Self-Injury and Self-Punishment Are Often a Way of Life For Sexual Abuse Victims

March is self-injury awareness month. This is a re-publish from 2012…

Self-punishment, self-injury and self-sabotage in relation to having experienced pleasure during child sexual abuse is highly common.

This behavior can be linked to:

  • For women –feeling our father, brother, or step-father was our boyfriend and sex partner.
  • Having had orgasms with the perpetrator
  • The perpetrator behaved as though the victim is the sexual aggressor (to protect himself) and the mother often blames, abuses, or strikes at the child because they WANT to believe the child is at fault.

Throughout the latter part of my healing, I endured a tremendous amount of self-inflicted punishment for wanting to be with my father sexually, or for the times it felt good, or when I received attention and affection when he molested me.

People who self-punish often deprive themselves of things they enjoy –like the enjoyment of food, or by avoiding activities that make their heart sing.

More painful forms of self-punishment can be things like “accidentally” hitting yourself in the jaw, slicing numerous fingers with a knife or cheese grater while cooking, frequently bumping your head head, dropping breakable items, or biting your own tongue.

The most common form of self-inflicted physical harm is known as “cutting.” It is sometimes called “self-mutilation” or “self-abuse.” Cutting is usually carried out with a knife or other sharp object. It is estimated that fifty percent of those who commit this type of self-injury were physically or sexually abused as children.

Adult survivors of child sexual abuse inflict wounds on themselves for a number of different reasons. Each person is unique. However, self-harm can be associated with trying to fix what is “broken” inside. Sometimes it is done in order to stop emotional suffering, and instead, feel physical pain.

Self-injury can be done to release rage because the person cannot verbally express their emotions. Watching the blood for a while is common. The blood can be symbolic of feeling unable to express emotions in a normal manner. One woman who cuts herself said, “I wanted to make visible what I felt inside.” This is just another reason why it is crucial for victims of abuse to verbally express themselves.

Psychotherapist Steven Levenkron, M.S. and author of the book Cutting found that as much as ninety percent of those who self-injure came from families with a system of denial and from families that avoided anything unpleasant. These types of households usually deal with problems in silence. This lends support for the theory that the number of sexual abuse victims among those who cut themselves is probably much higher than what is reported. Families with a significant system of denial are ripe for an incest victim to develop Dissociative Amnesia (repressed memories) for trauma and sexual abuse.

One woman told me that just before she cuts herself she experiences extreme anticipation that is exciting, dangerous, and sexual. Feeling excitement while cutting may be a way of punishing herself for enjoying the sexual stimulation with her abuser. For this woman, the danger, sexual pleasure, and the excitement, may have brought deep shame about enjoying what her rational mind told her she should not have liked.

Women I spoke with who perform self-injury said this form of violence is often a way of trying to remove the part of them that initiated the guilt, trauma, and suffering. They are literally trying to cut out what they feel is the cause of their grief. They try to sever the genitals or breasts like they are trying to amputate an arm or leg.

Van der Kolk did a study on patients who had problems with self-injury. Each subject indicated that a safe environment in therapy, facing the truths about their childhood experiences, and how they responded to those experiences, are what helped them become strong over their memories and what enabled them to stop the self-mutilation.

People who have been sexually abused as children cannot fully heal without dealing with any shame, guilt, and self-worth issues related to having taken pleasure in some of the sexual acts, or having had orgasms with their perpetrator.

Please know that you are not alone. Countless victims experience this –probably most victims do.

________________________________________________

Sources:
Hearing the Survivor’s Voice: Sundering the Wall of Denial, Sandra Bloom, Journal of Psychohistory, Vol 21, Number 4, Spring 1994, page 467]
Self-injury Poorly Understood Problem, Dana Sullivan, September 5, 2000, Web posted at: 1:28 PM EDT (1728 GMT) CNN.com, Copyright 2000 by Healtheon/WebMD
The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma Re-enactment, Revictimization, and Masochism, Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Volume 12, Number 2, Pages 389-411,
June 1989.
 
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8 Responses to Self-Injury and Self-Punishment Are Often a Way of Life For Sexual Abuse Victims

  1. Little Nel says:

    “self injury temporarily takes away the immediate emotion”

    I had not thought about self injury like that, but it makes sense as we so desire to make the uncomfortable feelings about ourselves “vanish” whenever we feel them. It fits that any emotion could trigger self- loathing because we believe the adults who WANT to blame the child. What a crappy state of being until we remove the faulty information and replace it with the truth.

    No wonder it affects all our thinking and reasoning while we are alive. Our denial system will fail us eventually, so without outside help we are stuck with all that unacknowledged misery, fear, and confusion.

  2. Yoshi says:

    Very informative information.Can tattoos(people who have face tattoos of more than one) and not put any effort in the way a person look(ex.dressing with big clothes,no makeup on..can that be labeled as self-abuse?

    • Alethea says:

      In my opinion, tattoos can definately be a form of self-injury –too many of them at least. Many women who wear baggy clothes and no make-up are indeed subconsciously trying to avoid any male attention -due to childhood sexual abuse.

      However, there is now a large number of men and women who may or may not have been sexually abused in childhood, who go out in public with droopy clothes, stained clothes, unwashed hair, and no make-up…merely because they just don’t give two hoots how they look.

      Sexually abused or not, I appreciate people who take the time to wash their hair, care how they look in public, and who have enough self-dignity to eat healthy and exercise.

  3. Alethea says:

    After re-reading this — an important correction has been made.

    The mothers strike at, and blame the child, because they WANT to believe the child is at fault.

    • Alethea, you are so accurate every time, your words are my story, I sometimes feel so weak and unable to voice my hurt but you are amazing for your words are my voice that can’t speak. One day I will find the strength but till then , Thank you.

  4. Linda Cook says:

    as a survivor of sexual abuse as a child, i can relate to the self injury. sometimes it is done to feel something. sometimes to punish. and, according to my therapist, many survivors also relive the abuse by doing the same things to themselves that was done to them. i have worked very hard at changing these behaviors. learning new coping skills is hard but a way of changing the behavior. learning to listen to my inside to pay attention to all of us. listening to music, going for a walk, watching a tv show, crochet a blanket. it is hard to learn to spend time with the feelings of shame, humiliation, sadness, anger. self injury temporarily takes away the immediate emotion, but long term, learning to deal with the feelings are more important. survivors have already been hurt. we don’t need to be hurt anymore. healing is possible.

    • Alethea says:

      Hi Linda. A lot of my behavior was becasue my mother blamed me so much. I do not think I would have committed so much self-abuse as an adult if she had not done that.

      Thank you for sharing. I agree that changing the behavior is vital.

      For me, totally removing the bad information -like a computer virus removal- has to be done at the subconscious level too.

      ~~Alethea

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