“ Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people. ”
~ Carl Jung ~
© Pieter Harris. www.pieterharris.co.za
Always an ingenious survivor – empowerment after sexual molestation
Sexual abuse or child abuse is the term used when a child is being exploited for sexual gratification. It can involve several activities, from a person who exposes himself to a child, to inappropriate touching, to rape.
Statistics certainly do not reflect the extent of this crime, because it is buried in secrecy. An estimated 4 percent of girls and 2 percent of boys are sexually abused before the age of sixteen. Most people find it hard to accept that child abuse happens at all, let alone that it is so common. Child abuse occurs in all social classes and in all communities and is not limited to any racial or economic group.
If you experience any of the following, you should definitely seek help:
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Self-inflicted injuries or the urge to hurt yourself.
- Severe nightmares, daydreams and flashbacks that upset you.
- Irresponsible behaviour.
- A depressive mood or a history of depression.
You are abused:
- If someone has had any form of sexual interaction with you, without your consent and when you were not emotionally ready for it.
- If you were touched in a sexual manner.
- If you were exposed to pornographic books or movies or if you had to listen to conversations of a sexual nature.
- If someone exposed him- or herself to you.
- If you have been raped or penetrated.
- If you were lured into child prostitution or pornography.
- If someone was bathing you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable.
- If you were forced to participate in sexual rituals and/or torture.
- If you were held or cuddled in a way that made you feel uncomfortable.
- If you were touched above or under your clothing – areas which would ordinarily be covered by your underwear.
- If oral sex was forcefully expected of you.
- If anyone came into your room or bathroom, without your consent, whilst you were undressing.
- If anyone made obscene or suggestive comments or threats towards you.
- If you were forced to participate in sex games with an older person.
In short, it boils down to this: if anyone older than you, whether of the same or opposite sex, practiced any act of any kind of a sexual nature with you prior to you turning 16 years of age, (whether there was full penetration involved or just touching above your clothes in the areas where your underwear should be – the effect is the same): You were sexually abused. You will experience exactly the same side effects, as I will be discussing in the rest of this document.
2. There is help
The abused may believe that the rest of their lives had been destroyed and that they are doomed. Fortunately this is not true. Psychological treatment can help you work through these issues. It is a very complex problem that is difficult for you, and it may even seem impossible to process, but it is actually an effective and uncomplicated process. Hypnotherapy particularly, can help you process the events and help you gain a new perspective of how to learn from it. Enabling you to live your life to the fullest!
3. Consequences of abuse
Every child is unique; therefore the consequences of abuse vary from person to person. However, it is likely that sexual abuse may have extremely serious psychological consequences in the short term and the long term, if the child does not receive appropriate treatment. There are four main factors that explain the psychological effects on sexual abuse of children:
- By “traumatic sexualising” the child may develop misconceptions about sexual behaviour. Sexuality can be associated with fear, negative emotions and memories. The child may feel that the only way to receive tenderness, love, acceptance and attention, is by sexual behaviour. Consequently, the person may show excessive sexual behaviour or may avoid any sexual activity at all. Adults who were sexually abused as children, often have problematic relationships, as well as problems in their sex lives.
- Sexual abuse stigmatises the child because the abuser blames and ridicules the child, and the child is forced to keep these secret. If the abuse comes to light, others may blame the child. Consequently the child feels ashamed, guilty and develops a negative image of themselves that leads to problems, such as depression, eating disorders, dysfunctional relationships and avoidance behaviour. Amongst others the tendency to injure themselves, substance abuse or suicide.
- The sexually abused child experiences betrayal, more often than not by the people who actually supposed to protect him or her. The initial betrayal by the abuser is often confirmed and aggravated by treachery of other adults who blames the child or refuses to protect him or her if the abuse comes to light. This betrayal leads to a loss of trust in others, feelings of sadness, intense anger and possible revenge fantasies. Such people find it difficult to trust others in adulthood.
- Children who were sexually abused, feel extremely helpless because they could not prevent or avoid it. The child may generalise this experience of helplessness and develop a feeling that they are a helpless victim, which can lead to depression and anxiety. Adults who were sexually abused as children, may experience the following problems:
- Unwanted and involuntary memories of the abuse (in thoughts, feelings, nightmares or flashbacks);
- Problems with self-esteem and self-respect;
- Difficulty in having satisfying and mutual trust in relationships (they are often in dysfunctional or abusive relationships where more abuse is taking place);
- Feel dead and cut off from others;
- Sexual problems;
- Substance abuse;
- Eating disorders (obesity, anorexia or bulimia);
Victims of sexual abuse usually suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Read more about PTSD on my website.
There is a very controversial but very true statement in psychology about molestation, and it goes like this: “Except for physical pain and moral problems, molestation otherwise is a very pleasant experience.” This statement is true when you think about it. Molestation is sex and sex is nice. Besides dolphins, man is the only species who enjoys sex. This is how God created man. There is physical pleasure present. But this is exactly here where the problems arise. There may be physical pain involved but the moral problems make it worse than any other Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). Molestation may also bring positive associations.
The abuser may say things like:
- “It’s our secret.”
- “I do it because I love you.”
- The child is showered with gifts or candy and they may not betray their molester. Feelings of guilt constantly arises in the stories of the molested. It can play such a big role in the lives of the abused person that they may suffer from a constant guilt complex, especially in the case where they feel they have contributed to the abuse and where they feel they did not do enough to stop it or that they even enjoyed it.
Feelings of guilt go hand in hand with a negative self-image and all sorts of ways to try to compensate for what the victim did wrong. The person blaming him or herself, asking questions such as:
- “Why did I not stop it?”
- “Why me? What’s wrong with me that this happened to me? “
- “Do I deserve to be treated like this?”
Often the person tries to compensate by always giving to others and trying to please people. The result is that they are abused by people and they remain a victim throughout their lives. They have not learned to say “no” and they never realised that they are “survivors”. Their feelings of guilt keeps on reinforcing this feeling of being a victim and they can feel powerless and helpless and accept that it is their destiny in life and that they cannot change anything.
The molested ones as adults often tend to blame the little girl / boy they were with the thoughts of an adult. Please keep in mind that you were just a child who did not have the control, knowledge, experience and mature thoughts you have today. How can a child say no to an adult? Adults are supposed to know better than that. Somehow as a child you did not really realise what was happening to you as child. You realised that it was wrong somehow but adults cannot be wrong.
4.2 Shame and guilt
Victims of molestation often say the following:
- “I feel so dirty, so abused. I do not know how my husband can love me.”
- “I cannot live with the fact that I participated in something like this.”
- “I shudder now when I think about it.”
Shame and a sense of disgrace goes hand in hand with feelings of guilt. It is deeply rooted in the subconscious, where it can control the victim’s life. The problem with guilt is that it is not merely logical and rational arguments cannot necessarily prove it. You may “know” that there is no need to feel like this but despite all your efforts to convince yourself otherwise, the feelings still eats away at you. The sense of shame is the one who says: “I was wrong”, “I’m bad”, “I’m rotten”. This is where hypnosis can help, especially when we are dealing with emotions rather than rational thoughts.
4.3 Low self-esteem
Low self-esteem can develop from the negative messages that the abuser gives his victim and therefore the negative messages that the victims give themselves. It can be verbal or more subtle but it stays as reality and is unconsciously stuck. Acts of molestation is always destructive and degrading, the message the abused receives, is the following:
- “I’m bad.”
- “Sex is what I’m good for.”
- “I do not deserve to be treated properly.”
- “I have no right to say no.”
The victim eventually lives on with this negative self-image and it spills over into every aspect of their lives, until the power the abuser has over them is broken.
Negative self-esteem follows logically from the above-mentioned and is characterised by thoughts and comments such as:
- “I have always felt stupid and felt I have under performed at school.”
- “I’ve always felt worthless, as if there is nothing I can do well.”
- “I have never had confidence, even though I tried hard to be perfect.”
Self-esteem also deals with negative, unresolved emotions from a person’s childhood captured over a period of years and it formed a pattern. Many abused victims experience negative feelings about themselves. Indeed, this is mostly a feeling rather than logic. These people feel ugly, worthless, weak, unattractive and incompetent, even if the facts are to the contrary.
