*** Trigger Warning*** please take care of yourself while reading this post: graphic details of Child Sexual Abuse
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When we were children, adults often told us to be careful not to be alone with strangers, and if anything happens to let someone we trust know immediately. For many of us though, the real danger was at home.

I didn’t remember the sexual abuse for many years, well into my 20s. I grew up with this weird memory of my uncle cleaning my bum after I just had a bath. It is much later that I realised this really happened to me and he wasn’t cleaning my bum. When I told my mother, she said she was going to take action but then, she decided not to. It was best to leave it all in the past.

My mother was too busy working to provide for us and left us under the care of her little brother. She noticed the bruises on our bodies and first thought it was the teacher being rough with both my brother and me but, in fact, it was her brother who was torturing us. Apparently, though, she didn’t know about the sexual abuse. “He was all alone at the time.” This was the weirdest thing for her to say. My uncle was single at the time. Was it ok then for him to touch me? Certainly not! Later on, I told my mother that my low moods and behaviour as a teenager were probably a result of her brother’s abuse. She replied I couldn’t possibly blame my behaviour all on him! “You have always been a difficult child anyway!” Once more, it was all my fault.

There also was my big brother who showed me erotic movies and sometimes our games had a sexual element. He once walked around my bedroom, in his pyjamas bottom and a full erection showing. My grandfather gave me the advice that if I ever wanted to keep a man, I needed to be good in the kitchen and good in bed. My mother once took me to one of her boyfriends. They left me alone playing in the living room to go to the bedroom next door. I came in as I wanted help with a toy; they were both under the duvet spooning. Mother was making a weird noise so I asked her if she was sick. I don’t know if I remember this day because I was worried for her but, as an adult, I understood she wasn’t sick: they were having sex.

As a child, I blocked out most of the sexual abuse and when I shared the little I remembered, it was dismissed by my own mother. Sometimes, I asked myself which was worse: the sexual abuse or the betrayal from my mother? She was an abuser too, so, of course, she wanted to dismiss it. I had a friend who was sexually abused by her father. She even had an abortion (his baby). Her family knew but didn’t like to talk about it. She took another member of the family who was also involved in sexually abusing her and she had no support from anybody. She is now really sick and isolated.

When you grew up in an abusive family and you are left alone in danger, terrified of what they might do to you, and had no one to turn to, you do your best to survive. I daydreamed a lot. I was always loved in my dreams. There was always someone to love and rescue me. For a few years, I put myself in great danger in trying to make this dream come true. I tried to make people happy and I patiently waited for them to love me. I was having a lot of sex as a young woman. I thought I was having fun. I wasn’t. I was pretending I loved sex but, deep inside I hated it. I must have had to make myself believe I liked sex as a child, in order to survive it. When a relationship ended it was always my fault even though when I was abused. “Maybe, I didn’t try hard enough.” I thought.

Here is a list of some forms of survival skills survivors might (sometimes unconsciously) develop as a result of the abuse:

  • Dissociation: leaving bodies, blocking the abuse all out
  • Addiction: drinking, taking drugs, love, and sex
  • Self-harm: hurting themselves by cutting or overdosing.
  • Daydreaming, fantasizing.
  • Self-blame
  • Codependency: People pleasing, controlling
  • Sexual promiscuity or sexual avoidance
  • Eating disorders: bulimia and anorexia nervosa
  • ·Abandonment issues: a chronic feeling of loneliness/ emptiness

Here is a list of some of the effects of child sexual abuse:

  • Low or lack of self-esteem, self-worth, self-love
  • Lack of trust in self and others
  • Long-term mental health difficulties: Borderline Personality Disorder, and other personality disorders; Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, including chronic Depression and Anxiety. Physical illnesses. Chronic pain such as chest pain, stomach/abdominal pain, pelvis pain.
  • Eating disorders: bulimia, anorexia nervosa
  • Suicidal ideation: for some, the pain is so intense, that they just want to die.
  • Difficulties in recognising and managing emotions

There are so many things to add to both lists. Sometimes, some effects of the abuse are survival skills. Eating disorders, for instance, can be a direct effect of the abuse as well as a way to try and regain some control in our lives. Someone might over-eat, and gains a lot of weight, hoping to “repel” the abuser. It is the only way the victim can control the situation. It might also come from self-hatred. When I was in complete despair, I stopped eating. For me, it was a way of punishing me, and, also, of showing my desire to disappear or die.

Most mental illnesses are a natural result of child (sexual) abuse, not so many disorders, signs of madness, or signs of weakness. Our brain and mind are so clever at switching themselves into survival mode. They will do anything to protect us.

The impacts of child sexual abuse are damaging and deep. Incest goes even deeper as it happens at home, the place where we are supposed to be loved and safe, from the people who are supposed to love us and protect us. Instead, they hurt us and made us believe we are the bad, crazy children. It isn’t something we can just “snap out of” or forget about.

Sylvie

Author

Sylvie Rouhani – Writer – Poet – Blogger – Mental Health and Child Abuse activist:

www.winterturnsintospring.co.uk

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