A Glimpse Into the Personal Denial System of Sex Abuse Victims

     “It is understandable that some would choose to deny their memories, preferring to endure the anguish of symptoms rather than the anguish of the remembering process”~Anne Hart  1

Stacey Lannert’s father sexually abused her for years, and her mother ignored it. Stacey ended up protecting herself by killing her father. After she was incarcerated, (Stacey has since been released from prison) Stacey spoke of needing to remember the good side of her father.

Stacey said, instead of remembering that her father had raped her, she remembers when he would, “just be my daddy and he’d hold me, talk to me, or just call me his tiger in a loving voice.” 2

Truddi Chase suffered sadistic abuse and rapes by her father. Her mother also physically abused and threatened her.

In her book, When Rabbit Howls, Truddi wrote these words about her mother, “It’s hard to think mean thoughts about a mother who trimmed the crusts off the bread for your school sandwiches” 3

As adults, Stacey and Truddi express the human denial system in its purest form –with the simplicity of a child.

A Holocaust survivor, who lived in the Auschwitz concentration camp for one year, also offers an example of how sincere the human denial system is. She was asked by her therapist about her memories of being imprisoned. Her first response was “I remember it had beautiful flowers.” She then sat silently for five full minutes before finally beginning to cry. 4

The woman’s conscious denial of the prison camp, allowed her to operate in the present. However, the woman’s method for repressing her experience had failed, because she continued to suffer in her daily life. 5

This is what happens when adult survivors of child sexual abuse, and incest, function with the same denial system that helped them survive the horrors of abuse.

This unconscious ritual ends up failing after a number of years because it no longer works when the soul cries out to be relieved of the pain. The previously useful arrangement between the conscious and unconscious mind, helped the person maintain a somewhat functional life, but eventually it becomes a prison and the memories beg to come through to consciousness.

It’s not surprising, or uncommon, that victims of sexual abuse would deny their history of abuse. Even perpetrators deny having been sexually assaulted as children.

FBI agent Roy Hazelwood did a survey on forty-one rapists, who combined had perpetrated at least 837 rapes. The perpetrators were asked about any personal experiences with having been sexually abused as a child. Only one man stated that he had been abused. This surprised Hazelwood, so he asked the rapists about their earliest sexual experience. It was clear that most of the men had been victims of child sexual assault. Thirty-one of the rapists (seventy-six percent) did not realize that their first experience with sex had been abusive –even though one man had been raped by his father until he was eleven years old. 6

______________________________________________________________________

1. Hearing the Survivor’s Voice: Sundering the Wall of Denial, Sandra Bloom, Journal of Psychohistory, Vol 21, Number 4, spring 1994, page 462

2. Stacey Lannert, Free Stacey Lannert Website, Stacey’s Writings

3. When Rabbit Howls, Truddi Chase, Introduction and Epilogue by Robert A. Philips Jr., Ph.D, 1987

4. Holocaust Survivor’s Mental Health, T.L. Brink Ph.D. Editor, pages 22-23 (Also published as Clinical Gerontologist, Volume 14, Number 3 1994), 1994 Haworth Press, Inc. Birmingham NY

5. Holocaust Survivor’s Mental Health, T.L. Brink Ph.D. Editor, page 23 (Also published as Clinical Gerontologist, Volume 14, Number 3 1994), 1994 Haworth Press, Inc. Birmingham NY

6. The Evil That Men Do: FBI Profiler Roy Hazelwood’s Journey into the Minds of Sexual Predators, Stephen G. Michaud with Roy Hazelwood, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1998, page 123.

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12 Responses to A Glimpse Into the Personal Denial System of Sex Abuse Victims

  1. little nel says:

    Alice Miller stated, “for most people the idea that they are not loved by their parents is unbearable.”

    I agree.

    I read a book about bridging estrangement between parents and children and how the adult child can approach the estranged parent and reconnect with them.

    I did what the book said to do after a 16 year estrangement with my father. I did not have any expectations of success with him and rightly so.

    I was surprised that my father agreed to meet with me. Things went well for me as I got to see him for what he really was a man filled with self-pity and lacking in empathy. I wasn’t intimidated or anxious by his character defects.

    I was relieved when he told me that he did not love me or care about me and never wanted to see me again because it meant that I did not have to interact with him ever again. It left me with a feeling of satisfaction knowing that my perception was indeed intact and that I was also NOT AT FAULT for anything he did to me or others.

    I was surprised at my own graciousness. I guess I had finally accepted the fact that he was mentally ill on an adult level. I had not caused it, nor could I control it, or cure it.

    It was the one of the best days of my life.

    • Alethea says:

      Truly healing Little Nel. What a gift to get the truth. I prefer truth any day over what ‘I want to hear.’

      People can move forward with truth. You’re lucky. Most parents would excuse themselves, and placate to the adult child. My mother will never tell me the truth. I am certain, that if my mother was honest with me, in that moment, any residual resentment or pain would melt away and compassion would replace it.

      • little nel says:

        It is not easy to have a mother who cannot accept truth. My mother also preferred lies when the truth was easier to live with.

        When we find hope and healing in spite of them, it’s a miracle.

        I guess they just didn’t have as much to lose (pain) or gain (happiness) as we did, so they never craved to know the truth as much as we did.

        • Alethea says:

          Little Nel, I find men to be more truthful than women –in all situations, not just about child sexual abuse. Sure, there are men who deny deny deny, and who will take their lies to their grave. But in the general sense; I find that men will more often admit to abuse, and that men will more often just plain admit to what they have done wrong in general. Women more often excuse themselves, or get into even deeper lies. I find women to be less honest with themselves and others.

  2. little nel says:

    “When the soul cries out to be relieved of the pain.”

    I remember that I would awaken in the night by the sounds of my own screaming. I sensed that I had a nightmare that made me scream but had no memory of the nightmare, even though I would be sweating and out of breath.

    Many times my husband would wake me up in the throws of a nightmare and ask me what I was dreaming. I could not remember anything so I felt calm after awakening.

    As the nightmares continued, I would be afraid to fall asleep even though I felt calm after being awakened. It was as if my screaming was damning me and my waking was rescuing me, so I wanted to stay awake all the time to avoid the night terrors that I could not remember that made me scream, sweat, and gasp.

    • Alethea says:

      Me too Little Nel. The nightmares were pretty horrific. I used to wake up forgetting how to breath and thought I was going to die because I was gasping for breath. Maybe like when someone drowns, or is choked to death.

      The subconscious is SO POWERFUL.

      • litle nel says:

        “I used to wake up forgetting how to breath and thought I was going to die because I was gasping for breath.”

        I had that coupled with severe pressure that felt like I was being crush beneath something. I thought that it was from physical and emotional abuse because I had my last nightmare like that when I hired bodyguards to protect me from my brother’s violence.

        • Alethea says:

          I have had that crushing feeling Little Nel, many many times. I have linked it to two things –my father on top of me with a knife to my throat, and to him having sex with me (his weight being too much for me).

          • little nel says:

            “my father on top of me with a knife to my throat” that is such extreme behavior when you consider that her could over power you so easily. What a monster!

            I’m so sorry and sad that you had to endure such violence and violation from a man like that.

            Was he a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff?

            • Alethea says:

              Thanks Little Nel. The knife to my throat and death threats, caused me a life-long fear of an early demise to an extreme degree. Fear of everything. The fear of dying was so pervasive in my life, it stopped me from living. It also caused me to have neurological problems, twitching and nervous system problems. It caused me to have years of shingles outbreaks right on my jawline –right where he held the knife.

              He was L.A.P.D for 25 years. He probably used his police knife.

              • little nel says:

                My earliest childhood memory was when I asked God if I was going to die. I was two years old and my father had battered me so badly that I could not move or get out of bed.

                The fear of dying was always close to me after that so I had nervous system problems also. I also experienced shingles from the fear of being killed.

                “He was L.A.P.D. for 25 years. He probably used his police knife.”
                That is so horrible. He defiled everything around him with reckless indifference and malice. Truely evil.

              • Alethea says:

                “The fear of dying was always close to me after that so I had nervous system problems also. I also experienced shingles from the fear of being killed.”

                Wow! Little Nel. I never met or heard of anyone else but me, who connected shingles to death threats.

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