This pattern is being fed by repetitive negative thoughts about the person him or herself, that eventually becomes a habit that cannot be changed just by arguments or by positive words of friends. It is often so ingrained that it would take a deliberate, decisive and ongoing program for the victim to break the pattern.
Victims of abuse shows two main types of behaviours:
- The first is the underachievers takes a stance from the beginning that they are losers in life, not even trying, denigrate themselves and accepting in advance that they will not be successful.
- The other type is the perfectionists who have to prove themselves at all costs in a desperate attempt to keep on standing out. They idealise success and pursue it. “I have to do everything perfect to be accepted, to prove I’m all right,” is the subconscious motive for their actions. They work on themselves and feel unworthy if they can’t meet their “perfect standards”. Their success, finally, does not satisfy them. The harder they try to perform the inferiority feelings away, the more they elude the satisfaction.
4.4. The loss of childhood
A person’s childhood is supposed to be carefree – the best years of your life. Children have the right to be happy in a safe atmosphere of a home where they are protected from the realities of the adult world. The abused child’s carefree childhood is brutally disrupted. Because they have learned to repress memories, and large chunks of their childhood often (sometimes mercifully) are “wiped out”.
There is a proverb that says: “To throw the baby out with the bath water.” It literally means to get rid of the good as well, in an attempt to get rid of the bad. I see it so many times when a client tells me that they do not remember a certain part of their lives. They remember the time before a certain period of time and the time after that but not that specific time slot. When they get these flashes of molestation, they write it down to imagination. No matter what: they unconsciously, in an attempt to suppress the negative memories, also suppress the positive memories – throwing the baby out with the bath water.
4.5 Other losses
- The loss of a healthy self-esteem.
Every child has the need to feel special, to be taken care of, to feel they are good and are worthy of being loved. The abused child often loses the pampering, especially if the mother is emotionally absent.
- The loss of a normal family life.
In adulteress houses the child is a part of a sick family system of which they cannot detach themselves.
- The loss of a healthy identity.
By identity I mean that something that makes you the special person you choose to be. Abused children are often forced to adopt an identity that others impose on them as the rescuer or the victim in the family.
- The loss of your innocence.
A child abused at a very young age is exposed to the cruel reality of a ruthless world and their normal, childlike innocence is stripped away.
- The loss of a safe haven.
The child growing up in a stable, supportive home sees the world as an exciting place full of wonderful new things to do, see and experience. Abused children often do not have this type of safe haven to which they can return. They are isolated from those who are supposed to protect them. They are forced to be almost invisible and may not draw attention to themselves. The world is a dangerous place in which they must survive.
4.6 The effect of lies
The abused child often has a limited perspective on the world, which is the result of having received false and distorted messages about the very basic facts of life – aspects such as power, control, intimacy, sex, love, trust and what it means to be a woman/man. They can carry these lies for years, even for a lifetime, with them, without getting to a point where they can think for themselves and make their own decisions about life. Some examples of false and distorted messages are:
- “The only thing a man wants from a woman is sex.”
- “People are totally unreliable.”
- “What is love? There is no such thing.”
- “You cannot do anything about your destiny. You should just accept it.”
4.7 Emotional confusion
To protect themselves, victims of molestation often go into a state of disassociation, which means that they are “cut off” and the events are being experienced as unreal, as if it is happening to someone else, as if they were mere spectators. In many cases they “forget” that it happened, but they get these flashbacks every now and then. In many cases, it becomes a pattern, so that the abused child eventually loses touch with their own feelings. Their emotional experiences become so messed up that they do not know exactly what they are feeling and they eventually become emotionally confused. They often ignore their feelings and talk about it with difficulty. In some cases, a pattern of “numbing” starts to emerge.
An abused child may develop a distrust of any type of feelings because it is so often associated with pain that they learn not only to suppress painful feelings but to suppress many other feelings (to throw out the baby with the bath water). Feelings are dangerous after all. The result is that children often lose their spontaneity and hide behind a mask of aloofness. Feelings can also be relegated to the background by the abuse of alcohol and drugs, overeating or excessive involvement in activities such as sports, work and studies – anything to draw attention away from the painful emotions.
