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Archive for August, 2010


I just finished reading Diana Gabaldon’s excellent book, Outlander. One part of the book I did not see coming was a graphic man-on-man rape scene near the end. The victim agreed not to fight off a man’s homosexual advances in return for the man letting the victim’s wife go free. The victim shared his story later with his wife, and the details got me thinking about the topic of intermixing “pleasure” and pain in abuse.

Let me explain what I mean by this … In the story, the rapist would fondle his victim and be almost “kind.” Then, when the victim started to relax, the rapist would be extremely cruel. He would beat his victim, soothe the wounds, and then aggravate the wounds. If this did a number on the adult’s head in this book, you can imagine what this dynamic does to a child. Child abuse survivors of this form of abuse have shared their stories with me, and it sounds like one huge mind f@#$.

The intermixing of “pleasure” and pain as part of the child abuse is very emotionally damaging to a child. This is doubly true when the only “kindness” that a child is shown is as part of this sick “game.” For example, it is completely normal and understandable for a child to crave loving touch, such as a back rub or a safe hug. When children are deprived of these basic physical acts communicating that they are loved, then they will understandably have a part of themselves that desire this loving touch. Some abusers know this and bring that into the child abuse, giving the child what he needs, only to follow it up with pain. It is a sick “game” that really messes with the child’s head.

I cannot describe the anguish I have heard in the stories of those who experienced this form of abuse. The gentle touch feels good and can even stimulate a sexual response (which also happened in the story) despite the fact that the victim does not want the contact. The body responds to the gentleness of the touch, despite the child’s spirit screaming inside, and then the body experiences the pain tenfold when the “pleasure” is followed by pain. This is a very cruel and sick form of abuse that many people have suffered.

Like all forms of abuse, you can heal from this. I hope it helps to hear that you are not alone in having suffered from this form of abuse.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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One common aftereffect of child abuse is having an “all or nothing” mentality. I do not know why child abuse causes this aftereffect, but there is no question that I struggle with this myself and see this thinking in my offline friends who were abused as children.

Here is a recent example of mine … I always dreamed of volunteering in my child’s classroom. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was one of the head PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) leaders at my kid’s school. I was spending over 10 hours a week (and sometimes much more) doing volunteer work for my son’s school.

While there is nothing wrong with being a PTA volunteer, everything in life needs to happen in moderation. I think we can agree that devoting that much time as a volunteer is hardly “moderation.”

So, when we transferred my son to a private school in March for his special needs (ADHD and learning disabilities), I decided not to volunteer at his school at all. The only thing that got me off the out-of-control volunteer merry-go-round was transferring schools, and I was not going to hop back on again. So, I did nothing whatsoever with my son’s new school for the rest of the school year.

School has just started back, and the PFA (Parent-Faculty Association) sent out a request for volunteers as part of the back-to-school package. One need they have listed is processing the Box Tops for Education (BTFE), which one of my good friends has done for years. The job involves sorting through the Box Tops that have been submitted, throwing away the expired ones, and placing the rest in groups of 50 to send in to the BTFE two or three times a year. My friend says that it takes her four hours for each shipment (for a much larger school), which boils down to 12 hours a year.

I have an interest in doing this because I love the idea of a school earning money for what is essentially garbage (cutouts from used boxes). My friend’s school earned over $1,200 in one year! However, just the thought of volunteering for this one assignment triggered me, kicking off intense anxiety. I really wrestled with why this was bothering me so much, and then it hit me … I still have not learned that my choice to volunteer in a school is not an “all or nothing” commitment. Because of my past experiences volunteering with a school, churches, etc., I believe that taking on a 12-hour-a-year task is the same thing as a 12-hour-a-week commitment, and that simply is not true. So, I have decided to volunteer for this job in large part to “force” myself to break out of this “all or nothing” mentality.

I am not going into this naïvely. I am painfully aware of my own history of saying yes to more responsibilities when I should be saying no. I am also well aware of how those in charge of PTA’s zero in on anyone willing to help out. So, my response for any further volunteer requests will be, “I am sorry, but I am already coordinating the Box Tops for the school.”

As silly as it sounds, I am nervous about taking this step. My history tells me that I cannot handle moderation, but my healing spirit tells me that I can do anything with my life that I want to do. I don’t want to feel like I cannot ever do anything “a little bit” because then I will miss out on many wonderful opportunities that I only want “a little bit” of. Wish me luck!

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I had another one of those dreams where I wake myself up screaming. I used not to be able to do this. I would scream and scream, but no sound would come out. I have screamed so frequently in my dreams over the years that I have developed lucid dreaming whenever I scream. The fact that my voice does not work correctly when I scream clues me into the fact that I am dreaming. I have learned to push through it – keep screaming louder and harder. Eventually, I will make a noise in my sleep that wakes me up, providing me with an escape hatch from the nightmare.

This happened again last night. I rented a car with three parts (I have patterns of threes in my dreams but don’t know why – perhaps body, soul, and spirit??) that are split long ways. I was sitting in the far right section when a childhood friend jumped in the middle and started driving the car. I didn’t want him to, but I also didn’t believe I had the right to tell him no, so I made a joke about him violating the terms of the rental car agreement. His response was to crash the car.

Suddenly, I was sitting on a toilet (bathroom dreams represent the most private parts of myself) in the dark when I felt two arms grab me from behind. It felt like how an adult might pick up a child roughly – like the adult bent down, put each arm under each of mine and then curled upward so the adult could lift me, and I could not get away. The adult’s arms where in that position but did not lift me – but they held me trapped.

I screamed, wanting my mommy. Someone else walked into the bathroom. I could not see who it was, but I “knew” it was my mother. That just made me scream louder because I knew she would not help me. I thought my mother would be safer than the stranger grabbing my arms, but once she came and did nothing, I was terrified of her as well. I screamed and screamed until I forced myself to wake up.

I think the part about being grabbed from behind is a flashback because I can feel it in the cells of my body. Even though I am awake and alone, I can still feel the warmth and strength of those arms as I am being grabbed from behind.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled My Story: Integrating from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), a reader posted the following comment:

My children do not want to know anything about this disorder I have [DID]. They don’t want to know. Is that good or bad? ~ Audrey

I don’t know if we can label your children’s reaction as “good” or “bad.” It simply “is.”

Unfortunately, many people simply do not seem to be able to handle dealing with big issues such as DID. Does that make them bad people? No. However, it also does not make them people that we can lean upon as we heal from the very serious issues surrounding DID.

A person does not develop DID unless he or she endured severe and ongoing trauma beginning before the age of six. In most cases, the cause of the severe and ongoing trauma was child abuse. Too many people don’t want to hear about children that young enduring severe and ongoing child abuse. I, personally, do not understand this, but I have learned that most people simply are not like me in this respect.

One friend told me that it was very hard to hear my story (both about the DID and the child abuse that caused it) because, if she hears and has to believe it, then she must accept that this level of evil exists in the world. I assured her that it was much harder living through it as a little kid than it is to hear about it as an adult. Nevertheless, she is not one of my “go to” people because, for whatever reason, she cannot handle it.

My therapist repeatedly tried to get me to bring my husband into my healing process. I knew it was useless, but I followed my therapist’s advice on this twice, and both times were disasters. (I stopped trying after that.) My husband is simply not in a place where he can hear about the abuses that I have suffered, and I didn’t even try to get into my diagnosis with him. I recognize that the issue is his own limitations, not something that is “wrong” with me.

Fortunately, there are people out there who can handle hearing about severe child abuse and DID. Those people can be true gems in supporting you along your healing journey. I am fortunate enough to have a couple of off-line friends who can handle it, and I have received a lot of support online through Isurvive (a message board for child abuse survivors) as well as through my blog.

I would not recommend trying to “force” a loved one to understand your history and diagnosis. If you have to “force” someone to “get it,” that person is not going to be very helpful through your healing process. Appreciate what those people do bring to your life (they have their place in your life, too), but save the deep discussions for those who can handle it. Their reaction is not a rejection of you – it is a result of their own limitations.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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This week, I have been talking about ways that child abusers sometimes “groom” their victims and make the child feel responsible for the sexual abuse. Children who have been groomed for sexual abuse and feel responsible often struggle with an enormous amount of shame. Because they feel responsible for the abuse, they have ambivalent feelings about whether they were, in fact, victims and whether they have the right to heal.

I have interacted with numerous sexual abuse survivors who feel responsible for the sexual abuse. I have had women tell me that they “chose” the sexual abuse when they were only 5 or 6 years old, so they cannot hate their abuser for the sexual contact. Numerous sexual abuse survivors have told me that they initiated the sexual contact as a child and are, therefore, responsible for it.

Please hear me – a child cannot initiate a sexual relationship with an adult. Period. Any sexual contact between and adult and a child is always the adult’s fault – ALWAYS!

Children who have not gone through puberty do not have sex drives. They do not have a desire, interest, or even knowledge of sexual relationships. Any prepubescent child who desires sexual interactions with others only gets that way from being sexually abused. It simply does not happen otherwise. Puberty is what awakens sexual desire in a child. Until a child’s body goes through puberty, there is nothing to stimulate a desire for a sexual relationship.

That being said, babies are born into the world in bodies that have been designed to grow into having sexual desires after puberty awakens that desire. The “hard wiring” is already there, so child abusers can stimulate a child’s body to cause it to orgasm prematurely. Once a child’s body has been stimulated prematurely like this, the body’s reaction is completely out of synch with the child’s emotional maturity and needs, which wreaks havoc in the child.

