Thank you for writing to us about what happened to you as a child.
This is a very long letter because unfortunately I do not know of anyone in particular in Midrand who can help you. But you can call us on 083 484 9409 or 021-850 4761 or ask us to call you. Also you can contact one of the rape counsellors in the Midrand area. Midrand Support Centre 011-315 8498 or Midrand Trauma Line 082 346 0388 or Lifeline 011-422 4242.
Everything you have said in the letter are struggles that other survivors of childhood sexual abuse also battle with. Take a look HERE at all the different things that survivors of childhood sexual abuse can battle with. So first of all you are not strange – you are also not alone. But most important – you don’t have to struggle with this for the rest of your life.
When sexual abuse happens to us as children, we tend to cope with the resulting problems in various ways. As we grow up and become adults these coping methods that helped us survive can become self-destructive and damaging to our lives and relationships. This is not fair, just as the sexual abuse is not fair. The perpetrator leaves us with long-term problems. When the initial sexual abuse happens it is the perpetrator who is in the wrong and chooses to commit a crime. The perpetrator is fully responsible for anything they do to you. Nothing you did or did not do makes the sexual abuse your fault. Most survivors sit as adults with a large number of problems such as trust issues, anger issues, boundary issues and relationship problems to name just a few and all they want is to be normal, but as hard as they try to fix their lives up, there is always something that they almost “can’t” control that causes them to fail and mess things up.
You are not that old, and in fact many of the people we help with the same kind of problems are much, much older than you. What you say about things getting harder to fix the longer you wait is true because your problems create more problems. For example, a lady sexually abused as a child has boundary problems in almost all cases and this leads to entering into relationships that are often abusive – emotionally, sexually, physically etc. This then adds to their problems and their pain. If you look at this list of all the different things that survivors of childhood sexual abuse can battle with you can see that most of these things will cause pain and difficulties in life. You can stop this in your own life and get over the depression, the anger and the other troubles you might have.
Whenever someone experiences trauma, she or he will go through several different stages. The five listed here are most typical, but there may be others too. A person will spend varying amounts of time in any one stage (it can be years). Some stages may be skipped altogether; many people recycle back and forth in random and varied order through them. With the help of a counsellor trained in working with childhood sexual abuse you can start to heal.
We know and believe in our hearts that we were innocent victims. We know that we didn’t control the abuse. We don’t have to convince anyone else of our innocence. We truly love the child inside us; we believe her and we treat her with respect. Inside, we have merged both parent and child. We are not powerless anymore. Recovery is possible. We can bloom where we’re planted. Incest is one part of our lives, only one part!
Recovery is a process; eventually we will settle in acceptance. Until then, we must remember that patience is something that we give ourselves today, and that this too shall pass.
Any sexual contact, covert or overt, between a child and a trusted individual, damage the child, whether these contacts included suggestive remarks, pornography, fondling, acts of sexual aggression or torture. These need to be dealt with assertively. These contacts scar virtually all facets of victims’ lives since we are left with little or no self-esteem. At least one out of five boys and one out of three girls will be abused before they reach the age of eighteen. The child’s emotional growth will be arrested at the age of the first attack, and the victim will probably not begin to recover until adulthood, if ever (often due to staying in the denial stage).
Anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse. Anyone can be an abuser, especially if the perpetrator is perceived by the child to be in authority, including father, grandfather, uncle, mother, brother, friend of the family, aunt, teacher, clergy or another child – the list is endless.
Some of the social maladjustments arising from sexual abuse are alcoholism, drug addiction, self-injury, prostitution, promiscuity and sexual dysfunction. Eating or sleeping disorders, migraines, back or stomach pains are just a few of the physical consequences that we may suffer. Food, sex, alcohol and/or drugs deaden painful memories of the abuse and obscure reality temporarily. If we perceive obesity to be unattractive, and if we believe we were abused because we were attractive, we may overeat in a misguided attempt to defend ourselves from further sexual assault.
“I felt like throwing up” is a common response among victims, and bulimia is a way of acting out that feeling. Anorexia can be another form of self-punishment, eventually leading to the ultimate self-victimization, suicide.
