Archive for November, 2008

For those of you who are new to the online world of adult survivors of child abuse, you might wonder what a trigger is. A trigger is anything that can cause a child abuse survivor to have a flashback, whether it is visual flashback, emotional flashback, body memory, or other form of reaction. Whenever someone writes something that could be triggering on a message board for child abuse survivors, it is courteous to add a trigger warning, which looks something like this:

***** sexual abuse triggers *****

Of course, you cannot always anticipate what might trigger another person. For example, I get triggered by Russian nesting dolls, but I have never met another person who does. I inadvertently triggered another person one time by using the words “I know” too many times in a message. Another time, I triggered someone by advising her to “show compassion” to herself. While the word “compassion” is very healing for me, the word was misused by her abusers, and so it was very triggering for her to read.

However, there are some things that are obvious triggers, so you should include a trigger warning whenever you talk about them online. For example, whenever you share explicit details about the abuse you suffered, you should always include a trigger warning at the top. That way, if another child abuse survivor is in a bad place, then he or she can make the decision about whether to continue reading or not.

Some child abuse survivors are triggered by anything of a religious nature. For this reason, even if your post is extremely positive, you should always include a religious trigger warning if you include religious content so that those who might be triggered can choose not to read your post.

It helps to be specific about the type of triggers to come. For example, I am not triggered by religious content. So, if I am in a bad place, I might miss out on something very helpful if someone posts a generic trigger warning without identifying that it is religious in nature.

Some people are triggered by profanity or sexual content but not other forms of child abuse. So, being specific helps the reader to make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed.

What’s really nice about trigger warnings is that, once you have posted one, you can feel comfortable in spilling out whatever it is you need to get off your chest. When I was in the early stages of healing, it was really important for me to share every little detail. It helped make it real, and it helped me to know that others who responded really “got it.” If they did not reject me after knowing all of the details, I knew that I would be okay. If I held back, then I might have the insecurity of not knowing whether more information would change the advice.

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Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!

I hope that this holiday finds you well. I know that some of you are spending the day with abusive family members. Please try to keep yourself safe. Others are spending the day alone and feeling very depressed. Please try to remember that you are triggered. Those terrible feelings will not last forever. You will feel much better as Thanksgiving becomes a distant memory.

Some of you, like me, are doing the best you can to make newer and brighter associations with Thanksgiving. I have made a big turkey with homemade stuffing. I am doing my best to make this Thanksgiving a wonderful memory for my son.

Remember to nurture yourself today. I do this by watching my favorite Thanksgiving episodes. Gilmore Girls has a great one where the “girls” have to go to four Thanksgiving dinners. I also like watching a bunch of the Friends Thanksgiving episodes as well. I laugh and find a way to enjoy myself, even as I work through the triggers of Thanksgivings past.

Please take gentle care of yourself. Know that I am very thankful for all of you.

Related Topic:

How to Endure Holiday Season After Child Abuse

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On my blog entry entitled Struggling with Depression after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

Is there anyone out there as old as I (69) who is still, still trying to overcome the effects of traumatic childhood … I am not religious, but I must have faith in something because I keep trying to keep going. My own problems (self-doubt, rage) show up in my relationship to my son and daughter-in-law, who have two little girls that I adore. Would appreciate hearing from anyone who can relate in a positive way. If your inclination is to tell me to “just forget it” or to “stop feeling sorry for myself,” thanks, but that’s not helpful. – Loretta

I would never tell another child abuse survivor to “just forget it” or accuse her of feeling sorry for herself. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious disorder. We don’t tell soldiers returning from war just to “get over it” and “don’t think about it.” Why shouldn’t we give survivors of child abuse the same courtesy?

I do not believe that the passage of time, in and of itself, heals anything. I was in my mid-thirties when I began healing from my child abuse issues. After each flashback, I felt like the abuse had just happened, even though decades had passed. Pain is pain. Those of us who encapsulated the pain so we could survive will carry around that pain until we process it, whether that happens at age 20 or 90.

As long as you are still breathing, you can reclaim your life. It is never too late to give yourself the gift of healing. Healing is very hard work, but you can do it. You deserve to live a life freed from the past. You deserve to love and accept yourself without having to battle self-deprecating messages from your childhood on a daily basis.

If you do not already have it, I would strongly suggest that you purchase the Survivor to Thriver manual. This is a wonderful resource that walks you through the healing process, no matter what type of child abuse you suffered. This was my “bible” during my early years of healing.

Good luck along your healing journey!

