Physical After Effects:
The physical nature of child sexual abuse seems clear, yet it is not. We believe when we see the child's body injured or maimed from sexual abuse, we can treat and account for the physical effects. Unless a therapeutic process specifically facilitated for sexual abuse or incest is completed, the survivor suffers on all levels throughout his or her life.
Some common physical after effects of sexual abuse are: alienation from the body--not accepting one's body image; failing to heed body signals or take care of one's body; manipulating body size to avoid sexual attention; difficulty in having intercourse or instigating vaginisums, which prevent penetration, aversion to the male body, aversion to non-sexual intimacy. Men experience erectile dysfunction, ejaculation issues, aversion to the female body, aversion to non-sexual intimacy.
Sexual abuse can weaken survivors' immune system according to Dr. Frank Putnam of the National Institute of Mental Health and Dr. Martin Teicher of Harvard Medical School. Putnam conducted studies on 170 girls, 6-15 years old--half had been sexually abused, half had not--for seven years. The abused girls displayed symptoms such as: abnormally high stress hormones, which can kill neurons in brain areas crucial for thinking and memory 'high levels of an antibody that weaken the immune system.'
Teicher completed a series of brain studies on 402 children and adults, many of whom had been sexually or physically abused. His findings revealed that sexual or physical abuse creates:
• arrested growth of the left hemisphere of the brain which can hamper development of language and logic
• growth of the right hemisphere of the brain (the site for emotion) at an abnormally early age
The result of a weakened immune system includes more profound as well as seldom recognized physical aftereffects such as: vaginal, ovarian, breast cancer and testicular or prostrate cancer. Louise Hay in her book, Heal Your Body--The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them, stated: "A few years ago, I was diagnosed as having cancer of the vagina. With my background of being raped when I was five years old and being a battered child, it was no wonder I had manifested cancer in the vaginal area. Having already been a teacher of healing for several years, I was very aware that I was now being given a chance to practice on myself and prove what I had been teaching others. Being aware that cancer comes from a pattern of deep resentment that is held for a long time, until it literally eats away at the body, I knew I had a lot of mental work to do. I immediately began to work with my own teacher to clear old patterns of resentment. Up to that time, I had not acknowledged that I harbored deep resentment. We are often so blind to our own patterns. A lot of forgiveness work was in order. The other thing I did was to go to a good nutritionist and completely detoxify my body. So between the mental and physical cleansing, in six months I was able to get the medical profession to agree with what I already knew; that I no longer had any form of cancer. I still keep the original lab report as a reminder of how negatively creative I could be."
Other physical After Effects of sexual abuse/incest may include the following: gastrointestinal problems, gynecological disorders (may include spontaneous bleeding and vaginal infections), headaches, migraines, arthritis, joint pain, eating disorders, and alcohol or drug abuse. Many studies and midwives’ first-hand experiences have noted a high correlation between women, who are sexual abuse survivors and women, who require cesarean deliveries. The sexual abuse victim makes a gallant effort to prevent the rape by tightening her vaginal muscles. The tightening response often occurs even years later, such as in childbirth; in these instances, a woman may be unable to relax her vaginal muscles, which is natural and necessary for a vaginal delivery.
Fortunately, if midwives are made aware of prior sexual abuse, there are methods to assist in a vaginal delivery. If you are a survivor, be sure to inform your doctor or midwife. If your doctor does not know how to assist you in this regard, search until you find someone who does--It is worth the effort. Another profound aftereffect of sexual abuse and incest is self-injury. Karen Conterio, a Chicago-based consultant specializing in self-injury, along with Armando Favazzo, a psychiatrist, sent a survey to 1,250 people; 250 responded. The results were published in Community Mental Health Journal, 'The Plight of Chronic Self-Mutilators.' Self-injuring behavior refers to cutting, self-abuse, self-mutilation, para-suicide, and deliberate self-harm. The most common self-injuring behaviors are cutting, burning, breaking bones, pinching skin, ingesting, injecting and inserting foreign materials, interfering with the healing process of wounds, punching, slapping, picking skin, pulling hair, and bloodletting. In the 30+ years I have worked with sexual abuse and incest survivors, the majority of my clients have exhibited one or more of these self-injuring behaviors before or during treatment. Survivors state that they are unable to accept or express uncomfortable or overwhelming feelings due to underlying emotional conflicts. They further state that physical pain is more manageable than emotional pain. Physical pain is tangible, while emotional pain is intangible. Physical wounds are obvious and can be attended to with observable results.
