Lots of articles on self help for sexual abuse victims offers suggestions about self-care and focuses attention on the victim and what they can and should do. A major difficulty for victims is that talking about their situation, learning to deal with flashbacks and trying to manage their feelings is just managing the side effects. It doesn’t allow them to fully recover.
I believe what's missing for the victims is knowledge. When a victim has information about the abusers and understands something about their motivations as well as understanding the dynamics of the abusive relationship, then things actually change. The flashbacks no longer occur, the emotional flooding ceases and the abuse, instead of being the theme of the book, becomes a previously read chapter in that book. The abuse becomes a past memory instead of being a present ongoing horror show.
In this article about self help for sexual abuse victims I will not be covering every type of situation in which people may be sexually abused. Rather I will be talking about situations where the individual was in a controlling, manipulative environment of which (repeated) sexual abuse was an integral part. (That's not to say that abuse victims who were in other situations will not benefit from reading. There may indeed be useful information here for them, too.)
The following are some such situations:
I know I said I wasn't going to cover all situations and you may say that this list seems like a fairly extensive range. However, all these situations have certain things in common.
There is typically some sort of relationship in place before the abuse starts, unlike for example, rape situations.
There is typically a power imbalance in the relationship. Children depend on the adults around them for care and attention, patients enter into a particular type of relationship with their therapists where they agree that the therapist has a higher level of control, the teachers and clergy have more authority than their pupils and congregation and so on.
The abusers in these cases are often 'serial abusers', if not sexually abusing others they are often emotionally or mentally abusing others around them.
These circumstances are ideal hunting grounds for certain sexual predators and we will examine the nature of such demons, how they work and what effect they have on their victims.
Then we will look more closely at certain of those effects and how they stop people from recovering. So about the abusers...
Many abusers are actually people who have personality disorders, more commonly known as psychopaths, narcissists and sociopaths. If you haven't considered this already, it can be a bit of a shock. People often have an idea of what a psychopath is and their father, or sports coach, or clergy man doesn't exactly fit that particular profile.
Even if you have considered this idea, I am going to lay out what a psychopath or a narcissist is and apply that to your situation in a very particular way, so it's worth reading everything here about self help for sexual abuse victims in order.
A psychopath is basically someone who does not have a conscience. They do not experience empathy. Nor do they experience guilt, fear, shame, love, compassion, shame or regret. Most people don't actually know that and it's a surprise to them that there are people who have little or no emotions. It takes a bit of time for this idea to sink in.
Psychopaths also have a big ego, a huge sense of entitlement, and these two things, the lack of a conscience and the huge ego, give rise to the classic characteristics of a psychopath. For our purposes here, a narcissist is similar except for the idea that the narcissist insists on having praise, compliments and general adoration, called narcissistic supply, from their victims. They basically demand to be the center of attention as much as possible.
The things that are important to keep in mind right now are:
In family situations, the relationship is already set up but in other situations the psychopath initially hides his (or her) true nature because he (or she) knows people don't want a relationship with someone who may abuse them.
The psychopath will quickly size somebody up, working out what the potential target wants of needs. He then offers exactly this while at the same time pretending to be the perfect partner for the victim. In a romantic setting the psychopath may pretend to be the perfect boyfriend or perfect husband material. In a sports setting the psychopath obviously offers classes which attracts people and the psychopath sets out to befriend the students.
You can read more about how specifically the psychopath makes friends very quickly.
Once the relationship starts, the victim typically feels that the abuser is a wonderful person, a friend and someone they can trust. Obviously this stage may not happen in family situations or in pedophile rings.
At this point, the psychopath begins to heavily influence the victim. The beliefs, the emotions, the decision making and the behaviors are controlled and manipulated. From making he victim feel very good, the psychopath now starts to also make the victim feel bad. The psychopath uses criticism, humiliation and belittling to make the victim feel bad about their ideas, opinions, beliefs, their appearance, their decisions, their actions and even about who they are.
Remember the aim of the abuser here is to control and dominate the victims and making friends first is a very powerful technique because we trust and believe our friends and we consider that they are looking out for our well being.
The alternation of friendliness with abuse, compliments and criticism has a powerful effect on the victim. Over time the victim's beliefs, thinking and behaviors change. Their perception of the world changes and their sense of themselves change. This all adds up to a change of personality. More details of this process can be found in this article about a marriage to a sociopath.
This new personality is called a pseudopersonality, or false personality, because it is imposed by the abuser without the knowledge or consent of the victim and typically is very different from the victim's own personality.
This pseudopersonality is programmed in certain ways. It is programmed to accept what the psychopath says as true, it is programmed to put the wants and needs of the psychopath before it's own and it is programmed to be very dependent on the manipulator.
Pseudopersonalities are not allowed to challenge the psychopath or complain about anything, otherwise they will experience that bad temper of the psychopath. The pseudopersonality is basically programmed to stop thinking and follow the instructions of the psychopath. The psychopath also programs the pseudopersonality to reveal things to the abuser because the more information the abuser has about the victim, the easier it is to maintain control.
The sexual abusers often have a process that they lead the victim through in order to convince them that sexual contact is ok. In cults, the leader 'sells' the idea to the members that sex is good for them in some way, it's important for their development or evolution, it is proof that they are free, God said they should, and a host of other justifications. Teachers and clergy similarly introduce the idea to the victims when they know the victims are sufficiently under their control that it's incredibly difficult for them to refuse.
Parents who abuse their children also lead the child to think that what is happening is acceptable. The child may be led to believe that the father loves them so much that this is the way to show it, or the father needs to be 'taken care of' because the mother is unable to help him, or that bad things will happen if the child does not agree to the abuser's demands.
Read about therapy abuse here.
Psychopaths in intimate relationships have a head start here because their partners expect that there will be a sexual relationship at some stage. However, in these cases the psychopaths will often push to have sex as quickly as possible.
Understanding the subtleties of this particular process of the abuser is a significant aspect of healing and recovering.
The start of the sexual aspect of the relationship is often the last step in the objectification of the victim. The victim is then used solely to satisfy the needs and desires of the psychopath with little attention paid to those of the victim.
Once the sexual phase is underway, the control the abuser has over the victim increases enormously. This often feeds on itself, the more control, the easier it is for the psychopath to have sex, and the more sex, the more control there is.
There are invariably double binds put in place by the sexual predators to make it difficult for the victims to get away. Double binds are 'damned if you do and damned if you don't' situations. For example, the child is told that they must like what is going on or they would have left already. However, there is also a rule that the child must never try and run away or there will be very severe punishments. The child may even have been punished for such a thing in the past. If the child thinks about running away, they will be breaking the second rule. They lose. If the child stays, they are forced into accepting that they like what is done to them. They lose.
There are often many such double binds put in place and recognizing and understanding such things are an integral part of recovering fully from sexual abuse of this type. Working out these things alone is not always easy (especially for child victims) and it's one of many things that makes any program of self help for sexual abuse victims very tricky.
The most obvious effect of all this is the pseudopersonality. The victim has had beliefs, ideas and behavior patterns imposed on them that are not for their own benefit. These things inhibit the victim's thinking and distort their view of the world as well as their place in it.
This pseudopersonality is put in place with very strong influence techniques and when a victim leaves the mind control environment, the pseudopersonality does not simply disappear on it's own. It persists for decades if not dealt with.
Having a pseudopersonality makes a person very vulnerable to being caught by other psychopaths in the future. These abusers are able to spot when a person has previously been in a traumatic situation because they recognize the patterns of behaviors and beliefs of the pseudopersonality. They know an easy target when they see one so they take aim at it. This is how people end up in multiple abusive relationships.
A sexual relationship in a mind control environment is considered sexual abuse because the victim has been tricked into a sexual relationship, even in romantic situations. The victims are not aware of the psychological influences being exerted on them so their decisions cannot be considered to be 'fully informed'.
When sex is added to the mind control, the situation becomes more complicated. It is very, very different from someone who was raped once by a stranger. The recovery, therefore, has to include a lot of other factors.
The following is a list of things that often need to be worked through with victims of this type of sexual abuse. These symptoms may be acute, delayed or chronic.
I know this article is about self help for sexual abuse victims but having read all this you can see that there was probably way more going on than you may have realized. Understanding all these things is vital if you hope to recover fully.
Getting rid of a pseudopersonality is a huge task, in and of itself. For all intents and purposes it is not possible to go it alone. Undoing the beliefs and ideas imposed on you by understanding how they were put in place, choosing new beliefs, developing your real identity, re-establishing values and ethics, rebuilding old friendships, starting new friendships and intimate relationships are all fundamental parts of a full recovery. Using your understanding of manipulation and the deceptive practices used against you makes it considerably easier to deal with the issues that arise because of the sexual abuse.
Many people have struggled with problems after sexual abuse for years, decades even. As soon as they realize that there was mind control involved, they describe it as having found the key that unlocks the hidden aspects of their situation and they are finally able to put things in their place. Until you understand how it was all done to you, there can be little real progress.
If you are looking for self help for sexual abuse victims, the best bit of advice that I can give you is to find an expert in psychological abuse who understands mind control and psychopathy to help you. I know it's incredibly difficult to ask for help for all sorts of reasons, many of which I have referenced here. You may have tried therapists before and because they didn't understand the issues they made you feel worse, or feel responsible, or even feel guilty for what happened to you.
It was not your fault. It was done to you. Many things were done outside of your awareness that led you to do and say things that you wish you hadn't. It's normal to feel shame and embarrassment because it feels like somehow you were to blame, but all that shame and guilt and so on, is actually misplaced. When you understand how things were done to you, all those issues resolve themselves.
And yes, you will most likely have difficulty asking for help, not just because of the fear, the guilt, the shame, the helplessness and the hopelessness, but also because of the pseudopersonality. The pseudopersonality is programmed to believe that it is responsible for anything bad or wrong and, by extension, you will feel that you should be able to sort things out yourself.
How long have you been trying to fix things on your own? If it's now working (and it isn't really, if after all this time you are still reading articles like this), then it's time to try something else.
You need to find someone to work with who understands all these things, who won't blame you, who won't make you feel guilty, someone who can listen to your story and help you make sense of what was done to you, someone who gets that it absolutely was not your fault and who can help you to fully understand and assimilate that for yourself.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...
Do you think that you might be in an abusive relationship? Are you realizing that the group you are in may be a cult?
Do you think you are being taken advantage of emotionally, physically, sexually or financially in your relationship? Do you want to leave but you can't seem to get away?