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Category: Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Dear 16-year-old me

Dear Joyce, this may seem strange, but this letter is from the future you.  As hard as that is to believe it is true.  I know you are going through a rough time now, and my wish is that this information may help you.

Advice

Firstly, stop all the worrying and self-hatred. I know it has become your norm but make a new habit and realise just how perfect you are. Start eating healthy and when Rose offers you a cigarette say no. You know you don’t like them, and they will not make you any more part of the group than you are right now. No more fasting or starving yourself, you are punishing the wrong person.

Dad

You need to understand that dad is not the big brave man you see him as. He is in fact, small, fat and always worried that you will find the strength to say NO or tell on him.  I also know you believe you have no control. I would love to tell you that you can say no, but I also know you have no way of connecting with your inner strength at this moment, that too will come believe me.  In time you will get control and the abuse is coming to an end for you.  Next year you will get your periods and Dad will stop abusing you.

Dad is wrong to do what he is doing to you and your sisters.  It is his shame to carry so leave that with him and focus on your innocence with pride.

Self-abuse

After the abuse stops you must be more careful than ever because when he stops with the sexual abuse, you will start to punish yourself and go over all the ‘what if’s’ and ‘why’s’ of your past.  It is essential that you use this space to become more mindful and know that you are completely innocent.  You had nothing to do with the abuse, you held no power and had no choice but to do as you were told. I know that sounds simplistic, but it is the truth you need to hold onto to get through the next few years.

I am so sorry this happened to you, but you need to know you are 100% innocent this is all down to him.  He is sick and needs help but that is not your problem. Don’t be ashamed or afraid that people may find out.  He will suffer a lot more than you and the story will come out eventually.

Boys

Boys are no more special than girls. Treat them all with respect and demand respect back.  Boys won’t love you if you let them touch you and sex is not love.

Please believe me when I say none of it matters.  Stress, self-hatred, homework, how stupid you feel, boys and sex.  I am not saying don’t try everything, after all that is where all your learning comes from. Don’t judge yourself harshly. Know you have done the best with the cards you have been dealt, so be proud.

Love yourself

Be proud of yourself as you have been through a lot more than any 16-year-old should ever have to go through. This alone is an indication of your strength.  Don’t worry if you don’t feel that yet, it will come to you.

Spend time building yourself up and get a job outside the home. Be a good friend and don’t be afraid to be honest.  Dad is right about one thing, family is very important and believe it or not your sisters will be your best friends when you are a little older.

Mam

Help mum by doing little things that will make her life easier. Have her tea ready when she comes in from work. Tidy up the house so she can sit and relax at the end of the day. Tell her you love her. She is going through a rough time right now.

Mam learned a long time ago that closeness to her children only gives dad a weapon to further control her. She doesn’t know how to reverse that decision. Have real conversations with her and get to know as much as you can about her.  There will come a time when you would give anything to be able to speak with her for although she lives well into her eighties, you will lose her long before then as she develops Alzheimer’s.

What others think

Don’t be overly concerned about what others think of you.  Your gifts are unique to you and you will help a lot of people by being steadfast and honest.  It’s up to you what way you go and remember there is no right or wrong way.  You will have some uncomfortable moments in your life but none of them will kill you and all of them leave good learning for you to build up your strength. Just know you’ll come through it all. All hurt is temporary and is always followed by healing so enjoy the process and don’t get hung up on the outcome.

Spirituality

Stay spiritually connected as angels are always at hand. Speak to them as you would to your friends, cause they are friends and will get you through some dark moments. Worry less, love lots, and don’t be afraid to get hurt or be left alone. Hurt is temporary and being alone is cool. Don’t be concerned it’s not going to happen.

Your future

What if I told you, you made it, and all you wanted you got.

By the age of 21 you will meet your husband and he will give you the family you want.  This relationship won’t last but you get beautiful children from it and your husband will remain a good friend for life.  Like mam you don’t know when or how to stop as you will have six children, two boys and four girls. All of them will know they are loved by you and they will love you in return.

You will have many ups and downs but believe me when I tell you it will all work out and you will be fine.  Please hold onto the knowledge that you are a very special person and no matter what happened to you it will not take away from that.

Trust me when I say that you will not only survive this process but will excel from the lessons in this experience. Keep up the writing as you are good at it and will go on to have two books published later in life. You will go on to help millions of people who have had the same experience.

Joyce

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.

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

10 Reasons Why Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse Don’t Speak Out!

Following the article in the Irish Mail on Sunday about Joe Devine, who told his wife about his childhood experience of sexual abuse 35 years after it occurred.  Joe spoke about how he was sexually abused while attending St Augustine’s special needs school and how he feared that his now wife would not have agreed to marry him if he spoke out earlier.

It is unfortunate that Joe is not alone in his silence.  Although more and more cases of childhood sexual abuse are being reported daily, childhood sexual abuse remains the most under reported crime across the globe many victims keeping their sexual abuse experience to themselves.

Who Are the Abusers?

According to Darkness to Light (www.d2l.org) about 90% of children who experience childhood sexual abuse know their abuser and of those molesting a child under six, 50% were family members. Family members also accounted for 23% of those abusing children ages 12 to 17.  It is these very relationships that adds to the difficulty for victims to speak out.

It is also widely recognised that children who are being abused often love and trust the person that is  abusing them. The child is most likely to have undergone a grooming process leaving them confused about exactly what is happening and who is to blame.

The Lasting Impacts of Grooming.

In our book ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse we talk extensively about the process of grooming.  We firmly believe that if you are not aware of how grooming happens, you will never be in a position to keep your child safe.

Grooming occurs in stages and most often happens slowly allowing the abuser to build trust with everyone involved in the child’s life.  The most damaging stage of grooming a child occurs when the abuser gets the child to touch his/her genitals.  The act of touching the abuser’s genitals changes everything for the child.  It can leave the child believing that not only have they participated in the act, but they may even feel they were responsible for instigating what happened, leaving them confused as to whether or not it is abuse. The process of ‘grooming’ will now shape the thoughts and future behaviors of that child.

10 Reasons Not To Tell!

  1. The victim may not understand that what is happening is abuse.

Because grooming occurs over a period of time and the abuse can build slowly.  A child can often feel that what is happening is normal.  They don’t like it, but they don’t always realise they have a choice so feel they have to do what they are told. As they become adults depending on what they used to cope with the abuse they most often can push the memories to the back of their minds and convince themselves it is over now so forget it.

  1. Fear of the abuser.

It is often the case that the abuser threatens the child or another family member. They may threaten that they will get hurt or be removed from their home if they speak out or that no one will believe them. This belief and the fear of the abuser carries into adulthood unless  you interrupt or challenge it.

  1. Fear of not being believed and worrying about what people would think of them.

Through the process of demeaning the child, constant taunting and name calling, along with the child feeling dirty and ashamed for the abuse, victims can really struggle to believe they are innocent. Developing a number of social anxieties due to the long-term impacts of trauma can also make telling someone next to impossible.

  1. Feelings of confusion, guilt, shame and responsibility.

Again because of the grooming process the child often takes on the responsibility for the abuse. Developing strong beliefs around personal involvement/collusion or engagement in the act can lead to the adult survivor feeling that telling someone would be more like a confession than reporting of a crime, so they remain silent.

  1. Feelings for the abuser.

As most abuse is carried out by someone the child knows, trusts and is dependent on. Children love their parents regardless of how they act, in abuse cases it is often misguided loyalty that can prevent the victim from speaking out. Fear of tearing the family apart, of the family member being physically hurt or sent to prison are all contributing factors that can prevent even the strongest child/adult from speaking out.

