February 2018 - The Kavanagh Sisters Skip to content

Month: February 2018

Relationships after Abuse – a Personal Journey

Many people ask if it is possible to have a relationship after you have been abused and the answer is yes. It does however, depend on you.

RELATIONSHIPS

I had a rough time building any form of relationships after the sexual abuse. The idea of sex made me cringe at times. Other times I wanted sex so bad it physically hurt.  Either way, no matter what was going on I always felt guilty and ashamed of myself. It was difficult for me as I really didn’t understand how I was feeling or why.  I never really gave credit to the fact the abuse I had suffered as a child had any effect on me. I was convinced when the abuse stopped its effects were over.

I did have a couple of long term relationships, but sex was always an issue for me unless I was drinking.  Because I didn’t connect the dots in relation to my past, I sometimes took it that there was something wrong with me and on the other hand I felt it was normal to not want sex on a regular basis.

IMPACTS OF THERAPY

When I began therapy I lost all interest in sex. I was getting multiple flash backs daily.  I didn’t even like to be touched, I could not determine if the feelings I had about sex were related to the past or the present. Everything I felt seem to trigger a memory from my abuse. I was consumed by my past and spent a lot of time crying without ever really understanding why.

I devoted myself to my therapy in an effort to identify and understand my feelings. In between sessions, work and my family I was kept busy enough. I was concerned however, that I was incapable of committing to any relationship and did resign myself to the fact I may always be alone. At the time I didn’t really see that as a problem.

When I finished therapy, I didn’t really feel any better about myself. I had learned so much but had no way of connecting it to my present situation.  I laughed a lot with my sisters about being cured and that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

It was only when we wrote our first book that I finally integrated my learning and was able to apply what I knew.  I treated myself with a lot more compassion and really saw my innocence, which up to then I had read as stupidity.  I began to like myself and my own company.

I can’t really put my finger on the moment it happened, but I do know I felt very content with myself.  I didn’t give much thought to a relationship even then, but I know I no longer held any fear around it.

Because of my role in the family I had never been able to reach out for help. I always seen it as my job to mind others. Now I found I could confide in my sisters and express my feelings and together we were able to give and receive support.  It was the first time any of us ever knew what unconditional love was. We were there for each other like never before, we challenged, supported and never judged and there is such comfort in that which led to each of us growing more confident.

WRITING AND LEARNING

It was writing our first book that saved my life. It helped me see things much clearer. I was able to own my life good and bad alike. I saw my innocence and let go of the guilt and shame that was rightfully my father’s.

I am sure I wouldn’t have had so much difficulty with relationships if I had this understanding at the beginning of my journey.  I could have made better choices, embraced my learning and improved my life. Furthermore, I could have entered into relationships where I mattered instead of spending so much time trying to fit in with other’s needs.

Our second book was like the icing on the cake. I was able to see further into what I considered my imperfections and gain a much deeper understanding of myself and my behaviour.

Things are constantly improving in my life and I am under no illusion that I am finished as life is like an onion and all we can do is continuously peel away at the layers.

FUTURE RELATIONSHIP

I am now in a good satisfying relationship and it is good because I have learned to share my thoughts.  I honestly believe communication is the most important element of any relationship. I can be strong and weak but no matter which one I feel on any day it is okay.

So yes, relationships are possible after abuse. To be honest the best relationship you can aim for is the one you have with yourself, after that everything will fall into place.

Young Offenders – What are we to do?

In the Irish Examiner 17th February 2018, Seán Mc Cárthaigh reported that Juveniles committed 45% of sex offences in 2016 and that Juvenile offenders were responsible for almost half of all sexual offences recorded by Gardaí in 2016.

I have to say that when I first heard the statistics on young offenders I was in total shock and disbelief.  Having come from a background of Childhood Sexual Abuse I simply found it impossible to absorb or even consider.  I really didn’t know how to come to terms with this information.  I was baffled to think that young people could be part of what I previously considered the adult arena of crimes of a sexual nature, and yet here we are.  Things are worse that anyone could have imagined.  How did we get here? And what can we do about it?

It was also reported that sexual offences are one of the few crime categories where offending rates by young people are on the rise with an increase of 39% from those figures reported in 2015.

Does no one find it frightening that this report is not on the front page of every newspaper or shown on every news station. Is it because we don’t care?  Maybe it’s because we just don’t want to think about it, or perhaps it is because we do not have any idea what to do with these children.

It is heart breaking to think of a child being sexually abused and the only thing worse than that is discovering it was by another child.  Imagine for one moment getting the news your child is an abuser……. where can you go? ……. who can you tell?… who would help you or your child?  What hopes have you now for your child’s future?

YOUNG ABUSERS

The vast majority of young people who sexually abuse are male. There are said to be two ‘peak’ ages for male sexual offenders to abuse. One being around 14 years and the second being in the mid-to-late 30’s.  Recent Australian figures suggest that 23% of young people who are in treatment for their sexually abusive behaviours are aged 10-12 years and 70% are 15 years or younger.

What should terrify us is that without intervention it is likely these teenagers will adapt to a life of paedophilia by the time they reach adulthood, as most paedophiles begin to act on their sexual desires before they are 18.  However, there is a strong possibility that their lives could be turned around with the proper interventions, saving many children from having the life we had.

VICTIMS FIRST

There is a possibility that these children who committed rape were victims of abuse themselves. I have heard of so many cases where a sexual predator claims they were abused themselves. To be honest, my first thoughts are usually ‘so what’, so was I and I didn’t sexually abuse anyone.  This must not and cannot be seen as an excuse to carry out the behaviours that will leave its victims with lifelong impacts.

However, there are many factors that can lead to inappropriate sexual behaviour and they all must be investigated and considered.  Making sure that the victims in these cases are supported is our priority. We must then explore how to also help the perpetrators, or we will never stop child abuse.

WHY HELP THEM

Although this is the year of the woman, we believe it is also time to consider how men process their emotions and their experience of sexual abuse.  It is not news women process differently than men and this begins at a very young age.  It is also far more common to hear of men acting out their pain in a more physical way.

It is our belief that prisons are filled with men who have committed crimes as a direct result of their experience of childhood abuse.  We need to help victims of abuse regardless of their gender.

I am not trying to excuse nor condone their behaviour in any way. But if it is not addressed I have no doubt we will be dealing with the issue of juvenile sexual abuse for generations to come.

OUR RESPONSIBILITY

We have a duty to discover where these young offenders learned that sexual assault is okay. We need to understand how and what treatment they need to interrupt their behaviours before it’s too late. Simply locking them up is not stopping the problem just ensuring these children become more damaged and furthermore go on to damage others.

I feel we have a responsibility to look past the behaviour and deeper into the why our young children are acting out. It is time to get serious about changing things around sexual crimes. To do this we need to open up to the possibility that a lot of those that abuse children can be helped. We have to be willing to discover what works and encourage our young children to come forward and seek help prior to acting on their urges.  I firmly believe a lot of these young people can be reached before it is too late. It is our responsibility to do all we can before we lose more children to the impacts of abuse.  When abuse occurs, there are no winners.

Are our families and communities so damaged that we cannot hear the cries for help from our children? Children need nurturing and with the growing pressure on parents to both work to make ends meet and our lack of affordable childcare, more and more children become vulnerable to negative influences.

The crime of children abusing other children is only a symptom, not the cause.  It represents a much broader problem. These children who abuse are growing in numbers and will not go away on their own.  We must consider what needs they have that are not being met and address them, sooner rather than later.

 

Joyce 19th February 2018

Perfectionism- A way of dealing with Childhood Trauma

Is it bad that I am a perfectionist?

I can say that I would have been very happy to describe myself as a perfectionist as I saw it as a person who was good and wanted to do their best. I was often teased for the way I did certain things in the house. I ignored this believing that I was doing things right and they are just too lazy to bother. I never saw it as a negative way of being in the world.

Dr.Brené Brown says perfectionism is one of the three main ways people protect themselves from getting hurt. She says it is just a form of armour and connected to your sense of shame and fear of not being good enough.

She explains that we use perfectionism in areas of our lives that we feel most vulnerable. It is driven by the belief that ‘if I look perfect, work perfect, live perfect I will avoid or minimise criticism, blame or ridicule’.

Where did it start for me?

When I was in school I would ask Joyce to write my homework in my copy because her writing was tidy, and my copy stayed clean. My writing was sloppy, and my copy was always dirty from using my eraser over and over again.  Over time I began to copy her writing, partly so I wouldn’t get caught out but mainly because I was so embarrassed at my own handwriting.

When I began working in the family business making soft toys I was so obsessed with keeping my work space clear. I became very stressed if my bench was untidy, I had nothing on the surface that was not immediately needed and the tools I needed e.g. scissors and chalk had to be placed just right or I found myself feeling tense, getting headaches or physical pain in my body. At the time I didn’t make any connection to my physical symptoms as I was aware I needed control over something in my life and this was the only place control was allowed.

When I played basketball, I would come home and wash everything I had on. I was convinced my clothes needed to be cleaned to remove any trace of personal odour.

I ironed everything I wore, pants, socks, bras and even washed my runners and removed the laces and ironed them too. I also spent a lot of time making sure the laces went back into the runner without creasing them. I knew this was mad, but I felt so ugly on the inside, so my outward appearance had to be perfect enough to distract from anyone noticing me.

OCD and Perfectionism

I developed a number of conditions in my teens which I was unaware of, I just thought it was my way of doing things. I was obsessed with cleanliness and doing things in a particular order. Because of this everything took longer as I had to repeat the task three times to ensure I removed all the dirt.

When I cleaned my bedroom, I would do it in order removing all bedding and hoovering the bed and floor at least three times in case I missed anything. I would then remove my clothes and put them in the wash before showering and scrubbing every inch of my body with a nail brush to make sure I got rid of all the germs I imaged were on my skin.

I hated my life and the only thing that helped was my love of basketball. I created a completely different me with the basketball group. Although I was obsessive in the sport, training every day, getting up at 6 am to run drills, sleeping with my basketball beside me. This seemed perfectly normal because I convinced myself it was necessary in becoming a good basketball player

Perfectionism Made Me Miserable

In college and in my working life, striving for perfection in everything I did put me under tremendous pressure as what I was looking for was impossible. I hated that I was an all or nothing person, so if I made a mistake and wanted to avoid criticism I just quit the task I was on at the time, making some excuse why it couldn’t be completed. I was so anxious all the time and convinced that I was incapable of doing anything right. I was constantly waiting for someone else to realise that I was stupid, and I would be sacked.

I pushed myself to work harder than my colleagues. No matter how busy and overloaded I already felt, I never said no to anyone asking me to do something, I even volunteered myself for extra work knowing it was impossible to meet my deadlines. I didn’t want anyone to know I couldn’t cope so used to take the work home and stay up most nights to get it completed.

I put myself under so much pressure to do things perfectly and did not tolerate mistakes. I became increasingly ill, developing rashes, headaches, sinus problems, and allergies. I struggled more and more to sleep often returning to work after two hours sleep if I was lucky. I’d stare at the wall wishing I wasn’t so much of a coward and willed myself to just end it all.

How to I stop being a perfectionist?

The more I find out about how and why I developed the need to be perfect the more I recognise how unachievable and unnecessary it is. Through researching for ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ I had to explore the various conditions and disorders that I developed as a result of my childhood trauma. This information has armed me with the knowledge I needed to make the necessary changes. I could see the energy I was devoting to overthinking and overdoing any task I took on.

This will sound like a contradiction but, how I minimise my need for perfectionism is, I don’t try. I accept that this is something I do and don’t use it as another way to tell myself that I have failed or something else to hate myself for. Now when I start a new project I start at the end. I ask myself what I am trying to achieve and who am I trying to please.

My desire for perfectionism is driven by my need  to be right and my belief that others can’t do the work as well as me.  This often stops me asking for help when I feel overwhelmed. This behaviour only feeds my perfectionism, but the more I recognise this in my behaviour the more I can challenge it.

Believe it or not my dogs really helped me because they don’t care if  the house or car is spotless or that I want everything to be perfect.  They do their own thing regardless and accept me just as I am.

Dr. Brené Brown stated that the difference between perfectionism and a striver is the idea that you are doing something for the approval of others. I do the perfectionism less and less and the striver more. This has resulted in me improving in my belief that what I do, I do to the best of my ability and that is always good enough.

15th February 2018 – Paula

Raising Awareness of Childhood Sexual Abuse Triggers

When abuse of any description is covered on TV it is usually followed by an announcement that if you have been triggered by the content of the programme call this phone number.  As a victim of childhood sexual abuse, I often heard the term triggers without making the connection to what was happening in my own life.

Those of us who have suffered from flashbacks or strong emotional or physical responses in the most inopportune moments can really struggle to connect the dots.

Because triggers can be from the most innocuous things, it is not uncommon to become flooded by feelings of fear or panic that often appear to come out of the blue and without any warning or connection to anything that is happening at the time.

Add to that that once you get triggered the response felt can last for a second or linger for weeks. This can make it even more difficult for you to understand what the initial cause or trigger for your emotional or physical response was.

When I broke my ankle a few years back I began to have nightly panic attacks. I had an overwhelming feeling that I was going to die in the middle of the night. I really struggled to understand what was happening to me. I went around all day feeling panic and a physical pain in my chest and was constantly dreading the thoughts of bedtime.

I found myself delaying going to bed and only gave in when I was exhausted, even then I’d sit on the top stair for at least ten minutes telling myself that I was fine and had nothing to worry about. This carried on for weeks until I finally understood that I was being triggered by my dependency on my partner to do everything for me. I hated feeling helpless and out of control and all this brought me back to my childhood feelings of not being able to escape when my father came into my room at night to rape me.

What are Triggers? 

A trigger is anything that reminds you of your trauma. They can be extremely personal and can occur at any time. Triggers can be sounds, smells, tastes, touch, the tone in someone voice, hearing a word or phrase, seeing images, videos, an expression or a gesture.  It is likely that you may feel powerless to stop your immediate emotional or physical response to your triggers.

What Happens When you are Triggered?

A trigger can cause a strong or overwhelming emotional or physical response which can occur at any time. A typical response can be anger, rage, uncontrollable crying, physical pain, palpitations or breathlessness.

These triggered responses can transport you back to unconscious or stored memories or experiences of trauma. It is not unusual for you to feel confused or overwhelmed, and you can sometimes feel like you have been hit by a train.

Why are Victims of Abuse Vulnerable to Triggers?

Those of us who have experienced trauma as a child develop a variety of coping mechanisms that allow us to store memories or emotions away from our conscious minds.

When you engage one of your senses connected to your abuse, for instance in my case the sounds of someone eating loudly or crunching food can immediately transport me back to a memory of my father and how much I hated sitting at the table while he shoveled food into his mouth and dribbled its contents down his top.

Understanding just how you store memories can help to understand why these emotional or physical experiences can appear to have no apparent connection to what is happening in your life at the time when they occur.

Understanding Your Coping Mechanisms

I can honestly say I was shocked that something as simple as a broken ankle could throw be back into memories of my abuse.  When we were researching coping mechanisms for our book, ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ we discovered how as victims of abuse our memories are often fragmented, with this knowledge things began to fall into place. Understanding that it is not uncommon for emotions and facts to be stored in different parts of the brain helped me make the connections between triggers and emotional responses.

It is for this very reason that I understand the importance of victims understanding all of the many ways abuse impacts your life so that you can take control and save yourself from needless suffering and pain.

What to Do in the Moment?

I know it’s all well and good to say that you don’t have to carry on being triggered when you’re on the other side of the trauma. However, I have found a number of things helped me through the times I struggled the most.

  1. Firstly, talk to someone. Call a support person or friend to say how you are feeling and allow them to help you. It is not a sign of weakness to get help rather a sign of strength. Remember how you feel when you are in a position to help a friend it’s the same for them, so where possible call someone.
  2. Breath, I know how simple this can sound but it really can help. If you can bring your attention to your breath, breathing in for 10 and out for 10 and then reduce it to 9, 8, 7 and so on… it helps to not only distract you from the panic but calms you down and helps you sleep.
  3. Acknowledge your feelings be it upset of angry I know this also sounds easy but crying or getting angry is something I still struggle with. I can tell you that when I do make a conscious effort to express my feelings things improve.
  4. Repeat a Mantra/statement or phrase: By repeating a phrase in your head you distract yourself long enough to calm down and think more rationally. This can be anything like ‘Everything is Ok’ to ‘I am going to be fine’ it is not important what you say just the act of repeating the statement will work to get you out of your head.
  5. Try writing how you are feeling. Writing is a great way to express yourself freely.
  6. Drink water: because the body releases chemicals when you are anxious water can help release toxins and reduce the stress you are feeling.

Triggers for anyone who experienced any type of trauma can be very debilitating and frightening. I feel it is especially true for those of us who experienced childhood sexual abuse. If you understand how your memories work and how to access them, you will be better placed to identify and manage those things that trigger painful memories in the future.

Paula- 4th February 2018

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