How do you feel when you dive into your memories from childhood?
Guilty and embarrassed
How do you feel your relationships are at this moment of time?
What is it that you do, to forget all the hurt and bad memories?
Addicted to drugs, food, or alcohol
The list can go on and on, but all these, and much more, can be symptomatic of childhood trauma due to sexual abuse. A child adopts various strategies to survive anxiety caused by such things as nightmares, bed-wetting, unexplained irritation, shyness, fear of being touched, etc. However, they become more difficult to manage while passing through adolescence, in such things as issues of intimacy in relationships, painful erections, lack of desire, addictions, confusion regarding sexual orientation, anger issues, panic attacks etc.
Quite often, society assumes that when a young boy is sexually abused, he would be capable of overcoming the abuser, given that men are supposed to be in charge of every aspect of their lives. As they become young adults, they can feel like failures, incapable of overcoming the traumatic abuse they have suffered, and often, live in denial of this abusive activity.
A sexual abuser is usually an older individual, who comes from the position of power and strength & coerces a child, or an adolescent, into sexual activity. The perpetrator usually gains the trust of his victim, before the abuse occurs, then convinces his prey to keep the heinous act a secret, or somehow make them feel some responsibility towards the tryst once it is revealed. Sexual abuse is not limited to sexual touching, it can incorporate watching sexual activity, pornography, passing sexual comments, watching one shower, etc.
The few examples already listed above, and the further examples listed below, are various coping mechanisms that victims of sexual abuse develop over a period. Remember, sexual abuse affects both heterosexual and homosexual individuals equally. Also, bear in mind that the child does not choose the perpetrator, nor is the child weak. They are just vulnerable, innocent beings, who are manipulated and abused. The perpetrator can be someone within the family, a relative, a neighbour, an older friend, or even, a casual acquaintance. It is possible to sometimes escape the perpetrator, but not always. It is impossible to escape a family member who feeds you and keeps you alive. These years of physical and sexual abuse, pain, and disgust, forces the child to take refuge in various coping mechanisms, to escape the emotional abuse. Some of these are discussed below:
Am I Queer or Heterosexual?
Queer individuals may irrationally take on the belief that because they were abused by someone of the same gender, they must have queer identity. Equally males may come to identify as heterosexual if they were abused by females. This is not true! Your sexual orientation is neither determined by the abuse, nor the abuser and certainly not, by what the individual did to your body. Sexual organs respond to the stimulus and not to the gender of the individual.
I don’t wish to feel pain anymore:
The victims often choose the path of addictions like alcohol, illegal drugs, painkillers, binge eating, sex & prostitution, gambling, they may also try numbing their feelings through rash driving, self-harm etc, and a few may resort to absorbing themselves into their work, physical training, or even practicing asceticism. All these are strategies to cope mentally, after years of abuse, depression, fear, and anxiety.
Difficulty in intimacy & sexual functioning:
One may avoid long term relationships and be best functioning during “one-night stands” or in short-term relationships. This can be attributed to the abuser who probably was a family member or someone who was trustworthy and dependable for a long period of time. This long-trusted abuser, who offered protection for years, may leave you suddenly, shaking your belief in long term relationships and commitment. Issues with painful erections, premature ejaculations, or lack of sexual desire, etc., can be symptomatic of losing a protector.
Walk of shame:
Burdened by years of sexual abuse as a child, the adult victim grows up with a deep sense of guilt and shame. Living in fear, by keeping the abuse secret, the sufferer might have become cut off from the support of his loved ones, which eventually causes him to feel responsible for being abused. This may also cause him fear to open up and speak about his torment to a counsellor or therapist. Remember, an abused child is in no way responsible for the abuse perpetrated upon him.
These are just a few examples, but there can be multiple issues one can experience.
So, how do we deal with someone who has experienced child sexual abuse?
Here are few ways you can help:
- Sometimes, they may tell you a story in the ‘third person’, for example, “A friend of mine told me that they were sexually abused as a child.” Listen attentively to the whole story. Do not make a conclusion or ask if this was their story. They may be trying to build trust in you, remembering that someone may have broken their trust in childhood.
- Give the person time to open-up, if they do, do not judge them.
- There is no need to identify the perpetrator, they will tell you, if they want to, but it may be difficult, or painful for them to reveal the identity of this person.
- Ask them if they have spoken to any Psychologist or a counsellor or therapist, if not, check with them if they are willing to see one? Do not force them, they may not be ready.
- Try to be their support by listening to them, do not advise any form of therapy if you are not a skilled Therapist, Counsellor or Psychologist.
The information and views expressed in the blog are individual and inspired from the writer’s experience and study in Mental Health & Hypnotherapy.
Picture courtesy: Writer himself
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