The assault has happened.
The initial shock has come and gone.
You are attempting to regain some sense of normalcy. But, it is difficult.
Or maybe years have passed.
Like in my case, the violence happened in my childhood.
Family and friends may not understand.
They may have gone back to their normal lives.
Unaware of how difficult things are for you.
What do you mean by sexual violence?
Side note, I will mostly talk about childhood sexual abuse. However, I want to be clear that the things I will describe can apply to all victims of sexual violence.
The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.”
In The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, they provide the following examples of sexual violence:
• Fondled, kissed, or held for sexual gratification
• Forced to perform oral sex
• Raped or otherwise penetrated
• Made to watch sexual acts
• Subjected to excessive talk about sex
• Fondled or hurt genitally while being bathed
• Subjected to unnecessary medical treatments that satisfied an adult’s sexual needs
• Shown sexual moves or other pornography
• Made to pose for seductive or sexual photographs
• Forced into child prostitution or pornography
• Forced to take part in ritualized abuse in which you were physically, psychologically, or sexually tortured
This can be difficult to wrap your mind around at first.
If the abuse is a new discovery for you, it may be even tougher.
It is an important first step in acknowledging what has happened.
Only after acknowledging can move on to healing.
I too thought I could skip this step.
After all, I had no problems saying out loud that was sexually abused as a child.
However, my problem was being able to allow myself to feel the emotions that came with the realization of being molested.
I did not know how it affected me until I begin to do more reading and counseling.
There are many symptoms or consequences that stem from sexual abuse.
Even if you do not remember it happening or you do not think it has had an effect on you, like I did, there are still some common signs to watch out for.
Simply put, shame is the belief that “I’m not good enough.” If people knew the real you, they would leave you. It’s being overly critical of everything and everyone, most of all being critical of you. You blame yourself for what happened to you. “If only I ______”, repeats in your mind constantly. You pick fights with people. You want to end it before they can leave you. You may believe that you don’t deserve anything good happening in your life. If a relationship or work is going well, it’s hard to believe it. You may even unconsciously sabotage it in order to avoid the pain in the future.
Shame also includes perfectionism. Your ultimate fear is making a mistake and being called out for it. You can never be or do anything that is wrong or that would make others look at you negatively. There may be a constant obsession over projects, replaying conversations in your mind, wondering if you said the right thing? Did someone not like what you said or how you said it? You work really hard to look the right way or say the right things. You often feel that the people around you don’t know you or understand you. There are no real close relationships in your life.
Shame also leads to codependent behavior and relationships. You will sacrifice your needs in order to help someone else. It may be difficult to trust yourself. You have trouble knowing your personal strengths, interests, dreams, or emotions. However, it is easy to understand and identify those things in others. You often are unaware or ignore your body (hunger, tiredness, fear, pain). However, you do whatever it takes to meet those same needs in other people. For you, it’s more about being a good person who supports and cares for others. It doesn’t seem like a bad thing.
There is a lot of time where you isolate yourself. You rather spend time alone and away from other people. You get a break from thinking and obsessing when you are alone. There is no one there to please but you. You often have a hard time feeling good, like everything is going to be okay. It is difficult to get motivated or stick to anything. You may even hurt yourself, like cutting, to feel alive. You feel disconnected, dead inside. Your only emotions are really sadness, anxiety, fear, and rage. There are panic attacks and nightmares that sneak up on you. Everyone just tells you to snap out of it and be more grateful.
Your (subconscious) mind is constant reliving the trauma, trying to understand it and fix it. This may cause you to place yourself in dangerous situations, trying to accomplish accidental suicide. Your relationships are abusive in some way, subconsciously hoping you can fix it, change it, or that you deserve it. You may struggle with addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, eating disorders, and accomplishments (perfectionism). You may never have any sexual desires or you may overly engage in sexual activity. You may even begin to abuse others in some way. It’s a way to feel less powerless.
These things and more consume your life on a daily basis.
Some people are able to hide it better than others.
It’s not your fault.
It doesn’t have to stay the same.
It can change.
What are your reactions? Let me know in the comments