  1. Trust Issues.

One of the most damaging impacts of childhood sexual abuse is the struggle victims have in placing their trust in anyone. When the abuser is someone that you are supposed to trust it leaves a lot of confusion and a constant struggle not only to trust others, but more damaging is the inability to trust themselves. This is an area that requires a lot of work to rebuild but can be done successfully.

  1. Fear of the consequences.

The fear of who will be impacted by disclosure is usually the biggest concern for victims of childhood sexual abuse. The awareness that the non-abusing parents, siblings, friends etc will all suffer when the abuse is disclosed can prevent victims from ever coming out and telling their story. It is not uncommon for victims to hold their truth until a parent dies so as to lessen the pain they feel they will be inflicting on those they love. The saddest thing is that once the victim remains silent they also take on the responsibility for something they had nothing to do with.

  1. Not having the language to explain what is happening.

Victims of childhood sexual abuse very often lack the capacity to express, understand or build normal ways of expressing their emotions. This can leave victims fearful that even if they decided to tell someone about their abuse, they wouldn’t know how to explain it or even may struggle with gathering full memories. This is due to the manner in which trauma affects the brains development and how you then store memories. Understanding that this is perfectly normal and is a result of the abuse will help victims overcome these difficulties and be better able to express their feelings appropriately.

  1. Believing the abuse is temporary and will stop soon.

Often victims of abuse convince themselves that what is happening is temporary even if it carries on for many years. Their need to believe that what is happening will be over soon is a coping mechanism that they develop to survive the immediate abuse. This is why educating your children around the impacts of abuse if vital.

  1. The victim may believe they are being punished for being bad. They may also believe it will stop if they are good.

Victims often believe that there is something inherently wrong with them and that is the reason for the abuse. They may act out, struggle to control their anger and rage which is a direct result of the abuse they are or have suffered. They can take on the negative image of themselves that has been instilled by their abuser, that they are bad and need to be punished. Also, if like me you grew up in the shadow of the catholic church you may have convinced yourself that because God himself didn’t save you that you deserve what you got.

Moving Forward

As an adult it doesn’t become any easier to speak out. Years of pain, buried memories, anger, and mistrust can make the process of speaking out extremely fearful and painful.  I feel it is also important to mention that to tell someone about your abuse does not, and should not, require you to speak publicly about your abuser. Telling someone about your abuse is about You and how best to heal from the abuse you suffered.  Breaking the silence may help you gain an understanding of how your life has been impacted and influenced by the abuse you suffered leaving you free to learn a new way forward that is guilt, shame and pain free.

Paula- 28th January 2018

How Childhood Sexual Abuse Impacted Me – A Personal Account

I am very passionate about passing on any form of learning I believe could help people but sometimes I feel words are inadequate and can leave you wanting when you try to explain or describe an experience.  One example of when I found this to be true is when I was asked, what are the impacts of sexual abuse? Because I fear words will fail me, when preparing to answer that question, it requires a conscious effort to remain focused in order to do justice to the reply.

Searching for the Right Answers

The first thing I would say is that you cannot answer that question easily.  In my mind the answer is enormous, as I believe to survive my own experience of childhood sexual abuse I had to become/create an entire new me.  There isn’t a part of me that escaped being altered as a direct response to my abuse. I realise that is far too simplistic a response and doesn’t help someone who hasn’t experienced Childhood Sexual Abuse gain any understanding, so I will do my best to tease that out somewhat.

Recovery

In an attempt to recover from my own experience of childhood sexual abuse I have spent many years unravelling and identifying the multitude of ways I was impacted. One thing I know for sure is that I couldn’t have moved forward with my life if I hadn’t gone back to revisit the source of all my pain and find some way to understand and forgive all involved.  Again, I am aware that sounds like a simple enough statement but believe me it was a long and painful journey that at times felt, was too high a price to pay, but it absolutely wasn’t.

Dark Thoughts

I can look back now on my life and say that before I started therapy I was an absolute mess,  physically, mentally and emotionally and I cannot imagine where or how I would be today if I had not chosen the ‘red pill’ so to speak.  I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t suffering inside, regardless of what I portrayed to the rest of the world.   My negative self talk ultimately became the bedrock from which I created the lie I lived and believed to be me.  Thoughts like, I deserved the abuse, God hates me, everyone hates me, I’m stupid, I have no value, I have the blackest soul, I’m the most disgusting and horrible creature on the planet, no one cares about me, why will no one save me? Consumed my every waking moments. I can now see that my experiences were generating and supporting these thoughts and that I had no choice but to come to these conclusions.

Self-Hatred

As I describe these feelings I can see that they are insufficient at portraying the depth of self hatred I felt whenever I dared to stop and think about it, which was too often.

I felt that inside of me was a blackness that I understood to be bad or evil.  This blackness took up a position in my body just below my heart and was oval in shape and ended around my navel.  I could literally feel this blackness when I inhaled.  There was pain attached to it when I focussed on it and so I did my best not to think about it.  I knew it was still there after attending years of therapy and I believed that no one was able to reach it or help me rid myself of it.  I didn’t know how it got there and so I didn’t know how to get rid of it, all I knew was that whenever I focussed and took a deep breath I could feel it and so I still believed I was bad or evil and no one could help me.

Awareness and Understanding

My understanding of it now is that my early experience of sexual abuse hurt me so deeply and there was no nurturing to interrupt all of the negative feelings accompanying the abuse.  I developed a powerfully negative self image.  Although I was exposed to a plethora of emotions I had no understanding of them which caused confusion.

The premature introduction of unwanted painful intercourse left me with huge feelings of shame and guilt in relation to my physical body and its natural functions.  When the abuse began I didn’t understand what was happening. I hadn’t yet the language or maturity to articulate what and how I was feeling, so I held all my pain in my body. I don’t know how or why but I could feel it around my diaphragm which I managed with my breath.

Over time the negative self talk and self hatred grew until I actually believed I could feel the exact shape and location of my badness.  What started as poor self image and negative self talk over time grew into this blackness I believed represented my badness.

I now understand these thoughts began with being sexually abused. Over time the pain and suffering was added to on a daily basis through an accumulation of millions of tiny perceived hurts, an angry word with someone, a slagging from a family member, feeling embarrassed, to name but a few……..   Years of daily additions to my blackness resulted in a deeply held belief in my lack of worth.

Finding My Truth

Now I know that my true self never went anywhere, I just buried it under so much negativity.  I think I always knew deep down I was good and after many years in therapy, reading books, watching programmes and writing our books I cannot even remember the day, but I do remember talking about my badness to my sister and taking a deep breath to check in with the familiar black feeling I usually located when I focused but this day I could no longer feel it.

It would seem that unknowingly, I was in fact for years, chipping away at my negativity. Slowly re-learning that I am a good person and I do have worth.  I now realise that every effort to improve yourself pays off eventually even if you don’t feel it.

Knowledge is Power

The good news is there is endless research on the impacts of abuse which we have written extensively about in our book Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ and the natural response to trauma.  This information will go a long way to reassuring you that you are not alone.   The research shows that no matter how you responded to the abuse, it was and is, a perfectly normal human response to being subjected to abuse.

It would seem that as humans we are hardwired to make life difficult for ourselves.  Your abuser starts by damaging you, but your own human nature can mean that you do far more damage to yourself long after the abuse is over than your abuser could ever do.   This by no means makes abusers any less guilty for the pain and suffering they have caused, but it is interesting to note that one of our biggest obstacle to healing can be our lack of ability to forgive ourselves.

The information we came across when writing Why Go back? would certainly have saved us years of needless suffering and our hope is that this book does the same for other victims.

 

June- 22nd January 2018

Does Childhood Sexual Abuse Change Who You Are Forever?

Can you ever be healed from the impacts of childhood sexual abuse (csa)? or does csa become part or your DNA?

