WORKING TOGETHER TO CREATE AN ABUSE-FREE FUTURE
Publisher: Beverly Engel
Many of you have emailed me with questions about how to heal
an emotionally abusive or neglectful childhood and how to make sure that you
don’t pass on emotional or verbal abuse to your children. It is clear by your
emails that you are not aware that I have written a book specifically focused on
this subject called, Healing Your Emotional Self. I believe that the title of
this book has caused some confusion. It might have been better to call the book,
Healing An Emotionally Abusive Childhood. At any rate, this book is one of the
best books I know of to help heal the wounds of childhood neglect and emotional
abuse, even if I do say so myself.
As many of you know, I created a form of therapy called Mirror Therapy. Healing
Your Emotional Self is based on this new form of therapy, which I created
primarily to help those who were emotionally abused in childhood. I have
received a great deal of positive feedback from clients and workshop
participants regarding Mirror Therapy and many people would like to know more
about it. For this reason this month’s article is about Mirror Therapy. If you
have any questions about Mirror Therapy or would like to attend a Mirror Therapy
workshop, please email me at www.beverlyengel.com.
In the News from Beverly segment I will 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
Please forward this ezine to anyone you know who is interested in preventing or
healing childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse or emotional, physical or
sexual abuse in adult relationships. If you are receiving this issue as a
forward, and would like your own no-cost subscription please follow the
instructions at the end of this newsletter.
reason. Thank you for trusting me with your personal information.
MIRROR THERAPY: A HEALING PROGRAM FOR THOSE WHO WERE
EMOTIONALLY ABUSED IN CHILDHOOD
“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 ear
and land in the spirit. Words carry hatred and passion and love and fear.
Words have the power to shoot down and rise up. Sharp cutting words can
whirl for years afterward like the rotating blades of a lawn mower.
Louise M. Wisechild, The Mother I Carry
I have developed a method of working with clients who were
emotionally abused or neglected as children that I call Mirror Therapy.
Based on the concepts of mirroring and projection and the use of mirrors as
aids for reducing shame and raising self-esteem, Mirror Therapy is based on
the following psychological truths:
1. Starting in infancy, children need positive, empathetic
mirroring from their parents in order to know that they have worth.
2. When a child is treated with empathy, that is, when
people accurately understand and sensitively respond to the child’s thoughts
and feelings, the child learns that she is worthy of love and is worthwhile.
The child’s empathy for himself grows by leaps and bounds as he mirrors
inside what the outside world has revealed to him about his self-worth. When
such a child matures and the thinking brain gains control over the emotional
brain, she begins to feel the need to give back what she was given,
mirroring to the world the trust, faith and love that she has taken into
3. If, on the other hand, a child is not given this
empathetic mirroring he doesn’t feel loved and is not able to feel
compassionate toward himself.
4. If a child’s needs and feelings are continually ignored
or discounted he will not know how to soothe himself.
5. Because the child hasn’t learned how to take care of
herself, she finds it difficult to care for others when they are hurt or
distressed. Instead, she mirrors back the neglect and inattention she was
given, and her focus remains riveted on her own unmet needs and desires.
6. Human beings are incredibly resilient, however, and we
never stop learning. Given
empathy and appropriate guidance, people with emotionally impoverished
can learn how to express their emotions and expand their empathy.
7. An empathetic relationship can heal even the most wounded
spirit. Through empathy
we can overcome our fears and learn how to reconnect with each other. This
is what normally happens in therapy. Through honest interactions and a
commitment to the process of change and growth, we can discover that when we
are more accepting of ourselves, even with all our faults and flaws, we are
free to become the person we were meant to be.
