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Legacy Issues

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Over the years we have recognised there are ‘common’ legacy issues connected to the impact of sexual abuse, rape and sexual abuse.

We have also built a great Self Help Resource, thanks to NHS England; Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, and Jam Creative where you can download a wide range of guides dealing with a range of issues. Each guide is also accompanied by a audio version. Its an amazing resource and we want you to have access to it, which you can do by clicking here.

Click on one of the following Legacy Issues links to open the relevant impact information:

A lot of us, Survivors that is, can have poor skills when setting boundaries. This piece has been written especially to help people who struggle with this issue. People like me, the author of this piece!

Being abused doesn’t automatically lead to having issues with poor boundaries, others events such as experiencing a chaotic upbringing; ‘poor’ or neglectful parenting; a lack of structure in your early years; through learned negative behaviour when you were younger.

What I mean by negative learned behaviour is the behaviour that we observed or were taught to copy by those people that abused us, bullied us and caused us physical and emotional harm. It’s a conditioned response to a stimulus through either voluntary or involuntary intent, e.g. if crying results in more physical pain, then our mind and body learns and reacts in a way that benefits us the best… we do not to cry.

So what are boundaries? When do we say no and when do we say yes? Is saying no a sign of selfishness or a sign of strength? Is saying yes a sign of weakness and being taken for a mug or a sign of generosity and compassion? Do we need boundaries?

The first thing I’ll say is of course we need boundaries! Think about this… where did the lack of boundaries get us before and where does it continue to get us? I’ll tell you where… into situations and circumstances we would rather not be in, going totally against what we believe in and the very personal principles we hold dear to ourselves! That’s where.

We have a voice. We have the right to be heard and to have an opinion. We have the right to decide what is acceptable to us and what isn’t. We also have the right to change our minds at any given time and change it back if we want, even change it again. You get my point? We are no longer victims.

We need and deserve to have a set of personal boundaries that we have chosen. On the contrary to our own and others past beliefs negative opinion, we are worth it!

See if you can identify with this list of attitudes or behaviours related to shattered boundary syndrome, if so its time for change:

  • Saying Yes when you really mean No.
  • Going against your personal values or beliefs in order to please others.
  • Disregarding your feelings.
  • Accepting advances, touches and sex you don’t want.
  • People invading your personal space and doing nothing about it.
  • Not speaking up when you’re treated poorly (from a major hardship to being served cold food in a kebab house).
  • Letting others define you or label you and you accepting of it, regardless.
  • Instantly falling in love with some one you barely know and/or met on the internet.
  • Giving as much as you can for the sake of giving and pleasing others.
  • Never saying or scared to say No.
  • Feeling bad or guilty when you actually do say No.

All these things can’t make for a well rounded happy person. Think back, where did these attitudes and behaviours get us in the past?

We need to set boundaries to communicate our worth. Setting boundaries can be difficult when your self esteem is on the floor and you feel that you’re worth nothing. We need to try and get ourselves out of this mindset.

Boundaries equal freedom and happiness for ourselves, making us easier and nicer to be around, more attractive to others. We need to establish boundaries to live a happy and fulfilled life. With boundaries comes confidence, higher self esteem, assertiveness, healthy relationships, strength and growth, success and most importantly… With a good set of boundaries in place, your not going to be taken advantage of!

Here are some tips around boundary setting:

  • When you identify a need to set a boundary, do it clearly without anger and as few a words as possible so you don’t twist yourself up.
  • Its ok to explain why your setting the boundary, but don’t think you have to justify yourself.
  • Be prepared to follow through on the boundary you laid down with an action or it means nothing. It’s like a hollow threat.
  • You’re not responsible for other people’s feelings, as long as you have said what you have said respectfully, It’s not your problem. You’re the most important person setting your boundaries.Learn to say No. Practice in the mirror, on market researchers (if they annoy you as much as they annoy me).
  • Communicate your feelings with others so they know were you stand, don’t bottle things up. Let people know were you’re at and don’t be afraid.