This is doubly an issue when the only positive attention that the child receives is intermixed with the sexual abuse. Then you have a child who wants to meet her emotional needs to feel loved and special who must endure abuse in order to get it. The child does not want the sexual contact – she wants the attention – but it all gets jumbled up in her head. Then, she grows into an adult who believes that she invited the sexual contact when what she really did was try to meet her very normal emotional needs (to feel loved and special) at a very high price. Wanting to be loved is not the same thing as wanting to have sexual contact, but the abuser makes the child believe that they are the same, causing the child to experience deep shame for “wanting” the abuse.

Sexual abuse is one big mind-f@#$ to a child. A child is never responsible for the sexual abuse, and the resulting mind-f@#$ is yet another way that the abuser hurts the child.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In my last blog entry, I shared an example of one child abuser’s story for how he groomed his victims (prepubescent boys) for sexual abuse. Today, I would like to focus on other ways that abusers can make their victims feel responsible for “choosing” the abuse.

Children are not naturally shy about their body parts. Children who have not experienced abuse often run around their houses naked and think it is quite funny and fun. Child abusers will take advantage of this very normal behavior to make the child believe that he invited the abuse. For example, a child might run around naked after a bath and kiss an adult that he loves. The child abuser treats this innocent kiss as an invitation to abuse, making the child believe that he is responsible. The child believes that the kiss is what initiated the abuse when, in actuality, the child abuser took advantage of the child’s innocence.

Child abusers might give the child a lose-lose option to make the child believe that he is “choosing” the abuse. For example, a child abuser might tell a child that something very bad will happen (such as harm to someone she loves) unless she agrees to “have relations” with the child abuser. This is blackmail and coercion, but the child does not see it this way.

Also, as with the story I shared yesterday, a child abuser will manipulate a child’s need and twist it so the child believes that he invited the abuse. With the example I shared yesterday, the child abuser targeted children whose strong need to feel loved and special was not being met in their lives. The child abuser offered to fill that need at the price of being abused. The child’s need to feel loved and special (and not lose that feeling after finally having it) overrides the child’s ability to make an informed decision about entering into a sexual “relationship” with an adult.

Bottom line – A child is not a “short adult,” so she had no way of comprehending what a “sexual relationship” means. She does not have all of the information to make an informed decision. Children do not have a need for sexual contact, but they do have needs to feel loved and special to an adult. Adult abusers know this and use it against the child, leaving the child feeling responsible. It is never the child’s “fault” – a child does not have the ability to make an adult decision about a sexual “relationship” because a child is not an adult.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Removing the Secrecy to Remove the Shame, a reader posted the following comment:

Would you be able to do a post on grooming for sexual abuse and how a child can be made to think that they have ‘chosen’ to engage in sexual activities with the abuser and the shame that comes with that belief? ~ Dawn

Today I am going to share a story I read in a magazine on this topic. Tomorrow, I will address this question from other perspectives.

I cannot remember where I read about this, or I would credit the source. In a magazine, I read an article written by a convicted child sexual abuser about how he groomed his male victims. Here is a condensed version of what he shared:

This man targeted prepubescent boys. He would hang out at the mall at times when prepubescent boys were likely to be there. He knew that parents would drop boys off to take care of themselves, so they were unsupervised. He would look for boys who walked around alone and looked lonely. He observed where they went and would casually appear in the same places, occasionally making eye contact and giving a smile of acknowledgment. After he “happened to show up” at the same places a few times and reached the point of saying hello, he was no longer a “stranger” and could move in.

This man would notice that the boy was flipping through a particular magazine or looking at a particular game, and he would strike up a conversation. He made sure he knew a lot about the interests of prepubescent boys, so he could carry on a conversation with them.

This would move into something innocent like grabbing a bite to eat, where he got to know the boy better. He offered the boy what he was not getting at home – a father figure/friend. The “friendship” would deepen as he filled the void in the boy’s life. When the boy trusted him, they would spend time together in private.

Then came the “price” of the friendship. If the boy wanted to continue the friendship, then he has to have sexual relations with the man. This was not forced, but it was the “cost” of maintaining the friendship. The boy was welcome to walk away from the “friendship” at any point, but the end of the sexual “relationship” meant the end of the friendship. The boys he targeted were so desperate for the father figure/friend that they would give the “sex” in order to keep the friendship.

Then, when the boy wanted to end things, the man would let him go, no questions asked. The boy believed that he “chose” the sex, so he would not tell. The man got away with this many times before he was finally convicted of raping boys.

All of this man’s victims were groomed. The man took a normal need that all children have – to be loved and feel special to an adult – and used that normal need against the boys in order to have access to their bodies.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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