It is through having the courage
and willingness to revisit the emotional "dark night of the soul" that was
our childhood, that we can start to understand on a gut level why we have
lived our lives as we have.
It is when we start understanding the cause
and effect relationship between what happened to the child that we were,
and the effect it had on the adult we became, that we can Truly start to
forgive ourselves. It is only when we start understanding on an emotional
level, on a gut level, that we were powerless to do anything any differently
than we did that we can Truly start to Love ourselves.
The hardest thing for any of us to do is
to have compassion for ourselves. As children we felt responsible
for the things that happened to us. We blamed ourselves for the things
that were done to us and for the deprivations we suffered. There is
nothing more powerful in this transformational process than being able to
go back to that child who still exists within us and say, "It wasn't your
fault. You didn't do anything wrong, you were just a little kid."
(All quotes in this color are from
Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls)
Incestuous sexual abuse is one of the most devastating types of
abuse because it causes us to develop warped perceptions and dysfunctional
relationships with multiple facets of our self. Codependency is about
having a dysfunctional relationship with our self. With our own bodies,
minds, emotions, and spirits. With our own gender and sexuality. With being
human. It is because we have dysfunctional, warped, negative internal
relationships with our self and different components of our self, that we
have dysfunctional relationships externally.
Sexual abuse impacts all of the internal relationships I mention
in the last paragraph, but it has particularly poisonous effects on our
relationships with our own body, sexuality, and often, gender. These
are 3 different relationships - intimately interrelated, but separate.
Each relationship needs to have some healing energy focused upon it specifically.
Sexual abuse, like any other variety of abuse, is also - and especially
- emotionally abusive. Here is a quote from my web article on Emotional
"Emotional abuse is underneath all other types of abuse - the
most damaging aspect of physical, sexual, mental, etc. abuse is the trauma
to our hearts and souls from being betrayed by the people that we love and
trust. The other types of abuse can add more levels to the healing necessary
but the bottom line is the emotional abuse and it's effect on our ability
to Love and trust ourselves." - Emotional
abuse is Heart and Soul Mutilation
Any sexual abuse adds levels to the healing process - layers of
shame to our wounding.
Incest (which I am defining here as it is defined by Survivors
of Incest Anonymous, as sexual abuse by a family member, extended family
member, or other person known to us whom we were led to trust) adds devastating
betrayal issues and more crippling shame to the wounding.
(In my next article (s ?), I will talk about some of the other
ways our relationship with our own bodies and sexuality were mutilated,
including the devastation of rape and what I call sexuality abuse - which
includes emotional incest and shame based religious teachings. I am
focusing mostly on relationships to body and sexuality here but the damage
is also done in our relationship to our own gender which was already twisted
and distorted by the dysfunctional, patriarchal cultural beliefs I spoke
of in my Suite 101 articles
starting in March of this year.)
Toxic shame - the feeling that there is something inherently wrong
with our being that makes us unlovable and unworthy - is at the core of
codependency. In early childhood - prior to the 'Age of Reason' at
about 7 when the rational part of our brain develops - children are egocentric
and magical thinking. As little children we are not capable of even
conceiving that are parents are not perfect.
"When we were 3 or 4 we couldn't look around us and say, "Well,
Dad's a drunk and Mom is real depressed and scared - that is why it feels
so awful here. I think I'll go get my own apartment."
Our parents were our higher powers. We were not capable
of understanding that they might have problems that had nothing to do with
us. So it felt like it was our fault." - Loving the Wounded
We felt shameful and unlovable even before the sexual abuse started!
Any abuse that happens after the first couple years of life, just adds layers
to the original toxic shame - feels like evidence that proves our defectiveness.
When trusted people violated our bodies they betrayed us heinously.
They did further mutilate our relationships with our hearts and souls, with
our bodies and sexuality - because we thought it was our fault. We
thought it was our fault because we were kids relating to older people who
were higher powers to us - and because too often the perpetrators told us
it was our fault and threatened us if we told. A child who is abused
by one parent and doesn't tell the other parent, or by a grandparent or uncle
or family friend and doesn't tell parents - is a child who already knows
that he/she will not be believed, a child who has already gotten the message
that her/his needs and emotions are not important to the parent (s.)
Any child who felt loved and protected by his/her parents would immediately
tell them if someone was hurting her/him.
The incredible pain and shame generated by sexual abuse often
causes a person to identify their body, and their sexuality, as the enemy.
Incest and sexual abuse cause self hatred. In cases of sexual abuse
/ incest that occurred over a period of time, inevitably, naturally and normally,
some victims had physiological responses - became physically aroused and
even climaxed in reaction to the abuse. This feels like a monstrous
betrayal by one's own body, and results in such a depth of shame that a
survivor will go to great lengths (and some time weights) to punish the
body and keep the memory suppressed.
On top of that, it may have been the closest thing we ever got
to affectionate touch. And even though we could feel that it was wrong,
'yucky', disgusting - the part of us that was so starved for some affection
and touch may have sometimes almost welcomed it. Often the fact that
physical arousal occurred and/or some part of us welcomed the "affection,"
feels too shameful to even talk about in therapy.
Obesity is one of the effects of sexual abuse for some people.
Food is not only a way of nurturing self and numbing the pain, but the extra
weight is like armor put on for protection against the betrayal of our bodies
Promiscuity is an effect for some people. Having to disassociate
during the sexual abuse leads to disassociating from our own bodies and sexuality
- and acting out sexually. Many sex addicts were sexually abused as
children. Sex addiction is not about sexual expression. Sex addiction
is a defense against emotions - is a way to avoid feeling feelings.
The dysfunctional relationship with one's own sexuality, often
means that a person can have sex with people they don't like, but not with
someone they do like and feel close to emotionally. Sexuality is not
associated with love for many incest survivors - it is related to as something
bad and painful. Or as something to be used to manipulate and control
rather than an intimate, beautiful expression of self to be shared with someone
Self mutilation is another one of the effects of sexual abuse
- and this can take many forms. When a child / adolescent / teenager
has their relationship with their self mutilated, they end up being self
destructive in a variety of ways.
Perhaps the most tragic effect of incest and sexual abuse is that
some of the victims become perpetrators themselves - passing on the legacy.
It is so important to shine the Light of Love into the dark corners
of shame within our beings. It wasn't our fault. We were just
little kids. We were betrayed by people who were very sick, very wounded.
It is very important to start forgiving ourselves for the abuse we suffered
- and for the ways our reactions to that abuse caused us to betray our self.
To judge and shame ourselves because of the behaviors we adapted to survive
is a betrayal of ourselves. And that is what codependency causes us
to do - abandon and betray ourselves by judging and shaming ourselves for
the ways we were wounded.
Recovery involves learning to have compassion for our selves.
To recognize that we were powerless over being victimized, and powerless over
the behaviors we adapted to protect ourselves. We need to take action
to heal our relationships with our bodies, with our sexuality, with our gender.
We want to do whatever healing work we need to do so that we can reclaim
- and develop healthier relationships with - all the parts of our self.