Emotional confusion is also a direct result of abuse. This means that the abused, as a child and as an adult, acts emotionally inappropriate. They laugh when they are supposed to be sad, they get angry about things that are actually funny and shouldn’t be taken seriously, they have tantrums, are unpredictable and their emotions vary constantly. Some block out their feelings and climb back into their shell.
It is not easy to describe exactly what this emotional turmoil involves but here are some examples:
- “I have always ignored my feelings, as if they were separate from me and it was not of me.”
- “My feelings as a child were betrayed. I felt guilty but then the molester said everyone is doing it. I was angry, but did not show it. I was scared, but he said there’s nothing to be afraid of. What he did to me was bad, but he tried to convince me that other girls enjoy it.”
- He said he does it because he loves me, but is that what love means? No wonder I do not know what I’m supposed to feel. “
Because the victim, as an adult, is still the victim, they can have problems expressing their anger appropriately in situations where it is justified. Some abused people quell their anger to such an extent that they are not able to recognise it as anger. It happens so many times that such a person tells me that they have processed it and that it no longer bothers them. They understand that the abuser has a problem but if we delve deeper into their emotions, they are surprised by how intense their emotions actually are. Others typically respond inappropriately just like a child by acting irrationally, getting temper tantrums, throwing things around and so on. The “disempowerment” of the abused causes them not to experience anger from a position of power as a normal adult person with self-confidence.
Abused people with emotional problems often experience “raw emotion”. It is emotional extremes without all the fine nuances of feelings in between. They fixate on certain emotions such as aggression or sadness or even numbness and then they are not able to experience the whole range of human emotions.
The sexual and intimate life of the abused is in particular severely and negatively affected. Sexual confusion may develop. Molestation is sex in a sense and the child gets a total misconception of sex and what it really represents. Sex gets confused with love and the search for love, which every person seeks, keeps on getting confused with sex and then abuse repeatedly takes place right into adulthood. It strengthens certain perceptions that they are not good enough, rejected, only good for sex, etc.
It appears that one or more of the following features of the abused may occur in adulthood.
- Permissiveness. It is as if the abused is “easy” and “is sleeping around”. They are just searching for love, only to realise that they get abused repeatedly, with the usual consequences. Permissiveness is sometimes a phase the abused goes through and is often followed by the following point:
- Sexual frigidity. Sexual frigidity may happen sometimes later in life, especially in the marriage of the abused. Some women lose total interest in sex because of the negative associations that go with it. Others begin to feel trapped and become anxious and afraid of sex or are repulsed by it. Again, it is because of all these negative associations – which they sometimes are not aware of – as it is manifesting in the subconscious mind.
4.9 Eating Disorders
The abused may often experience certain eating disorders in adulthood.
- Obesity. Most of abused people experience problems with obesity. They experience fat mostly around the areas of their stomach and hips. It’s as if they want to “hide” this area of pain under a lot of fat. They consciously want to lose weight, but subconsciously they want to make themselves unattractive for men because it prevents further abuse.
- Anorexia and bulimia. Anorexia and bulimia nervosa are also fairly common in the abused. It’s as if they want to be so thin – basically so thin in order to hide, not to be spotted.
5. Symptoms of molestation
Do you feel like a victim who is not in control of your life?
Do you feel bad or dirty? Do you hate yourself?
Do you feel like you’re a failure?
Do you find it difficult to assert and defend yourself?
Are you extremely afraid of rejection?
Do you feel inferior?
Do you have a lack of self-confidence?
Are you trying to be “perfect”?
Are you overly sensitive?
Do you find it hard to trust people?
Do you have a problem to allow people close to you?
Can you begin and sustain a healthy relationship?
Do you have close friends?
Is it hard for you to nurture others or to be nurtured?
Do you keep people at a distance?
Are you loving or is it hard for you to show love?
Do you feel lonely and alienated from people?
Are you being abused?
Have you had, from an early age, an exaggerated interest in sex?
Do you feel uncomfortable when you are being touched in certain ways?
Do you find it difficult to experience an orgasm during sex?
Do you have a history of promiscuity during any phase of your life?
Do you avoid sex?
Are you being used by your partners?
Do you see sex as ugly, dirty and bad?
Do you experience flash backs of molestation during sex?
Are you uncomfortable with your sexual orientation?
Do you emotionally or physically abuse your own children?
Is it hard to reach out to your children or to allow them to get close to you?
Are you over protective?
Are you doing the same to your children that your parents did to you?
This list is not complete and not all abused people experience all the symptoms. Mark the areas you think are applicable to you.
5.5 Your Body
Are you neglecting yourself?
Are you overweight?
Do you have another eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia?
Do you feel your body is just something that you carry around?
Do you injure yourself?
Do you have an irrational fear of a visit to a gynaecologist?
Have there been times in your life that you had serious thoughts of suicide?
Do you identify with people on TV who have been molested and you feel like crying with them?
Does everything sometimes feel unreal for you?
Do you sometimes feel aggressive and violent emotions?
Are there periods from your childhood that you cannot remember?
Is it difficult for you to show your feelings spontaneously?
Do you feel the whole spectrum of feelings or do you suppress some emotions?
Are you out of touch with your emotions?
Do you often feel confused?
Do you feel emotionally unstable?
Do you often feel stressed or depressed?
Is it hard for you to control your emotions?
Do you often have nightmares?
Do you have a problem to get to sleep?
Do you sometimes feel that there is someone with you in the room?
Do you experience recurring dreams about sexual topics?
Do you often wake up the same time at night with the same feelings of anxiety?
5.8 Compulsions and obsessions
Do you have claustrophobia, especially if you have to enter a cellar or basement?
Are there certain items that have a peculiar attraction for you?
Are you afraid to be left alone at home?
Do you have an eating disorder – eating too little or too much?
Do you have a tendency to hurt yourself?
Do you have the tendency to abuse alcohol or drugs?
This questionnaire only shows you the primary areas of your life where the consequences of abuse in your adult life may be expressed. This gives an idea of how extensive the consequences might be.
If you have been molested as a child and survived, it shows that you have probably since your childhood found ways to protect yourself against the pain and memories of molestation.
These methods are called defence mechanisms.
6. Defence mechanisms
Defences are not simply wrong. As a child it was necessary for the victim of abuse because it made them survive, made life bearable and enabled them to continue with life. Someone like this can therefore look back with compassion and respect at the way they managed to continue to function as a child.
The abused as adults, are likely to continue with the same habits of their childhood and it then becomes part of themselves. Unfortunately, it does not work for them in adulthood but actually works against them.
This is the essence of a person’s emotional problems. It protected you against overwhelming pain as a child but as an adult it still causes you pain. Healing involves for you to recognise these defence mechanisms and to replace it with more functional, healthy coping methods.
Defence mechanisms are per definition harmful and can lead to many more problems and even medical problems.
Suppose you disassociated during the abuse endured as a child, in other words you have switched your feelings off or you have “left” your body and experienced it as if it was not happening to you. You made yourself numb so you could protect yourself against pain. It may happen, that as an adult the abused gets stuck in this defence mechanism and you also become dissociated, for example, when you are with a lover. The result is that you do not experience your togetherness with your total mind and body, that you are not able enjoy it and you are left sexually unsatisfied. The defence mechanism is not working to your advantage anymore, but against you. Remember, a defence mechanism is not a conscious act under your voluntary control. It’s something that is activated by the subconscious mind. You are probably not even aware of it. You do not enjoy the sexual act, you perhaps experience pain or psychological discomfort and you just cannot surrender yourself completely to sexual pleasure.
The next defence mechanisms are known to us in psychology:
Repression or suppression is the most common defence mechanism. It involves the channelling of painful experiences from the conscious to the subconscious where it causes less or no pain. Unfortunately the human mind does not easily forget. All data is stored, just like in the memory of a computer. Deep in the subconscious, all the emotions surrounding the events are dormant and buried deep down, from where it can regulate your life without you realising it.
