Physical Aftereffects of Sexual Abuse/Incest
The physical nature of sexual abuse seems clear, yet it is not. We believe when we see the child.s body injured or maimed from sexual abuse, we can treat and account for the physical effects. Unless a therapeutic process specifically directed for sexual abuse or incest is completed, the survivor suffers on all levels throughout his or her life.
Some common physical aftereffects of sexual abuse are: alienation from the body–not accepting one’s body image; failing to heed body signals or take care of one’s body; manipulating body size to avoid sexual attention; difficulty in having intercourse or instigating vaginisums, which prevent penetration.
Sexual abuse can weaken survivors. immune systems according to Dr. Frank Putnam of the National Institute of Mental Health and Dr. Martin Teicher of Harvard Medical School. Putnam conducted studies on 170 girls, 6-15 years old–half had been sexually abused, half had not–for seven years. The abused girls displayed symptoms such as: ?abnormally high stress hormones, which can kill neurons in brain areas crucial for thinking and memory ?high levels of an antibody that weaken the immune system
Teicher completed a series of brain studies on 402 children and adults, many of whom had been sexually or physically abused. His findings revealed that sexual or physical abuse creates:
- arrested growth of the left hemisphere of the brain which can hamper development of language and logic
- growth of the right hemisphere of the brain (the site for emotion) at an abnormally early age
The result of a weakened immune system includes more profound as well as seldom recognized physical aftereffects such as: vaginal, ovarian, prostate, or breast cancer. Louise Hay in her book, Heal Your Body–The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them, stated: .A few years ago, I was diagnosed as having cancer of the vagina. With my background of being raped when I was five years old and being a battered child, it was no wonder I had manifested cancer in the vaginal area. Having already been a teacher of healing for several years, I was very aware that I was now being given a chance to practice on myself and prove what I had been teaching others. Being aware that cancer comes from a pattern of deep resentment that is held for a long time, until it literally eats away at the body, I knew I had a lot of mental work to do. I immediately began to work with my own teacher to clear old patterns of resentment. Up to that time, I had not acknowledged that I harbored deep resentment. We are often so blind to our own patterns. A lot of forgiveness work was in order. The other thing I did was to go to a good nutritionist and completely detoxify my body. So between the mental and physical cleansing, in six months I was able to get the medical profession to agree with what I already knew; that I no longer had any form of cancer. I still keep the original lab report as a reminder of how negatively creative I could be..
Other physical aftereffects of sexual abuse/incest may include the following: gastrointestinal problems, gynecological disorders (may include spontaneous bleeding and vaginal infections), headaches, migraines, arthritis, joint pain, eating disorders, and alcohol or drug abuse. Many studies and midwives. first-hand experiences have noted a high correlation between women who are sexual abuse survivors and women who require cesarean deliveries. The sexual abuse victim makes a gallant effort to prevent the rape by tightening her vaginal muscles. The tightening response often occurs even years later, such as in childbirth; in these incidents, a woman may be unable to relax her vaginal muscles, which is natural and necessary for a vaginal delivery. Fortunately, if midwives are made aware of prior sexual abuse, there are methods to assist in a vaginal delivery. If you are a survivor, be sure to inform your doctor or midwife. If your doctor does not know how to assist you in this regard, search until you find someone who does–It is worth the effort. Another profound aftereffect of sexual abuse and incest is self-injury. Karen Conterio, a Chicago-based consultant specializing in self-injury, along with Armando Favazzo, a psychiatrist, sent a survey to 1,250 people; 250 responded. The results were published in Community Mental Health Journal, .The Plight of Chronic Self-Mutilators.. Self-injuring behavior refers to cutting, self-abuse, self-mutilation, para-suicide, and deliberate self-harm. The most common self-injuring behaviors are cutting, burning, breaking bones, pinching skin, ingesting, injecting and inserting foreign materials, interfering with the healing process of wounds, punching, slapping, picking skin, pulling hair, and bloodletting. In the ten years I have worked with sexual abuse and incest survivors, the majority of my clients have exhibited one or more of these self-injuring behaviors before or during treatment. Survivors state that they are unable to accept or express uncomfortable or overwhelming feelings due to underlying emotional conflicts. They further state that physical pain is more manageable than emotional pain. Physical pain is tangible, while emotional pain is intangible. Physical wounds are obvious and can be attended to with observable results.
Ironically, physical wounds provide a distraction from the emotional pain. Furthermore, society overall responds with significant empathy when anyone is physically injured. However, society’s response to emotional pain is quite different–one is told to .snap out of it,. .quit your belly-aching,. .you’re making it up,. .why are you bringing that up,. .it happened [ten years] ago–forget it and move on.. Other less obvious forms of self-injury are: hatred of the body, self-hatred, numbing feelings, guilt, and self-loathing. Besides suffering the physical trauma, the survivor questions why she or he did not defend himself or herself. The victim often reasons that they were to blame because, perhaps, they had some desire for sexual contact. Frequently, survivors remember experiencing sexual pleasure; therefore, they blame themselves for the abuse.
Perpetrators and society overall point to the fact that erection, ejaculation and orgasm are proof that the survivor must have wanted or enjoyed the sexual contact. Thus, the reasoning is that no actual abuse took place and, therefore, no treatment is needed. The survivor suffers in silence and seldom equates his or her pain and anguish with the sexual abuse that occurred long ago; to the victim, the effects of the abuse do not seem connected to present issues, or the act(s) or trauma has been forgotten.
Because the survivor believes her body has betrayed her, she hates her body. She .shuts herself off. from her body, seeing it as something ugly, unattractive and something she cannot trust will function as she deems. In some paradoxical way, victims see their bodies as having minds of their own–possessing powers or abilities that arouse sexual desire in others. Many survivors see their bodies as both distasteful and dangerous. A recently divorced 55-year-old male client, who was abused at age 10 by a 14-year-old girl, believed every woman was attracted to him and desired him sexually. He assumed that he and I would eventually be sexual. He was shocked to learn that I had no intention of being sexual and was not having difficulty at maintaining that boundary. He believed he could seduce any woman he wanted. He was disappointed to learn he did not have the power he thought he possessed and, simultaneously, was relieved he could maintain a non-sexual relationship with a woman he considered attractive. Another physical aftereffect of sexual abuse is the tendency to be .accident-prone.. This means the survivor does not pay attention to his or her body in relation to his or her surroundings and tends to bump into things or injure himself or herself by misjudging space between objects and their bodies. This phenomenon is prevalent with children who have been spanked.
Another form of unconscious physical injury is becoming a .daredevil. or participating in high-risk activities.
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