How Does My Past Affect Me Today?
This is an excellent question that every adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse needs to ask personally. If this question is answered honestly the answers can lead to a life free from invisible chains. Each survivor is different and while some of us are able to go on and lead very healthy and happy lives, some of us are not – and this is due to the fact that they we did not receive the treatment, medical care and support needed to overcome common obstacles immediately after the abuse. Because of this lack of care, as children we were not able to competently care for ourselves and understand the ramifications of the abuse. It is usually our response to the abuse and the lack thereof from family and friends that promotes the most pain and dysfunction.
Untreated abuse can lead to unanswered questions and inaccurate answers that do not honestly reflect life, your own self worth, relationships, family and even God. Because the abuse happened during childhood or during a time when your attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and values were being formed you will probably carry them into adulthood. These distorted beliefs then turn into unhealthy behaviors which then develop into an unhealthy lifestyle. It is not enough to address the behavior without addressing the perspectives, attitudes and values that are at the root of the behavior.
You experienced a terribly stressful and traumatic event during a time when you didn’t have a lot of answers about the world, people, relationships or God. What you did know at the time was probably thrown out the window once the abuse happened. For example, most children trust adults, especially family and friends. Children tend to think that they are safe and loved with certain people and in certain situations. They probably feel comfortable at home, school and church. When adults let them down in this way children begin to doubt what they know as being true. They also lose trust and faith in others. Unable to explain what is happening to them, children may blame themselves and eventually conclude that the abuse happened because there was something wrong with them. Scared, silent and alone – they try to deal with the stress without the support of others. Eventually, children act out because they are unable to cope with the pain. Unfortunately, these coping skills are usually counter productive and lead to additional problems. The sexual abuse usually takes prominence in their lives, overshadowing reasonable childhood experiences. The child’s life is disproportionately strained with sex, pain, stress and silence.
This lifestyle does not go away because the abuse stopped or because the child grew up. Accustomed to pain, sexual violence, sadness and secrets, many adult survivors go on to lead painful lives. It is not the abuse itself that causes the problem, but the attitudes, lifestyle, perspectives, expectations and loneliness that exacerbate the pain and are at the root of unhealthy behaviors. The unhealthy behaviors can lead to depression, isolation, secrecy, lies, drug abuse, crime, post traumatic stress disorder, sexual dysfunction, night mares and low self esteem.
Many survivors do not connect the past to their pain today or mistakenly believe that it is too late to get help. This is a lie. It is never too late to get help. In fact, it is the best thing to do for yourself no matter how old you are. Survivors have been taught to keep quiet about the abuse or else something “bad” would happen to you or someone else. The goal of the Survivor Today is to break free from this lie and speak out and up about the abuse. Speaking out about what happened, especially to a doctor, mental health worker, counselor or pastor will actually help the pain stop. Please understand that silence is what helps the pain grow.