Ironically, physical wounds provide a distraction from the emotional pain. Furthermore, society overall responds with significant empathy when anyone is physically injured. However, society's response to emotional pain is quite different--one is told to .snap out of it,. ‘quit your belly-aching,’ ‘you're making it up,’ ‘why are you bringing that up,’ ‘it happened [ten years] ago--forget it and move on.’ Other less obvious forms of self-injury are: hatred of the body, self-hatred, numbing feelings, guilt, and self-loathing. Besides suffering the physical trauma, the survivor questions why she or he did not defend himself or herself. The victim often reasons that they were to blame because, perhaps, they had some desire for sexual contact. Frequently, survivors remember experiencing sexual pleasure; therefore, they blame themselves for the abuse.
Perpetrators and society overall points to the fact that erection, ejaculation and/or orgasm are proof that the survivor must have wanted or enjoyed the sexual contact. Thus, the reasoning is that no actual abuse took place and, therefore, no treatment is needed. The survivor suffers in silence and seldom equates his or her pain and anguish with the sexual abuse that occurred long ago. For the victim, the effects of the abuse do not seem connected to present issues, or the act(s) or trauma has been forgotten (psychogenic amnesia).
Because the survivor believes her body has betrayed her, she hates her body. She 'shuts herself off' from her body, seeing it as something ugly, unattractive and something she cannot trust will function as she deems. In some paradoxical way, victims see their bodies as having minds of their own--possessing powers or abilities that arouse sexual desire in others. Many survivors see their bodies as both distasteful and dangerous. A recently divorced 55-year-old male client, who was abused at age 10 by a 14-year-old girl, believed every woman was attracted to him and desired him sexually. He assumed that he and I would eventually be sexual. He was shocked to learn that I had no intention of being sexual and was not having difficulty maintaining that boundary. He believed he could seduce any woman he wanted. He was disappointed to learn he did not have the power he thought he possessed and, simultaneously, was relieved he could maintain a non-sexual relationship with a woman he considered attractive. Another physical aftereffect of sexual abuse is the tendency to be ‘accident-prone.’ This means the survivor does not pay attention to his or her body in relation to his or her surroundings and tends to bump into things or injure himself or herself by misjudging space between objects and their bodies. This phenomenon is also prevalent with children who have been spanked. Another form of unconscious physical injury is becoming a ‘daredevil’ or participating in high-risk activities.
Mental After Effects:
When the child's physical boundaries are violated, his or her mind is also violated. The insidious nature of the mental abuse can be explained by using the analogy of the reactions of a deer when its eyes are exposed to the headlights of an oncoming car. The deer becomes so disoriented by the blinding light that it jumps toward the car instead of away from it--so it is with the child who has been sexually abused. Once abused, the child believes his or her body is something that others control.
Frequently, survivors protect their psyche by way of a dissociative response. Survivors report they ‘left' their body or 'checked out,’ ‘zoned out,’ so the abuse happened ‘to my body and not to me.’ The signs of a dissociative state are ‘freezing,’ ‘spacing out,’ difficulty with concentration (diagnosed as ADD or ADHD), forgetting, staring, emotional numbness or unreality. All of these states hinder the person in achieving healthy, appropriate functioning. Reality is defined by the perpetrator, who uses many methods of distortion and deception. Frequently, the perpetrator tells the victim that what she or he thinks is happening is really not. Often, the abuse is ignored or even denied by everyone in the family. Anyone who dares to discuss the topic is told that they are crazy, that it never happened. The fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes has become the family dynamic. The survivor is subsequently labeled a 'little liar,' who cannot be trusted.
Another violation of the child that causes mental trauma is to blame the victim; this is done by convincing everyone (usually the mother) that the child 'wanted' or allowed the sexual contact and furthermore, enjoyed it. Some perpetrators are audacious and accuse the child as 'coming onto' him and he was defenseless to her incessent behavior. This reational describes the child as a villan with some emotional, physical and social power over him.
Additionally, perpetrators often rename the abuse. The sexual activity is presented as a ‘game’ and the perpetrator is ‘choosing,’ the child as his special play partner. Effects of this type of sexual violation cause the victim to place uncertainty and shame upon themselves; victims may wonder, “What is .wrong. with me that I feel so 'bad,' and 'yucky,' when this is supposed to be fun and I was chosen because I am special.”