As we know its not enough just setting boundaries, it is necessary to enforce them and hold onto them. Look where it got us last time.

You + Boundaries = Happiness + Freedom

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For those of us whom have survived sexual abuse/violence, flashbacks can be an extremely disturbing and distressing experience. A flashback is basically when a person can be overwhelmed and immersed in the past and become unaware that they are not in the present moment. They occur outside our control and this is what can make them so distressing. Due to sexual abuse and violence being an extremely traumatic form of abuse, flashbacks can be one of the outcomes of such terrible events. When we experience a trauma such as sexual abuse the body and brain adapt and become really creative. Experiencing danger or threatening situations the brain is equipped to put those memories, sensations and feelings away for a time when it can be dealt with and feel ‘safe’ enough to explore at a later date, (however very inconvenient it feels like!). Particularly, experiencing abuse at a younger age, the brain will avoid experiences that it may feel overwhelmed by or not ready to deal with.

A flashback can be triggered by almost anything; it doesn’t have to be related to sexual activity at all. Flashbacks can shock and catch you by surprise. They can be intrusive and leave you feeling frightened, helpless, shamed and disempowered. A smell, sound, a word, facial expression, watching something on T.V can all be triggers that activate a flashback and the list does not end there.

This all sounds really scary and it is when you experience uncomfortable, helpless feelings whilst having a flashback. It’s really important though to remember that it isn’t happening in the present and for you to try and find ways to soothe and understand why this is happening to you. Learning about flashbacks can help lower the distress in can inflict on you and it can potentially help you gain some control over such intrusive experiences. It’s also really important to be reminded that your experience and you are unique – this gives you the permission to say to you that there are NO set rules of experiencing a flashback, there are no right or wrongs! Here are some of the types of flashbacks…

Visual

This is when a visual image from the past traumatic events “flashes” into your mind for an instant or a period of time (this can be then known as disassociating). It can feel real, dreamlike; sometimes the image being seen can be surrounded in darkness (like in a tunnel). A colour, a shadow the way someone dresses, a room, are just some examples of what might trigger you to experience a flashback. Again these are just some examples of visual flashbacks; there is no end to how you may experience a visual flashback.

Auditory

Like a visual flashback an auditory flashback can have similar effects the difference being a particular sound/noise e.g. a door slamming, a creak in the floor boards, someone shouting, a piece of music, a certain word spoken, the tone of someone’s voice can send you into shock, fear and shame.

Body Memories

Body memories can bring you to experience usually memories connected with your abuse in a physical manner. This could manifest itself in many ways such as body aches/pains, tightening/soar throat, discomfort, disgust, headaches, nausea, needing to go to the toilet.

These feelings experienced you may have experienced right back at the point of the abuse you suffered, but were unaware due to shock. This can also include sexual feelings/arousal, which can be particularly confusing as you could ask yourself, How can I experience sexual feelings from being in a situation in a where I didn’t feel in control or want to be? Again the mind and body are just doing their job on impulse and remember you are now in a ‘safer’ place than you were back then (even though it may not feel like it). So, the mind and body think o.k. these feelings can come out! It’s really important to keep reminding yourself, at the time of the abuse your body/mind were not expecting such events to happen so it went into shock. The power of the abuse means you really had little to say in the events that occurred; this was not your fault.

So What Can Be Done to Understan/Reduce Flashbacks?

Counselling/therapy can help you identify your awareness of what emotions/feelings are around for you just before, during and after a flashback. It can be a chance for you to gain a further awareness of your feelings and thoughts and express them. This can be extremely hard work and at times feel like matters are getting worse, but this is you getting in contact with feelings you could have blocked off for some time. Therefore it is really important that the therapist you see is someone you feel you want to work with and can learn to develop a trusting relationship…So take your time when contemplating approaching therapy and finding a therapist.

