The Deeper Pain of Childhood Sexual Abuse
By: Karen
August 10, 2014

Childhood sexual abuse takes many forms. It can be anything from inappropriate touch to rape, with an extensive continuum of victimizing behaviors in between. The abusers can be friends, family, or strangers. They are most often not easily identified. Victims of sexual abuse are varied also, not able to be stereotyped by gender, age, socio-economic status, or any other demographic. The impact of abuse can also show in different ways.

We think of the abused as being traumatized by the experience itself. While this can be the case, especially when there is violence, pain, or humiliation, there are secondary levels of trauma which are less easily identified, but equally damaging. In her book, The Trauma Myth, Susan A. Clancy, Ph.D. describes the secondary trauma imposed on the victim as a lifelong narrative of shame. Clancy explains that children do not experience sex in the same way as adults. As a result the sexual abuse encounter is not necessarily frightening or negative and the victim often exhibits accommodating behavior.

It is important to address secondary trauma in a respectful and sensitive manner. Therapists must understand that the deepest source of shame is often not the abuse. Greater shame can result from the lack of discomfort and unpleasantness associated with the original incident. In other words (and please stick with me here) the shame is a result of the lack of shame.

Additional trauma can be imposed as friends, family and helpers assume a subtly accusatory stance. Surreptitious questioning can surround the fact that the victim did not expose the abuser. Well intentioned people can also attempt to force feelings that simply do not exist, exacerbating the secondary trauma.

Abandonment trauma can also be associated with sexual abuse. This comes into play when an adult, who was in a position to take a protective stance, neglected to do. This might be a mother who did not protect a child from a stepfather, a father who did not protect a child from a grandfather, or a host of other players. The neglect can be actual or unintentional, either way it becomes part of the victim’s reality.

Many childhood sexual abuse victims have survived the experience. They proudly live a ‘normal’ life with ‘normal’ relationships, having left behind the trauma of that abuse. They are not aware of their denial or the resulting emotional cut-off. They do not realize the possibility of greater joy. Therapy is able to address the subtle and deeper levels of shame and offer an understanding of how this shame plays out in our lives and relationships.

Therapy can be the key to moving from surviving to thriving.