From Victim to Victor: Overcoming Childhood Sexual Abuse
by Dr. Bryan Knight
Sexual abuse creates fear, shame and guilt in the victimised child. Physical damage may heal but the emotional and psychological scars remain for a long time. Perhaps the most severe damage is caused by betrayal.
Betrayal by an adult, especially when that adult is supposed to be protecting and caring for the child, is a devastating experience. The Fear has several components: anticipation of pain, anticipation of disapproval by the perpetrator and worry about threats to other family members. Shame seems to be built into most of us, especially when the abuse is incestuous. There's also the possibility that the victim absorbs the abuser's shame and guilt. Guilt is often felt by a survivor because she or he has become sexually aroused during the abuse. Guilt is also frequently felt when the survivor does -- or doesn't -- report the abuse. Many survivors feel guilty because "they went back for more", or didn't say "No."The helplessness and powerlessness of a child assaulted by an adult is real, terrifying and breeds lasting consequences.
Dissociation -- the separation of mind from body -- enables a child to survive the horror by imagining that the abuse is happening to someone else.
Symptoms in Adult Survivors
Among the effects of CSA are the following. Sometimes these symptoms do not appear for decades.
- Sexual hangups
- Physical ailments
- Relationship difficulties
- Suicidal thoughts
These may be direct images, almost recollections, of the abuse or they may be symbolic. While non-abused people also suffer occasional nightmares, survivors experience repetitious, terrifying dreams in which they feel helpless and suffocatingly trapped.
Sickening sensory images suddenly occur which vividly bring back the sights, sounds, physical and emotional feelings of the abuse.
With good cause, survivors are usually distrustful of the opposite sex, authority figures -- and themselves.
Inhibitions and fears about sexual activity range from mild to severely disturbed.
The emotional, psychological and physical stress of abuse often takes its toll in physical illness as the body remembers being betrayed.
Feelings of worthlessness, apathy, self-loathing, can drown a survivor.
A mixture of self-blame for the activity, feeling bad about hating the abuser, horror at partial enjoyment, and possibly, absorption of some of the abuser's guilt feelings.
Childhood abuse teaches the victim that the world is an untrustworthy place. Fear can infiltrate every aspect of the survivor's life.
Unfortunately often directed inward, anger can be a liberating emotion when the survivor directs it at the appropriate targets.
Uncertainty about what the abuse means (how can pain be love? Why is a caretaker betraying me?) overwhelms the child -- and festers in the adult.
To avoid the pain and guilt of blaming the perpetrator (especially in cases of incest) the victim may physically hurt herself or himself. Self-mutilation ranges from tattoos and nipple-rings to sexual violence and enemas. [HW writes: "tattoos and body piercings are considered a beautiful thing by some individuals. These practices are celebrated, not condemmed