Relationships and the Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse

 

Where did our roadmap into the future come from?  Who taught us how to navigate? How to love? Who to trust? When to trust? Secrecy and keeping thoughts and feeling to ourselves became our true reality.  Imagine yourself as a child, seeing the world through a child’s eyes, and then being introduced to a ferocious and violent act—an act that serves to not only damage one’s physical body and mental/cognitive mind-set, but also disrupt one’s spiritual being.  And yes, it is all these things without being beaten.  I believe violence compounds the problem.

Wounded attachment is an insidious component that I have seen repeatedly in my work with adult survivors of childhood sexual assault. What is wounded attachment? It’s the unconscious way of being attracted or attached to someone or something that reminds the survivor of or reinforces the wound/trauma, or in this case the sexual assault. At its core, it’s the way in which survivors subconsciously seek out relationships that reinforce the wounded aspect of themselves. (Valerie Kuykendall-Rogers, MA, LPC-S, June 2013)

A neglected and abused child often develops a confused attachment style when they are raised in an environment of inconsistent or unavailable attention.  This is especially true when the parent or caretaker is abusive, intrusive, neglectful or otherwise dangerous.  These children can go on to become adults who make poor partners later on in life since they are prone to acting out against themselves or others.  We (survivors) often have such high levels of abandonment and trust issues that without intervention relationships become caught in a revolving door of different version of the same relationship.

Survivors of Childhood Sexual or Physical abuse also learn to ignore his or her own needs.  As adults survivors tend to be fiercely independent and will not admit to needing others. Early training that our needs, wants and requirements don’t matter or are no importance are difficult to overcome, even when you are aware of the faulty thinking.

There can be great frustration in trying to be perfect and not getting what you need, often times not knowing what you need.  A relationship can then end in a self-fulfilling prophecy of the very abandonment the survivor fears most.  Partners leave in frustration.

They might also remain single and avoid relationships altogether. (Note: singleness does not imply a person is avoidant; finding a good partner takes a certain measure of good fortune!)

This avoidance is where I’ve been finding my own self the last few years.  It’s lonely. There is so much pain in a failed relationship.  And failure.  Society doesn’t look at you and say, oh that person wasn’t right for you.  They say things like “Too bad you couldn’t make it work.”

Then there are your own children.  Are you saying enough?  Are you saying too much?  Should you say anything at all?  What are the boundaries?  Who is showing me how to be a good parent? What if they grow up and never talk to you again?

Relationships are based on how we attach to others.  Expressing your feelings, ability to nurture, comfort and feeling connected.  Some of us struggle with the connectedness part.  If you spent your formative years running away from feelings that overwhelmed you, who tells you that you don’t have to run when you don’t even know your are still sprinting away from the very thing you want the most?

http://sfhelp.org/gwc/wounds/bonding.htm  is a marvelous self-help site that talks about the wounds you have as a grown wounded child.

Instead of relationship issues many articles and those in the mental health field call it an attachment disorder.  It’s a painful label.  However it seems that without labels no one knows how to talk about what the problem is.

I like to think about attachment/relationship issues and my dog.  My dog, Simon, was a 15 month old rescue.  He’d been poorly fed, abused and beaten up not only by the past owner but by the other dogs.  Simon was on his way to being euthanized.  No hope for him.  He was terrified of people, other dogs, cats and even puppies.  A look his way and he would cower and urinate where he stood.  My heart went out to this creature.

I took him home for 5 days.  “Only 5 days,” I said.  “If there is no improvement I can’t keep him.”

I bought him some chew bones, food and a ball.   He stared at the chew bones.  He didn’t eat.  He didn’t know what to do with the ball.  I stayed with him for those five days.  He jumped when I moved.  He watched everything around him and whimpered when my cat went to check out the house quest.  I spoke to him quietly and played soft music in the background.

I kept Simon. He will be 8 years old this month. I had him for two years before he let me scratch his belly.  He learned to trust and he learned to love.  If my English Shepherd can do, I have to hope we all can.

We need to be able to set healthy boundaries, understand and respect them.   It matters for our personal safety, and growth as well as healthy relationships whether it be family, friends, co-workers, or partners.

We were given a bad roadmap to our future.  Let’s lose it and get a new one. We’ve been alone too long.

 

Annie O’Sullivan

Author, Can You Hear Me Now?

 

Signs You are in an Abusive Relationship

 

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This article may appear to be geared toward men as abusers.  It is difficult sometimes to use gender free words.  Women can be just as guilty so please don’t miss the message.

1. Quick involvement.  He/she comes on strong, claiming, “I’ve never felt loved like this before by anyone.” or “I’ve never felt like this about anyone before”  You get pressured for an exclusive commitment almost immediately.

2. Jealous. Your partner is excessively possessive, calls constantly, or visits unexpectedly, accuses you of looking at others with great interest and scrutinizes every activity away from them and with them

3. Controlling. He/she interrogate you intensely about who you talked to and where you were; checks mileage on the car; keeps all the money or asks for receipts; insists you ask for permission to go anywhere or do anything, checks time in and out.

4. Very unrealistic expectations.  expects you to be the perfect person and meet their every need.

5. Isolating.  They will attempt to cut you off from family and friends; deprives you of a phone or car, or tries to prevent you from holding a job,complain about your job or hobbies that take you out of his control, struggles with the need for you to hold a job and their need to keep you isolated to themselves

6. Blames others for own mistakes. The boss, family, you – it’s always someone else’s fault if anything goes wrong.  Who ever is handy will get the blame.

7.  Everyone else is responsible for their feelings. The abuser says, “You make me angry” instead of “I’m angry.” “I wouldn’t get so p**** off if you wouldn’t…  Why do you have to do that?  Why did you make me do that?”

8. Overly Sensitive.  Is easily insulted, angered, hurt and will often rant and rave about injustices that are just part of life. Including feeling left out, un-friended, and unloved if not at the absolute center of the relationship

9. He/she is cruel to animals and children.  pushes animals brutally and unfairly. May expect children to do things beyond their ability, or tease them until they cry, lecture them beyond their year and ability to understand.

10. His/her “playful” use of force during sex.  Enjoys throwing you down or holding you down against your will and may say they find the idea of rape exciting. Intimidates, manipulates, or forces you to engage in unwanted sex acts.

11. There is verbal abuse.  They constantly criticize you or says cruel things; degrades, curses, calls you ugly names. He/she will use vulnerable points about your past/life against you.

12. There are rigid gender roles. He/She expects you to serve, obey, and remain at home when not required to be at your job.

13. Sudden mood swings.  switches from loving to angry in a matter of minutes.

14. History of battering. He admits to hitting women in the past, but states that they or the situation brought it on. Feels that they deserved it and so it is OK.

15. Threats  They makes statements such as, “I’ll break your neck,” but then dismisses it with “I really didn’t mean it.”

 

Annie O’Sullivan, Author of my Story “Can You Hear Me Now?” Available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble