Some impacts of childhood sexual abuse on the life of adult survivors. By Juliet Summers B.A., B.S.W. (Survivor 1961 - 73)
Many people believe that, because the abuse happened as a child, as an adult the survivor should now just 'forget about it and get on with life'. If it were this simple, many survivors would do it! It is not this simple however. Survivors were not given the opportunity to experience a 'normal' childhood and they cannot go back and re-experience it. Childhood is where all humans learn the basics of adult behaviour. It is where they learn to talk, to walk, to feed themselves, dress themselves, to relate to others and how to decode all manner of verbal and non-verbal messages. When this learning process is distorted through abuse, it is impossible to change or erase the lessons learnt once adulthood has been reached. This is not to say that a survivor cannot lead a perfectly happy and fulfilling life, but they will never be the same as a non-survivor. The way a survivor is taught to think and act is forever different from a non-abused adult. This altered way of thinking affects relationships with their families, partners, close friends, their own children and with themselves.
If someone is skeptical about this statement, then ask them to try a simple experiment. Ask them to do two things in their life differently from the norm. Ask them to brush their teeth with their non-dominant hand and to brush their hair with their non-dominant hand. Once they have done this, ask them to imagine that, for the rest of their lives, brushing their teeth and hair will be that difficult. It won't feel 'right'. You look in the mirror and know that you can't quite do it. You can see others around you who seem to have no problems with it, but your own hands are clumsy. There are knots in your hair that you can't quite reach, or the part won't go straight. You resign yourself to the fact that you will never be able to make your hair look as good as everyone else's. Even if you get it done professionally, this is only a temporary solution. You know when brushing your teeth you've missed some of those back molars and scooping up the water was a nightmare so you used a little less than was needed. You know that eventually this type of tooth care will lead to decay but resign yourself to having to pay for the dentist bills and being admonished for your delinquency. You have learnt that others will attribute the reason for these behaviours to either a deliberate choice on your behalf or some undesirable personality defect such as laziness. But you endure, you get by.
Now tell the person to imagine that the reason they have to do this is merely to titillate and amuse some grown-up. Ask them to reflect on how they would think about life knowing that everyday was going to be a struggle and all because someone else selfishly used you for their own gratification when you were young. Now tell them to blame themselves for allowing it to happen and to feel the guilt that they are unable to tell anyone about it. This experiment may give a non-abused person a small insight into the life of a childhood sexual abuse survivor. Instead of teeth and hair brushing being 'different' for a survivor it is everything.
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