“If you try to cry right now, I’ll bury the pencil in your forehead!”
That’s my childhood. An overachiever, who successfully created a façade of an ideal daughter every mother wishes to have. Little did they know that the same sweet, young, cheerful straight-A student was also a silent victim of abuse.
I couldn’t remember a single happy memory of my childhood. I wish I could.
The memories I had is like an old film. There’s no guarantee you can restore everything, remastering the audio to sound modern. Yet, you feel the urge to save it, hoping the next generation will see and appreciate its beauty and perhaps, learn a lesson.
In the same way, the most painful recollections of my life remained. But I’ll keep them forever because it played a pivotal role in becoming a healthy adult. For me, pain is the best teacher. I guess it rings true to you, too.
Because no matter how much time has passed, you will only remember the events that caused you trauma or inability to move forward as an adult.
Rather than holding onto grudges towards my abusers, I learned what they call “empathy” as a young kid. I didn’t even know that term existed at the time.
In every whip, every slap that touches my delicate skin, I cried the tears of love, feeling sorry for them, while enduring the pain from what they have done.
Instead of blaming them for giving me a decent but hostile environment to live, I tried to survive by understanding and loving them as much as I can. I know it sounds silly but it was a solution I know will create a positive ripple effect in the long run than running away.
Despite the constant and remarkable insults from my abusers, I tried to push myself to the limits hoping that I still see the next day with optimism. That one day—that inevitable day—they will realize their wrongs.
With that being said, I’ll share the simple yet effective 5 ways to endure and recover from the detrimental effects of child abuse. Especially as a highly sensitive person (HSP).
1. Acknowledging my self-sabotage
Blaming myself for being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), I tend to feel so deep that when I feel bad about something, I starve. Since I was constantly exposed to such an environment, the starvation developed into an eating disorder. Oh boy, I couldn’t count how many times I collapsed on the floor, hungry and exhausted.
I scarred my skin and marked it like a canvas, stroked with blood to numb the intense feelings I know nobody could understand. Uncontrollable explosive emotions oozed out to the point I thought, “This isn’t me anymore.”
I hurt my family—my parents, my younger sister, and my husband—seeing me in an unhealthy state. After my last collapse and seeing my husband in tears, it woke my senses up. It was the same moment that I decided to do the first step towards self-care and promised not to neglect myself again.
2. Developing a strong sense of resilience
I remembered my aunt stabbed a newly sharpened pencil in my forehead when I failed to understand a Math lesson. She never recognized that I learn new things differently since I needed more time to master it, analyzing the new concepts. Fortunately, the pencil failed to say hi to my brain. Could you imagine that? It could have been worse.
Then, she said, “If you try to cry right now, I’ll bury the pencil in your forehead!” It is one of the few examples I heard from her and my parents, especially from my father. It was my normal life.
I never wanted to become a saint. But I never thought I would act like one. For example, I tried to take care of them, though I never felt the “ideal care” as other kids receive from their parents. Though I never received affection, I did otherwise.
For children of my age, I guess I was way too mature to think about that; to be so concerned about them than for myself. What I felt certain was, “They, too, are unhealed children.”
3. Relying on strong faith.
My family is a devout Catholic. Not just my parents, but everyone in the family, which is the case for Filipino families.
Though being exposed to Catholicism became a strong foundation that helped me shape my faith, it paved the way for discovering my spirituality beyond the structured organization called religion.
Someone wouldn’t expect that a young girl could have a deep understanding of the universe and faith in a stronger force, my God. Spirituality played a big role in keeping me on track while my reality wasn’t as good as I imagined it would be.
Without it, I couldn’t have stayed positive amidst the excruciating pain I feel physically and emotionally from the people who were supposed to take care of me.
4. Being more self-aware.
My parents groomed me to become their “perfect daughter.” That a single mistake is fatal—one mistake comes with a price. A heavy price.
Constant hostility pushed me too far to the extent I had to ask myself, “Is this all worth it?” many times. At that point, I questioned whether my “big solution” is possible, achievable, or a mere dream.
My hope to survive wavered. But instead of vindication, I sought peace without knowing the detrimental consequences it brought me later on. I became bulimic, depressed, and suicidal.
It was like that for more than ten years until one day, I tried walking alone in a foreign land and experienced enlightenment in a warm afternoon. It was a 7.5-km walk that changed my life forever. The next day, I will never forget the nerve-wracking feeling of peace.
5. Believing kindness as the strongest weapon.
The Book of Romans said, “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” It has been my strong belief. And my caretakers experienced it from me.
Rather than holding onto the grudges, I chose to repay their actions by taking care of them in return. For me, I needed the right time, the perfect timing, to show it to them. To make them feel guilty? Probably but no.
When my aunt got sick from a diabetes complication, I opened my doors to care for her—making sure she’s okay. Never had I sought the same gesture I did brought us to closure. It was the first time I saw her wailing, feeling remorseful for what she’d done to me.
My parents, too, realized my value as a person—not as an overachiever. They accepted that I wasn’t born to be perfect and I will never be. After fighting for my cause in silence for a long time, I freed myself from living the perfect path they planned for me.
Although I was born and lived my life as a captive, I mustered courage and defended my beliefs. Rather than spending my time questioning my existence, I took action and promised to myself that “everything has to end in me.”
All the unhealthy mindset that has been brought down by generation to generation should end in me. So, my younger sister doesn’t need to experience the brutality and so with everyone.
For quite some time now, I need not do the same things as everyone one does. That glint of hope once invisible was powerful enough that I achieved transcendence—conscious understanding of connections. Your action will create an effect. If you do something bad because you feel bad, you help others to continue the same. However, it’s different when you do something good although you feel bad because you’re spreading good things.
By understanding this basic concept of the universe, I slowly gained control of my life.
You see, you can’t expect small good things to bring only small desirable results. Those tiny things can also make a big impact. You’ll never know when a simple gesture of kindness can bring down even the strongest wall of tyranny.
Because you know what, I could have chosen the other path and tore my family apart. I could have rebelled and caused more trouble not only for my family but for the community. But I knew it wasn’t the answer.
Indeed, by showing simple gestures of love, being empathic, and understanding the 5 ways I shared with you today, I survived and succeeded from an abuse nobody could ever imagine. Not even you.