April is Abuse Prevention Month
By Paul Irby Special to the Abilenian
Posted April 1, 2009 at 5:26 p.m.
April is designated as abuse prevention month for the state of Texas. Therefore, the Mental Health Association of Abilene, felt it more than appropriate to run its latest installment of the “Effects of Abuse Series.” This installment is in two parts, because there is much to consider. In the previous two articles we considered the mental and emotional impacts of abuse, respectively. The third dimension to be examined is the behavioral dimension. What kinds of behaviors are “typical” of a person who has been sexually abused? The easy and disappointing answer is that there are no “typical” behaviors, and the behaviors that will be discussed are ambiguous enough that they should not be the sole determining factor in assessing if one has been abused. However, it is a fact that the behaviors are the first thing we notice in people that cause us alarm or concern. It is also important to clarify that behaviors are the end result of the “chain reaction” we have been discussing between thoughts/beliefs, feelings and behaviors.
The underlying belief that fuels those feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, anger, shame and doubt is the belief that he/she is “different” from others; that he/she is alone in this struggle and if anyone truly knew his/her plight, they would not value him/her. One of the most common manifestations of these beliefs and emotional responses is in the abused creating a persona of anger and aggression. This persona is in reality a wall meant to communicate to the world, “keep out!” and “if you don’t stay away, I’ll make sure you regret trying to get close.” Males will tend to be more physically aggressive while the females are more likely to be more verbally aggressive. Both are the result of a brooding anger which ultimately can be traced back to the fear of being betrayed, hurt, exploited and victimized again.
Depression and anxiety can lead to behavior manifestations like withdrawal, self-injury and suicidal ideations and attempts. Withdrawal is a common behavior in abuse victims. If the abuse begins at an early age and is chronic, this withdrawal may go unnoticed and explained away as a personality trait. Withdrawal is more noticeable in children between the ages of 8-18 because there is an already established pattern of social interaction. Self-injury is most common in adolescent females and takes the form of surface-level cuts on the forearms, abdomen, pelvis, or underneath the breast. The purpose of the self-injury is usually to achieve a sense of release reinforced by the initial shot of pain and subsequent presentation of blood. Many who engage in this behavior find it difficult or unacceptable to cry because crying leaves one with feelings of vulnerability, which is interpreted as weakness. Crying can also become uncontrollable, which again frightens the abuse victim, who often desires to have control in a life that seems so chaotic. The child who engages in self-injury believes they can control the cutting and therefore believe it to be a safe alternative. The self-injury then becomes another secret that has to be hidden and protected. In some ways this can relate back to the aspect of control, the cutter has control over the secret, but ultimately it becomes one more stressor which maintains the need to alleviate that stress. Self-injury can also be used as a form of self-punishment motivated by feelings of worthlessness. These feelings of worthlessness, when coupled with pent-up anxiety, depression, and fear, can lead to thoughts and attempts at suicide.
In the next installment we will look inside the possible sexual manifestations of a sexually abused child and how abuse can lead to substance and process addictions.
Paul Irby, M.A., is a licensed professional counselor with the Ministry of Counseling and Enrichment. Mental Health Matters is facilitated by the Mental Health Association in Abilene.
Original Article found here: