Photographic negative of London’s “Big Ben” (picture taken from a bus), Author Diane from Chicago suburb, Source flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)

Photos used to come with negatives when I was a girl.  These were reverse images on strips of plastic film, with light areas appearing dark, dark areas appearing light, and colors reversed.

We would sort through our photos for the best, then resubmit the corresponding negatives for processing, so that copies and enlargements could be made from them.

Instead of storing images as patterns of darkness and light, today’s digital cameras store images as long strings of numbers.  Film isn’t, strictly speaking, necessary.  But negatives have something to teach us.

Hard on Ourselves

As abuse victims, we find it easy to be hard on ourselves.  It’s second nature to us – as if we were specially trained to see only the negative aspects of our lives.  And, of course, we were.

We question our every action, criticize our every decision – past, present, and future:

  • Why couldn’t we have avoided the situations in which abuse occurred or have prevented it outright? As if children had such options…or such power.
  • Why did it take us so long to figure things out? As if abuse weren’t incomprehensible to children, and understanding proceeded according to a set timetable.
  • Why do we keep making the same mistakes? As if abuse had not impacted us at a formative stage in our lives.
  • How will we ever leave our abusers, support ourselves, succeed at work or school? As if we were “damaged goods” for having survived an unbearable ordeal.

This ongoing critique should not be confused with a genuine effort to improve our character or atone for some sin [1].  It originated as an attack by our abusers on who we are, an attack on our very being.

Judgment Passed

Judgment has already been passed against us by our abusers.  We are simply carrying out their sentence – lifelong punishment for the failure to meet insane expectations, for the unpardonable “sin” of intruding on their lives.

But judgment was passed without any real evidence.


We may have been told as children that our eye color or hair color or some other feature was ugly.  We may have been told by a spouse that we were too thin or too fat, too short or too tall, too smart or too dumb.  We may have been told we were unwanted, and would remain forever unloved.

That does not make it true.  That does not make any of it true.

But abuse victims believe those lies.  We accept them at face value, and incorporate them into the opinion we have of ourselves.  Frequently, we conclude that we are defective or worthless.  We live with that shadow hanging over us – a negative of the lives we were meant to live.

Truth and Beauty

” ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty…’ ”

-John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

Just as photography requires exposure to light, so do our lives require exposure to the truth, if we are to live them to the fullest.

Film is still prized by fine art photographers.  In the hands of a master like Ansel Adams, for instance, photographs of great beauty can be produced.

Our lives are in the hands of the Master of the Universe.  Even now, even after all the harm done to us, He is capable of making something beautiful out of them.

“…and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61: 3).

[1]  As abuse victims, we are not responsible for the sins committed against us by our abusers.  Like all human beings, however, we can sin in other areas.



Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse

25 responses to “Negative

  1. Yes I too remember negatives and sorting through them to find the corresponding one(s) to our favourite photo(s) in order to reproduce further copies. We held the negatives up to the light in order to see the image clearly. Your analogy is perfect – survivors of abuse have a choice – we can hold ourselves up to the light and see the beauty that exists in us. Negatives are a reflection of what we truly are and not what we have been wrongly trained to believe. When we look through ‘negatives’ this way, the outcome can only be a positive one. Great post Anna!

  2. Oh, my gosh, Anna…your creativity, grace, compassion, imagination, faith, intelligence, and generosity of spirit are such blessings…your analogy is so engaging and illustrative….thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. You are so sweet…I am happy for you… 🙂

  4. Looking at the negative view of Big Ben gives us a whole different perspective than what the “real” picture looks like. The same is true for those of us that see ourselves through darkness. Once our minds are renewed with Light it’s a whole different perspective. Darkness cannot live in light.

  5. Beauty can come out of ashes. I love the hope and positivity that you share here.

  6. “Just as photography requires exposure to light, so do our lives require exposure to the truth, if we are to live them to the fullest”….

    So well said… I liked that you quoted Keats, too. Beauty is Truth (and viceversa).
    And the photography analogies are so accurate. Light is most times related to redemption, rebirth and confidence, which are so important, mainly to those who have to “rebuild” themselves after going through abusive relationships. A great post, dear Anna… thank you… wishing you a nice week ❤

  7. You have a very insightful way of writing. Wonderful article.

  8. Thank you very much for this wonderful sharing dear you are so sweet
    Have a very nice day

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