Tag Archives: csa

The confusing experience of sexual abuse

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.

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 dawn@thinkitchangeit.com You CAN be free of your past.

The end of the story

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The interesting thing about child abuse is that it’s not the actual acts that cause the problem. It’s the programming in our brains as children that requires we learn from everything that happens to us, and around us. We need to take meaning and lessons from events so that we have the best chance of survival as adults, when there is no one to guide us.

The facts of what happens in our childhood are not the problem. This applies equally to horrible events as it does to wonderful ones.

Did you know that we experience roughly 7,363,000 minutes by the time we are 14 years old? Because of the way we are wired, any one of these could become a significant basis for a lesson. It could be a good collection of minutes like remembering eating ice cream down on the beach with your mother. It was a moment of connection, of love, so now whenever you eat ice cream it reminds you of how much your mother loved you. And if you feel unloved, for whatever reason, eating ice cream brings back that feeling.  It could be a bad collection of minutes where you got beaten for making a mess on your top at school. You learnt that your behaviour led to a beating which made you try and change your behaviour. But we all make a mess sometimes and so you could never get things right.

Everything that happens becomes a story. The facts take on meaning. The meaning creates the story. The story runs through our lives.

When you have been abused it is not the facts of what they did to you that are the problem. It’s the story you write. “He did this, my body responded and I became part of what was happening instead of merely a person he was doing it to. Because my body responded I can’t trust my body. I hate my body. I hate myself” And then you define yourself as hateful, disgusting, broken (or whatever because it’s your story)

I had my story. A story where I was either abused by every adult or not put first by any adult. And I had a few tries. I had a father and a stepmother, then a stepfather and a mother.

In my story I was the bad guy because when I had my daughter I couldn’t see how I would let anyone hurt her. I couldn’t see how I would ever do anything other than put her first above all else – no matter what the cost.

In my story I was the broken and evil lead character. Those around me were not the villains. There was a reason why they couldn’t love me. There was a reason why they abused me. I was broken. I hated the child version of me.

This is the story I have carried my whole life. If I ever became unsure, I referred to the appropriate chapter of the story, and reminded myself of what had happened.

But a story is a work of fiction. It might be based on facts but things are exaggerated and changed to engage the audience.

When I took my abuser to court I had to lay out the facts behind that story.

In my video I told them everything. Every single detail. I even told them, when asked, how I had felt at the time. I left no detail out. I then relived all those details 4 times through the trial. First I had to read the written statement I initially gave. Then I watched the first 25 minutes of the video evidence I gave. The next day I watched the remaining 1 hour and 20 minutes of the video evidence. Then I was questioned by the defence.

Through all of this there was no room for the story. Just the details. The facts. It stopped becoming a work of fiction and became a documentary. And then, to my surprise, both the defence and the prosecution brought details of my early childhood into play. That had also been a story to me. But now, that too, was a documentary.

When confronted so starkly with the facts, a story loses all mystique. All fictional aspects dissolved. It was a hard-hitting documentary that laid it out as it was.

And like someone telling you the punch line of a joke before they do the big build up, the story lost all meaning during the trial.

So now I have closed that story book and put it on a shelf. It serves no more purpose for me. It carries no more mystique. There is no meaning or emotion. It’s a rubbish story that I would never choose to read again.

The characters remain in the book of course. Unlike me, the trial created new stories for them. Stories that they had seen differently before. They will continue to play out their role in my story without me going near it.

They are nothing to me now. The verdict is irrelevant. What happens next for them is irrelevant.

I am not a victim of child abuse. I am not a survivor of child abuse.

I am Dawn Walton. I am a mother to the most amazing daughter. I am a wife to the best man I could every wish to have met. I am a therapist, an author and a public speaker. I am an Xbox playing geek who will use any excuse to buy technology. I am a lover of Starbucks coffee. My story has yet to be written but I can’t wait to see where it takes me because it’s going to be brilliant wherever it goes.