The great danger of repression is that you do not have conscious access to memories and emotions stored in the subconscious. The result is that you are the victim of forces beyond your conscious control and aspects of your life are governed by invisible dynamics.
- You fear things and you do not know why.
- You get angry outbursts for even the smallest of things.
- You experience vaginal cramps and pain during sexual intercourse.
- You get anxious when people touch you.
Repression can take place on two levels:
- In its extreme form, the person may suppress all the memories of what happened and so they really have full amnesia and remembers nothing of what happened.
- The other kind is that they can remember what happened but they repress the emotions that accompanied it. They can in a mechanical, almost callous way, talk about the abuse and retrieve the facts as if they were a reporter to write an article about it. The effect is usually that they are not really in touch with their feelings, that they may be confused or numb emotionally and can experience periods of depression.
Abuse is such a common occurrence, that it is easily dismissed as nothing special, something that happens to many people and that your case is nothing special.
Minimisation suggests a mechanism by which the impact of the events is dismissed as indicated by one of the following:
• “It’s not so bad.”
• “I have processed it long ago.”
• “These things just happen.”
• “He was just touching me a little.”
• “Oh, that happened long ago. I have to forget. “
Minimisation is a conscious act of denial. You acknowledge that the abuse occurred, but denying the effect it had on you or is still having on you. Families and mothers often respond with minimisation when they hear about the molestation. Even professionals often do not take your revelation seriously, denying it or simply do not respond to it. However, all forms of abuse are negative and should be taken seriously.
Rationalisation means that you are devising “reasonable” and” logical” explanations for events and you talk almost theoretically about them as if they are case studies that are being analysed.
• “He could not help it; he was drunk.”
• “He had a difficult childhood.”
• “He could not help it, because he was abused himself.”
I’m not saying that it is wrong to use logic and rational thought to place the events into a realistic framework and to explain it. However, it is harmful if it leads to you suppressing and ignoring your feelings. Man does not only live with the part above their shoulders; there is a heart and soul that should be taken into account.
Denial means you convince yourself that something like this never could have happened to you. Like an ostrich, you are hiding your head in the ground and pretend reality does not exist. You can also “forget” that it happened. The memories are simply swept under the carpet.
• “It did not happen to me”
• “It has no effect on me”
Dissociation occurs when a person is exposed to an intolerable situation from which they cannot escape. If they cannot handle the emotion and pain, a defence mechanism becomes effective. They disassociate by shutting off, blocking and insulating him/herself against pain. Dissociation operates the same way as repressing and we use the set two terms almost synonymously.
Victims of abuse develop amnesia for long periods in their childhood.
• “I lay and looked at the Christmas tree lights when he was busy molesting me”
• “I can remember nothing between the ages of 6 and 8”
A person can have complete memory loss and can forget the events as well as the emotions associated with it, or they can remember the events but forget the emotions.
Unfortunately the brain does not really forget but saves the events in the subconscious mind. The suppressed memories and emotions often begin to return years later in the form of flashbacks. In therapy these memories usually come back and the client can then feel even worse for a while.
6.6 Multiple personality
Multiple personalities is the most extreme form of defence that the psyche can use to protect a person and certainly is the most fascinating phenomenon in the world of psychology. It was previously considered to be very rare and is almost exclusively found in persons who were severely abused and molested as little children.
The Three Faces of Eve and Sybel were popular books (that also became movies) about the phenomenon that captured the imagination of people.
This phenomenon is very rare and only happens in extreme cases.
7. Post-traumatic stress disorder
There is a strong correlation between the delayed stress response of victims of abuse and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is not a mental illness. It describes a rather wide range of emotional reactions caused by exposure to traumatic events such as war, natural disasters, accidents, rape and sexual molestation. PTSD has received a lot of attention in the United States when war veterans of Vietnam still showed severe stress reactions and flashbacks and nightmares of the war long after they had returned.
Flashbacks are recurring memories of the abused, emerging from the subconscious. It is often vague and unclear at the beginning of the therapy process but usually becomes clearer as the process progresses. The process is often triggered by events in your life:
• Incidents similar to the original events and reminds them of it, like the discovery that a family member is being molested.
• The death of the abuser.
• Pregnancy and the birth of a child.
