Therapy for Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Childhood sexual abuse often shatters the sense of safety, flooding the child with uncontrollable, unspeakable emotions. Recovery of the memory of the trauma in treatment revives early experiences of being unprotected. Recovery of the trauma for some people may also bring with it increased dependence on the analyst.
This arises because: 1. The person feels unprotected on the outside as she recalls and relives how unprotected she was by her parents. The person frequently feels the molestation happened to begin with because the parent didn’t sufficiently protect them or prepare them for the dangers of the world. He also feels unprotected on the inside because he feels unable to repress the memories that come up with increasing force. She feels molested by her feelings and demonstrates a fundamental lack of confidence in her ability to regulate affect.
The absence of the ability to regulate affect or the presence of a protective shield results in the person not being able to consciously forget, or unconsciously repress memories of the trauma. Omnipresent memories torment them and stimulate nameless dread, terror, chaos, and randomness. He feels soiled and degraded and succumbs to despair because a different life is unimaginable. She doesn’t appreciate that putting words to what has previously been wordless, dissociated states of mind, and affects will facilitate repression. The analyst functioning as a protective shield facilitates this.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse often blame herself for what happened. He does not realize he was trapped, without options, and had no choice but to act as he did. This inability to forgive herself is at the core of her chronic depression, self-hatred, low self-esteem, rejection of her body and penchant for suicide.
Before a person can forgive himself, it is often first necessary to uncover that he does blame himself for the event. The self-reproach is often unconscious. One may offer a more benign explanation of events only after one uncovers that she does indeed blame herself.
Why does the child victim come to blame himself for the sexual assault and not rage at the molester? The child looks to the adult for tenderness and love and the adult molester looks to the child with passion and/or sadism. This creates confusion in the child that she deals with by splitting her personality. One would expect the first impulse and the emotions of children after such violence to be that of reaction, hatred, disgust, and energetic refusal. ‘No, I do not want it. It is much too violent for me. It hurts. Leave me alone!’ The child would have reacted like this or in a similar manner if enormous anxiety hadn’t paralyzed him.
These children feel physically and morally helpless. There isn’t sufficient consolidation of their personalities in order to be able to protest, even if only in thought. The overwhelming authority of the adult makes them dumb and can rob them of their senses. The same anxiety, however, if it reaches a certain maximum, compels her to subordinate herself like automata to the will of the aggressor, to divine each one of his desires and to gratify these; completely oblivious of herself, she identifies with the aggressor. He disappears from his awareness and becomes an internal critic is his personality. The child succeeds in maintaining the previous situation of tenderness to the molester but hates herself. He now treats himself with the same sadism previously expressed by the molester. When she attacks herself for not having fought harder, she is demonstrating a lack of connection with her own helpless rage and is enacting a sadistic attack on herself. Recovering the trauma helps the victim forgive himself and realize he was trapped without options. Once one forgives oneself for participating in the molestation and one has less of a need to dissociate the body. Acceptance of the body ushers in acceptance of the need to love and be loved again.