Trigger warning: This post contains explicit discussion around sexual abuse. Do not read if you are at risk of being triggered.
The problem with sexual abuse is not the actual abuse itself. It is not the act of being sexually abused. Sexual abuse is not like violence or emotional abuse. It does not leave you cowering in a corner afterwards, or before.
It is this lack of explicit violence or threat that causes most of the problems.
- You do not understand what is physically happening. The abuse usually happens before you have any normal sexual experiences with your body. This means, at the age it happens, you have no idea what is actually happening. You do not understand that your body is physiologically responding to being aroused. The translation of the french word for orgasm is “little death”. When you have an orgasm as a child you do not understand it. Part of you will probably think something is very wrong with your body and it’s being broken, while another part will feel the pleasure from arousal. When you have no idea at all what is happening, this is confusing and sometimes a little scary
- It is pleasurable. Your body is programmed to respond to physical stimulation and an orgasm is a pleasurable experience. Part of you does not want it to happen because you know it’s wrong, and the person doing it shouldn’t be doing that. Part of you is aroused, and getting pleasure from the experience. This means that sometimes, you even want the experience. This means that you interpret your role in the abuse as complicit. If you enjoy it, and even, sometimes, want it to happen, then how can it be “abuse”? Surely you are complicit? This is not true. Your body is programmed to respond to arousal, in the same way as your stomach rumbles when you are hungry. No matter how you respond, no adult should ever be sexually interfering with a child. It is wrong. Always. And you did the only thing you could at that moment in time.
- You were a child, not an adult. As you get older, you understand more. You understand what an orgasm is. You understand how wrong it was for the abuser to do what they did. And as you understand more about what happened, you overwrite the memories of the younger you, so eventually you think they knew what you now know. You overestimate their understanding of the situation. You forget the confusion, and uncertainty. You focus on blaming yourself. You feel shame and disgust for the role your body played in the abuse. You feel you joined in, instead of feeling like the victim of abuse. The younger you DID NOT understand things in the way the older you does. They were confused. They did the only thing they could at the time. There is no should have, could have or if only…Even if you went back and changed things, how do you know it wouldn’t make it worse? If you fought how do you know it wouldn’t have still happened but then with pain and violence? If you told someone, how do you know they would have believed you and helped? They might have not believed you, like my mother when I told her, and left you to continue being abused. You can’t know what could have happened, only what did. And you are here now. So you did the best you could. This projection of adult understanding onto childhood memories is the root of most struggles that abused adults have in reconciling the abuse.
- You are programmed for connection and love. As children we are all programmed to connect love and behaviour. This comes from a very primitive bit of programming where an animal needs to bond with it mother to survive when born. We have the same programming, expanded to include all responsible adults. This means that we make things about us. It also means we behave in a way that ensures we are loved. Abusers are master manipulators. They play on this need to be loved. They play on the programming where you don’t want to upset someone and get into trouble. Love is more important than anything else to our survival. So of course you were manipulated, and of course you cooperated. That was the only thing you could do at the time.
All of this means that coping with memories of childhood sexual abuse can lead to extreme feelings of self-loathing and disgust – not because of the actual acts – but because of the role you feel you played.
You were abused. You were a victim. You did not understand what was happening at the time. There was nothing you could have done differently.
As well as overcoming my own abusive experiences, I have helped many abused clients gain freedom from their abusive past. If you would like my help just email firstname.lastname@example.org You CAN be free of your past.