While I am a very outspoken survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I normally do not speak of details, or go into the story of the various violations that occurred from the age of about 7-15. It’s not for public consumption and can leave my audience triggered and that’s not very healing.
I normally leave that for my therapy sessions and during my healing journey, I did get to pour it all out in my memoir which still sits in a file on my computer, all 364 pages of it. Not sure if I will ever publish it, but it is there, a record of what happened to me. My story, in aching detail…because I needed at the time to pin it down, to claim it, to say this really did happen (I think a part of me thought, did this really happen? with a lot of incredulousness). This post is not about the details of my own abuse, but the anatomy of how those who abuse operate, gain control and leave the child/adult feeling a sense of shame, guilt, confusion, repressed rage and a deep sadness.
Recently I was speaking with one of the men in my group (a group I attend as a participant). He mentioned the word aggression and was imagining what it may feel like to be me, having had experienced aggression by men. I quite simply said, there was no aggression. His eyes widened. I said they were all very nice actually, kind, funny, endearing, friendly and that was how they got to me. It was all very confusing.
So I’m going lay it out a bit here. How it kind of went, for some if not all. How I experienced most of the men who molested me as a child. I’m going to talk about the seduction and the anatomy of the seduction because I think it is important to understand and important to the work of healing shame (a topic we are working on in the sanctuary). As someone who was abused by 9 men, I experienced the full gamut of the following:
Anatomy of Seduction in Child Sexual Abuse
- They are quite often people we know. Like, love and trust. They may even be our protectors or trusted by our protectors.
- They may pay attention to us in positive ways and in negative ways. Using rewards and punishments.
- They may be nice, funny, giving (my grandfather used to buy me cupcakes after school), they may take a special interest in us, they may even find out what we like and give us special treats.
- They may intimidate us with threats, stares,or actual violence. Some abusers go this route, which is less about seduction and more about intimidation, taking us over, humiliating us, using our powerlessness to take what they want without apologies.
- They use shame as a weapon..you were bad, no one will believe you, look at what you made me do or some variation of this. What we end up believing is: “I am bad”
- Their size and body are used as weapons as well. They show us they can overtake us at anytime and we learn we cannot do anything about it. This leads to learned helplessness. Even when we can supposedly “get away” we don’t. This also leads to shame as adults that we didn’t fight back, say no, cry out, tell. As adults we begin to feel the power we have and we wonder why we didn’t use it..not remembering how truly small and helpless we were. This distorted thinking can be a block to the healing process and has many layers.
- They seem very powerful to us, as we are small and cannot fend for ourselves and have not been taught we can say no to adults, that we have a right to our bodies, that we can tell and someone will believe us. “There is no safe place to go. I am not safe.”
- They may use pity as manipulation, as a way to get you the child to feel sorry for them. They may apologize or look guilty which often makes the child wonder if they did something wrong. As we get older we may think we have some kind of sexual power that provokes men to look at us, take advantage of us. More shame as we shut down our sexual energy or overuse it to compensate for these feelings.
- For some of us it may feel good physically which adds to the shame and confusion. This arousal is normal and is not something the child can shut down. Based on human anatomy there are parts of our body that will be aroused when touched, no matter the situation is. It has to do with anatomy not “wanting it”, “asking for it” etc.
- We may hint at something being wrong to one of our parents, or even tell and get a reaction that tells us we are not safe to speak our truth which further intensifies their power. “Oh so I am powerless”
- If it is repeated abuse, chronic stress sets it, our brain become rewired and our nervous system goes through cycles of being revved up, then crashing. This leaves us feeling hypervigilant, waiting for the next shoe to drop, anxious, feeling dread, fear quite often.
- As children we are unable to say, “oh he is doing that because he has a problem, he is sick, or something is wrong with him/her” Instead we think, “something is wrong with me”. It is part of our development to believe that we are the center of the universe and anything that happens in it has something to do with us. It is called egocentrism. And although we outgrow it at some point, those younger parts still exist in us and believe what they believed then.
The healing comes in facing our shame in adult settings with healthy mirrors who can tell us, it was not our fault. It comes from us accepting that it was not our fault (this comes in time) and putting the shame where it belongs, no longer in us, eating away at us. It comes in telling our younger selves that it was not their fault, that they did nothing wrong..saying it over and over and having compassion for when the little girl/boy in us comes up and feels shame about anything.
That is the perfect time, when we are triggered and feeling shame to take the opportunity to have an inner dialogue with your inner child and let it know it’s okay, you are okay. Even if as adults when we find ourselves doing something we quite naturally would feel badly about, we can own a healthy amount of guilt, make amends if we need to and do it differently next time. We can work on it. This, what happened to us, was not something we could work on, there was nothing we could do. We were in fact innocent, helpless and powerless. We were not wrong or bad, which is what shame is, a belief and feeling that we are wrong. Separating shame from guilt (we did something wrong) can be helpful. Even some of our guilt is not ours, but that is for another day.
I hope this gives those of you who have experienced sexual abuse and those who know someone dear to them who experienced it, a greater understanding of the shame associated with sexual abuse and what it does to a person’s mind and sense of self. The healing is in reclaiming the truth for ourselves, and the parts we lost in those attacks against our very souls.
Have you joined the sanctuary yet? Join us here: http://www.healingtruthsanctuary.com
My next ecourse begins May 8th. Truth Project II: Healing with Imagery and Ritual Details here: http://findingyourvoiceoftruth.com/truth-project-ii/