Grounding Techniques

This basically means finding a way to help ‘bring you back’ into the present. It is a way of supporting and soothing yourself when uncomfortable emotions rear themselves. Here are some suggestions for grounding yourself. Again this is something you can ask a counsellor to support explore and help you understand what may trigger your flashbacks. Finding grounding techniques that work for you are key to you experiencing less harrowing flashbacks.

  • Listening to a piece of music that comforts, soothes, relaxes you
  • Breathing slowly and deeply. By paying attention to your breathing you can try and concentrate on slowing down, breathing slower and steadying the pace rather than it being shallow and erratic can help relieve anxiety
  • Focusing on an object in the room your in, listening to the sounds around you, it might be the traffic, the person your in the room with, a clock on the wall. This can help particularly if you are aware of some of your triggers and what happens for you before a flashback
  • Tapping and feeling your feet on the floor…or moving parts of your body to assist you to ‘come back’ into the room
  • Having a relaxing bath/shower
  • Talking to someone you trust and feel safe with after the event
  • Walking/Exercise of your choice
  • Watching a film that comforts you
  • Going to bed and cuddling up, hugging something/someone that allows you to feel safe
  • As you start to understand and give yourself permission to explore flashbacks your awareness of your triggers of a flashback will help support ways and means to soothe and ground yourself. Its important that you try to be kind to yourself and give this time

Finding a Support Group

Finding a group via the internet or reputable organization, (always check what policies and procedures are in place to safeguard you and that you feel ‘safe’ enough to carry out your research.). This can often be an environment that allows you to share your experiences, thoughts and feelings with fellow survivors of abuse. This can be empowering, learning that there are people like you who are beginning to break the silence and work through the legacy of abuse. You are not on your own.

Get Creative

Using your creativity, whatever that might be to maybe express some of the powerful feelings that are stored within yourself. It could be picking up a pen and writing a poem, a lyric/piece of music, painting, a sport activity…..anything that’s creative for you!

Again this is something that will be unique to you. Whilst utilizing whatever your creative flare please be aware and prepared as best you can to potentially get into contact with powerful emotions, thoughts and emotions.

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Child grooming refers to actions deliberately undertaken with the aim of befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, in order to lower the child’s inhibitions in preparation for abuse or exploitation.

The Home Office has defined grooming as: ‘A course of conduct enacted by a suspected paedophile which would give a reasonable person cause for concern that any meeting with a child arising from the conduct would be for unlawful purposes.’

Adult grooming is the adult equivalent to child grooming and applies to any behaviour where an adult is prepared so they unwittingly allow abusive behaviour or exploitation to occur later.

The abuser typically befriends or builds a relationship with the victim in order to establish a relationship of trust.

Although it is a common belief that grooming is most relevant to children, the same or similar psychological processes are used to exploit adults. As with child grooming, adult grooming typically involves:

  • Positive Reinforcement: includes praise, superficial charm, superficial sympathy (crocodile tears), excessive apologizing; money, approval, gifts; attention, facial expressions such as a forced laugh or smile; public recognition.
  • Negative Reinforcement: includes nagging, yelling, the silent treatment (sulking), intimidation, threats, swearing, emotional blackmail, the guilt trap, sulking, crying, and playing the victim.
  • Intermittent or Partial Reinforcement: Partial or intermittent negative reinforcement can create an effective climate of fear and doubt, for example in terrorist attacks. Partial or intermittent positive reinforcement can encourage the victim to persist, for example in most forms of gambling, the gambler is likely to win now and again but still lose money overall.
  • Punishment.
  • Traumatic One-Trial Learning: using verbal abuse, explosive anger, or other intimidating behavior to establish dominance or superiority; even one incident of such behavior can condition or train victims to avoid upsetting, confronting or contradicting the manipulator.
  • Normalisation of Behaviour.

As survivors of abuse, we have all been victims of grooming whether we believe it or not. Its part of the reason why we believe it’s our fault (which its not). Its part of the reason why we feel guilty (which we’re not). Its part of the reason why we feel shame (which we shouldn’t as its not ours). And its part of the reason why we find it difficult to talk about as boys and men, because the belief is that male don’t get groomed, or to use another word – tricked. Well that belief is wrong!