8. Empathy is a teachable skill that can be developed and
nurtured in our relationships. Learning how to express empathy—how to be
honest, open, and forgiving toward ourselves and others—is a central part of
9. Sometimes, in order to be able to have empathy and
compassion for others, we must first learn to give these things to
ourselves. As adults, we often find that others treat us in ways that
reflect the way we feel about ourselves. Therefore, if we want others to
treat us with respect and kindness, we must first start giving these things
10. The judge (or inner critic or superego) is a mirror that
reflects back to us who we think we are. It overrides our inherent
intelligence and our direct response to life by superimposing its beliefs
about what is real. It is a warped lens that distorts reality. Because of
this distorted perception, we come to distrust our intuitive contact with
life. Though it acts as if it were helping us get what you want in life, the
judge actually resists our movement toward growth and development.
11. The judge’s function is to maintain the status quo in
two ways: It keeps us away from what it considers to be dangerous or
unmanageable parts of ourselves. And it directs us toward whatever ideals it
feels will make us an acceptable, successful person. It constantly
admonishes us with comments like, “Don’t do that.” Its demands are
never-ending and the actual feeling we are left with is “I am not good
enough and I never will be.”
12. Self-discovery requires disrobing the judge and exposing
the truth about how it affects our life. Awareness begins the process of
disentangling our worth from the facts of our life and learning that our
value is not dependent on achievement or approval. The judge leads us to
believe that we are subject to evaluation and improvement rather than having
inherent value and worth. Implicit in this belief is the judge’s assumption
that our value is conditional, that we are worthless on our own—we need to
accomplish, we need to change, we need to be watched.
13. The only real alternative to self-judgment is knowing
the truth about who you are. If you have a deep belief that you are
worthless, you must discover where that belief came from and why you belief
it is true.
14. Parents project their own unresolved issues onto their
children. In order to heal from the damage this causes, adult children need
to reject the distorted mirror their parents put on them and create a new
mirror that reflects more accurately who they actually are.
15. Children mirror what they see in life, especially what
their parents do. Parents who behave in inappropriate ways become unhealthy
role models for their children.
16. Those who were emotionally abused or neglected often do
not develop a clear image of themselves. By viewing photographs, creating
Mirror Journals, creating a self portrait and by completing various other
activities, survivors can gain a clearer image of themselves, their likes,
dislikes, their values, goals and dreams.
17. Those who were emotionally abused or neglected tend to
be disconnected from their emotions and their bodies. Body image exercises,
18. Those who were emotionally abused or deprived need to
create a “new mother” and a “new father” inside themselves in order to
provide themselves what they missed out on as a child. This involves
learning nurturing skills and learning to set effective limits.
How Parents Act As Mirrors
Infants have no “sense of self” that is, no internal sense
of who they are as a person and no sense of who they are separate from
everyone else. If an infant were to look in the mirror, he or she would not
recognize himself or herself. You’ve no doubt watched the reaction of an
infant or toddler who does look in the mirror. They often react as if they
were seeing another child.
Parents act as a mirror to show a child who he is. If a
baby’s parents smile at him he learns that he is delightful and adorable. If
a baby is held and comforted he learns that he is safe. If his parents
respond to his crying, he learns that he is important and effective. But if
a baby is not held, spoken to, comforted, rocked and loved, he learns other
lessons about his worth. If his cries are not responded to he learns
helplessness. He learns he is not important. Later, as the child grows
older, his parents will act as a mirror in other ways. If they overprotect
him he will learn he is incompetent. If they are overly controlling he will
learn he cannot be trusted.
Throughout childhood there will be other mirrors that will
show a child who he is. Teachers, friends and caregivers will all perform
this role, but a child will inevitably return to the reflection in the
mirror that his parents held up for him in order to determine his goodness,
importance and self-worth.
In Mirror Therapy we focus on helping you to create a new
mirror, one that reflects who you really are as opposed to how your parents
or other primary caretakers defined you. Although this program is called
“mirror” therapy, it involves a lot more than looking in the mirror.
Certainly is not based on the overly simplistic idea, depicted in old
Saturday Night Live skits, of looking into a mirror and repeating
affirmations like, “I am good enough,” “I am strong enough,” and “People
like me.” Instead it is a holistic approach based on important psychological
concepts, techniques and beliefs.
