3. The damage caused by sexual abuse
This damage constitutes a tumultuous torrent which sweeps through the soul and which includes: a feeling of helplessness, that of having been betrayed, and the feeling of ambivalence, as well as several other symptoms.
A. The feeling of helplessness
1. The sexual abuse has been imposed on the victim.
Whether it happened one time or one hundred times, with or without violence, nothing changes the fact that she has been deprived of her liberty of choice.
This feeling stems from three reasons:
- She couldn’t change her dysfunctional family, if it concerns incest. Her relatives didn’t protect her as they should have; her mother or stepmother didn’t see anything or pretended to see nothing.
- Whether the abuse was accompanied by violence or not, whether there was physical pain or not, the victim couldn’t escape, which creates weakness, solitude and despair in her. In addition, the aggressor uses threats or her shame to keep her silent and to continue in total impunity, which increases her helplessness.
- She isn’t able to end her present suffering. Alone, the decision to kill herself would block her pain, but she’s unable to bring herself to do it, so she continues to live, and to suffer.
2. This feeling of helplessness leads to serious damage
- The abused person loses her self-esteem, doubts her talents and believes she is mediocre.
- She abandons all hope.
- She desensitizes her soul in order to no longer feel the rage, suffering, desire or joy. She buries and represses the horrible memories of sexual aggression in her subconscious.
- As a result of giving up feeling pain, she becomes like the living dead. She loses the feeling of existence, seems a stranger to her own soul and her personal history.
- She loses wisdom concerning human relationships, which explains the fact that victims of sexual abuse often become involved again with a sexual deviant, which reinforces their feeling of helplessness.
B. The feeling of having been betrayed
Many people know Judas, the traitor but ignore the names of the eleven other apostles. Why? Because most people feel that nothing is worse than being betrayed by someone who is supposed to love you and respect you. The abused person feels betrayed not only by the abuser in whom she trusted, but also by those who, either by negligence or by complicity, did nothing to end the abuse.
The consequences of the betrayal are: an extreme distrust and suspicion, especially regarding very nice people; the loss of the hope of being close to and intimate with anyone and to be protected in the future because those who had the power to do so didn’t; the impression that if she was betrayed, it was because she deserved it, due to a fault in her body or her character.
C. The feeling of ambivalence
It consists in feeling two contradictory emotions at the same time. Here, the ambivalence gravitates around negative feelings (shame, suffering, helplessness) which were sometimes simultaneously accompanied by pleasure, whether it be relational (a compliment), sensual (a caress), or sexual (touching genitalia), in the first phases of abuse.
The fact that the pleasure was sometimes associated with suffering causes considerable damage: the person feels responsible for having been abused, because she a « cooperated » and felt pleasure; the memory of the aggression can return during conjugal relations; she is incapable of being fulfilled in her sexuality which for her is too linked to the depravity of her abuser; she controls and even forbids herself any pleasure and therefore any sexual desire.
The counselor should explain to the person that she is not responsible to have felt a certain pleasure, because it’s normal that she appreciated the « tender » words and the gestures of the abuser. It’s nature that gives this capacity for feeling pleasure to human beings. What isn’t normal is the perversion of the one who premeditated an affectionate attitude to catch an innocent prey in his trap. He is the sole person responsible.
D. Some other symptoms
You might consider the possibility of sexual abuse if the client:
- Suffers from repetitive depressions.
- Presents sexual problems: lack of desire, disgust, frigidity, impotence, fear or distrust of men or women, fear of marriage, compulsive masturbation. In a child, a problem with self-eroticism, as well as bedwetting, might be caused by sexual abuse.
- Destroys oneself by the abusive use of alcohol, drugs or food. Obesity, in particular, allows young girls or women who were raped to subconsciously make themselves less attractive and therefore to protect themselves against another aggression.
- Suffering from stomach aches, repetitive gynecological infections.
- Has a very specific relationship style with others: either he is too nice with everyone, or he is inflexible and arrogant, or he is superficial and fickle.