The Unexpected & Life-Altering Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Through talking to others that had experienced childhood sexual abuse, I couldn't help but realize the patterns that we share... there are some common life-altering effects that we don't even realize are due to the trauma, which we fail to see until we've reached a certain point of recovery. Here, I want to share some of those 'lightbulb' indicators about myself to help you determine what thoughts & tendencies were due to the trauma and not something that you've naturally agreed upon or have been in control of.
Starting at the age of 5 (as far back as I can vividly remember), there were incidents that not only caused me to be confused about my body, but also grooming that led up to me not being able to speak up, as well as take the blame upon myself, when I was molested. I won't get into any details, but I simply want to point this out because in many childhood cases, this is true. We're often already unable to speak up about anything bad happening at home, and already had our minds warped into believing all of that behaviour is "normal". So when the worst does happen, we don't even know what to think about it and are unable to talk to anyone.
This is why A LOT of people repress it, and it isn't until decades later - when it's triggered to resurface - that we finally end up recalling it. Being raised by the generations who's solutions to abuse are to "suck it up", "look the other way", and "sweep it under the carpet" are part of the reason why there's been a more recent explosion in reveals. So if you find yourself in this situation, DON'T FEEL BAD! You're not alone and it's never too late to get the help you need.
|A throwback to a time where innocence and playfulness should've been the highlights of my life,
unfortunately, the "smile" battled a lot of unease and unhappiness...
but, the worst was yet to come.
Because I went into my pre-teen years with all this trauma and baggage already on my shoulders, I found myself in some pretty unpleasant and damaging situations. Being both confused and violated caused me to seek this attention from others without even realizing that it was sexual in nature. There was a longing to understand what happened to me - because I couldn't understand what exactly happened - and the sensations that were forced upon me; at an age where I wasn't even curious about exploring it.
Before I even graduated from elementary school, I was the laughing stock of my grade; having been set up with a boy from another school, all to see how far I would go with him so that rumours could be circulated around our schools. It was hurtful, and since most of the rumours were actually lies, it was something that haunted my every day. Not everyone has this kind of situation happen to them, but no doubt, there wasn't a single friend in the world for me. Even being at home stressing about my image and trying to forget the mistreatment, my own mother ended up telling me that my family believed I'd be knocked up by the age of 16. Low and behold, many years later, I found out that it always has been & always will be a miracle for me to get pregnant.. but that clearly doesn't matter here.
What hurt me deeply was being told that on top of everything I was dealing with in school. It didn't matter that the worst of the rumours weren't true.. and it didn't matter that I was a virgin.. because once it seemed as though everyone in town had heard things about me, there was no way to live that down. This only added to all the trauma because trying to prove otherwise was impossible; much like wanting to reveal that my own father violated my body before I was even old enough to be interested in dating was impossible.
|Jump forward to the age of 14, where you can clearly tell I was unhappy
and hiding the pain from the molestation as it had happened.
I had NO idea who I was...
As a teenager, I wanted to explore just like most other teenagers do - that's just a fact of life that we've all come to accept. I wanted to date, and although I was neither ready or eager to have sex, there was still this inexplainable urge for me to recreate the sensations that were forced upon me. This is the body confusion that childhood sexual abuse causes because we didn't ask for it, it wasn't explained to us, and searching for some form of answer results in searching for it in mysterious ways. People that are of an age to understand what happened and clearly know it is wrong end up sheltering themselves and can't act on intimacy until later - when they're ready to open up to someone - but when it happens at a young age, it can have the opposite effect.
I ended up throwing myself at any guy that paid attention to me because I found myself craving their attention... all to be repeatedly dumped because I would do everything short of sex yet had acted in ways that left them confused and expecting more. As I approached the age of 16, I found myself in a group of friends that were dating young men (18-25). THIS was when the envelope was pushed for me because they expected sex..
I remember situations where I'd be alone with one of these men and far away from another living soul... all to find out that they were purposely staging the "date" to have sex with me. This became some of the first instances where I was triggered - but I still wasn't able to link it to my past trauma. I allowed things to progress until I was made extremely uncomfortable, then would stop it and ask them to drive me home (then never hear from them again). Then when I was 16, I ended up in my first serious relationship with someone that was roughly 5 years older than me... and while he was the person I lost my virginity to at age 17, it was something that I did reluctantly and with zero interest.
I remember feeling as though I had to say "yes" only because I was led to believe (based on the behaviours I knew at home) that that's what was expected of me. That if I loved the person, it shouldn't even be a question... but the truth is that I didn't even know what love was either. I would completely dissociate and lay there like a rag-doll while it happened, and there was zero pleasure in it for me. Even though it started to dawn on me that I wasn't reacting to the situation in a healthy way, I was still unable to link it to my past trauma.. in fact, I thought that was how it was supposed to feel! It's only now, in retrospect based on my recovered mental state, that I realized I allowed myself to be taken advantage of - and of course, there was no love in that relationship at all!
That all brings me to the age of 18 when I met and started dating the man who is now my husband. He's a complete contrast to all of my previous relationships because he didn't expect it right away nor pushed it. In fact, I recall it being a conversation wherein I wholeheartedly agreed to it, all because we allowed our relationship to blossom to the point where I actually wanted it. Yet even while I enjoyed it for what was the first time, something was off. When the fire from the excitement of the new relationship started to simmer, I pulled away and didn't even realize it.
For years [before I was ready to face my past trauma], we got used to having a relationship where intimacy only occurred when I wanted it, and his innocent & genuine acts of affection were triggering for me. It had nothing to do with him.. in fact, I remember being just as confused as he was about my reactions. To say I recoiled would be a simple statement.. but yet, I truly have always loved him. But since I couldn't figure out why this was happening, I put up a boundary where he just had to "deal with it" while I harboured resentment over the fact that I was yearning for attention and affection, but couldn't accept it. This later became the mending that was needed in our relationship, but I have to be honest here - that was only possible once I faced my past, addressed it, and was able to see how the past abuse caused these reactions.
While he, himself (as a person), wasn't at all triggering my past trauma, it was my childhood sexual abuse that caused all of this! For the first 10 years of our relationship, it was the dark cloud that slowly drifted into, and hung over, our relationship. And while it could've easily doomed us, I have to note that he is a very patient and understanding man who recognized I was hurting (even though he didn't know why) and stayed by my side.
Wherein this can be different is if you're with someone who would take advantage of your vulnerability and be an abuser themselves (in which case, the cycle would be on a continuous repeat and it would be harder to face the past), or if you're with someone that wasn't invested enough to stick around (sad, but unfortunately a reality for some) which can result in you falling into more self-destructive tendencies and relationships (also opening up to more repeats of the cycle). All scenarios are sad because at the end of the day, the reality is that the abuse from long ago is the culprit for all behaviours. It was ONLY when I was finally ready to accept that it happened to me and speak up about it to a therapist that the wheels started turning in a more positive direction. It took a couple of years.. and only through taking the measures necessary to address it, was I finally able to have all these realizations and in turn, begin to work on the relationship I have with my husband.
In the long run, it was both angering and saddening to realize how deep this wormhole goes. But if I had never been ready to seek the help I needed, this trauma would've continued to affect my life in negative ways. There's no apology that can erase the abuse, which is why estrangement from the people involved was the answer for me. And while I can never mend the mistreatment I received from peers when I was younger, it's enough of a comfort to have come into realization that I wasn't at all in a healthy state of mind when I was involved in those uncomfortable situations.; in fact, I'm no longer the same person. And while I can't make up for the lost time it's caused between myself and my husband, it's - again - better late than never to have improved our marriage and by doing so, reach a new stage of pure love that's no longer overshadowed by my past.
All too often, I hear from those that haven't yet been able to address their past trauma that they're having relationship problems they can't pinpoint or even begin to explain, and I can't help but be reminded of what that looked like for me. If any of this resonates with you, then I sincerely hope you can take comfort in the realizations and understanding of the root cause(s), and know that there is hope! Don't be afraid to reach out for help because you deserve to have the full freedom that feels impossible to achieve.
|Ashley Tilson is a Holistic Trauma Recovery Specialist that helps victims of childhood abuse who are struggling with triggers and the inability to feel safely free and happy in their adult lives by breaking free from the past and healing their childhood self so they can begin to live the life they think they can only dream about!
Check out her website for more information.