Many adult survivors of incest have undergone therapy, perhaps joined support groups and even confronted the perpetrator. No matter how much healing we do it seems that we are never truly healed and the effects of what happened is so deeply embedded in us that it becomes a part of our core identity.
We can, on an intellectual logical level, put judgement aside and with compassion know that the person who did this to us is a deeply wounded soul but in itself, that is not enough to set us free to be whole again. When I refer to wholeness I mean to embrace all those parts of ourselves that we had to give up to protect ourselves and to survive childhood. To take back joy, taking risks, being curious, spontaneous, dreaming, playfulness and just being who we are.
We might think that we have released all attachment to the perpetrator and what happened but as we get on with our lives and particularly as we age we cannot help looking back on that little child that we once were and feeling so sorry that the joy and spontaneity of childhood was stolen from us. We might wonder what could have been if we had had a secure safe environment to develop and grow knowing that we were loved unconditionally. Wondering perhaps if we would have made different choices about friendships and other relationships and whether we would have performed any different at school.
All children want to feel safe, secure and loved. Secure and safe in their physical environment; Secure and safe knowing that they have an identity and are seen and heard as an individual. Children look to their parents or caregivers to provide unconditional love and meet their physical, emotional and mental needs.
When a parent or caretaker uses the child for their own sexual gratification they are meeting their own needs and simply de humanizing the child. The child is there simply to fulfil their needs and thus becomes an object. Because the parent is an authority figure the child is powerless.
Adult survivors of incest have an underlying core belief about themselves and the environment:-
“I am nothing”
“My needs are not important”
“I have no needs”
“I am here to serve”
“I don’t deserve love”
“I am not good enough”
”I am not safe”
“I have no choices”
“It is not safe to be vulnerable”
“Intimacy is dangerous”
“It is not safe to trust”
Whenever adult survivors of incest are in situations where they are uncomfortable these old beliefs re-surface unconsciously again and again and again….and become our default setting. They are expressed in our interactions with others; be it socially, in the workplace or with our intimate partners.
We can express these beliefs in 1 or 2 ways:-
Being passive – not expressing opinions; Afraid of disagreeing with others, to ask for what we want looking to others to make decisions and tell us what to do. This person will look to their partner to make them happy rather than taking responsibility for their own happiness, they may also have no boundaries.
In being controlling, domineering and striving for perfection. They are terrified of opening themselves up to vulnerability; They keep their feelings to themselves, won’t cry openly or show any softness. They often have a tendency to be seen to be perfect. Whether it is the work they do, their appearance or their home.
The underlying emotion beneath these behaviours if fear; of rejection and abandonment. The perpetrator may have made the child feel “special”, perhaps singling them out for special attention, told them that the family would fall apart if they told anyone. The burden of responsibility for the happiness of the whole family, therefore, rests with them and they have to diminish themselves to survive.
The stretch for adult survivors of incest is to recognize when those feelings come up; When they realize that they are sucking into those old patterns of thought they need to tell themselves that those feelings belong in the past, they were what the little you thought and believed; To acknowledge that you survived and they do not belong in the here and now.
If you are an adult survivor of incest go to the website of Survivors of Incest Anonymous for resources and support.
Read more about past incest survivors here