Perpetrators use a plethora of explanations to justify the abuse; they tell the child such things as, 'I am doing this so you will know what sex is about.' A female client's father used sexual abuse as punishment for bad behavior. If she and her sister had sibling arguments, the punishment for her, the older of the two, was to perform oral sex on him. She explained, 'How my mother did not know this was going on, I do not know. He took me into the family room, unzipped his pants and told me to take his penis in my mouth. I complied for fear of other more grave consequences.' In addition to this sexual abuse, he came into her bedroom late at night or early morning and raped her. When he was done, he walked out of the room and later greeted her at the breakfast table as if nothing was amiss.
No matter which justification technique is employed, the outcome remains the same--the child learns to distrust his or her own view of reality. Even more traumatic is when the abuse takes place after the child is asleep. Frequently, the child reasons and believes that his or her only defense is to lie still and act as if they are asleep, hoping the abuser will leave. Sometimes the child cries out, assuming the parent will stop because, 'they are being hurt,' to no avail. Then the child is sometimes punished for this indiscresion.
In some circumstances, the abuser may act as if he or she is comforting the child after a bad dream. The child is then faced with a reality dilemma, 'Did I dream it or did I experience what I think I experienced?' The abuser does not discuss it openly; if he does, the motive is to dissuade the child from believing the experience. This covert abuse is particularly powerful in convincing the child not to trust his or her thoughts and perceptions of the world.
As described in physical aftereffects, dissociation is a common response for survivors. Dissociation also affects mental aspects of sexual abuse and incest. Unfortunately, the dissociating response often continues into adulthood and many people dissociate, even in situations that are not abusive. This response keeps them emotionally distant and unable to achieve a high level of intimacy with others, or to function effectively at work. Frequently, people such as this are given labels, such as: 'stupid,' 'air heads,' 'slow,' 'ADD,' obsessive compulsive disorder, schizoaffective disorder, schizoid disorder of childhood or adolescence, schizoid personality disorder, or other schizophrenia types. In some incidents, survivors who use the dissociative response are diagnosed as mentally retarded. These same misdiagnoses are also placed on children who have been physically punished.
One of the most damaging aspects of sexual abuse is the development of a 'victim mentality.' When a person is abused and then left to cope with it alone, they begin to form a defeatist belief about themselves and the world around them. The abused child sees the world around them as unsafe, unpredictable, dangerous, and uncontrollable. 'No one can really be trusted,' becomes their belief system. Furthermore, the victim has learned from being abused that what she or he thinks, feels, does, wants, or needs makes no difference. Although, the abuse has stopped, he or she continues to perceive himself or herself as ineffective, powerless and worthless. A person with a 'victim mentality' frequently asks questions such as, 'Why?' 'Why me?' 'Why did this happen?' They conceptualize the abuse as, 'happening,' rather than 'my mother or father hurt me,' because the reality is too painful to accept. They perceive themselves as powerless to change anything, as was the case when they were abused. This belief system persists until the core wound from the abuse has been healed.
The 'perpetrator mentality' is the most insidious aspect of the sexual abuse and/or incest trauma. While the 'victim mentality' is one of self-blame, the 'perpetrator mentality' is one of other-blame. These two debilitating mentalities fit together perfectly--the survivor believes she or he is to blame while the perpetrator believes the survivor is to blame. Even more disturbing is the fact many perpetrator’s mentality/beliefs are accepted overall by society. The perpetrator leads himself to believe such things as: ‘The child seduced me.’ ‘I couldn't help myself.’ ‘What was she doing wearing only her panties in the living room?’ He describes the child as a seductress. In other words, he is saying, 'I can't control myself and it is [his/her] fault.' Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, et al, promote the perpetrator mentality, under the protection of the freedom of speech act.
If the perpetrator does not blame other people for the abuse, he may blame circumstances for it. For example, parents often report crowded sleeping arrangements as reasons for the abuse. However, researcher S. K. Weinberg, Incest Behavior, 1955, reported that frequently when children were ‘forced’ to sleep with a parent and were sexually abused, there were other alternatives and space limitation was merely an excuse to justify the behavior.
