Child Abuse, Self-concept, and PTSD

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“With childhood sexual abuse, victims are often too young to know how to express what is happening and seek out help. When not properly treated, this can result in a lifetime of PTSD, depression and anxiety” (Babbel). 

At the age of five, my mind dealt with the sexual abuse by shutting down my senses and cognition during the frequent rape by my birth father.  He even began to refer to himself as the midnight raider, since the abuse usually occurred at midnight.  I would lay in bed not fully asleep until I heard my bedroom door being open.  As my basic defensive mechanism for dealing with the trauma was to black out mentally, it became a routine. Kessler and Bieschke (1999),  discuss the that dissociative defenses interfere with cognitive capabilities, so that the sense of self and identity become fragmented.  This was my consistent coping mechanism as I endured eight more years of sexual abuse by my birth father.  Dissociation became my psychological life raft throughout my childhood and well into my adulthood. Even to this day, when life gets overwhelming or depression is thick, sleep or escape is my go to solution.

   My mental safe place or blackout would be disrupted after my birth father would finish his act, because he would get me out of bed to walk me to the bathroom every time.  In the bathroom he would douche out my vaginal area, clean me up and then would tell me to go back to bed.  I have many clear memories of the waking and cleaning, but I gratefully still have no recollection of the feelings, sounds, and smells from the actual sexual abuse. 

   My  shattered self-concept at the age of five set me up to have low-self-esteem and left me to view myself as an object instead of a living being.  My birth-parents divorced when I was six years old.  I was left to survive in my birth-father’s house where corporal, cruel and unusual punishments were a daily occurrence, unless he was out to sea on his Navy ship.  During my early childhood and into the beginning years of middle childhood, my birth father would use the sexual abuse as a means of punishment.  He would decide at any moment that my normal childhood behavior was bad behavior, and I would be given the choice to be beaten or molested.

   I can’t recall ever actually asking for the molestation, but I can remember the moment when I realized I would rather be beaten.  I began to ask for the beatings every time, until my birth father stopped giving me the choice.  At this point in my young life my sense of self was completely distorted, in that my self-concept was concentrated on my current survival instead of my true, inner self.  This type of self-concept is normal in sexually abused children, according to Chun and Hill (1993).

“Studies have shown that children who experience sexual abuse tend to recover quicker and with better results if they have a supportive, caring adult (ideally a parent) consistently in their life” (Babbel).

   During my middle childhood years, I was taken out of my birth father’s home by the state due to the abuse and imprisonment of one of my younger brother’s…….(That story will be told another day).  In my recollection, during the social worker interviews and the police interviews, the subject of molestation never came up.  At this point, at eight years old, I was not even aware that what my birth father was doing to me was not a normal thing happening in every little girls life in the world.

   At the age of nine, I found myself living with my birth mother, her new husband, and two of my younger brothers. I remember feeling so happy and excited to be living with my birth mother and my step-father. He seemed to be much kinder than my birth father had been. There wasn’t any violence, beatings or yelling in the home.

“By far the most common effect of sexual abuse is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Symptoms can extend far into adulthood and can include withdrawn behavior, reenactment of the traumatic event, avoidance of circumstances that remind one of the event, and physiological hyper-reactivity” (Babbel).

   By the age of ten my step-father validated my shattered self-concept the day he had me come into my parent’s bed to nap with him one Sunday afternoon, while my birth mother was shopping.  I recall laying there for the first few moments next to him feeling safe and secure, until I felt my underwear being taken off.  I froze with fear as I heard his voice telling me not tell anybody.  As my body began to be violated by my step-father, my young mind reverted back to the coping mechanism that had already worked for several years and I mentally blacked out.  I came out of my coping black out when my birth mother opened the bedroom door to find us both under the blankets in their bed. Unfortunately, I can recall the feeling of my step-father abruptly taking his body part out of my little body, as my birth mother yelled that I was to never take a nap with him again.  I said nothing as I was being scolded by her, as my self-concept of being just an object became more grounded in reality.  I immediately felt ashamed and was afraid it was my fault. 

   Retrospectively, I understand that my birth mother was acting in a typical manner, in that she was unintentionally repeating the cycle of abuse in her relationships. The repeated cycle is a residual effect according to Kessler and Bieschke (1999).

   During a family vacation to visit my step-father’s family at eleven years old, yet again, my shattered self-concept was validated.  This time though, it was not a father figure, instead the two young men that were about to deepen my low self-concept were two of my step-fathers younger brothers.  They were both college age,  while they were left home watching me and my brothers I was summoned into their bedroom where they both molested me.  As usual, my mind blacked out during the abuse and afterwards, I spent the rest of my time in that home trying to hide from everyone.  This was a major point in my life when I became extremely introverted and withdrawn from life.  My goal everyday was to not be seen and or heard by any adults.  I felt that I was only good for one thing,

“Another legacy of sexual abuse is that children abused at any early age often become hyper-sexualized or sexually reactive. Issues with promiscuity and poor self-esteem are unfortunately common reactions to early sexual abuse” (Babbel).

