What an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse may be feeling:
Many years, and sometimes even decades later, survivors may be fearful of the perpetrator and/or the consequences of disclosing. At the time of the abuse the child is often threatened with whatever he/she is most scared of. This ensures the safety of the perpetrator, as it guarantees the silence of the child. The perpetrator may say:
“If you tell, I’ll end up in jail.”
“If you don’t do as I say, I’ll do it to your little sister.”
“If you tell anyone, I will kill your puppy.”
“If you tell, our family will breakup.”
Survivors may be scared others will see them as being ‘dirty’:
Survivors often hold the false belief that nobody will ever love them if they find out what happened; that they will be seen as tainted or dirty.
Survivors may be scared that they won’t be believed:
Survivors fear that, having summoned the courage to tell someone of their abuse, they will not be believed. The perpetrator often instills in the child the message “If you tell, no one will believe you. They will think that you are lying.” At Heartfelt House you do not need to “prove” that you were abused. An important aspect of participating in our group program is that you will receive validation from the others in the group, just as you will be part of validating the other participants.
Survivors may be scared that the pain is too big:
“Once I start crying I won’t be able to stop”. We often hear this from survivors. The pain associated with the abuse is so intense that the survivor fears that once the flood gate is opened, they won’t be able to close it. We also hear “the pain feels so big I’m sure it will kill me if I let it out.” With the right support and education, the crying will stop and the pain does recede – but you need take that first step by reaching out for help.
Survivors often feel dirty inside. They feel unworthy of being loved for who they are, so don’t deserve support. Fueling this thought is the tendency for survivors to minimize the abuse they suffered (a common coping strategy).
“I’m not worthy of being helped. And I guess my abuse wasn’t that bad anyway. Maybe I shouldn’t take up the time of Heartfelt House or a counselor; someone else may need it much more than me.”
Of course this isn’t true! Anyone who has suffered sexual abuse deserves help. At Heartfelt House we do not scale the abuse. If someone has the courage to say they have been sexually abused and need help, that is reason enough to accept them onto our waiting list.
Most the survivors feel shame over what happened to them. The child is made to feel like an accomplice by the perpetrator and they often take on the shame for what has happened.
“I felt dirty, like damaged goods.”
“Nobody could ever love me if they find out what I have done.”
Childhood sexual abuse is a unique crime where the victim (the child) feels the shame associated with the crime rather than the actual perpetrator of the crime. Of course the shame belongs to the perpetrator NOT TO THE CHILD!!
A consequence of the shame described above, the victim (the child) often feels responsible for the crime. Many survivors are very disparaging of themselves for not preventing or stopping the abuse. They feel that they should have been able to run away, tell someone, wear a different outfit, looked less pretty, should not have taken the bribe that was offered. The fact is that no child has the capacity to stand up to or fight off an adult or person older than themselves. It was not your fault that the abuse happened!
This self blame then carries over into adulthood with the survivor not only believing the childhood sexual abuse was their fault, but often anything that goes wrong in their lives and in the lives of those they are close to is also their fault.
When the abuse happened, perpetrators took away from the child their right to choose, to say “No”. They had the power to do that because they were older and/or more influential, often holding a position of trust within the family and/or the environment of the child.
The child was subsequently isolated and silenced.
Perpetrators will ensure that everyone else in the environment sees them as upstanding, valuable and highly respected members of the community, and so the child is even more disempowered to act or come forward.
In adulthood the survivor will often feel powerless, unable to make decisions, eg: to choose a way out of an abusive relationship.
In most cases the sexual abuse happens in the home of the child with a person they had learned to trust. Having lost that sense of safety in their own home, the victim feels vulnerable and unsafe in the outside world. To counterbalance this, many adult survivors will choose to isolate themselves from society. Allowing someone to come close, even a possible friend, entails the ‘danger’ of him/her asking the normal questions involved in forming friendships; eg: about their family or childhood experiences. Having no friends in the first place is the ‘easiest’ way to avoid this closeness. This leaves the survivor in a lonely place, sometimes for years.
UNABLE TO TRUST
Approximately 85% of children who were sexually abused knew the perpetrator – in most cases it was a family member or a close family friend. Initially the perpetrator will have built a trusting relationship with the child, which will leave the child feeling betrayed on a deep level when the abuse takes place. It makes it extremely difficult to built trust in relationships later in life. As described above many survivors will choose not to engage in relationships at all.
ANGRY and OUTRAGED
Adult survivors are often angry, and rightly so, at the perpetrator and what was done to them. Whilst it may seem irrational many are angrier with the others in their immediate environment:
- with their non-offending parent for not having protected them
- with their partners for not understanding them
- with society for not believing them
- with their god for allowing the perpetrator to hurt them
It is preferable/easier for some survivors to be angry at a non offending parent for not protecting them than it is to be angry with the perpetrator as that means they have to acknowledge that for example their father sexually abused them. Whilst distorted, to believe the former makes it more possible to ‘cope’ with and cushions the sad and confronting reality that someone they loved and trusted sexually abused them.
Through our Taking the First Steps program survivors have the opportunity to acknowledge that most of the anger lies with the perpetrator.
IN PHYSICAL PAIN
The emotional pain felt by a survivor is so immense that if it isn’t treated it leaks out into the body in many ways. Digestive issues, back, neck and shoulder pain, fibromyalgia, headaches, pain during sex are all very common in survivors of sexual abuse. When the emotional pain is addressed we often see a decrease in these symptoms.
Most survivors live with the many effects of the abuse; every day is a struggle and often it is even too hard to get out of bed, let alone cook a meal, study or maintain employment. The depression often seems never ending and it appears as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It is a huge effort to make it to work and to put on a brave face, so that no one notices the bleakness inside. It is important that the survivor reaches out to someone: a GP, a friend, a counsellor, Heartfelt House.
The majority of victims of childhood sexual abuse will have thought about suicide at some stage in their lives- when the pain gets too strong to bear, when the hope of recovery diminishes, when there doesn’t seem to be anybody out there to turn to.
Realising that you deserve help and support, understanding that the abuse was NOT your fault and finding the courage to reach out and make that phone call is the first step. Call us on 02 6628 8940 or have a look at our “services” link. You have already started this process by visiting our website.
More Information: Programs for Survivors – Taking the First Steps