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
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 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
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
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
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.