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Rainbow (c) Lynda BernhardtOn my blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

… however much I accept they [self-injury compulsions] are a byproduct it doesn’t make them easier to cope with them and eventually the MUST be eliminated…….for my survival………and I only know one way to do that. How do I change this? What do people do to stop themselves? I hate myself for being so weak. ~ Sam

Compulsions are normal aftereffects of child abuse, and masturbation through self-injury is a normal aftereffect for people who have been severely sexually abused. Many people find my blog believing that they are the only one who struggles with masturbation through self-injury, but that one blog entry has over 150 comments, all of them related to trying to heal from this. You are not alone.

While I do not have personal experience with healing from this form of compulsion, I do have experience with self-injury (head-banging) and binge eating. My compulsion to binge eat was my most deeply-ingrained compulsion, which is why I am going to use it as my example in this blog entry. Don’t get caught up in the form of the compulsion. What worked for me with binge eating can also work for you, no matter what form of compulsion you are dealing with.

Step one is to stop feeding the shame. This was my cycle, which applies to any type of compulsion. I would binge eat. I would then feel guilty and shameful about binge eating, telling myself I was a fat cow and a terrible person for eating so much food. This would heap new shame on top of the old shame, and the only way I knew to get some relief from the shame was to binge eat again, which I would do, which fueled more shame, which led to more bingeing. It was a never-ending cycle that I repeated just about daily since I was age 11.

Step two was to give myself permission to binge eat. Let’s face it – I was going to do it, anyhow, so I was only acknowledging my reality. I would binge eat with no guilt. This took a little wind out of my sails because I was no longer heaping new levels of shame onto the “old” shame.

Step three was to explore other avenues to deal with the shame. I tried things like yoga, meditation, exercise, watching a comedy on TV, calling a friend, and writing in a journal. What works for me might not work for you, but explore other ways to manage the shame. Do this parallel with the compulsion.

Step four is to give yourself a cooling off period. When you feel the compulsion, give yourself permission to do it in 15 minutes. During those 15 minutes, try the other strategies you have explored. If you still feel the compulsion after 15 minutes, do it with no guilt. I found that I only gave in to binge eating about half the time after a 15-minute cooling off period, and I built confidence that binge eating was not the only way to self-soothe.

Step five is the most important – focus on healing the pain that is driving the shame that is driving the compulsion. Get into therapy if you aren’t already. Work through the Survivor to Thriver Manual or another healing book. Talk or write about your history. As you heal the pain, you will feel less compulsion to engage in the activity you want to break.

This isn’t going to happen overnight. My healing from binge eating has been so gradual that I only recently recognized that I haven’t had a true “binge” in months! I will still emotionally overeat sometimes, but my weight has dropped by 15 lbs without dieting over the last couple of years, and it otherwise stays stable. I used to go up and down by 30 lbs a year. Healing a compulsion is possible. I know because I am doing it!

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I masturbate… A LOT; I do it mostly when I’m frustrated or upset. I don’t hurt myself necessarily but I hate myself the hold time, start crying and picture myself getting abused. I don’t understand why I get all… well you know when I’m upset. Does that have to do with being abused? Or am I just weird… [I]s it normal to touch yourself five times in one day? And is being overly sensitive an effect of being possibly abused or being hormonal or both? Because I’m also very sensitive…. with girls and even more so with boys….And whatever is the cause of being sensitive is there ways to calm it down? …. ~ Kolbey

This is an excerpt of Kolbey’s comment so I can address the questions specifically. Kolbey is a teen, so I will address that as well.

Let’s start with the “normal” part and then move onto the parts that are not “normal.” It is normal for teens to masturbate (both male and female), and the frequency will vary from person to person. Some might not ever or only rarely masturbate, and others might masturbate multiple times a day. Your body is hormonal and transforming into an adult’s body, and your sexuality is being awakened. So, if your question was solely about the frequency of masturbation, hearing about masturbating five times in one day would not concern me a bit. That is the only part of your comment that sounds “normal” (meaning typical for a non-abused teenager) in this comment.