A number of emotional problems may emerge from the abuse, including inability to trust, perfectionism, phobias, avoidance of both intimacy and emotional bonding. The denial system that insured our survival as children now prevents us from enjoying unencumbered adulthoods. We don’t trust our own perceptions; we were forced to become an expert in disbelieving our own senses. We tried to convince ourselves that we overreacted and that nothing really terrible happened: “My daddy would never REALLY hurt me”. When reality is too painful for children’s minds, we learn to fictionalize. It is extremely painful to give up the fantasy family since children see themselves either in reflected glory or disgraced shadows. Therefore, we sometimes make excuses for the abuser: “He was drunk at the time”, “He had it rough as a child.” We take responsibility for the assault(s): “I was too attractive”, “I was too sexy.” The abuser probably reinforced our own nagging guilt and questions we had concerning our own innocence. Essentially, we defend the perpetrator by minimizing, rationalizing and taking on the blame. If we continue to use these coping mechanisms as adults, we are set up to be abused in current relationships. With a support group or counsellor, we can learn to accept the fact that we were abused rather than loved by the abuser. We can learn to seek out only healthy, loving relationships. We have been accustomed to accepting only crumbs, believing that we do not deserve anything better.
We may have parenting problems, always second-guessing decisions, which is another result of distrusting our own perceptions. We may: avoid parenting altogether, try to be a perfect parent or repeat the abuse. The worst possible consequence is when we perpetuate the abuse onto the next generation.
Another repercussion of sexual abuse is that we often regard authority figures with anxiety. Passivity is comfortable because it is familiar, and we may accept familiar misery rather than risk unfamiliar change. An experiment in learned helplessness was conducted in which dogs were forced to endure painful electric shocks without means of escape. A second group of dogs were compelled to endure shocks and quickly escaped when it was possible. When the first group was shocked again, with escape now possible, they did not leave. They had been conditioned to endure pain. This experiment explains why so many of us are sexually abused as adults by therapists, spouses, counselors, doctors or bosses. We are accustomed to losing battles and to feeling powerless. We may not believe we can win. Assertion is a difficult concept for sexual abuse victims.
Our inability to trust affects our sexual relationships, too. Women who have been abused by men will often say, “I don’t trust any men, they only want sex.” Boys abused by women may feel that all women are threatening. Abused boys may feel compelled to believe they MUST be homosexual. The assaults have sometimes been associated with emotional or physical pleasure, and this fact reinforces the suspicion that we must be homosexual: “Both my uncle and a male teacher were attracted to me, and it feels good, I liked it, so I must be gay.” In defense of the abuser, we may say, “I must be gay, and my abuser sensed it, that’s all.”
Another result of the confliction of messages of sexual abuse is that many of us confuse sex with affection and love. Many women will say, “The only time my father ever gave me any attention was in bed”, “I was special to him then”, “I felt loved.” Since she desperately needs validation, this woman may become promiscuous. She needs to know that a promiscuous child is often the result, but never the cause of sexual abuse. She believes if someone has sex with her, then that partner automatically loves her. She has confused sex and love.
When the abuse is physically violent, perhaps even painful, we may confuse sex with control and power. A typical comment might be, “When I have sex with someone, I feel like s/he is controlling my body. I feel that as I respond to her/him, s/he is manipulating me, and I am a puppet all over again.” We may shut off all sexual feelings and retreat from all sexual contact: we fear everyone that will use and abuse us.
Changing self-destructive patterns is a slow process, but with a support group or counsellor we can learn that it is possible. It takes tremendous strength for us to put ourselves in a position to examine and feel this pain. We need incredible courage and reliable professional help. At Rape Crisis Helderberg, a 12-step self-help recovery program is an available resource for adult survivors. We can send you some of the literature, but unfortunately there isn’t a support group like this in Midrand. A statement read at the end of each meeting remind us: “The pain is temporary, but denial and its consequences are forever.” When we tire of the consequences, and become willing to work diligently on the sexual abuse issues, we are then on the way to living our lives as survivors rather than victims.
There are books that will help you, these include: The Courage To Heal by Laura Davis and Helen Bass (… MORE) and to learn healthy boundaries, a boundary course or books such as Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud (… MORE) will help you do this.
You are welcome to write to me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can get over this.