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There are often elements of sexual abuse which feel physically pleasurable, adding to the feelings of confusion, guilt and shame. It might be the hugging, the attention, the treats, or the genital stimulation. All these things are pleasurable; it's normal to find them pleasurable. That the abuser used these good things to hurt us, as part of something despicable, is not our fault. There is no blame, no culpability that can be attached to the victim of abuse.
Adults who were sexually abused as children may go for years without telling anyone about what happened to them. They may have been threatened with awful consequences if they did tell. They may believe the adults around them need to be protected from such knowledge, or be sure that they would be blamed, or accused of lying. In many cases, children do try to tell, verbally or otherwise, but no one can hear them or believe them. Is it any wonder they then stay silent?
A particular life event, like having a child or losing a loved one, can spark a flashback years later. Or the childhood abuse may be mentioned in seeking help for another problem. The ways of being that protected us as children can be destructive to what we want from our adult lives. Not feeling anything is one way of surviving the abuse, but there comes a time when we want to feel. To feel joy, love, anger; to live. Sometimes it just becomes too much of a strain to carry on trying to act "normal", feeling all the time that you don't fit in. Many people will try everything else first, and only when it is unavoidable will look at their experience of sexual abuse. It is a difficult and brave step.
There is help available. It is still sometimes hard to find, but there are more trained counsellors, more self help groups, and more good books every year.
The legacy of childhood sexual abuse can be devastating, making itself felt years later, and seeming insurmountable at times. Adults who were sexually abused as children often find they have a host of difficulties: depression, illness, eating disorders, problems with sex and intimacy, or drug and alcohol abuse. They may find themselves in dangerous situations again and again, as if some basic safety skills are missing. Or be driven to hurt themselves, finding some relief from the intolerable pain in making it visible.
Children are about 10 times more likely to be abused in their own homes, schools and clubs, than by a stranger. The abuser is most likely to be someone known and trusted by the child, needed, even loved.
In these circumstances, the only way a child can survive is to blame his or herself. "I must have brought it on myself. I must be dirty and bad for him to hurt me like that". Incredible as it may seem, this is easier to live with than the enormity of the betrayal that actually occurred. As children we instinctively know that our survival depends on these bigger people. So we protect them to save ourselves, but in so doing take on an awful and unjust burden of self-blame. already feel so isolated and different, it's easy to think: "Yes, but they don't apply to me". Don't talk yourself out of what you need and deserve to have.
If you are reading this as someone who has been sexually abused, you have already started your healing. You have courage and will need encouragement. The healing process may involve looking more closely at what happened; remembering more of what was done to you and how you felt. It involves work and commitment, grief and anger. But it ends the isolation and secrecy. It gradually cuts away the lies that became part of us and can cripple us with self-hate. It teaches us to trust and love ourselves, and to interact with others more safely and more satisfyingly.
Childhood Sexual Abuse
Article written by Jenny Stuckle
Healing Our Past Experiences
Self-help and support services for adult survivors of childhood and or adult sexual abuse
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