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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*** trigger warning – This topic might be upsetting to sexual abuse survivors. **

On my blog entry entitled Orgasm during Rape or Other Form of Sexual Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

Please do NOT take this question the wrong way. What happened to us is horable and god forbid it ever happen to anyone again, but here is my question. Has anyone ever thought about abusing someone either willingly or unintenionally, emotional, physical, or even sexual? What is the statistic for repeating the abuse after becoming an adult? Just wondering. Bless you ALL – Jason

Let me start by addressing the statistics. The highest statistics I have seen are from ChildHelp:

1/3 of abused and neglected children will eventually victimize their own children – Childhelp

That number is higher than I have seen elsewhere, perhaps because it is including all forms of abuse. I do believe that certain types of abuse, such as comparatively mild emotional abuse, are much more likely to be passed down than other forms of more severe abuse.

As for sexual abuse statistics, those are much lower:

Roughly one in 10 male victims of child sex abuse in a U.K. study later went on to abuse children as adults … Twenty-six of the 224 sex abuse victims (12%) later committed sexual offenses, and in almost all cases their victims were also children. Abused children who came from families where violence was common were more than three times as likely to become abusers as were those who experienced maternal neglect and sexual abuse by females. – Do Sexually Abused Kids Become Abusers?

Depending upon which study you use, 67-90% of child abuse survivors do not become abusers themselves.

As for thinking about abusing a child, there is a big difference between having the sickening thought cross your mind, but then pushing it away, and actually acting upon it. I have written about having horrible dreams about abusing a child. I was horrified by the dreams, but my therapist assured me that this was normal. The dreams were not about my desire to harm a child but, instead, my brain’s way of trying to make sense of the abuse. Even in the best of circumstances (as set up in my dreams), the action was still vile and horrible.

I believe that abusing a child serves the same function as other compulsions, such as self-injury or eating disorders. The big difference is that, with other compulsions, the abuse survivor is using her own body to manage the pain, whereas abusers are using a child’s body. That is never, ever okay.

Many child abuse survivors (and perhaps even those who never suffered trauma) might have a fleeting thought of doing harm when their patience is being taxed. For example, I have heard many new mothers joke about fantasizing about throwing a colicky baby out of the window. Of course, they would never, ever do this. A fleeting thought is just a fleeting thought. However, when a person begins to dwell on those thoughts, that is when it becomes a problem.

Being a child abuse survivor is never a justification for harming a child. I, myself, told my therapist that I would kill myself if I found out that I was blacking out and harming my child in the same way that my mother did to me. He assured me that I wasn’t, and he knew this in part because of how strongly I felt about protecting children.

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*** trigger warning – This topic might be upsetting to sexual abuse survivors. **

On my blog entry entitled Orgasm during Rape or Other Form of Sexual Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

If society were diffrent, would we all feel ashamed or question our reactions to the abuse as we do now? I dont know. – Jason

I strongly suspect that child abusers would love to believe that society is the problem and not the sexual abuse. Child abusers love to play semantics with words, such as in the name of the organization called NAMBLA (North American Man Boy Love Association), which tries to make sexual abuse sounds like it is simply a “normal” relationship for a man and a boy to have sexual relations with each other.

The problem is that only men are joining the organization. Little boys who have not even reached puberty are not thinking about sex, much less “sexual love” with a man, and they are certainly not filling out applications seeking a “love relationship” with a man. My son is seven years old. He is interest in Pokemon and Bakugan, not in having a “loving sexual relationship” with a man. That is complete crap, and no play on words is going to convince me that my sweet little innocent boy is dying to fill out a NAMBLA application.

My first memory of the sexual abuse was at 18 months old. I felt terror and deep shame. As a toddler, I did not have a clue about societal norms. I only knew that I did not like it.

I have another memory from when I was three years old and my sister was 18 months old. My mother tied both of us to chairs in our basement, using our father’s ties. She orally raped me while my sister watched. My sister had not yet been sexually abused, so she did not know what was going on.

Then, I was forced to watch as my mother orally raped my sister for the first time. By then, I had learned how to “flee” my body to “escape” the abuse, but I needed to be in my body if I wanted to save my sister. I went back and forth, back and forth, as I watched the person who my sister had been “die.” That is how I viewed what was happening to her as she was being sexually abused for the first time. She was “dying.”

At three, I did not have the first clue about societal views. All I knew what that what my mother was doing was wrong and extremely damaging. I knew it was damaging my sister as I was forced to watch. I was wearing pink pants that day. To this day, pink pants trigger me.

I do not feel ashamed of my reaction to the abuse. I feel angry. I am angry that so much was taken from me. I feel angry that I was not given the opportunity to explore my sexuality but, instead, had it taken from me. I am angry that my abusers walked away feeling good about themselves and left me to wrestle with a lifetime of frustration and pain in the bedroom.

How I feel about my experiences has nothing whatsoever to do with what society thinks about my abuse. Quite frankly, I take issue with a lot of societal views. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. It is never okay to meet your own needs/desires at the expense of another person, doubly so when that person is a child.

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To the person who keeps trying to post disgusting abuser-type comments on my blog,

I preapprove all comments before they publish, so you are wasting your time. I just delete them. They don’t trigger me, and nobody else is going to see them.

– Faith

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On my blog entry entitled Unmet Needs after Child Abuse: Age Twelve to Eighteen, a reader posted the following comment:

I wonder if this sense of identity falls into place when someone recovers there past??? If ive never been myself how can i possibly know who i am? This is a question im asking my therapist and support worker and there never seems to be an answer! If anything im more confused as ever to my identity now. At least before i thought i was real, now i know i aint!!! Confusing stuff. – Simon

Many survivors of child abuse struggle with identity issues in the aftermath of the abuse. The identity struggle seems to be even more severe for those who endured severe and ongoing abuse throughout their childhoods.

I used to believe that I had nothing to say. I was just a sliver of a nobody with no identity other than reflecting the views of those around me, so what would I possibly have to share? Considering that this blog entry is my 303rd one, it looks like I did have something to say after all!

As I shared in my blog entry entitled Meeting Unmet Needs after Child Abuse through Reincarnation, I do not believe that birth is the beginning of who we are. Who we are transcends this lifetime. If I am correct, then even the most severe abuse does not have the power to separate us from who we really are.

Who I am runs much deeper and richer than my experiences in this lifetime. The problem was that I was blinded to who I really was.

I used to believe that healing was about transforming myself into a new person, but I now know that it is really about discovering myself. Each one of you reading this has a unique personality and spirit. The problem is that your abusers blinded you and prevented you from seeing yourself as you truly are. It is like you shut your eyes tightly so you wouldn’t see the abuse, but doing this also caused you to lose sight of who you really were. Healing is about opening your eyes and awakening to your own life and existence.

What drove home this point to me was attending my high school reunion a few years ago. I was nervous about it because I had changed a lot from the healing process, so I wasn’t sure “who to be” at the reunion. I decided to be myself as I knew it and let the chips fall where they may.

I always thought of myself as isolated and unlovable in high school, but that is not what I heard from the people at the reunion. Multiple people sought me out and wanted to talk about our lives. I came to realize that the beauty that I see inside of myself is not new. Those people saw it way back in high school, which is why they wanted to hear more about how my life turned out. **I** was the one who was blinded to my own inner beauty.

Each of you has an amazingly beautiful, deep, and rich spirit inside of yourself. Others can see it in you – It is you who are blinded to it. As you awaken to your life and risk opening your eyes, you have so much beauty waiting to greet you.

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On my blog entry entitled Unmet Needs after Child Abuse: Age Twelve to Eighteen, a reader posted the following comment:

Though I only remember that time vaguely, I’ve read my journal entries from when I was younger and I know that somewhere around 12-14 years of age I struggled with my identity. I actually wrote in my diary that “I don’t know who I am.” I spent so much time pretending that I was someone else, because I simply didn’t know how to live as myself. Some were TV, or film, or book characters, some were characters I invented myself (and later turned out to be alters). I changed personas constantly, if only inside my head, and by pretending to be someone else I could get through each day. This led to years of internal chaos and depression, because I realized that I had no idea who I really was.

Sometimes I still feel like only a fragment of a person. Like I’m not entirely real. Maybe I’m not. – Midge

I can relate to this comment so deeply. In fact, before I integrated my host personality into my core, I used to be plagued by nightmares that I had doll skin. I would push a pin through my leg and discover that I was as hollow inside as a doll is. I would wake up trembling after those nightmares.

People with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) typically create a “host personality” who has no memory of any of the abuse. The host is created to be the innocent one who can interact with the world as if none of the abuse ever happened because, as far as the host personality is concerned, it didn’t. Having a host personality also gives an abused child the illusion of having a part of herself that was spared the abuse.

Most DID patients who enter into therapy do so from the perspective of the host personality. The host personality becomes terrified as the amnestic barriers begin to melt, bringing some of the memories of abuse into the host personality’s awareness. The host personality comes to realize just how much of her life she has “missed” as she is forced to recognize that huge chunks of her past are missing from her memory bank.

The host personality feels small because it is small compared to the rest of your spirit. Most of your spirit is fully aware of all of the abuses that you suffered. The realization that “you” are merely an alter part is absolutely terrifying for DID patients. It sure was for me.

The good news is that, while the host personality is a part of who you are, she is a very small part of you. Who you are is the sum total of all of your parts and more. When you choose to integrate your host personality back into your core, you stop losing time. (Huge, huge perk!!) You also realize that you survived the abuse and that you are okay. You don’t need to keep a part of yourself separate and pretend like the abuse never happened. You can have full awareness of all that you endured as a child and still be okay – even more than okay.

Becoming aware that you, as the host personality, are just a tiny part of a large spirit is a huge step toward integration and healing. Who you are is so much deeper and richer than you ever imagined.

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On my blog entry entitled Unmet Needs after Child Abuse: Age Six to Twelve, a reader posted the following comment:

I’ve subconsciously taken on mannerisms and speech patterns (including regional accents) of other people, once I’ve been around them long enough to consider them friends. Long ago I recognized this about myself, but had no idea why or where it came from, just that it happened. Now, it makes sense! – Midge

This is a common aftereffect of child abuse called mirroring.

Abused children do not know how to interact well with other people. Their abusers (obviously) do not socialize them well. In fact, it is in the abuser’s interest if his victim does not know how to make friends. An isolated victim is much less likely to tell about the abuse.

Human beings are social creatures by nature. Because the abused child’s ability to learn how to socialize well with other children was stunted, many abused children learn how to “mirror” the behaviors and mannerisms of other children whom they want to befriend. As the saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.” By mirroring other children, the child seems more like those children, making those children much more likely to bring the abused child into the fold.

I, personally, did not have the first clue about how to make a friend. I spent most of seventh and eighth grade sitting alone at lunch because I did not know how to make a friend. In ninth grade, a “new girl” moved to my school, and she became popular (as in well-liked, not in the snobby way) instantly. I began mirroring her behaviors and, voila, I suddenly started having friends.

Fortunately, this girl was a wonderful role model. I still hold onto many of the traits I learned from her to this day. Now that I know how to befriend others, I generally look for the person who is feeling left out and use the skills I learned from this girl to make the other person feel more comfortable. So, mirroring is not necessarily a bad thing.

The problem is when you become like a chameleon – when you only reflect the personalities of the people you spend time with and lose who you are in the process. Or, worse, you never even knew who that person was to begin with.

I used to believe that healing from the child abuse was about turning myself into a new person. I have come to recognize that healing is really about discovering who I have always been. Beneath all of the pain, shame, and mirroring has always been a unique personality that is all mine. Learning how to stop viewing myself through the distorted lens of my abusers opened me up to discovering myself.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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My second most popular blog entry on my blog is one entitled Orgasm during Rape or Other Form of Sexual Abuse. That blog entry has quite a few comments posted by child abuse survivors who experienced orgasms while they were being raped or sexually abused.

Last week, a reader posted the following question:

How are you all dealing with the conflicting emotions? Everything I see written here, practically, screams out that you all loved what was happening at the time, and mostly feel bad because society says it’s bad. I’m asking you all, because you are the only ones that really know, is it bad?

I think this is a legitimate question that needs to be answered.

The short answer is no, I did not “enjoy” the orgasms during sexual abuse. Most of mine happened when my mother was orally raping me. I experimented with similar sexual contact consensually with a boyfriend. While my body achieved an orgasm very quickly, it made my head feel like it was going to explode, and I felt a very strong desire to harm myself. That is not “enjoying” an orgasm.

When people who were never sexually abused experience orgasms, they feel good. They feel a release of tension and feel peaceful afterward. This is not the case with a person who has been sexually abused. After the orgasm happens, the sexual abuse survivor feels sick to her stomach. She feels deep shame and hatred toward her body.

When a child who is being sexually abused “wants” an orgasm, it is kind of like looking for the least painful form of abuse to experience in the moment. The child feels shame, terror, and self-loathing as the sexual abuse is happening. The orgasm is a temporary reprieve from those feelings, but then those feelings come crashing down immediately afterward in spades.

After the orgasm, the child is not lying in his bed feeling good about himself. All does not feel right with the world. The child feels deep shame – the shame from the abuse and then the shame from “enjoying” part of the abuse. It causes the child to question whether she really wanted the abuse after all. She knows that she didn’t, but her body reacted to it, so then maybe she did??

And then orgasms and shame get intertwined in the abused child’s head. The child grows into an adult who cannot have a fulfilling consensual sexual relationship because pleasure and pain are still intertwined. She hates her body for having orgasms, and then she hates her body if she doesn’t have them. Every sexual encounter becomes a challenge because it sets her up for more self-loathing.

And then the sexual abuse survivor finds that she is only able to achieve an orgasm if she reenacts the sexual abuse, either physically or in her head. Straight sex cannot achieve an orgasm, but degradation during sex can. Discovering that you cannot achieve an orgasm during sex unless you feel degraded only adds fuel to the fire.

There is nothing positive about a child experiencing an orgasm during rape or sexual abuse. It only further complicates the child’s life.

Related Topic:

Trauma Tuesday: Orgasms during Rape and Sexual Abuse

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