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How Childhood Sexual Abuse Continues to Affect My Behavior

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I recently began to talk openly about my experience with childhood sexual abuse. It was a hard topic to discuss, and I have been totally overwhelmed with the response I’ve received from so many people.

The most interesting and quite scary part is the impact it has had on so many people’s lives. This doesn’t just affect the person directly, but it also affects those around them. When I look back over my life since it happened, I have acted in certain ways since I was 13 — ways I couldn’t explain. But now, I am finally addressing these issues. I am able to see the impact it had on me and my behaviors. I am not saying this is an excuse for how I acted, and I am taking responsibility for it — but I want to explain it so others can understand.

By realizing this, it also allows me to change my destiny and take back that power and self-worth. It will additionally help me stop beating myself up for what has happened.

So here it goes…

I find it hard to be treated like a special person. 
When I write this, it sounds silly. What individual doesn’t like to be treated special? The fact is, I love to be treated in special ways, but I just find it so hard. There have been times in my life (a lot of them) where I have been overwhelmed with these feelings, and it made my guard shoot back up. It isn’t that I don’t want to feel special; I just need to be reminded sometimes that it’s OK to be treated a certain way.

I also need to know why someone wants to make me feel special. In the past, I was treated this way because someone wanted something, but this isn’t the case now. People treat you special because they love you — but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of this!

I get angry at times, but my anger isn’t aimed at you. 
This is something that has happened a lot over the last year. I was angry at the justice system. Angry at my abuser. I was angry that I didn’t feel I had the ability to express myself. I also felt guilty for feeling angry, an emotion we are often told not to have. Because I couldn’t show that anger, I took it out on those closest to me. Sometimes this happens and when it does, it is all about accepting it however hard it feels (if you are the person getting angry, do try and explain it. I used to always try and apologize afterwards).

What I wanted was to just be held, maybe taken for a walk and given the chance to vent — to find a way to express myself in a healthy way. (I am actually planning to go boxing this week to get that anger out.) 

I am terrified of everyone leaving, so sometimes I self-destruct or self-sabotage.
 The frustrating thing about abuse is the complete lack of understanding of power. This translates into me hurting and then feeling terrified that someone will find out something and just leave. I spent so long feeling disgusted about what happened to me, and I  still let it control me. I let the words he said and the guilt I feel control me so much that I am waiting for people to leave.

The fact is, I was hurt so badly through the abuse, and this year all those wounds I never tackled were re-opened. This meant I was hurting so much and I was so scared of people leaving. So I destruct.

A rather frustrating self-fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes I need a reminder that they aren’t going anywhere, however much I push them away. It is hard for that person being pushed, but know that it does get better. I am living proof of that. 

I act in ways to try and own my sexuality. 
Being sexualized at the age of 13 has left so many scars. So to try and make me feel OK with it, I find ways to feel power and to own it. But ironically, I lose that power through the way I act. This was something that dominated my teens. I would go out all the time drinking underage, spending nights with men (normally older) as a way to see if I felt anything, as a way to own who I was and to feel in control. But I didn’t feel in control. Instead, it just opened up more pain. What I should have done (which I do now) is go to therapy to own myself and my self-worth. 

When it all gets too much for me, I shut down and my guard goes up.
 When we put our guard up, we aren’t trying to hurt you but protect you. We shut down our emotions to try and manage it because that’s all we know.

I was told by my abuser that I couldn’t talk about this to anyone. That emotion gets so disjointed that sometimes I’m so scared of being hurt, shutting down seems like the only solution. This was me this year — I shut down as a way to protect myself and everyone else. I never meant to hurt anyone around me, but because I shut down it impacted others. If you are being shut out, please be patient. Try to ask questions to attempt to understand this, and reassure that individual that you are there.

I don’t know how to be loved in a healthy way. Another long-term outcome of abuse is not really knowing what a healthy relationship is, or how to be loved. Then when I get something amazing, I self-destruct.

Now, the main thing for me is being aware of all this and realizing why I act in certain ways. I wish I had found a way to talk about it before now — before I lost people. I have realized so much over the last couple of months in therapy. I have explored my behaviors and the way I am. It all makes sense.

For so long, I was trying to own my sexuality, which led me to act out when I was a teen. Then reopening the case brought all the pain, hate, hurt, shame and disgust at myself back to the surface. Therapy helps me deal with this, while allowing me to free myself from what has happened. It will also equip me and those around me to understand why I might act in certain ways, enabling that line of communication with others.

What I want to leave you with is this…

Communication through all of this is key! 
Some people won’t be able to support you through this and it is not your fault. But what I would say is talk, communicate and try your best to explain things.

If you are supporting someone through this, try to be patient, supportive, keep talking and share your worries. If you feel rejected or unloved because of their actions, try and talk. Make them feel wanted and loved unconditionally. We act in ways thinking we are protecting our loved ones from these things, so be aware of that.

Top Tip: Find your way to communicate, whether it is through writing, talking with your eyes shut — whatever it is. Find it and know that it is OK.  

Originally published: October 10, 2019
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