Today's 5 Q&A is with Judy Gregerson, author of Bad Girls Club
1.) Who are you?
Well, I grew up on Long Island, at the very eastern end which is very much like Cape Cod. When I graduated from high school, I went to the State University of New York at Oswego and Stony Brook and then worked in Manhattan for four years. That’s when I published my first book, Save Me! A Young Woman’s Journey Through Schizophrenia to Health. I also worked in advertising and publishing and then I moved to the Pacific Northwest where I raised two girls (now college age) and started on my next book. I am a parentification survivor, meaning that I was a child who became the parent and took care of my mother and my sister as my family spiraled out of control.
2.) Do you think it's possible to ever totally heal from the damage caused by child abuse?
That’s a good question! I think that research now shows that abuse or trauma do make changes to the brains of young children. My understanding is that it imprints on the brain somehow. But more importantly, I think that living in a situation like that teaches kids patterns of thinking and behaving that can be overcome but are very difficult to change. When a child has been beat down like that, it’s very hard to change their self-image. It requires a lot of work and the desire to truly change your life.
Most adults I talk to who were abused have digestive problems and auto-immune problems, which I find interesting, but I’ve never seen a study on what percentage do or don’t. But that tells me that so much has been internalized and the body has turned on itself, which is really sad.
Totally heal? I’m not sure. I think you can overcome a lot of it. With work and help, I think you can go on to lead a happy, fulfilling life. But there’s much to overcome and many people won’t look back or won’t look inside at what they’ve pushed down and many people I talk to who suffered from some form of abuse have anxiety problems, experience dissociative episodes, or are depressed as adults. Those are all good reasons to get help when you’re young and escape abuse as quickly as you can.
3.) What advice would you give a child who is being abused and is old enough to ask for help, but is afraid?
I would suggest that they find an adult they trust, someone they can tell the truth. Abused kids are afraid of losing their parents and families. Any child would be afraid of losing their family, but for an abused child, it’s more dire because they can tend to be protective of the abusing parent. But if they have someone they trust—a teacher, a nurse, an aunt, a grandparent—someone who will help them and listen to them, I think they can get help.
4.) What can the average American do to help regarding the issue of child abuse?
Be aware. I’m not talking about calling CPS on mothers who have stern words with their children in grocery stores because I’ve seen that and I think it’s ridiculous. I’m talking about being aware in your own community. We all come in contact with kids all the time. People ask for help in nonverbal ways.
We used to have a neighbor kid who talked about how he dreamed about being sexually abused. My kid told me about that and at the time, I was suspicious, but I didn’t know what to do. I surely didn’t want to go accuse the parents. What I should have done was talk to a professional and ask them how to handle it. I did nothing because I was afraid of interfering. And I think that most people feel that way. We’re afraid of interfering, being wrong, and being humiliated for jumping into someone’s business. But if you watch nonverbal cues, if you ask kids who are at-risk if they need help, you are making yourself available and they might jump at the chance to tell someone what is going on. Open your eyes.
5.) What's next?
I’m working on a new book, putting together a radio talk show, and trying to get both my kids through college. I do some freelance marketing work and I try to have some fun along the way.
If anyone is interested in my book BAD GIRLS CLUB, they can find out more about it at www.judygregerson.com.
Thanks so much, Judy!