• A child who reaches the age that you were when you were molested.
• Termination of an addiction, for example, food, alcohol or pills.
• Confrontation with the abuser.
• TV or radio programs on sexual abuse.
• Security, for example, the safety of a marriage, causes the victim’s defences to dissipate.
Any incident can trigger a past encounter, buried in the subconscious, but this list deals with the most frequent phenomena.
9. Abuse and repressed memory syndrome
Repressed memory syndrome is another term used to describe the second aspect of PSTD, namely memory loss. The most abused ones experience a degree of amnesia about what happened to them. A woman may remember how the incident started but forgot how it ended because it was too painful. The pain lies in that the abuse often ends when the molester ejaculates and the humiliating way in which the victim gets treated afterwards, like ignoring her, pretending nothing happened, walking out of the room, making threats or snarling about how bad she is.
The following important features of Repressed Memory Syndrome can usually be found:
- Fears and avoidance of certain things and objects, which can be described as irrational; as well as a fascination with certain things for which no explanation can be found.
- Flashbacks: This syndrome is characterised by dreams, flashbacks or physical sensations that is directly connected to abuse in a direct or disguised form. These images or “blibs” appear when the person is awake and can flash into their mind, at any time of the day and anywhere.
- Signs of dissociation: Children dissociate during molestation. It can become such a part of their lives that later in life they then experience permanent feelings of unreality, numbness and feelings of death.
- The loss of a sense of time or loss of memory: There are gaps in the memory of the abused and they can for example not remember the period between eight and ten years old. They can also tend to forget certain people involved in his or her life during the period of abuse, usually the abuser.
10. Why have you maintained your silence?
Sexual harassment thrives in a society where silence and denial rule. We all realise that it must be stopped but women find it difficult to speak out. I have heard the following from victims so many times: “What I am about to tell you is the hardest thing in my life. You’re the first person I am telling. Even my husband does not know this”.
The question is: why is it so hard to tell? You were innocent after all. The fact that you find it so hard to talk, shows how deep it cuts and the magnitude of the effect on your life. You could not even tell your mother.
If you first begin to understand the dynamics of abuse, you then can completely understand why the child would never tell the mother of the abuse.
As a child you remain silent for any or all of the following reasons:
10.1 You were threatened by the molester.
A common trick that abusers use to force a victim to remain silent, is to imprint it in the mind of the molested that it is their fault.
“My mother will be angry with me – like it was my fault! And I was innocent and naive enough to believe it! Today I look back indignantly and I have to remind myself often that I was just a child. I believed him because we, without question, trusted adults! “
There are many ways in which the abuser threatens the child:
• “I’ll have you locked up in a mental hospital.”
• “I’ll tell your mother what you did.”
• “Nobody will ever believe you.”
• “Your mother will be very angry and will send you to a boarding school.”
• “Your father will kill you.”
• “It’s your fault.”
These threats place the child in an impossible position. They do not know if the abuser’s threats are true. Children are open to suggestion and they do not have the ability to judge whether such a threat is probable or not. At the same time, they cannot uncover the truth, because during this process, they might divulge it. Imagine their dilemma? Consequently, they are forced to believe the abuser’s threats and remain silent. Can you imagine the enormous conflict in the mind of a child?
10.2 You are too afraid or ashamed to tell
Because the abuser makes you feel guilty, you’re too embarrassed to tell anyone. You do not know what your mother’s reaction will be. Will she be angry? Will she think I’m a bad person? Is it not perhaps my fault after all? Have I not done something wrong?
Molesters use their ability to manipulate children and make them believe that they were in the wrong. Forcing them to keep silent.
10.3 You were bribed
Threats are less prominent in most cases. More often children get bribed with sweets, gifts and promises. The molester plays on their emotions and manipulates them into believing that their actions are not wrong and that it is the way that people play. They might be bribed into not telling, because they are afraid they will lose the affections of the abuser. This type of abuse often manifests itself as a feeling of severe guilt in adulthood.
10.4 You were afraid of the consequences to your family
A child is in a dilemma especially when the father is the abuser. The family depends on him as a breadwinner and he can abuse this position.