   During my adolescence, after moving through several foster homes and caregivers I found myself in a safe place.  I was attending a public school, had begun to have friends or at least hang around other teens, and I had begun to feel that I was a living being.  At the age of sixteen, I had a steady boyfriend, and had been having a sexual relationship with him for almost a year.  This was not a negative relationship, we were the same age, and I felt safe whenever I was around him.  During a sleepover party at another teen’s home, my terrible self-concept was again validated, but this time it was at the hand of another adolescent.

   At the end of the party, several teens found a place to sleep in the basement room of the house.  The house belonged to the parent’s of a senior at the high school I attended.  He had also been a longtime friend of my boyfriend.  Several single beds had been placed in the basement for the purpose of housing many of the party goers.  As I slept on a single bed across the room from my boyfriend’s bed, a hand grabbed me, from what seemed like under my bed, abruptly bringing me to the floor next to my bed.  As my eyes opened to focus on who had pulled me off the bed a hand covered my mouth. The teen held his hand over my mouth as he pulled my underwear off and forced himself into my body.  I froze and went to my mental safe place.

  Re-victimization is a common occurrence in sexual abuse victims according to Kessler and Bieschke (1999).

  Reverting back to my well used coping mechanism, I blacked out until the act was done, and then I crawled back into my bed and never said a word.  These events left me to continue surviving through life as an object instead of a person.  I also developed a physical manifestation, due to the overflow of mental stress in my life.  Rocking back and forth became a daily ritual for me for several years.  I would seek out rocking chairs to sit in to hide the uncontrollable urge to self pacify when possible. During this developmental stage in my life I also had begun to have a great deal of stomach problems, these somatic symptoms are part of  stress management after exposure to trauma according to  Kugler (2012).  All of the previous events, of course also set me up to find a future partner that would also abuse me and validate my self-concept.

   At age eighteen I married my first husband, who turned out to be a drug addict and an abuser.  The same re-victimization pattern that subjected me to abuse when I was in my middle and teen childhood phases, was now occurring in my young adult life, just as Kessler and Bieschke (1999) describe.  After six months of marriage we were separated for three weeks before I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. Terrified, does not describe the emotion I felt when I heard the words that I was going to have a child.  I had such low self-esteem at this point in my life, I did not feel like I was good for anything except being pretty to look at and have sex with.  I had a temper that would be triggered with little provocation.  I had never wanted to have children, because I did not want to bring a person into the horrible world that I had known.  At age eighteen I did not realize that I had the choice and the power to not be like my birth parents.  I had never had counseling or guidance through foster care and the transition to adulthood. One thing I did have was a sense of kindness and I realized that children were innocent.

   I began to walk to the local public library to check out child development and child rearing books, so that I could educate myself of the normal development and behaviors of infants and toddlers.  I also wanted to learn about alternate ways of teaching a child how to behave without hitting them, because I knew that I had a very hot temper. I understood that the pain and agony that I endured was not what a child should have to deal with, so I wanted to do what I could to give my baby a better life.  As my first born grew and developed inside of me and as I continued to educate myself, I also began to feel that I was more than an object to be used and abused.  I began to have a self-concept that included identifying models in my readings that I could follow.

   The rocky journey that built the foundation for the person that I am today would have been very different had I been born only ten years later.  I was born in 1966 and in my environment my lot in life was to begin learning how to cook, clean and care for others at the age of six, prepare for marriage in my early adulthood, then have children and care for my families needs.  There was no thought of education or rights of females in my home environment.  During my psychology education journey, I have wondered where the professionals were that had information and facts of my childhood.  How did the system let me fall through the cracks.  I understand that times were very different in the early eighties, and I hope that children are provided better care and counseling in today’s child welfare program’s.

    My journey to healing will go on and I aspire to use my pain and knowledge to assist others down their own paths to recovery. The pieces of my shattered self-esteem can never be reassembled to appear perfectly normal, but the mosaic that the broken pieces have become illuminate beautiful light on my future.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

 

Until next time,

Peace, Love and Happiness

 

Resource

Babbel, S., PsychologyToday.com.  https://www.illuminate.com/blog/somatic-psychology/201303/trauma-childhood-sexual-abuse.

Chung, M., & Hill, R. (1993). On describing the psychological struggle of child sexual abuse victims  through Kierkegaard’s concept of self. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 24(2), 81-90.

Kessler, B. L., & Bieschke, K. J. (1999). A retrospective analysis of shame, dissociation, and adult victimization in survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Journal Of Counseling Psychology, 46(3), 335-341. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.46.3.335

Kugler, B. (2012). Somatic Symptoms in Traumatized Children and Adolescents. Child psychiatry & Human Development, 43 (5), 661-673.

 

 

 

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