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This page is meant to provide information and resources to suit your personal needs. I will be writing on a specific topic bi-weekly, in which I will discuss personal concerns, or supply you with resources on specific issues.  
If you have questions or comments, or would like information on a specific topic, you can e-mail me at: jenncatanzaro@hwifc.com

Topic: Understanding Sexual Abuse
Written by: Jenny Catanzaro

Introduction:
There are many reported cases of children who have been abused in some form by someone they thought they could trust. The ramifications of the abuse are often severe and healing requires much time and effort, along with the support of others. The effects of sexual abuse don't just cause emotional and physical scars, but also struggles in relationships with God and others. Many times, the abuse comes from a trusted or influential person. Generally speaking, this person seems to have an amazing ability to make you feel confident in yourself and special. They have a way of understanding you, and seem to be able to relate to any situation you discuss with them. This is not sincere behavior from them, they have learned how to reach you, by learning what is important to you, what your common interests are, and what makes you vulnerable. Their methods of communication cause the victim to sincerely believe that they are their friend. However, while they are in this mode of thinking, the perpetrator is searching for ways to take advantage of the person for their own gratification. This does not just happen among children, it happens among adults as well. There have been marital problems because of it. Sexual abuse comes in many forms: inappropriate affection, lewd remarks, indecent exposure, and finally, the act itself. All of these are serious forms and cause negative effects on the victim. Many people believe that if there has been no penetration, that there has been no abuse. This is not true, and can deeply wound the person treated with this attitude. One thing to remember is that it is most important that the victim be taken seriously. They must feel validated. People who have been hurt or abused will often go into a depression if they are not able to take control of their feelings and actions and start to heal. Depression often causes extremities in behavior. Moods become unpredictable and can change in an instant, they are often defensive and withdrawn. You will find that they have a difficult time socializing and expressing themselves. This can occur with any type of hurt caused, not just abuse, but, physical and emotional abuse is often the culprit behind many of the negative emotions that you will read about a little further in this article.  The effects of sexual abuse:


Relational
Feelings of vulnerability, betrayal, and rejection
Fear of others
Inability to trust
Inability to have other relationships
Physical and emotional withdrawal


The relational effects of abuse can be very complicated. The victim feels as if no one is trustworthy, no one really cares, love is an illusion and there must be an ulterior motive behind what people say and do. It causes an incredible fear of closeness, because it is hard to believe that someone could actually really care about them. They don't want to let their guard down; they don't want to be used or vulnerable to another person. This also has broken many marriages. It is wise to wait as you work through the healing process before you enter an intimate relationship. Sometimes, your spouse could be the one who will help to facilitate your healing, as well as other family members. These effects can be so frustrating to the victim because they often really need and want a close relationship with others. They don't know how to let go of their fears. It takes them time to learn who they can trust, and who they can't. Once they learn how to appropriately discern the character of others, then they can learn how to develop healthy relationships. When this happens, they become very devoted and loyal friends who find strength and healing within their relationship.

Emotional
Miss-placed guilt or shame
Self-hatred
Feelings of worthlessness
Intense anger
Intense grief

The emotional effects can be very subtle, and often seen only by those closest to the person. The victim will respond in different ways, they will either become withdrawn, angry, or put on an act of self-confidence and capability. The victim that withdraws, often feels self-hatred and insecure. They are run by their fears and will go through life in recluse, just existing in intense grief. The victim that responds in anger; struggles with self-destructive behavior and thoughts. They trust no one, and feel betrayed and abandoned by God. They go through life with an aggressiveness and are often very defensive. The victim that responds with an act of confidence, will often appear very capable and will function very well in the public eye. What is not seen, is when they are in the privacy of their own environment, they struggle with feelings of worthlessness, and guilt. All of these victims have the potential of falling into various forms of substance abuse, or obsessions, in order to relieve their pain.

Physical
Substance abuse
Eating and sleep disorders
Self-destructive

Physical effects of course involves pain and negative feelings toward any form of intimacy, no matter how appropriate or healthy. Depression can set in, leaving the person with what seems no other option than to turn to a substance to relieve their pain. Many times, their self-image has been affected. It becomes difficult to sleep because this is when they are quiet and alone with their own thoughts, and it is painful to think about. This causes the victim to be in a constant state of activity, or going from one "high" to the next in order to avoid dealing with their pain. When a situation like this occurs, there are so many different emotions, as I have mentioned in the previous paragraphs. It can be very overwhelming, and can seem easier to block it out with the activities and substances rather than face it and move towards healing. The physical ramifications make it hard for the abused to receive any form of affection without feeling guilty, angry and unsure as to how they can receive it. The guilt comes in because they feel as though they are making themselves vulnerable again to be hurt, even though deep down inside they know the other person means no harm. The anger is from bad memories that are triggered with the form of affection received. It is a reminder not only of what happened, but also of the fact that they were out of control of the situation. Then of course, not knowing how to accept the affection, which is based upon the victims suspicious feelings. This is also a frustrating experience for the person, because they really do want and need and close relationship, but struggle with learning what boundaries need to be made, and what barriers need to be torn down. Most of the time they don't even really understand the difference between boundaries which are healthy, and barriers which are put up in protection of oneself due to an emotional or physical injury.

Spiritual
Thinking that God is not good for allowing this to happen
Feeling that there is no justice
God does not love me
God has abandoned me

The spiritual effects can be the most devastating because it robs the person of the one hope that they have left. When a person feels abandoned by God, it can cause them to become cynical and bitter, and it brings about a loneliness and pain that cannot be put into words. When we are hurting, our natural tendency is to go to people. We go to someone that we know we can trust to help us get through our difficult times. However, when abuse has occurred, it leaves the victim feeling fearful of others, afraid to trust and afraid of being used. So, the next step would then be to go to God. The struggle there is that the person will often feel rejected by God, because He allowed it to happen, He allowed them to be hurt. They want justice! It seems like the perpetrator is getting away with what was done, leaving all of his victims to bear the pain and the memories. This doesn't seem right or fair. Before long, the person becomes embittered against God. This leaves them, in their own mind, with no help and no one to turn to. This brings about hopelessness and self-destructive behavior.

When you have been used and taken advantage of, it is easy to fall into the rut of faulty thinking. In other words, you allow the effects listed above to run your life and tell you who you are. Realizing that you can get past it and move on is overwhelming to comprehend when the reality of your pain is still very much alive. The victim knows they need help, but they will withdraw from anything or anyone that reminds them of what they went through. This is why, it is sometimes appropriate to reach out to them, and not wait until they come to you. There are steps that can be taken to bring restoration in your own life and well as others.

Understanding
The victim, as well as others involved, must understand that there are no quick fixes, healing takes time and work. In order for it to begin, the person needs to feel validated.
Credibility
This is so important! You need to take what is said seriously, and most of all; it is necessary that the victim know that what they went through was real, not imagined. You can't downplay their experience. No matter how terrible it was, you do yourself more damage by going into denial, and as the counselor you would be hurting them further, by making light of their situation based upon your own definition of abuse.
Community
The victim needs to have a group of people to support them and provide encouragement. They may feel that that is the last thing they need after their experience, but it is an essential part of their healing. Connecting with others will give them the chance to express their pain, as well as receive strength from the group to set goals towards healing. Another thing to remember; is that if you are going to be involved in the restoration of another individual, you must be patient. There will be times of unpredictability, and maybe even regression. Don't let this be a discouragement, it is part of the process as the victim slowly works through things.
Hope
This was discussed previously. It is important that the victim know that they are not being condemned, and that they will not be rejected. What happened is no personal reflection upon them, and God has not turned his back on them because of it.
Fun
When you have an active lifestyle full of rewarding things to do, it gives you creative and healthy outlets for your emotions. It is important to be productive; otherwise you can fall into a daily depression brought about by brooding over what happened. This does not mean that you should internalize what occurred and pretend it never happened. There need to be a balance in everything. There is a time to talk it out and a time to move on.
Listen & Inform
The victim has a need to be heard and to know that they are truly being listened to. As a counselor, this means that you will need to be aware of your body language, which often speaks much louder than your words. You need to assure them of the safety of their environment, and encourage them to speak freely. As they become comfortable, they will slowly drop their guard and express what they are feeling without fear of rejection and ridicule. You as the counselor need to know that you are not there to strictly give advice, you are also there to listen. You will need to discern when is the appropriate time for you to offer your counsel. Be ready to educate the victim on the various effects of abuse, this will help them to better understand their emotions. Another thing to remember; is that you need to have creative solutions and ideas to offer. Otherwise, it will be a be a negative session in which the person expresses themselves and then leaves with no course of action which can facilitate depression.

In order for healing to take place, the victim has to be open to it. Sometimes, it is more comfortable to remain in a rut of anger and hurt, than it is to take the necessary steps towards moving on. You can recover and move past the pain.

Points to remember:
There is no quick fix to healing
Abuse can happen anywhere, whether it be in the church, the home or any place you thought to be safe
It is wise to go through the healing process before cultivating relationships of an intimate nature
Abuse in any form, whether emotional or physical, is serious and can bring about negative effects
Realize that you need people to help support you
Understand that God has not abandoned you
As the person trying to help, remember that when you feel someone pulling away from you, that is often when they need you the most
 

Resources:
The Wounded Heart, Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Abuse, by Dan Allendar
Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse, by Diane Langberg
On The Threshold of Hope, by Diane Langberg
 

 

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