Emotional After Effects:
The emotional aftereffects of sexual abuse and incest are very powerful. These emotions are so powerful that a survivor is afraid to be aware of them. Emotions include: Anger, rage, sadness, fear, guilt, loneliness, shame, humiliation and hurt. These emotions vary in intensity and duration. The fear of these emotions prompts the survivor to maintain a flat affect to ‘hold the pain at bay.' Unfortunately, this flat affect keeps the survivor from experiencing life fully and from achieving intimacy in any relationship. Men generally need to learn that the expression of anger need not be associated with violence, nor the expression of sadness with weakness. Women generally need to learn to speak for themselves and to accept this assertion as a human right and not disguised aggression, as some want to label assertive behavior. Nearly every sexual abuse or incest survivor incorporates shame as part of his or her identity. If this issue is not addressed, the survivor usually continues to self-abuse or to remain vulnerable to other's abuse and/or inappropriate authoritative behavior. Shame stems from neglectful or otherwise abusive relationships whereby the individual incorporates the belief she or he cannot be loved or accepted by anyone who truly knows him or her.
The case of Amy Fisher, the 16-year-old Long Island girl, who was sexually abused by 35-year-old, Joey Buttafuoco, is a classic example in which the perpetrator blames the survivor for seducing him. Buttafuoco contended she hung around his auto repair shop, acting in a way that was seductive and promiscuous, and he could not get away from her. Society further allows the perpetrator to portray himself as the misunderstood party in a society with ‘sexual hang-ups.’
Behavioral After Effects:
The behavioral aftereffect of sexual abuse or incest is very subtle. Men act tough and aggressive and women act weak and helpless are classic examples. The tougher the man acts is in exact correlation to his feelings of vulnerability, shame, guilt, humiliation and weakness. The more weak and helpless the woman acts is in exact correlation to her feelings of vulnerability, guilt, shame, humiliation and powerlessness. Sexual abuse or incest robs the person of a carefree childhood. Buried deep inside the survivor is a wounded child who needs acceptance and nurturing. As long as the survivor hates, ignores, denies, or fears that vulnerable, childlike aspect of themselves, their relationships remain superficial.
Spiritual After Effects:
The After Effects to the sexual abuse Victim's spirituality are profound, extensive and pervasive. It is a soul injury. Before the child has the opportunity to experience himself or herself as a fully functioning human being, they have been sexually abused. When they learn about God, they are taught that God protects us from harm. They often wonder such things as, 'Why didn't he protect me?' Many religions also teach that God punishes those who are 'bad.' 'I must be bad,' the child reasons, 'because God did not protect me. God must be punishing me for being bad. I am to blame. What did I do to deserve this?' Self-loathing and guilt ensues. Frequently, clients tell me they no longer believe in God. 'If God was real, why did he let me be abused?' they ask. In order to fully heal, those who have turned away from their spirituality need to find a way to reconnect with their spiritual self. Reconnecting with the sspiritual self is an intregal part of the healing process.
Relating After Effects:
The development of one's sense of self is ongoing. It is a journey, not a destination. Tragically, the sexual abuse or incest survivor's journey has been inexplicably contaminated. At the core of any healthy relationship is trust. Trust can be defined as a feeling of safety, comfort or security with another person. In healthy development, trust naturally evolves. The child cries to receive comfort, food or attention. As these cries for nurturing and caring are attended to, the child learns to trust the caregiver.
As adults, how do we decide whether to trust? We share our thoughts and feelings with someone and watch their reaction; if the response feels safe, if it is caring, non-critical and non-abusive, the first step of trust has been established. For trust to grow, this positive response needs to become part of an ongoing and reliable pattern. It need not--nor can it be--perfect. For the survivor, trust has been skewed and betrayed, sometimes before she begins to walk and talk. Intimacy is impossible without trust; for the sexual abuse or incest survivor, trust is impossible--the inherent right to intimacy has been wrenched from their emotional grasp. The inherent right to intimacy and trust can be regained through the therapeutic process vis-a-vis the subconscious mind. This distortion of intimacy teaches many confusing contradictions: to be cared about is to be taken from; to need someone puts one at risk of being taken advantage of; and to receive leads to an anticipated reciprocation. For the sexual abuse or incest survivor, intimacy equals danger and damage. Intimacy has become more threatening than sex. As a survivor, she is accustomed to dealing with sex. She has learned the rules, 'you get what you want at my expense'--and thus she detaches from her body and therefore is comfortable with the sexual interaction. The survivor equates sex with love. After all, she was told by her perpetrator that he loved her while he was sexually abusing her. She believes that she is only accepted if she is willing to 'give herself away.' She can be sexual with strangers or friends, switching into automatic (even with her partner) as she did ever since the abuse, and feels nothing. Nevertheless, at some point in a serious relationship, she will begin to feel as if something has gone wrong.
