Effects of abuse, part 5
By Paul Irby Special to the Abilenian
Posted May 6, 2009 at 3:59 p.m
Since December, Mental Health Matters has featured one story a month examining the effects of childhood sexual abuse on its victims. Different dimensions to the individual have been considered, which include cognitive, emotional and behavioral. This order was chosen to illustrate the progression of abuse effects, beginning with how a child sees the world and self resulting in emotional experiences that lead to the behaviors which are the first noticeable signs. The behaviors that were last discussed were linked primarily to emotions such as fear, anger, depression and anxiety. This month’s article again focuses attention on the behavioral components that usually don’t manifest until puberty and later. The hope is that by discussing these issues, some insight will be gained into the possible motivations of these behaviors.
One important area to consider, especially in understanding victims of sexual abuse, is the impacts the abuse can have on the survivor’s sexual behaviors. As the person enters into puberty and subsequent arrival of sexual desire, there are two extremes that could possibly manifest.
The first is hypersexuality, which should be understood as an atypical promiscuity among peers. This hypersexuality in the life of an abuse victim is often misinterpreted by family and friends as evidence that the abuse may not have been as traumatic as once thought. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Many victims become hypersexual because sex for them was always something forced beyond their control and this hypersexuality is a means of having control over when and with whom they have sex. Another possible reason for the hypersexuality is to use sex as a means of retribution for their abuse. Sex in this context is seen as a tool for manipulation and self-gratification. One motivation for hypersexuality is linked most commonly among those who had a same-sex abuser. When a child has a same-sex abuser, this can cause confusion and concern in the victim that somehow the abuse will “make me homosexual.” Those with a same-sex abuser may become hypersexual in an attempt to concretely prove and reinforce to themselves that he/she is not homosexual. This understanding should not be somehow aligned with the myth purported in our society that gays and lesbians are pedophiles or that sexual abuse is a “cause” of same-sex attraction.
The other possible extreme of sexual behaviors manifested in the life of a sexual abuse victim is that this victim becomes asexual, which should be understood as having extremely low or no sexual desire. For the abuse survivor who is asexual, often it is because sex for them is so closely associated with their abuse/abuser and is viewed as a filthy violation.
Addictions also develop in the lives of abuse victims. Having worked with some victims who also had a history of substance addictions, a common scenario has developed. Stemming from the original notion that he/she is different from other people because of the abuse, in early adolescence any social invitation is viewed as a chance to “feel normal and accepted.” Often at social gatherings this person is offered his/her first drink or hit of a drug. Accepting this offer again can validate acceptance and “normalcy,” and often has the added affect of numbing the child from feeling depressed, fearful or angry. Add to this a predisposition for addiction and an addict is born.
It is important to keep in mind that hypersexuality, asexuality and addictions occur in a variety of arenas for a variety of causes, and not every person who possesses these signs are victims of sexual abuse. As we have discussed, it is the underlying motivation behind them that links them with abuse.
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.