Tag Archives: sexual abuse

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.

An unspoken secret

18 year old me

I have a secret.

This may not be a surprise to you if you know anything about my past.

But its not what you think.

This secret has created meaning in the events that followed. The secret has eaten away at me.

You see, it’s not what happens to us that causes us a problem. It’s the meaning we assign to it. It’s the meaning that triggers a protective state. It’s the meaning that causes hurt.

There’s a catch though. We interpret and attribute meaning to events, well before our brain is developed enough to understand.

The prefrontal cortex, the rational and analytical part of you brain, is not fully developed until you are at least 19 years old.

At least 19 years old before you can understand what happens to you

And before you are 16 you have learnt all the important lessons that you need to stay safe as an adult

This is the catch.

And so I have a memory from when I was 9 years old, and it had meaning. It was the unspoken thing.

I think we all have them, those moments that we carry, that we don’t want anyone else to know of, for whatever reason. Sometimes, they rest, untouched, with very little impact on our day to day lives. Other times the gnaw away, answering with silent words in our head.

They are not big, traumatic moments, but they are moments that form our sense of self. They might be loaded with shame, or guilt or something else.

They are unspoken.

My moment? I walked in on my stepfather when he was having a shower. I was 9. I pointed to his private parts, and touching it accidentally, asked what that was. He angrily told me that I should never touch that.

I thought that I made him think about me as a sexual object. I thought it was my fault that he abused me. I thought I was his partner, not a young child who was abused.

I never, ever spoke the secret.

And it meant everything was my fault. Who was I to cry victim when I created the problem?

This unspoken secret meant I planted the idea. It meant I was complicit. It meant I was not a victim. It meant I was a participant in the abuse, not a victim of it.

Because it was my fault.

I knew about my secret. But I didn’t ever speak about it. Or even tell anyone I had it.

I didn’t want them to know that all these things I spoke about were my fault. But I was sure they were.

And so I hated myself and my body for the role it played. I hated it for being involved in what happened. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. I felt like a fraud for letting everyone else believe I had been abused, when actually I had created the problem.

And then thanks to the help of my amazing therapist friend, I spoke the unspoken and the spell was broken.

And now I see that there was nothing I could do. I was a young child. I was abused. That is never a child’s fault.

My body is not to blame. I am not to blame.

Speaking the unspoken changes it.

What is your unspoken thing? Who do you trust to tell that thing to?

You deserve freedom from the unspoken.

I am a specialist in sexual abuse

There are many different types of sexual abuse. There is no one type that is worse than the other though. You see, the problem with abuse is not what actually happens, but the meaning you take from what happens.

It’s the meaning behind it that causes the pain in later life, that triggers you in some way. Things like:

  • I should have told someone
  • I should have fought back
  • I should have been able to not respond
  • It was about me not them

Or if you reported the abuse to someone

  • They don’t love me because they didn’t do anything when I told them
  • It must be me that was in the wrong because the person I told didn’t act in the way I hoped/expected

A lot of this pain comes from comparing what you now know, as an adult, with the way you thought as a child. We often project adult thoughts onto our child selves. But you see, you don’t think now like you thought then. You don’t think now, like you thought last year.

We are always the best version of us that we can possibly be, under the circumstances.

As a result of this pain, those who have been abused often have a number of issues, that are symptomatic of having these memories in their head. One or more of the following may be familiar:

  • hatred of body leading to self harm and/or weight issues
  • anxiety – hyper vigilance in every social situation
  • fake persona – living a false life, pretending to be a person you are not to hide the person you feel you really are.
  • depression – a belief that you deserve all the bad things that happen to you in life.
  • Lack of trust in your own feelings/body leading to promiscuity or full withdrawal from physical contact.

Over the years I have worked with many clients who have experienced abuse. Sometimes, that is the problem they bring to me. More often, the problem they reach out for is symptomatic of experiencing abuse as a child. The “system (NHS or otherwise) struggles to treat someone who has been abused because they can present with such a range of different problems. The system first likes to put people in a category and then they treat all people in that category the same. I have had clients come to me with every label under the sun – and what it really meant was they were hurting and doing their best to survive. This can make treatment lengthy and with limited effect, because when you treat one symptom in one category, the other one remains.

I can help you move on from sexual abuse and live a happy, fulfilling life

I don’t need labels. And I don’t need to take years. Within 2-3 sessions you can be a very different person – the person you were always meant to be before someone forced you into hiding during childhood.

I don’t say this because I know what you are going through. Yes, I experienced sexual abuse, but that’s not relevant to our work. What is relevant is that I have healed from being abused and I am happy in my life. What is relevant is that I have used what I learnt from my own journey to help others, and seen the most amazing transformations. I wasn’t ready before to declare myself a specialist in this area. I wasn’t far enough in my own journey and I hadn’t seen enough people transform. But I am comfortable now, with everything that happened to me. The meaning has gone. The pain has gone. And I have helped so many people, that I just want to help more. I love seeing my clients flourish and live the lives they want to live.

I know it’s hard. It’s hard when you hate yourself to do anything for yourself. But you’re here and you’re reading this so there is a part of you that is still fighting. Maybe this year is the right time for that part to reach out to me, and let me help you. I would be honoured if you would let me.

Remember, I do sessions on Skype, Facetime and in Dundee and Aberdeen. There is no reason not to reach out. Maybe, just maybe, I can help.

Email dawn@thinkitchangeit.com to begin our journey together.

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.

All abuse is emotional

I read many articles about abuse. Horrific stuff. Domestic violence. Sexual abuse. Neglect.

It resonates. A lot of it resonates. My own experiences through childhood tick many of the boxes of abuse.

So what is it that makes it abuse? It is not age. Domestic violence is abuse. Neglect is abuse. Sexual exploitation is abuse. 

The silence around abuse is not, in my opinion, driven by the acts. The silence is driven by guilt, shame, a belief that you deserve it, a belief that no one would believe you. The thing that drives the silence, in my opinion, is the common element in all forms of abuse – the emotional abuse. The silence around abuse is created by your reality being contained within the reality of your abuser

All abuse is emotional.

I often used to wish that I had been beaten to the point where I bled. At least then there would be something outside my head to show for it. Someone else would be able to see the reason I was hurting.

When I tried to make sense of what happened to me the only context I had was those people who raised me. And those people were my abusers. I wasn’t in my right mind. I was under their power. My world was defined by their thinking.

That applies to domestic violence too. People ask why someone doesn’t just leave when it is obvious that their partner will continue to be abusive. That assumes that they can think with the clarity that you have. When they go back to someone again and again because they believe it will be different this time – that belief is created by their abusers reality.

All abuse is emotional abuse. When in an abusive situation your world is defined by their world. Your thoughts are shaped by their manipulation of you.

We can endure the most horrific things through childhood and as adults. It is not the physical things that cause the real problem – it is the emotional consequence of those. Bodies heal. Time passes and whatever is happening has to stop at some point. But long after the physical stuff stops, the emotional stuff remains in your head.

This is not all doom and gloom though. Because if it’s in the head it can be changed. I can help you change it. I have moved on from the reality created by my abusers. I can help you move on too. Just drop me an email to dawn@thinkitchangeit.com

Something inside so strong

I got up early this morning to have a run before the family woke up and the day started.

I use Nike+ to track my run and have a mix of songs playing so I never know which song will come up. The thing about running is, I notice the lyrics to songs in a way I wouldn’t normally. This morning “Something inside so strong” came on my playlist and I found the lyrics amazingly poignant considering some of the stuff in the news this last week and also some very personal stuff I am going through

The higher you build your barriers the taller I become
The farther you take my rights away the faster I will run
You can deny me, you can decide to turn your face away
No matter ’cause there’s

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Though you’re doing me wrong so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh, no, something inside so stro.o.ong
there’s something inside so strong

The more you refuse to hear my voice the louder I will sing
You hide behind walls of Jericho, your lies will come tumbling
Deny my place in time, you squander wealth that’s mine
My light will shine so brightly, it will blind you

As I listened to the words for the first time it brought to mind what is going on with the recently exposed sexual abuse of girls in Rotherham. It perpetuated for years because they were forced into silence by a whole community. I also read about the amazing Ruzwana Bashir who spoke out about the abuse in a community in Skipton. Speaking out, for her and others, was so difficult. And still is. Even though her abuser went to jail and served his term, he was accepted back in the community. She never was.

But they spoke out.

They didn’t remain silent.

I know how powerful speaking out can be.

Abusers work off silence. That’s what protects them.

You are stronger than you think. The one thing no one can ever take away from you is your ability to speak out.

My light will shine so brightly, it will blind you

That line stands out for me. I will remember it for myself. If this post resonates with you, then maybe that line can stand out for you too.