The effects of childhood sexual abuse on my life …
How my former abuse affects my:
- Body (Image)
- Capacity for Intimacy
- Family Relationships
- Healing (Emotional)
Capacity for Intimacy
I don’t have many close friendships and the ones that I do, are long-term and usually because they make some effort to maintain them.
I do have lots of casual friends; people seem to like me. I enjoy being around people a great deal—even teens! I am more extroverted than introverted, although I do need some private space to retreat to when I want to reflect on things. I remember a neighbor telling me when my kids were little that I “stay in the streets” meaning that I was never home. Part of that was because we lived in a very bad neighborhood (I had to teach my kids not to pick up used condoms from the sidewalk) but we were close enough to the “downtown” area of St. Paul that we could walk two blocks and take the bus—all five of us—for fifty cents. I got WIC for the kids, and that got me free or reduced entrance into a multitude of educational and entertaining places. My kids were familiar with the Children’s Museum, the Science Museum, the History Museum, and many other places that low-income people have easier access to than middle-income people, but seldom take advantage of. My kids have been the exception to the rule that poverty-stricken kids from single-family homes do not do well in school. Even my oldest son, with his learning disability (he has no short-term memory whatsoever) has been accepted into the college of his choice.
Recently, I had a Partylite party, you all know the kind of party I mean, where you invite everyone you know and the dealer tries to sell things to them. I am a horrible host of these parties, because I never care if anyone buys anything, but dealers usually don’t know that. The little get-to-know-people game that she played last night involved everyone telling one thing that they really liked about me. Everyone there mentioned my friendliness. Now I’m wondering if they just didn’t have anything else to say, or if I am truly more friendly than most people.
I do have lots of problems with maintaining healthy intimate relationships. I am too willing to do anything to satisfy the person I care deeply for, and then I am resentful when that level of care is not returned. That willingness also leads me into abusive, controlling relationships because early in a relationship, I seem like someone who will forever be subservient, but that isn’t the case at all. I guess you could say that it’s a boundary problem, but it means that I get involved with people who abuse me, although usually it is verbally and emotionally rather than sexually. Actually, I suppose that depends on how you look at it. I am more willing to try sexual things that I wouldn’t necessarily want to do for myself just to satisfy a partner. I think I also do not set strong enough boundaries. I try to let my partners down easy, to keep from wounding their egos, and they take it as being wishy-washy and don’t respect my boundaries.
I sometimes have trouble saying no to sex that I don’t want. I feel obligated to go along, like I did when I was molested. I feel that I don’t have a choice, but I also feel like I abdicate my own responsibility for my sexuality, and I do so purposefully. This isn’t the giving in to begging thing that I mentioned in the Intimacy section, but more of a total abdication of thought, decision-making and personal responsibility. It really has only happened as an adult in my second marriage when my husband was insisting that I be involved in swinging and in having sex with other men while he watched because he wanted the “cream pie” when it was over. That disgusted me so badly. If there was ever a time of dissociation for me, this was it, but I was still there, still cringing internally, still unbelieving that someone who claimed to love me—my husband and the father of my children—could subject me to something so humiliating and degrading and just plain nasty.
I think that overall, I have done a good job of parenting my children. No one is a perfect parent, but my imperfections have been within the realm of normalcy. The one thing that I regret is that I did not do a good enough job of balancing my second marriage with my children’s needs. In many ways, my second husband was abusive to my children and I was blind to it. Some of it is because they hid it from me (and of course he did too) but some of it was because I didn’t think it was “that bad,” because of my own verbal and emotional abuse as a child. Of course, I was explaining away my own abuse in the same manner at the same time, so it wasn’t just my children who were being harmed, or maybe my children were being harmed twice. They were being harmed on a personal level, and also through the harm that was done to me, their mother. It seemed more normal to me than it should have. I feel very lucky that I did have examples of good parenting and was able to incorporate those examples into my own parenting. I wish I would have sought more treatment for my own abuse when I was younger. It might have made a difference, and that chance of making a difference would have made it worthwhile. I think part of the reason I didn’t was the sense of shame that was imbued in seeking help. That seems to be a common element in abusive situations, and again, that came from my mother. Only “crazy” people sought help for mental or psychological problems. I’ve noticed that people from unbalanced or abusive homes are more attracted to the study of psychology; kind of like they need to understand why they react and feel the way that they do. My sister majored in Psychology in college. She’s the one on depression medications who has never admitted to or faced her past abuse. When my second husband and I did seek help, in the form of counseling for me and for our marriage, my second husband was not sincere about it. He went along to make a good showing, putting on a public persona as always. The counselor that we saw was not perceptive about this, and probably made things worse rather than better. She also was reserved in her interactions with me, and tacitly gave him permission to continue treating me (and my children) badly because she tended to give him the benefit of the doubt when I was also giving him the benefit of the doubt, so I was once again harmed and victimized by him, and to some extent, by the counselor.
Yes, I have strained and difficult relationships with the members of my family of origin. Yes, I feel invalidated and depressed when I visit my family and I have chosen not to visit my family whenever possible. I have chosen friends as my family instead. Yes, I feel that I have been rejected by my family, and I certainly don’t feel safe around them. Even when I went to see my oldest son in the hospital after he was in a really bad accident with broken bones in his face, my brother made belittling and hostile comments at my expense. I wrote it off as sibling rivalry, but in conjunction with the abuse from my mother, and the fact that my mother was there, it was very likely a form of ganging up on me and playing up to our mother. There is also the fact that, although he was not my abuser, he was an abuser of my younger sister, probably both of them, and I have let him know that I know about it, and that I do not approve, and that I think extremely poorly of him for his lack of control and his abuse and exploitation of them. My youngest sister does acknowledge the abuse that happened to her. She has sought some counseling. I’m not sure where she is, and I can’t be. I hope she’s taking care of herself and in a good place.
Other than between the two of us, the rest of our family does not and has not talked about or acknowledged the abuse. My Dad did when he was alive, when I approached him about it while I was in college (when I found out that my sister was being abused). It surprised me how much his acknowledgement and sorrow meant to me. That was very healing, although I know now that he didn’t protect my sister nearly so well as he protected me. Maybe he thought he was saving her from the wrath and blame that I got from our mother. Yes, my abuse was incest, and it was minimized. Everyone hoped that I would forget about it. I don’t know that the needs of the abuser were put ahead of my needs, but I do know that my needs were not met, in the guise of keeping it out of public knowledge. The last two items on this list are that the survivor becomes the family scapegoat and that family members aren’t supportive. If you’ve read the rest of this section, I suppose that those two items go without saying.
This healing part is supposed to start with an acknowledgement of just what has been done to me, and just how wrong it all was. That’s the point of this writing exercise – to go through each section, read the frequent effects on survivors, evaluate myself, and determine how my abuse has shaped my life. From there, I can go on to see how I’ve developed inner resources to survive this pain, and how I need to change my outlooks and behaviors to overcome some of these effects and to grow as a person in the areas where I struggle because of my past abuse. Since I am barely started on this journey, I expect to have much more to examine and write about.
(Part 1) | Part 2