Although she is starved for intimacy, she cannot experience it. She did not experience it as a child and, therefore, does not know how to have a healthy adult relationship. Nor does she know how to choose healthy men with whom to have a relationship. She will often reenact the abuse by choosing men who are verbal, physical or sexual abuse perpetrators. While she feels threatened or abused (without seeing a connection to her experience of sexual abuse or incest, if she remembers it). She is frequently unable to empower herself; thus, the power imbalance as occurred with her initial perpetrator is manifested again.
Power imbalances in relationships take several forms. Survivors frequently become involved in sexual relationships or marriage with older and/or more powerful people, simulating previous relationships with older, more powerful abusers. The sexual abuse survivor continues to be a 'child like,' much to the delight and chagrin of her partner. The survivor may connect with men who are strong and controlling 'protectors' (caretaker, co-dependency) who may never abuse her, but with whom there is a basic power imbalance. In these circumstances, the victim has interpreted her partner's possessive control as attention or caring. Or she might see commitment as suffocation or engulfment. Intimacy means having to give everything away; she may avoid relationships out of fear she will be 'sucked dry,' or taken advantage of more than before.
Underneath the fear of engulfment is the inherent need for intimacy. This inherent need for intimacy has been contaminated by the abuse and is now being experienced as acute fear of abandonment. This fear is compelling. She wants to control the actions and attitudes of her partner, requiring and demanding constant reassurance and contact. This constant demand compels the partner to withdraw. The relationship may be further complicated in incidents where the survivor chooses a partner, who is unavailable. The pursuer and the withdrawer seem to find each other. Or perhaps they connect with each other because two pursuers recognize they would overwhelm each other. with the constant intensity of pursuit before the relationship develops beyond the dating stage. On the other hand, the withdrawer finds the constant presence of another engulfing, seeking space in times of stress. The dance of 'be close, don’t be close,' by the pursuer and withdrawer is a difficult balancing act.
Many survivors marry loving, attentive partners. However, ironically, the consistent love and attentiveness by the partner frequently becomes an enemy. For no apparent reason, the survivor may lose interest in sex or feel threatened or abused. She may suddenly think her partner is having an affair and may go to great lengths to catch him. This behavior puts a great strain on the relationship. Her partner may withdraw for emotional solace, unknowingly adding to the survivor's insecurities. She may even end the relationship believing he had an affair, only to repeat the pattern again. The survivor desperately pursues sexual relationships, thinking that this will fill the emptiness. Survivors come to each new romance with tremendous need and no inner resources or skills to build an intimate relationship. Further, this combination--tremendous neediness and no inner resources or skills--results in dissatisfactory relationships. The fact is sex is not sex, and trust, caring and violation cannot co-exist.
Both male and female survivors generally question whether they deserved or somehow wanted to be sexually abused. They believe if they failed to defend themselves, they must have wanted it. Although, both female and male survivors frequently view their abuse as a loss of manhood or femininity and are disgusted with themselves for not 'fighting back,' ‘men judge themselves more harshly.’ As a result of their guilt, shame and anger, both men and women punish themselves by engaging in self-destructive behavior such as: alcohol or drug use, prostitution, rape and numerous other criminal behaviors. For some men self-destructive behavior means engaging in aggressiveness, such as road rage, arguing with friends or co-workers, or picking fights with strangers, as well as domestic violence as a way to regain their honor. Both men and women pull back from intimacy and end up feeling more and more isolated.
While these explanations of the After Effects of child sexual abuse and incest seems comprehensive it is only the tip of the iceberg. After 30+ years working with sexual abuse survivors in the recovery process 4 1/2 days a week, I am often surprised when a first-time client relates his/her history with details I would never have imagined. Recently, as I listened to a firt-time client's history, I wondered how she survived such mind numbing, physically damaging and emotionally twisted abuse. Therein, lies the truth - God (Source, Higher Power, et al) does not foresake us. The truth is God (Source, Higher Power, et al)infuses the child with the strength and courage to survive. Simultaneously, God implores the perpetrator to cease. However, the perpetrator sometimes does not hear the command. And the Karmic debt continues. However, the survivor can heal and become the person he/she was born to be. ###
Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, Metaphysician - Certified Hypnosis and Regression Practitioner, Author and Speaker. Dr. Dorothy facilitates physical and sexual abuse prevention and recovery. You can live the life you desire. She facilitates Past Life Regression and Future Life Progression. She was a World Regression Congress faculty member teaching physical and sexual abuse prevention and recovery in the Netherlands, India, Brazil and Turkey. http://www.drdorothy.net http://facebook.com/DrDorothyNed http://myasea.com/drdorothy
Physical After Effects: