THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES
This is the first of what will become a series of articles on the general topic of childhood sexual abuse.
Our focus will be on adults who were sexually abused as children
and who did not receive adequate parental or professional care afterwards.
This first article aims only to introduce the topic through some general statements.
If you have a personal or professional need to learn more you will definitely want to read later articles.
AN APOLOGY TO MALE SURVIVORS
I will be using female pronouns throughout this series.
I will, however, make my statements and examples generic enough
so you can easily understand what I am saying by simply changing the pronoun.
WHAT IS SEXUAL ABUSE?
Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual contact.
The age of the person involved must be taken into account when we define the word “unwanted.”
For children, all sexual contact that is not simply exploration among equals is unwanted and abusive.
(Even inappropriate leering by an adult – without touch – is sexually abusive to the child.)
THE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCE
A child who has to deal with sex is overwhelmed by it.
Children do not have the bodies or the minds to cope with intense sexual energy.
Making a child deal with sex is like demanding that they: “Learn calculus or die!”
Since handling it is simply impossible for them, they often just wait to die.
The feeling of being overwhelmed as a child usually leads to “splitting.”
It’s as if the child breaks into two pieces mentally.
Half of them has one “life” and the other half has another “life.”
What they are robbed of is a “whole” life.
THE TWO MOST COMMON “SPLITS” OF CHILDHOOD
The Day Child / Night Child Split
This child either knows what happens during the day or what happens at night, but never both.
The safer day disappears when the sun goes down; the terrifying night disappears when the alarm clock goes off.
The “Mind/Body” Split
This child either knows what she thinks or what she feels, but never both.
She usually focuses on what she thinks because the feelings are just too much to handle for a child.
Each time the feelings break through she feels abused all over again –
just by the intensity of all that accumulated and unexpressed terror, anger, and sadness.
THE ADULT EXPERIENCE
If the childhood abuse was overwhelming and the child had to “split” to survive,
the only way the adult will ever know about her childhood abuse is through flashbacks.
WHAT IS A FLASHBACK?
A flashback is a momentary split-second recollection of the abuse.
Sometimes this split second awareness is visual: seeing something mentally that
seems like a dream but feels so real.
At other times it is auditory: hearing something you heard during the abuse.
Often it is kinesthetic: feeling something you felt during the abuse.
A flashback is triggered by ordinary events in adult life.
The most common example is when an adult is having sex
and her partner moves in a way that reminds her of the abuser’s movements.
But these triggers are unique to each person,
and they can be either a one-of-a-kind event (like a scene from a movie)
or very frequent occurrences (like walking past a certain tree).
Triggers cannot be avoided! They are too commonplace.
We can ignore the significance of the trigger for a while (by saying they don’t mean anything),
but they will continue to haunt us until we face the memories that prompted them.
The terrorized child will not be ignored for long.
Once she notices that she has grown into a powerful enough person to begin to protect herself,
that little girl will keep telling the grownup over and over about her memories
– until she finally gets the safety and protection she has needed for so long!
THERAPY FOR SEXUAL ABUSE
There are many more people who need good therapists to help them overcome the ravages of childhood abuse
than there are therapists capable of providing the service.
In these articles, I hope to give you at least some of the tools you will need
to deal with sexual abuse while our society and mental health professionals try to catch up.
If you know you were sexually abused, get professional help!
On something this complicated, there is only so much you can even hope to do on your own.
Even when you are receiving excellent help from a therapist,
there will be a lot you will need to do on your own.