Child Sexual Abuse

Child Sexual Abuse • What Did Child Sexual Abuse Do?

Child sexual abuse is such a traumatic violation that it’s victims often forget that it occurred. But the emotional scars live on, confusing in their seeming meaninglessness. Ongoing problems with relationships, sex, trust, touch, addictions, paralyzing depression, and guilt can, when the cause is unknown, feel crazy and out of control.

This checklist below can be used to help adult survivors identify themselves and know that there are real reasons for their unrelenting difficulties. That in fact, these problems are actually desperate attempts to cope with the impossible pain.

  • Fear of being alone in the dark, fear of sleeping alone, nightmares or night terrors (especially of pursuit, threat or entrapment)
  • Swallowing and gagging sensitivity, repugnance to water on the face when bathing or swimming (suffocation feelings)
  • Alienation from body, not at home in own body, failure to heed signals of body, failure to take care of body, poor body image, manipulating body size to avoid sexual attention
  • Gastrointestinal problems, GYN disorders (including spontaneous vaginal infections), headaches, arthritis or joint pain
  • Wearing a lot of clothing even in summer, baggy clothing, failure to remove clothing even when appropriate to do so (while swimming, bathing, sleeping), extreme requirement for privacy when using the bathroom
  • Eating disorders, drug/ alcohol abuse (or total abstinence), other addictions, compulsive behaviors
  • Skin carving, self abuse (physical pain is manageable), self-destructive
  • Phobias
  • Need to be invisible, perfect or perfectly bad
  • Suicidal thoughts, attempts, obsessions (including passive suicide)
  • Depression (sometimes paralyzing), seemingly baseless crying
  • Anger issues, inability to recognize own or expressed anger, fear of actual or imagined rage, constant anger, intense hostility toward entire gender or ethnic group of the perpetrator
  • Splitting (depersonalization), going into shock, shutdown in a crisis or stressful situation, always in a crisis, psychic numbing, physical pain or numbness associated with a particular memory or emotion (e.g. anger) or situation (e.g. sex)
  • Rigid control of thought process, humorlessness or extreme solemnity
  • Childhood hiding, hanging on or cowering in corners (security seeking behaviors), adult nervousness over being watched or surprised, feeling watched, startle response
  • Trust issues, inability to trust (trust is not safe), too total trust, trusting indiscriminately
  • High risk taking (“daring the fates”), inability to take risks
  • Boundary issues, control, power, territorial issues, fear of losing control, obsessive/compulsive behaviors (attempting to control things that don’t matter just to control something), power/sex confusion
  • Guilt/shame/low self esteem/feeling worthless/high appreciation of small favors by others
  • Pattern of being a victim (victimizing oneself after being victimized by others), especially sexually, no sense of own power or right to set limits or say “no”, patterns of relationships with much older persons (onset in adolescence)
  • Feeling demand to “produce to be loved”, instinctively knowing and doing whatever the other person needs or wants, relationships mean big trade-off’s (“love” was taken, not given)
  • Abandonment issues
  • Blocking out some period of early years (especially 1 – 12) or a specific person or event or place
  • Feeling of carrying an awful secret, urge to tell/fear of it being revealed, certainty no one will listen, being generally secretive, feeling “marked” (the scarlet letter)
  • Feeling crazy, feeling different, feeling oneself to be unreal and everyone else to be real or vice versa, creating fantasy worlds, relationships or identities (especially for women: imagining/wishing self to be male i.e. not a victim)
  • Denial, no awareness at all, repression of memories, pretending, minimizing (it wasn’t that bad), having dreams or memories (maybe it’s my imagination – these are actually flashbacks, which is how recall begins), strong, deep, “inappropriate” negative reactions to a person, place or event, sensory flashes (a light, a place, a physical feeling), without any sense of their meaning, remembering surroundings but not the actual event. Memory may start with the least threatening event or perpetrator. Actual details of abuse may never be fully remembered, however, much recovery is possible without complete recall. Your inner guide will release memories at the pace you can handle
  • Sexual issues, sex feels dirty, aversion to being touched, especially in GYN exams, strong aversion to (or need for) particular sex acts, feeling betrayed by one’s body, trouble integrating sexuality and emotionality, confusion or overlapping of affection/sex/dominance/aggression/violence, having to pursue power in sexual arena, which is actually sexual acting out (self abuse, manipulation), abuse of others, compulsively “seductive” or compulsively asexual, must be aggressor or cannot be, impersonal “promiscuous” sex with strangers concurrent with inability to have sex in intimate relationships (conflict between sex and caring), prostitute, stripper, sex symbol, porn actress, sexual “acting out” to meet anger or revenge needs, sexaholism or sexual addiction, avoidance of sex, shutdown, crying after orgasm, all pursuit feels like violation, sexualizing of all meaningful relationships, erotic response to abuse or anger, sexual fantasies of dominance/real rape (results in guilt and confusion). Note: Homosexuality is not an after-effect
  • Pattern of ambivalent or intensely conflictual relationships (in true intimacy, issues are more likely to surface, in problem relationships the focus can be shifted from real issues of abuse). Note: Partners of survivors often suffer consequences of post-incest syndrome, especially sex and relationship issues
  • Avoidance of mirrors (connected with invisibility, shame/ self esteem issues, distrust of perceived body image)
  • Desire to change one’s name to dissociate from the perpetrator or to take control through self labeling
  • Limited tolerance for happiness, active withdrawal from and reluctance to trust happiness
  • Aversion to noise making including during sex, crying, laughing, or other body functions, verbal hyper-vigilance (careful monitoring of one’s words), quiet voiced especially when needing to be heard
  • Stealing (adults), stealing and fire-starting (children)
  • Multiple personality

You probably ticked off a number of these and that is normal if you are an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Feel free to contact us to discuss this. Call 083 484 9409 or write to help@crisiscentre.org.za now. Also take a look at our other resources on the menu for childhood sexual abuse. You don’t have to go through this alone any more. Ask us for help.

Here are a few comments from other survivors to encourage you:

“When I first went through this checklist I marked 28 of the 34 things on the list. Now after working through this stuff with the counselor at Rape Crisis Helderberg I only have 7 and those 7 are not bothering me every day in my day-to-day life anymore, they are there only sometimes now as well. The one’s I still have left are minor, sort of more like the kind of problems a ‘normal’ person has. It is possible to get rid of all of these problems…I believe that now.”

“It’s nice to have the checklist to see your own progress, cause as you get better you mark off less and less.”

“The checklist gives me hope that I’m not crazy – all this crazy stuff is from something, there’s a reason now.”

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