It might seem strange to anyone who has not suffered abuse to even ask the question, can you heal from abuse. This is because we live in a society where conditions or ailments can be treated or cured by taking a course of medication.  For those who have experienced sexual abuse or childhood trauma, it can often feel like it can never be overcome.

Even when you think that you’d doing ‘okay’ and getting on with things a major event can throw you completely to such an extent that you feel like your life is falling apart. Well, that’s just what happened to me when my mother died. My reaction to her death made me look for answers to the questions I have always held about areas of my life that I felt were unfixable.

Looking For Answers

I wanted to know why even after all the work I had done on myself and all the knowledge I had around the various impacts of child sexual abuse I still felt there was something missing that stopped me feeling human. I had always struggled with making lasting connections with people, always found it strange that I was still incapable of feeling empathy and compassion for people on the news in horrendous situations. I was still not able to feel or cry at emotional events unless I was completely pissed….of course.

Attachment Disorder and Childhood Sexual Abuse

It was only through a chance conversation with my partner in which she suggested that I should look into attachment disorders that I eventually uncovered the missing answers to my questions.

I had only ever heard of attachment disorders in relation to children and separation from a mother, so I had never made a connection to the possibility of this being related to victims of abuse. This search sent me down the road to uncover information about how the levels of trauma experienced as a child can impact brain development and inhibit connections between different parts of the brain. It helped me to understand the many conditions and disorders that can develop as a direct result of CSA and even showed me how childhood trauma can alter our very DNA.

Childhood Sexual Abuse Changes The Body and Brain

I found information about the changes that occur in brain chemistry and development as a result of overexposure to trauma in early childhood. How these changes were then linked to long-lasting physical, emotional and mental effects to victims of CSA.  I made so many connections to my own life and how I had long suffered from many physical ailments in the form of pain. I had at one point accepted as just me. This information allowed me to seek out other forms of treatments to help overcome these physical problems.

I discovered that due to the result of impaired structure and functioning of cells in the developing brain of victims of CSA our thinking, feelings and behaviours can be forever altered.

This information was so important to me. I always knew I was different than other children growing up. Even then, I saw things differently than my peers. I never related to how they felt or what they were interested in. I always felt different and weird. Armed with this new information I could see and make a connection to how this lack of development in certain parts of my brain impacted how I was in the world.

Overexposure to trauma in childhood is found to inhibit the development of the prefrontal cortex, which controls the intensity of our emotions, modulates feelings of fear which is necessary for impulse control. It helps us behave rationally and think logically and is a critical area for learning.

Living With The Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

This under-development for me showed up as excessive reactions to even the most mundane task. We each wrote about this in ‘Click, Click’ how in school, the levels of anxiety were overwhelming for us. For me it resulting in me soiling myself if any attention was directed at me. Because I was unable to concentrate learning for me was a nightmare and resulted in me growing up with the belief that I was stupid and incapable of doing anything.

It is also documented that overexposure to trauma can affect areas like the pleasure and reward centre of the brain that controls how we regulate emotions and moods, form attachments, and respond to drugs.

For me, this lack of development manifested in all sorts of conditions/disorders, anything from social anxiety to attachment disorders, to suffering from depression and an overdependency on alcohol to allow me to engage with others.

Knowledge is Power

So what difference does having this information make to a survivor of CSA? I can honestly say that this information has changed my life. Understanding how my brains development has been impacted allows me to see the damage that was caused by my abuse. It provides me with answers as to why I think, feel, believe or behave in a particular way.  It stops me judging myself so harshly and from hating myself for something that I had no control over.

When we were writing Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ we wanted to make all the information that helped us in one place. We all feel that if we had access to this information it would have made such a difference to our healing and the length of time it has taken. Our intention is always to help others by sharing our own experiences, what worked for us and how it impacted our lives.

If you accept that your very DNA has been altered due to your experience of abuse you can also accept that knowledge and understanding of just how that occurred will absolutely allow you to find a new way of being in the world. Taking the challenge to journey into your past is not easy but in my opinion, is the best way to rid yourself of damage caused by your abuse.

If you want a really easy talk on how your DNA is impacted by childhood trauma check out Pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris who talks about how ‘trauma affects health across a lifetime’ at a TEDMED – 2014

Or read the study carried out by Dr. Vince Felitti at Kaiser and Dr. Bob Anda called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

Paula – 29th December 2017

Survivors Guide to Christmas

Happy families seem to be everywhere during the festive period and pictures of the idyllic family Christmas can trigger feelings of inadequacy for those that have become estranged from their family for whatever reason. Victims of sexual abuse often feel that portrayals of ‘normal’ family life highlights the closeness that they often lack.

Christmas time can be overwhelmingly social.  We can live for it or dread it. Society tells us that Christmas is when we sit around the tree passing presents with every member of our family.

The truth is, that many of us for different reasons, don’t have family or close friends to spend Christmas with. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, and only highlights our lack of friends and family which we can often see as a failure on our part.

For some, Christmas is not a time of celebration, but a time we hate. Society tells us that to be alone is sad and there is a societal belief that no one should be alone at Christmas.

When we are alone we are faced with our self and our thoughts. This can be used to your advantage and is the most crucial time to truly ‘Mind Yourself’.  Many survivors of sexual abuse may have lost their families due to disclosure.  They may feel self-doubt questioning themselves and the choices they made.  Memories can be crushing, and everything around seems to act as a trigger. Don’t spend your time being bitter about the way things are instead make plans to change the things you are not happy about.

It is crucial to put a lot of effort into minding yourself at this time of year.  Remember regardless of what you may feel about Christmas, it is only one day and it will pass quickly. This alone time can be put to your advantage as their will be no distractions to stop you pampering yourself or finally getting to do something for yourself that you have been putting off.

Tips for Minding Yourself

Loneliness can trigger repressed emotions that can be countered by being mindful. Breathe deeply and truly connect with your inner child. Spoil the child in you by doing something that your child would consider a reward. Write a list of possible rewards you can give yourself prior to Christmas and ensure you have all you need to provide the reward on the day.

Connect

Survivors Side by Side is a support group on facebook.  They are currently in the process of setting up a buddy system which could support you if you need it on the day.  Connect with them and identify the supports available.

Make a list of anyone you feel can truly support you and let them know in advance you may need to connect with them on the day

Writing

Writing is a powerful tool and can help purge you of negative thoughts.

  • Treat yourself to a gratitude journal and list the things you are grateful for; no one’s life is perfect but we all have things we are grateful for.
  • List your achievements you will be amazed when you take the time to note your achievements just how many you come up with and it helps you realise just how you have grown and how much of your past you have worked through
  • List three things you have done for other people in the last 24 hours. Don’t look for monumental answers, making someone a cup of tea, listening to someone when they are upset are just some examples.  This may help you realise just how much you do for others, the little things are what we all remember and appreciate. It is also helpful in making you realise your own goodness.

Reading

Reading can be a powerful tool to take you out of yourself.  Reading an inspiring story can transform you and help eliminate negative thoughts.

  • Put a nice book aside for over the Christmas period and relax in front of the fire or in bed and enjoy.

Pamper Yourself

Do something nice for yourself that you normally put off

  • Have a long soak in the bath.
  • Cook yourself a nice meal
  • Wrap up warm and go for nice long walk
  • Watch a nice movie

Volunteer

There are many organisations that would truly appreciate your help on Christmas day.  Helping those less fortunate can put things into perspective for you and hopefully will remind you that things are not so bad

Reach Out

There are many support groups online you can reach out to if you feel the need.  Allowing yourself to ask for support is a sign of strength not weakness.

Finally I offer the following quote by A.A. Milne to all those survivors that may doubt themselves

Joyce-December 20th 2017

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