Posted by: Marie | October 12, 2009

(162) Coping as a way to survive

Post #162
[Book study – Tuesday, June 23, 2009]

The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
(Third Edition, 1994)
by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis

Part One: Taking Stock
Coping: Honoring What You Did to Survive

[Table of Contents]


Green text: Quotes/Summaries from the book
Gray text: My words

This transformative work (the entire series of blog posts relating to this book) constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright law.


Coping is what you did to survive the trauma of being sexually abused. There is a continuum of coping behaviors. You may have run away from home or turned to alcohol or drugs. You may have become a super-achiever, excelling in school and taking care of your brothers and sisters at home. You may have forgotten what happened to you, withdrawn into yourself, or cut off your feelings. With few resources for taking care of yourself, you survived with whatever means were available.

The Island by Martin Chen

The Island by Martin Chen

Many survivors criticize themselves for the ways they coped. You may not want to admit some of the things you had to do to survive. But coping is nothing to be ashamed of. You survived, and it’s important to honor your resourcefulness.

While some of the ways you’ve coped have developed into strengths (being successful at your work, becoming self-sufficient, developing a sense of humor, being good in a crisis), others have become self-defeating patterns (stealing, drug or alcohol abuse, compulsive overeating). Often one behavior will have both healthy and destructive aspects. Healing requires that you differentiate between the two. Then you can celebrate your strengths while you start changing the patterns that no longer serve you.

You Can Change

When you were a child, you did not have many options. Now you have more resources. You can recognize self-destructive patterns. You can pick and choose among your coping behaviors. You can discard the ones that no longer work for you and keep the positive skills you’ve developed.

The starting point is to look at the ways you coped and to forgive yourself. You have no reason to be ashamed. You did the best you could as a child under impossible circumstances. You have earned the name “survivor.” Now, you are an adult with the power to change. From a place of acceptance and love you can do so.

This is an opportunity for you to write about your experience of coping – how you remember it, how you’re still doing it, how it’s affected your life. Write with as much detail as you can, always from the perspective of honoring what you did.


Minimizing means pretending that whatever happened wasn’t really that bad . . . Kids growing up surrounded by abuse often believe that everyone else grows up the same way.

I think I do minimize what happened within my family (the physical, verbal and emotional abuse) because my dad minimized it – he told us that it was the way really good families operated and we should be glad we came from a really good family. Now, I can see that the methods my parents used were not healthy but that they were/are good people and had good intentions. I also know it was not as bad as it could have been – not by a long way.

Rationalizing is the means by which children explain away abuse . . . They invent reasons that excuse the abuser (“he couldn’t help himself”, “she had a good reason”) . . . Rationalizing keeps the focus on the abuser . . . It’s a way of trying to forgive [the abuser], instead of allowing the real anger and fury [the abused] feels.

Yes, I rationalize my parents’ behavior because I totally understand why my parents did what they did. It was the best they knew to do and they did it out of love. They both came from very abusive families and they made a conscious choice to do better – and they did do much better than the example they had been given. Not only was the abuse significantly less, the “punishments” were mostly done out of love and not out of anger, meanness or drunkenness.

I think about my own life – by the grace of God, I didn’t have children. If I would have had children, especially if I would have had them in my 20’s, I’m sure I would have repeated the pattern. I wasn’t even aware, until my 30’s, that I had been damaged by being “punished” – and I am just now becoming aware to what extent – and I have had the benefit of having ready access to volumes of information on modern psychological theories that my parents didn’t have.

This is the age of self-improvement. We are now being taught that everyone can benefit from therapy and parenting classes – that going to therapy and getting help is a good thing, not a shameful thing – that beating a child is not always the best policy. My parents didn’t have that benefit. If it took me this long, even without the distraction of marriage and babies, to figure it out, how can I expect my parents to have figured it out before I was born?

I understand that the way my parents chose to discipline/punish me was not good – but, it was the best they knew. So, this is my dilemma – if my way of thinking is classified as rationalizing, then yes, I am rationalizing. And, I imagine I’ll continue this rationalizing until someone can show me fault with my logic.

Quotes 074


  1. I guess rationalising is explaining away rather than explaining.

    I really have very mixed feelings knowing that the abusers were behaving better than their abusers behaved to them. This is awful and horrible, a dreadful thing to have to come to terms with.

    • Hey, Evan –

      Wow . . . your sentence, “I guess rationalising is explaining away rather than explaining” really hit home for me. That seems like the piece of the puzzle that was missing for me.

      It is a bit tough for me to read the word “abusers” in your comment in reference to my parents — I know there was abuse, but I haven’t been able to call them abusers.

      Thank you for your compassionate words . . .

      – Marie

  2. There’s a book by E. Sue Blume called Secret Survivors and she talks about why kids must tell themselves they have loving parents in order to survive.

    Great post.

    • Hi, April Optimist –

      That sounds like a good book . . . maybe it would help me come to a peaceful place with this internal conflict.

      Thanks for letting me know about it!

      – Marie

  3. I have minimized and rationalized my ex-parter behaviors for years and finally when I seem to get a little better, I become the abuser. I will never forgive myself b/c I did it in front of my kids. I am very damaged and sometimes I think they would do better with someone else. I am loosing the battle. I hate him, he ruined my life and I dont know how to live without him and can not live with him. I hate myself.

    • Hi, Atabex –

      It sounds like you are in wrestling some pretty heavy-duty issues within yourself and that you are feeling a lot of pain right now. I am so sorry that life has brought you to this place.

      I do hear that you are taking responsibility for your role in the situation and that you are holding your ex responsible for his part — those are good steps towards a better result. Do you have anyone with whom you can work through this (like a therapist or trusted friend)?

      My thoughts are with you . . . I appreciate your sharing what is happening with you.

      – Marie

  4. Minimizing is a hard one for me. I seem to be always trying to wrap my head around what really happened to me. I actually never thought it was that bad until I started seeing the reactions of others toward it. I still get surprised when people say “how awful”.

    • Hi, lostinamaze –

      I have the same experience . . . I keep thinking, “Well, I always had wholesome food and good clothes and a soft bed and parents who were doing the best they knew . . . I have no room to complain!”

      What I have to realize is that there were a lot of really good parts . . . and a few really bad parts . . . and I was affected by all of it, for the better and for the worse. It’s not all one way or the other, it is a mix.

      Tough one . . .

      – Marie

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