underlying beliefs that support these thoughts patterns are in italics.
Make a note of any of the above negative beliefs that you relate to.
1. I can never
trust that anything good will last. It will either end or go away.
People are not trustworthy and neither is life—both will disappoint you
and let you down.
2. I have no
control over my life or what happens to me. I just have to accept whatever
happens and try to make the best of it. What I said or did never
stopped my parents (or other caregivers) from abusing me. Nothing I say or
do makes a difference, so why bother?
3. I am helpless
to affect changes in my life. I was a victim in my childhood and will
always be a victim.
4. I am to blame for the pain I feel
and for my problems. If I had not done things to make my parent(s)
angry or done things wrong I wouldn’t have been punished.
5. The only time I
feel good about myself is when I am giving to other people or helping
other people. The only value I have is what I can do for others.
6. I cannot be
assertive because then other people will not like me. If you speak up
about what you need other people will think you are selfish.
7. I should never
tell anyone when I feel hurt, disappointed or angry because I will make
the other person feel hurt or angry. I am responsible for other
8. You should
never talk about what goes on in your family because you are being
disloyal. Secrets are to be kept and never talked about—even with other
9. I can’t trust
my perceptions. My parents always told me that what I thought or
believed was wrong.
Core beliefs about yourself are the foundation of your self-esteem. To a
large degree, they dictate what you can and cannot do—in other words they
form the basis of the rules you live your life by. Generally speaking,
negative core beliefs dictate what you can’t do, for example, “I shouldn’t
even bother to get that job. No one is going to want to hire me because I’m
not a good communicator.” On the other hand, positive core beliefs encourage
you by affirming your abilities--- as in, “I know I can pass this course.
I’m smart and I’m capable of learning even difficult concepts if I put my
mind to it.”
Negative parental messages also set us up to have unreasonable expectations
of ourselves and others. In my case, I desperately wanted the approval of
others (especially my mother). I came to believe that if I was exceptionally
“good” I would finally get that approval. This led me to have unreasonable
expectations of myself in terms of how hard I worked at being a good person
and at achieving success.
Exercise: Your Core Beliefs
1. Think about the way your parent(s) treated you as a child. Based on this
treatment, what false beliefs and unreasonable expectations of yourself and
life do you think you developed? Completing the following sentences will
help you become clearer.
When my father _____(i.e. “ignored me”, “criticized me”) it led me to
I_____(i.e. “am unimportant,” “am incompetent”).
2. Continue to complete this sentence until you have no more responses.
When my father__________it led me to believe that I _____________.
When my father __________it led me to believe that I _____________.
3. Now complete the sentence below, again continue until you have no more
When my mother _____(i.e. “expected too much of me,” “)
it led me to
____________(“expect too much of myself”).
4. Make a list of the beliefs you developed due to your parents treatment of
you when you were growing up. Using your answers from the sentence
completion exercise and the examples of negative beliefs from above make a
list of the beliefs you developed due to your parents’ treatment of you when
you were growing up.
5. Make a separate list of the unreasonable expectations you have based on
the ways your parents treated you and your early childhood experiences.
Identifying these false beliefs and unreasonable expectations is the first
step to exorcising them out of your mind. Changing your core beliefs can
take a great deal time and effort but it is definitely worth it. By doing so
you will be able to alter your view of yourself and the world in a
significant way. Having emotionally abusive parents is like looking at
yourself in a funhouse mirror, causing you to see yourself in a distorted
way. Getting rid of negative core beliefs about yourself is like replacing
the funhouse mirror with a non-distorting one. You are finally able to see
yourself as you really are.
We must never allow other people’s limited perceptions to define us.
LOOK FOR MY NEW BOOK
EMOTIONAL HEALING: A POWERFUL
PROGRAM TO HELP YOU RAISE YOUR SELF-ESTEEM, QUIET YOUR INNER
CRITIC AND OVERCOME YOUR SHAME COMING OUT THIS MONTH!
“Emotionally abusive parents are indeed toxic parents, and they cause
significant damage to their children’s self-esteem, self-image, and body
image. In this remarkable book, Beverly Engel shares her powerful Mirror
Therapy program for helping adult survivors to overcome their shame and
self-criticism, become more compassionate and accepting of themselves, and
create a more positive self-image. I strongly recommend it for anyone who
was abused or neglected as a child.”
—Susan Forward, Ph.D., author of Toxic Parents
“In this book, Beverly Engel documents the wide range of psychological
abuses that so many children experience in growing up. Her case examples and
personal accounts are poignant and powerful reminders that as adults, many
of us are still limited by defenses we formed when trying to protect
ourselves in the face of the painful circumstances we found ourselves in as
children. Engel’s insightful questionnaires and exercises provide concrete
help in the healing process, and her writing style in lively and engaging.
This book is destined to positively affect many lives.”
—Joyce Catlett, M.A., coauthor of Fear and Intimacy
WORKSHOPS AND SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS
I will be presenting two workshops at the:
2006 ANNUAL PREVENT CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT CONFERENCE
April 25-27th, Helena, Montana
“Breaking the Cycle of Abuse: Healing and Prevention” and “Parenting the Sexually Abused Child”
I am also teaching a weekend course on “Understanding Emotional Abuse”
the University of Montana-Western on April 22 and 23rd.
If you live in Northern California you may wish to attend the
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE CONFERENCE
April 2—203 E. 14th St. Davis, CA. - No cost, no registration.
April 4—Sierra Health Foundation, 1321 Garden Highway, Sacramento - $100
I hope you enjoyed this issue of Working Together to Create an Abuse-Free
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