Since I have never been a “normal” (non-abused) teen or adult, my next comment is based upon what I hear is normal rather than I what I have experienced as normal. I have been told that “normal” masturbation feels really good, which is why people do it. When someone who has not been abused masturbates, the draw is achieving an orgasm that feels good and is relaxing. That doesn’t sound like Kolbey’s situation, which is the first red flag I see.

Reacting to masturbation by hating yourself, crying, and visualizing being abused is not “normal.” That is the way I used to react to having consensual married sex, and that also was not normal. When I started having consensual married sex, I had no memory of the sexual abuse. I had repressed all of those memories, but they still colored all of my experiences, including my sexual ones.

At the time, I viewed myself as a very conservative and innocent “girl.” However, to achieve an orgasm, I had to visualize some really sick and perverted stuff. I would climax but then hate myself afterward. I would feel sick inside and filled with shame. Since recovering the memories, I recognize that I was forcing myself to relive the abuse because the abuse and sexual arousal was all intertwined in my head.

I am not sure what Kolbey means by being “overly sensitive,” but I suspect this is a reference to being easily triggered. Someone will say something innocent that triggers a flooding of shame, and Kolbey is blindsided by this. If that is the case, this happened to me throughout my life until going through therapy. The way to calm it down in the short-term is to ground yourself – lots of deep breathing and positive thoughts – “I am OK. I love myself. I am safe…” — That kind of thing.

I think it might be helpful for Kolbey to read through the Incest Survivor’s Aftereffects Checklist. If reading through the checklist feels like looking in a mirror, that is a huge red flag for a history of child abuse. I recommend talking with a trusted adult (perhaps the school counselor) about getting some therapy. In the meantime, the books The Courage to Heal and the Survivor to Thriver Manual are wonderful resources to help you with healing from child abuse.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Today I am going to talk about a very difficult topic that affects many survivors of severe child abuse, particularly those who experienced severe sexual abuse and/or ritual abuse. The topic is using masturbation as a form of self-injury.

People who self-injure with masturbation tend to be women who use objects that cut, burn, or otherwise harm their genitals while they masturbate. I know women who have used anything from knives to hot curling irons to self-injure through masturbation. The only way these women seem to be able to climax is by experiencing pain, and the self-inflicted pain can be severe.

Why would a woman choose to masturbate with a knife, curling iron, or other dangerous object? The reason is that the child abuse survivor’s first sexual experiences intermixed orgasms with pain. Many child abuse survivors experienced orgasms during sexual abuse, which caused the child’s body to feel both “pleasure” and pain at the same time. Even though the child’s body reacted by having an orgasm, the child did not want the rape or sexual abuse, and the experiences of terror, pain, and orgasm got all jumbled up in the child’s head.

Now, as an adult, the child abuse survivor has a desire for sexual pleasure (just like any other adult human being), but the only way to achieve an orgasm is to combine it with pain and, in some cases, even bloodshed. Numerous child abuse survivors also need to fantasize about reliving the abuse in order to have an orgasm, whether through masturbation or consensual sex. In some cases, masturbating with dangerous objects is a reenactment of sexual abuse that the person suffered as a child.

The women I have spoken with who struggle with using masturbation as a form of self-injury feel deep shame about what they are doing, and each one fears that she is the only person on the planet who does such a thing. They also tell me that masturbating as self-injury is a compulsion: They want to stop, but they feel powerless to do so. This is true of all forms of self-injury, which is why self-injury is a compulsion, not a recreational hobby.

If you struggle with masturbating as a form of self-injury, you are not alone. You are also not “crazy.” Just like anyone else who struggles with other forms of self-injury, you can learn how to stop self-injuring through masturbation. It won’t happen overnight, but you can move toward weaning yourself off your compulsion.

The key to healing from any form of self-injury is learning how to talk about your feelings and express your emotions instead of shoving them back down inside. A good start is finding a qualified therapist with experience in counseling child abuse survivors. The self-injury is a symptom, not the cause. If you had never been sexually abused, then you would not feel a compulsion to self-injure through masturbating. Healing your emotional wounds from the underlying pain will help you stop feeling the need to self-injure through masturbation.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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