I call my program Mirror Therapy for several reasons,
The mirror symbolizes our identity.
Parental neglect, emotional abuse, and smothering all have
a negative (mirroring) effect on a child’s developing identity (i.e.
self-concept, sense of self and self-esteem).
Parental emotional abuse and deprivation also have a
negative effect on a child’s body image and body awareness. Thus, what the
child (and adult) sees when they look in the mirror is distorted.
Parental emotional abuse creates in a child a
negative internal judge or critic, which acts as a warped lens that
The practice of mirroring is a fundamental aspect of
parenting yet it is absolutely necessary if a child is to grow into a
healthy adult with a strong sense of self and high self-esteem.
Mirror Therapy involves exercises and practices using
mirrors (i.e., as aids to reducing shame and raising self-esteem).
Children mirror parents’ behavior, especially what their
This method focuses on how the negative view or judgment of
an emotionally abusive parent defines his or her child’s self-image; how
neglect causes a child to feel worthless and unlovable; and how emotional
smothering causes a child to be unable to establish a separate self from his
or her parent. Even though I created Mirror Therapy especially for those who
were emotionally abused or neglected as a child, it can work for anyone who
suffers from low self-esteem, a poor self image, a powerful inner critic or
is riddled with unhealthy shame. This includes those who were physically or
By completing Mirror Therapy exercises you have an
opportunity to reject the distorted images you received from your
emotionally abusive or neglectful parents once and for all. You have the
opportunity to replace these distorted images with a more accurate
reflection of who you really are. I call these two processes, “Shattering
Your Parental Mirror” and “Creating a New Mirror.” While you cannot reverse
all the damage caused by abusive or neglectful parents, you can regain much
of the sense of goodness, strength and wisdom that is your birthright.
The first step you need to take in order to shatter a
negative parental mirror is to become very clear just what kind of mirror
you received from your parents. As you read the following list, think
carefully about which of these mirrors you received (there may be more than
The Seven Types of Negative Parental Mirrors
During my many years of practice and study I have observed
seven common types of negative parental mirrors. These include:
1. The “I am Unlovable” Mirror. When parents are neglectful
or do not have time for their child they send the message that their child
is unwanted or unlovable.
2. The “I am Worthless” Mirror. When children are physically
or emotionally rejected or abandoned by their parents the message they
receive is that they are worthless.
3. The “I am Nothing Without My Parent” Mirror. When parents
are over protective or
emotionally smothering they send the message that their child is helpless
4. The “I am Powerless” Mirror. When parents are overly
controlling or tyrannical they cause their child to feel powerless.
5. The “I am Never Good Enough” Mirror. When parents are
perfectionistic they give their children the message that they only have
value if they meet their parent’s expectations—which is rare or never.
6. The “I Am Bad” or “I Am Unacceptable” Mirror. When
parents are verbally abusive, hypercritical or excessively shaming the
message they send to their child is that he or she is a bad person or is
7. The “I Don’t Matter” Mirror. When parents are
self-absorbed or narcissistic, the message they give their children is that
their needs are not important and that they do not matter.
An Example of the “I Am Powerless” Mirror
Lorraine is an attractive woman with large dark eyes,
flawless skin and a luscious mouth. She was once considered voluptuous but
is now extremely overweight. But what stands out the most about Lorraine is
that she talks and acts like a little girl. At nearly forty years old she
has the mannerisms of a young child. Although she is quite intelligent she
frequently appears confused and cannot easily understand instructions from
her employers, which has cost her more than one job. Why does Lorraine
behave the way she does? The answer, she is still suffering from the
emotional abuse and deprivation she experienced as a child.
When Lorraine was a child she was expected to act like an
adult. Her mother
insisted that she and her sisters take responsibility for cleaning the
entire house while she was at work. This wouldn’t have been so bad except
that her mother was a perfectionist. The girls could never do anything
right. Lorraine remembers one time when her mother told her to scrub the
kitchen floor, even though she was only six years old.
