Don’t touch me. Three little words. If only children could say them when the need arises.
This is a difficult topic I’m going to talk about right now: child sexual abuse. I’m not planning to discuss the abusers (may they rot in a special place in hell), but rather the children – while it is happening, and long after.
Why don’t they tell? First I must change the pronoun from “they” to “we.” Yeah, #metoo. 😞
Why keep it a secret? I certainly wasn’t threatened, as in “don’t tell or I’ll kill you,” or anything terrible like that.
I know that the reason I didn’t tell was because I felt ashamed. Why? Because I felt that somehow it was my fault. You see, little kids sense that it’s wrong. We just do. The very age-and-power imbalance is a clue. Sure, we may see adults or older teens sharing affection in life or on a screen, but when it comes to adult-child interactions, we just know that there’s a limit. We instinctively know what kind of touching is “acceptable” and what kind is not.
But the really confusing thing is this: it feels good. It does. When we’re touched in certain places it feels darn nice. Even children’s bodies can respond to “erotic” touching. So there’s your mix, the ingredients of shame and guilt for you: It’s wrong. But it feels good. But it’s wrong. But it feels good. It’s wrong. But it feels good. But it’s wrong…
Having a panic attack yet? I sure used to have them. Panic at the sight (or even thought) of the abusers. (Yeah, more than one – which is common.)
Oh, the isolation! Keeping a secret isolates us terribly. Our thoughts and feelings have nowhere to go. They dig in for the long haul. They feed our shame, pushing it ever deeper into our very soul, it would seem. Contributing to a sense of inferiority, casting a pall over our very sense of worth for years and years: “I’m bad. I’m a horrible person. I’m dirty.” The shame is intense. So of course we don’t want to tell!
And what happens when we get older? Well, many of us try to escape these awful feelings, either through numbing ourselves with alcohol and drugs, or through promiscuity, which simply reinforces our self-destructive thoughts by this time: “I’m bad, I’m just a terrible slut, so I may as well act like one.”
But none of those things help; in fact, we learn the hard way that they make our lives even worse. So what’s the answer? What is the way out of the negative shell we’ve built around ourselves?
For me it was breaking the isolation. It was finally telling. We need to say Yes to close friends, Yes to understanding parents, Yes to support groups, Yes to group therapy, Yes to individual counselling… Hearing from peers and therapists, many (or most!) who have been there too, can help pull us out of the morass of self-destructive guilt feelings. Telling – sharing our experiences – helps to reframe them, and acts as a “reset” for our self-esteem. We need to hear, and hear repeatedly: “It wasn’t your fault! You were just a child! It was (the abuser’s) fault, he was much older!”
If we’re not quite ready to talk about it, we can start by writing in a journal. Just getting our thoughts and feelings out there, on paper, can take some of the weight off us.
I feel much lighter now. And you can too.