The Crippling Shame of Incest / Sexual Abuse

"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."

"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."

"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 and sexuality."

This is an articles by Spiritual Teacher, codependency therapist on the crippling shame of incest and sexual abuse.
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This is article is part of a series of articles which are focused upon issues involving gender, sexuality, romantic relationships, and directly related topics.  This article The Crippling Shame of Incest / Sexual Abuse was originally published online September 27, 2003 on Robert's Inner Child / Codependency Recovery page on the Suite101.com Directory.  There is a list of - and links to - the other articles in this series on Suite 101 on the Suite101 Articles page.  This article was used to create this page on Joy2MeU in May of 2004.

The Crippling Shame of Incest / Sexual Abuse

By Robert Burney
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 Abuse:

"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 Child Within

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 and sexuality. 

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 special.

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.

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Next in series:  Sexuality Abuse  - the legacy of shame based culture
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