Sexual abuse is felt as a physical assault whether or not physical contact is made. If an adult is leering children experience the effects internally as sensations in their body. In fear we hold our breath, tighten up, get anxious, numb out, deaden, feel flustered, feel tingly to name a few. Those are body sensations that are experienced while the leering sexualized assault is taking place . . . all feelings are felt in our bodies and directly effect us physically.
HOW ABUSE AFFECTS YOUR BODY
Sexual abuse is frightening and painful. Even when experiencing pleasure it is mixed with fear and often felt as your body betraying you, giving in, left shamed and confused. Hyper vigilance becomes a way of life. Always be on alert, never let your guard down all too much for a child to bear. This overload of stress can lead to physical symptoms in adulthood such as headaches, stomach aches, bowel problems, chronic pelvic pain, musculoskeletal complaints, sleep disorders, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, chronic back pain, sexual dysfunction and respiratory problems.
Survivors tend to hold their breath, constrict when feeling or tightening in different parts of their body left exhausted and not able to identify what they are feeling. Most of the time survivors don’t realize how much they regularly hold their breath. This developed early in life and was an attempt to shut down, be still, be hyper vigilant, guarded and alert.
Never feeling comfortable in your own skin. Experiencing your body as foreign. Finding ways to leave your body and detaching from the moment even if it is pleasurable. Never feeling at home in yourself.
Sometimes survivors aren’t in touch with cues their body is sending, such as hunger, pain, tiredness. Often pushing themselves to exhaustion or into a physical injury of some sort.
How Abuse Affects Your Sexuality
Children should not be introduced to sex. They do not understand what is happening, their bodies overwhelmed by stimulation or pain. Whether pleasure or pain, in adulthood sexual arousal can feel shameful and humiliating. You can feel dirty or bad when aroused and want to disconnect immediately.
Often survivors describe feeling distant, going through the motions, pretending to be satisfied or believing you have to satisfy your partner fearing abandonment. Waiting for it to be over with. Or you may feel addicted to sex believing it is the only way to get any relief. This can lead to compulsive masturbating, compulsive partners or being compulsive about it with your partner, believing you always have to be sexy, wear sexy apparel whether you want to or not, or only feeling sexual when viewing porn.
Survivors can have confusion as to whether you want sex or do not want it. In relationships it is always in the back of your mind that your partner will want sex silently fearing it as you wait for it to happen, knowing you will have to whether you want to or not. Often anxious about the possibility of having sex. Unable to say no and just want to get it out of the way to stop obsessing about it.
Self worth is wrapped up in sex believing you will only be valued for how well you satisfy your partner as a result unable to focus on your own needs or feel deserving of being pleasured. Often you want control during sex and feel too vulnerable with receiving.
Sex can also be a way to exert power believing you are in control not in touch with the underlying fear of being out of control. Or believing you have to avoid it altogether.
Some survivors may only be able to have sex with fantasies of rape, or reliving their abuse
if they experienced pleasure. Or repeat aspects of their abuse. Or be sexually abusive to others.
Since survivors are skillful in detaching from their bodies it is important to have patience when trying to learn how to reconnect to your body sensations. It takes time and it takes learning self care. Giving yourself permission to say no, and only do what you feel comfortable doing is key in this recovery. If it means practicing abstinence then that has to be ok. Acceptance of where you are at and respecting your limitations is paramount to this recovery.
Lastly, we’ll examine how childhood sexual abuse impacts survivors behaviorally.