• “If you tell, I’m going to jail. Who will care for you? You will all be going to a children’s home, “or
• “If Mom finds out, she will divorce me and then you break up the family.”
• “What will people say?”
Again, the blame and responsibility are being put on to the child.
• If they tell, their parents will divorce.
• If they tell, they will starve.
• If they tell, the family will be angry with them.
• If they tell, the family will drift apart.
This type of manipulation is extremely mean and the child has no defence against it. They are therefore forced to allow the abuse. It is a terrible burden to carry when you know that the family’s well-being depends on your silence.
10.5 You tried to tell but no one believed you
A mother’s natural reaction when they learn of molestation, is shock and denial.
• “It can’t be true.”
• “They are make up stories.”
• “They have an overactive imagination.”
• “It’s all because of the TV shows and videos that the kids watch at these days.”
Bearing in mind that in the past there was a very strong taboo about anything related to sex. The word “incest” was so terrifying that is was almost never mentioned in any company. As a child you may not have been as informed as the youth of today. This problem has only recently, especially in the last ten years or so, come under the media spotlight who has kept the public informed. In our country, the South African Police Service has only recently established a special children’s unit to handle investigations of this nature.
You often hear about children who said that they were molested, but nobody ever believed them. This further reinforces their sense of powerlessness and the feeling that they are subjected to a situation in which they can do nothing. It is also true that many mothers either suspects or is aware of what is going on but allow it to happen by keeping silent.
We discussed defence mechanisms earlier in this document. It may happen that the mother, because of her shock, goes into denial.
11. Understanding the abuser
I will not pretend that some abusers have not severely disturbed personalities. There are abusers in all social classes, races and degree of education. The public often think molesters are seriously disturbed people who cannot distinguish between right and wrong – alcoholics, disturbed personalities, callous, despotic, rigid, childish and immature people. Many abusers are like this, but this is not always the case.
Although we have no prototype of the molester, literature does however show certain traits and characteristics that often occur, especially those involved in prolonged, severe and repeated abuse. These features are therefore about people known as paedophiles and fathers involved in incestuous relationships.
In this type of molester there are definitely traits of a personality disorder or a disorder of character. The bad news is that someone who suffers from a personality disorder has by definition a poor prognosis and can rarely change. The best prognosis can be achieved, is that they stop their behaviour of molestation. A permanent personality change is more often than not, not indicated.
Some molesters are despots, ruling with an iron hand, dominating their wives and could be described as authoritarian and strict. Focussing on discipline. Molestation can be seen as a result of the need to rule, to dominate and govern. The child is his “possession” and he can do with him or her as he likes.
Other molesters are inadequate, passive and do not have the ability to sustain themselves. They feel inferior to others and have little power at work. It is amazing how often these qualities are found with molesters. The man feels inferior at work and at home and then turns to a child trying to make up for his powerlessness. Like rape, molestation is often an act of aggression rather than the fulfilment of sexual needs. The molester is often not sexually deprived and can have a normal sexual relationship with a woman.
Molesters usually rationalize their actions and complain that their wives are cold, their marriages are unhappy and that the child is alluring and seductive. That it was “just a game”, he had financial stress, his wife was ill for a long of time, alcohol is to blame and endless other excuses. It is always something outside of the molester himself. Something in their circumstances that is the cause of their actions. They rarely accept responsibility.
• Were molested as children themselves.
• Hang around in places where children gather.
• Cannot have a normal relationship with a woman and then turns to children who cannot say no.
• Gets involved with single women with children.
• Is insecure.
• Do not acknowledge that there is something wrong with them.
• Failure in occupational or social functioning.
• Their sexual functioning is inadequate. I have never had any success with abusers and they have no intention to change. Their self-insight is just too limited.
I have relied very heavily in this document on:
1. My own knowledge and experience.
2. The Book: “Praat daaroor” by Nico Roos. If you want to know more about abuse, it is definitely worth it to buy. It’s available at any leading bookseller.
3. “It’s me, Anna” is another book that I depended on by Elbe Lotter. In this book she describes her own story. It’s disturbing but worth reading. Also available at any leading bookseller.