Let’s face it; talking about Sexual Abuse is tough… it’s tough because we don’t talk about it like we should. It certainly isn’t a topic that comes up at a Sunday lunch and for as long as I have known, it has been thought of as this insidious taboo issue, which is better, kept where it belongs…”a secret.”
We nobly beckon others to speak up, be brave and then when a survivor breaks their silence the support wavers, the system can crumble and a survivor feels as alone as they did while they held tight their secret… I know… I held it tight for a long time. Any wonder that the pain, shame and darkness around sexual abuse manifests in so many unusual and yet understandable ways.
We have become braver… stronger… more informed and with that we have better systems, more understanding and indeed are making waves when it comes to sexual abuse. But, sadly we have such a long way to go.
So in this blog 4, of my series, “Your Questions Answered” I am going to highlight the psychological signs of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is defined broadly… and as I have mentioned in previous blogs, these signs are generally comorbid (more than one) and will occur concurrently with behavioural and physical signs of abuse.
Most psychological conditions could be indicators for other problems a person may face, but if you have read my blogs on the Physical and Behavioural traits of someone experiencing sexual abuse, then you can start to draw some fairly solid conclusions about what is happening and going on for a young person or even an adult… bear in mind this is an overview and while it is a long read- if I were to delve into these in depth I might as well write another book.
So here are the most significant psychological factors that may indicate trauma is occurring.
Depression: It was never going to be easy to deal with abuse, now a survivor battles with their self worth, their feelings of guilt, shame, sexuality, where they fit in their family, their safety and means of survival. They lose sleep, are constantly told lies by the predator in their midst and made or groomed to perform sexual acts that can only serve to violate the personal boundaries and leave them feeling isolated, alone and depressed. Depression is feelings of hopelessness, comes with insomnia, inability to concentrate, fear of losing control, restlessness, lack of pleasure in life activities, and significant weight loss or gain. (to name a few)
Anxiety: Anxiety develops over time, and can turn into more debilitating illnesses and social phobias. It stems from feeling unsafe, uncertain and watching for the cues of their predator. My belief is that Anxiety starts with heightened arousal- that is heightened biochemical arousal in the brain… the part of the brain that sends the warning signals that it is safe, or not safe. Sometimes it gets a little confused and the brain doesn’t always know what is safe or not
and that is where I believe that other significant issues occur. The longer someone remains silent, the more at risk they can be from anxiety. This is usually found in close association with Depression or the next topic of PTSD. Sweating, phobias, dizziness, chest pain, fear of dying, palpitations, chills and hot flushes. Untreated, and without support this can be crippling.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)/Complex PTSD: After being involved with a major negative life event or ongoing issue (Such as ongoing child sexual or physical abuse) a victim can experience PTSD. If it continues over a long period of time it can be called Complex PTSD. As with Anxiety, it is a state of being hyper aroused (Hyper vigilant), or conversely feeling depr
essed, isolating yourself from events that may remind you of ‘the incident/s’, reliving the event (flashbacks), and other life issues. A person may also experience uncontrollable crying, rages, sleep disorders, high-risk behaviours, shame, guilt and blame. This is something that can develop in teenagers and even children who have experienced child abuse. In teenagers this exhibits in the reckless behaviour you sometimes see, truancy, substance abuse, and disengagement. It can come out in nightmares, drawings and play…
Disassociation: This is one I am very familiar with… and I liken this to watching the world as if watching a movie. It is the ability for a victim to almost physically remove themselves from their body… numb, withdraw, vague out, or anything that removes them emotionally from the situation when it becomes too difficult. Sometimes the person may not remember important information, in some cases as below; new identities are formed like personality disorders. A person who has experienced significant trauma, can at times minimize the physical feelings they experience also.
Personality Disorders: This is not a common one, but in extreme cases of child abuse, and child trauma a victim can develop a personality disorder. My personal belief is that this stems from the paranoia a victim feels and then as it is left untreated develops into a much bigger problem of personality disorder. The paranoia comes from the violation of personal space and hyper vigilance a victim will experience (Among other things). Depending on the circumstances will depend on the type of personality disorder that can present. i.e Paranoid Personality Disorder: extreme distrust and suspicion of others. Borderline Personality Disorder: instability with interpersonal relationships, self-image, and lack of control over impulses.
Attachment Issues: Attachment issues, just simply means that the victim cannot form lasting relationships with people, especially in terms of intimate relationships. Sometimes they struggle to be affectionate to others. It stems from the trust of the individual being damaged or broken, boundaries being violated and the person not feeling safe. This happens early on in development and from what I have learnt, the emotions that were meant to develop in the brain during childhood are significantly impaired as a result of the abuse, and so patterns of behaviour are changed as a result. It could be that this person may fail to show remorse for things, have difficulty learning, and decreased social awareness.
Addictions: Addictions could be addictions to anything- but specifically, drugs, alcohol or anything that ‘numbs or provides a route for escapism.’ Most of the time, a victim cannot sit still with themselves, well, this is what I have found in my experience. Before writing my book #UnscathedBeauty, I was not able to sit still with my pain… so I needed to do something to fill the gap, and that gap was alcohol for a time, and then it just became things. Projects, business and never stopping… facing my pain means I now have the freedom to sit with not only my own pain, but someone else’s.
Eating Disorders: This is usually about over or under eating…
ANOREXIA: (Self induced weight loss through starvation, not eating, and exercise)
BULIMIA: (Repeated bouts of over eating, binging and fear of gaining weight.)
Reasons why a child abuse, or victim of a sexual offence may do this is to possibly appear less attractive to the perpetrator, or perhaps it is a way to seek attention… like I have said before, a victim will try and communicate without saying the words… this can be like that…
Neurotic Reactions: Behaviour where a person engages in ritualistic and/or overt behaviours. Sometimes this is in order to alleviate anxiety, which is one of the biggest symptoms of Child trauma.
Withdrawal and Mistrust: Like anything, if something hurts once, it can continue to hurt… over and over again. Like a child who touches a hot stove, when it burns, we learn not to touch it again… something which happens to hurt, harm, confuse, scare, or take advantage of a child mostly results in the child pulling away and withdrawing… this is how they have learnt to survive and forms patterns well into adulthood.
Suicidal Ideology: The belief that the world would be a better place without you. I believe this comes from the confines of silence and shame. The perpetual feelings of worthlessness and self loathing that leads to poor self esteem. Let me tell you… you are worth it, and if your reading this and you think that there is no way out for you…let me tell you there is, there is always a way- and it does get better.
Self-Harming Behaviour: As I mentioned in my last blog, self-harming can be as a result of feeling numb. Numbness that comes from withdrawal and disassociation… when someone cuts it is as if they can remember that they are still alive. They can also feel something with the pain and it releases some of what they are feeling inside. remember self harm can be cutting, but it can also be self injury… punching poles, head butting, throwing oneself on the ground etc.
As I stated earlier, this is just an overview, however after these past 4 blogs we should have a fairly good understanding of what to look for and how we can identify when something is out of place.
If you are struggling with any of these things, remember I can help you! If you need advice or support let me know or feel free to contact any of the below numbers for support.
Next Blog: Blog 5 of the “Your Questions Answered Series”-What is grooming?
To learn about what I am what I am up to click here.
Every situation is different and each situation has its own very complex circumstances. There are no hard and fast answers, what I say here is my experience- and my own opinion supported at times by research.
This stuff is not black and white. It just can’t be. What is black and white/ right and wrong is that Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence is never ok, and it is never under any circumstances right.
What is grey is in fact terribly dark… That is the silence that sits surrounding this topic. The shame and absolute fear so heavily laden on the shoulders of victims that the mere thought of speaking brings crippling anxiety and fear.
Lets change that… together.
For further support you can click HERE:
If you are in immediate danger, please call 000 in Australia.
To report sexual abuse to police- please attend a Police Station or call 131444 for Policelink. (Australia)
To seek support or assistance you can contact me, www.kellyhumphries.com (I am a single entity who can offer advice, and personal coaching. I am not a psychologist or registered counsellor, but I am very approachable and happy to help.
You can contact the Centre for Sexual Violence at http://www.casv.org.au and download any of their brochures and information, and likewise Bravehearts– https://bravehearts.org.au/
For internet related advice please contact The Carly Ryan Foundation http://www.carlyryanfoundation.com