“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” Anais Nin
For an adult survivor of sexual abuse, social interaction and the seemingly simple acts of connecting with people are littered with great challenges.
The way we interact socially is based on many things. These include among others, the way we have been socialised both at home and school in our formative years. Culture, media, religion and other environmental influences also play a pivotal role in shaping the way we deal with and respond to the world.
What if your primary caregivers are abusive
Because sexual abuse occurs within a relationship, it has a profoundly negative impact on the way in which the survivor has relationships. This is even more so when the abuse occurs within a father-daughter relationship. The child abuse victim has a very destructive, damaging and deeply dysfunctional relationship with his/her parents. In my case it was my father who sexually abused me and my mother who did nothing about it. These fundamental people in my life taught me how to connect in a very dysfunctional way right from the start, when I was still learning how to relate to the world.
I learnt that males are not to be trusted, that they hurt you and violate your physical boundaries. I learnt that there are no females you can trust either, because they will not help you or protect you. In essence I learnt from my primary caregivers that the world is not safe and people are not to be trusted.
The inextricable link between good and bad
The complexity is compounded, however, when you understand that the man who was feeding , clothing and looking after me was also harming me. Therefore, I learnt that love had to have hurt with it. That good and bad are intricately and inextricably linked.
For this very reason, I found an abusive man who controlled, manipulated and abused me. I accepted the abuse, in fact, I didn’t even recognise it as abuse because it was so familiar to me. He spent all his time with me, bought me gifts, showered me with praise in the first stages of our relationship and he also emotionally, verbally and later physically abused me.
Meeting him was like going home to something familiar. It felt right with him. I had always had problems forming close relationships with males and females, but when I met him it was dangerously familiar.
Too close for comfort
Besides the abusive husband and my abusive father, I struggled with every other relationship. Sure, I made many friends but things quickly become uncomfortable when I start to get what I fell is, “too close”. Getting closer means opening up more and this brings with it the problem of revealing too much. Because I had a huge secret that I was hiding, I couldn’t get too close because then people might see that how bad I am, how shameful I am for what happened with my father.
There is also the issue of jealousy because when you are so insecure and have such little self-esteem, you feel easily threatened. If I have a friend and she is getting close to others, I feel bad about it. It triggers feelings of being unloved, rejected and unwanted.
This is because at the very core of the abused inner child there is a belief that you are unloveable and don’t deserve happiness, love, respect or anything good. The perepetual state of badness makes you question everything that happens. If someone teases you playfully, it’s a huge insult, if they are in a bad mood you take it personally and believe that you are responsible for all he bad that happens around you.
I used to talk responsibility for everything, everyone’s feelings, moods, sadness because I didn’t have firm boundaries and a strong sense of self.
I am learning and trying to create these boundaries now that would have been created a long time ago if it hadn’t been for the parents I had, who damaged my sense of self and violated those boundaries. I allowed my husband to continue violating those boundaries but something has changed now.
I am standing my ground and filling my shoes, I am building my self-esteem with constant positive affirmations:
I am strong
I am beautiful
I am brave
I am good
I am worthy