Friday, February 17, 2006

This might help

I've posted some of this before, I'm reposting it because I need to read it again.

I need to be validated.

Why can't I get on with my life?
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.

What Is This Thing Called Love?
Adult survivors therefore, do not have the same outlook on life as non-abused adults. As a child, someone they trusted hurt and manipulated them. Not understanding what was happening, but somehow 'knowing' that it was wrong, they assimilate many deviant behaviours into their understanding of 'normality'. They grow up with a different view of many of the cornerstones of inter-human relationships and interactions.

An example would be the concept of 'love'. Often the abuser will say that they love the child. The non-offending parent(s) will say they love the child. Love is then understood to be a good thing - people who love you care for you, comfort you when you are sad, give you presents on your birthday, make you feel happy etc. It is also a bad thing that leads you to get physically hurt, to become terrified at times, makes you feel embarrassed or dominated. It will include forced involvement in activities that must be shrouded in secrecy and which you will not be able terminate, avoid or have any control over. To a child being abused, this becomes what 'love' is. Upon reaching adulthood the social pressure to find a life partner to love and that loves you in return is seen as a dubious or alarming goal. The survivor may also 'love' someone else and may view this emotion in themselves as forever corrupted. Anyone who proclaims love may 'naturally' be viewed with suspicion, perhaps dread or fear, or at best with wariness. The other person's motives will always be open to speculation.

To try to grasp complex emotional concepts like love, children group experiences into simplistic extremes. Good or bad, black or white, there is no grey. They can't differentiate between one trusted adult's behaviour and that of another's. Therefore, if one trusted adult abuses them, this experience is not taken away by the non-abusive relationships they experience, it just becomes part of their understanding of 'relationship'. The child learns not that 'some adults do bad things', but that 'all trusted people can do bad things.' This includes even the child itself. Like many other aspects of their developing psychological make up, this distrust becomes an integral part of their socialised constructs - their sense of how they see themselves and others and how people relate. It is just the same as their sense of humor or ability to reason. As with these psychological traits, once it is integrated it can never be 'unlearned' or erased. It 'just is'.

In adults, this total acceptance of distorted worldviews form the basis of many survivors beliefs about their 'true selves'. These views are like coloured lenses placed on the eyes of the survivor - they see everything through them and are usually totally unaware of their existence. It forms the core of their beliefs of themselves and of how others see them. It is through these lenses that they observe others interactions with themselves. As the beliefs are tainted with shame and guilt, they promote isolationist or self-destructive behaviours (I hate myself, you have no idea what I'm 'really' like, I am unlovable, you're only being nice to me because you want something). It is common for these beliefs to go unchallenged until the survivor begins sexual assault counselling.

4 comments:

Holly said...

Dear Survivor,
Love it, great article, thank you for this post! It does VALIDATE US WHO SURVIVED! I needed to read this today also, take care.

The Missing Link said...

Wow - finally read this article... remarkable how true the words are...

I DEFINATELY needed to read this today... so I'm not crazy??!! Thanks for posting this - I'm sure I'll need to revisit it often!

survivor said...

You're both welcome! I know it's been really helpful to me in showing me I'm "normal"

Take care!

john w said...

My wife survived and has said all of the things mentioned above. We have struggled through her inability to trust me, to accept my loving her, it has taken a long time to get to where we are now, but we have persevered. It was complicated by her multiplicity, she was "split" so many times by the repetitive abuse since early childood that she was labelled a mega-multiple by one of her therapists. She too has been in need of validation not only from other survivors but also from anyone in her family or friends of the family. She finally got that in the last year or so. She found out that one of her uncles knew another uncle had repeatedly abused her, but he never told anyone else until he was on his deathbed nine years ago! He told his daughter, my wifes cousin, it took her nine years to tell my wife, which finally validated her memories, they were real!! Way too long but at least she finally heard the words.