As usual, when she got home from work her mother inspected
the house, looking for anything out of place or anything left undone. When
she found scuff marks on the kitchen floor she became furious. She yelled at
Lorraine calling her a stupid good-for-nothing girl who never did anything
right. Lorraine was humiliated. She told her mother that she could not get
the scuff marks off. Even though it was past Lorraine’s bedtime, her mother
insisted that she scrub the floor until the marks were completely gone.
Lorraine still remembers how helpless and hopeless she felt
as she desperately
tried to get the scuff marks off the floor. Today, whenever a boss asks her
to do something, Lorraine panics. She is so afraid of doing something wrong
that she becomes frozen in fear and is unable to move. It takes her several
minutes to come back to herself and by that time she has forgotten what her
boss asked her to do.
The mirror that Lorraine’s mother held up to her led her to
believe that she was incapable of doing anything right. This prevented
Lorraine from developing self-efficacy and positive self-esteem. It also
stunted her emotional and intellectual growth, leaving her feeling like a
perpetual child, overwhelmed by authority figures or responsibility.
Those who were emotionally abused or neglected tend to
suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, low self-esteem, eating
disorders, addictions (including alcoholism, drug addiction, sex addiction
and compulsive shopping). Those who were neglected often suffer from
continual feelings of emptiness, deep loneliness and confusion and are often
unable to sustain intimate relationships. Those who were emotionally abused
often repeat the types of negative and abusive behavior that was done to
them when they become involved in an intimate relationship and when they
have children or they do the reverse, and continue to be victims throughout
1. List the ways your parents projected their own problems
or unmet needs onto you.
2. List the ways you believe you have been affected by the
emotional abuse or neglect
that you experienced as a child.
We should never allow other people’s limited perceptions
to define us.
I AM RECEIVING A LOT OF
POSITIVE EMAILS ABOUT MY LATEST BOOK
Emotional Self: A POWERFUL PROGRAM TO HELP YOU RAISE YOUR
SELF-ESTEEM, QUIET YOUR INNER CRITIC AND OVERCOME YOUR SHAME.
HERE ARE A FEW EXAMPLES
"Thank you for writing Healing Your Emotional Self. I had a terrible problem
with low self-esteem and self-criticism. Your book helped me to understand
where these problems came from and gave me specific steps I could take to
heal the damage of my childhood and begin to feel better about myself."
"I've read all your books on emotional abuse and they've all helped me in
my healing process but this one is the best yet! For the first time I really
understand why I am the way I am! Thank you Beverly for continuing to write
such important books."
IF YOU WOULD LIKE ME TO PRESENT A MIRROR THERAPY: HEALING AN
EMOTIONALLY ABUSIVE CHILDHOOD IN YOUR AREA, PLEASE CONTACT ME AT
TWO INTERMEZZO WORKSHOPS
Are you a woman age 40 or older who is looking for a new
direction or a new start to your life? Are you overwhelmed by the changes
Or are you feeling inspired and creative but can’t find your passion?
If so, you are cordially invited to a powerful transformation process
designed specifically for women.
Beverly Engel, M.F.T. has been a psychotherapist and
workshop leader for 30 years. She is internationally recognized as an expert
in women’s issues and relationships and is the author of 18 self-help books,
many of which have been bestsellers. She has shared her expertise on many
national television programs, including: Oprah, CNN, Sally Jesse Raphael,
Ricki Lake and Starting Over.
Heather Mendel: is a speech and hearing therapist, spiritual director,
calligraphic artist, writer and storyteller. She has facilitated
spirituality groups for women for the past 15 years. Her book, Towards
Freedom, has been well received nationally and abroad. She is a guest
speaker in many local venues and a guest lecturer each semester at Cal Poly,
in the area of women’s spirituality.
I hope you enjoyed this issue of Working Together to Create an Abuse-Free