Perpetrators of abuse and rape are clever. They have one goal in mind and that is to get away with their crime, so they need to make their victim somehow believe they had a part in the act and to remain silent about it. Grooming will sort that out!!

Read Daniel’s Story on grooming and what he thinks about it all.

Daniel’s Story

The Six Stages of Grooming

Grooming is the process by which an offender draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy. The shrouding of the relationship is an essential feature of grooming. Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner explains the six stages that can lead up to sexual molestation.

The grooming sex offender works to separate the victim from peers, typically by engendering in the child a sense that they are special to the child and giving a kind of love to the child that the child needs.

Different law enforcement officers and academics have proposed models of the “stages” of grooming. Since there are a variety of these models, it’s best to think of the grooming by sex offenders as a gradual, calculated process that ensnares children into a world in which they are ultimately a willing part of the sex abuse.

Stage 1: Targeting the victim

The offender targets a victim by sizing up the child’s vulnerability, emotional neediness, isolation and lower self-confidence. Children with less parental oversight are more desirable prey.

Stage 2: Gaining the victim’s trust

The sex offender gains trust by watching and gathering information about the child, getting to know his needs and how to fill them. In this regard, sex offenders mix effortlessly with responsible caretakers because they generate warm and calibrated attention. Only more awkward and overly personal attention, or a gooey intrusiveness, provokes the suspicion of parents. Otherwise, a more suave sex offender is better disciplined for how to push and poke, without revealing themselves. Think of the grooming sex offender on the prowl as akin to a spy and just as stealthy.

Stage 3: Filling a need

Once the sex offender begins to fill the child’s needs, that adult may assume noticeably more importance in the child’s life and may become idealized. Gifts, extra attention, affection may distinguish one adult in particular and should raise concern and greater vigilance to be accountable for that adult.

Stage 4: Isolating the child

The grooming sex offender uses the developing special relationship with the child to create situations in which they are alone together. This isolation further reinforces a special connection. Babysitting, tutoring, coaching and special trips all enable this isolation.

A special relationship can be even more reinforced when an offender cultivates a sense in the child that he is loved or appreciated in a way that others, not even parents, provide. Parents may unwittingly feed into this through their own appreciation for the unique relationship.

Stage 5: Sexualizing the relationship

At a stage of sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship. Desensitisation occurs through talking, pictures, even creating situations (like going swimming) in which both offender and victim are naked. At that point, the adult exploits a child’s natural curiosity, using feelings of stimulation to advance the sexuality of the relationship.

When teaching a child, the grooming sex offender has the opportunity to shape the child’s sexual preferences and can manipulate what a child finds exciting and extend the relationship in this way. The child comes to see himself as a more sexual being and to define the relationship with the offender in more sexual and special terms.

Stage 6: Maintaining control

Once the sex abuse is occurring, offenders commonly use secrecy and blame to maintain the child’s continued participation and silence, particularly because the sexual activity may cause the child to withdraw from the relationship.

Children in these entangled relationships, and at this point they are entangled, confront threats to blame them, to end the relationship and to end the emotional and material needs they associate with the relationship, whether it be the dirt bikes the child gets to ride, the coaching one receives, special outings or other gifts. The child may feel that the loss of the relationship and the consequences of exposing it will humiliate and render them even more unwanted.

Credit:
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner has worked on some of the most sensitive cases in America in recent years, from Andrea Yates to the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. He is the lead researcher of an evidence-based measure to standardize the worst of crimes at DepravityScale.org. Dr. Welner is an associate professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine and is chairman of The Forensic Panel.

© The Oprah Winfrey Show (www.oprah.com). October 2010.

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The following are regarded by Survivors and those working in the field of sexual violence as the “Seven Myths”. In providing the truth behind the myth, we hope to explode it once and for all!

Myth #1 – Boys and Men Can’t Be Victims

This myth pushes the idea that males, even young boys, are not supposed to be victims or even vulnerable, often perpetuated by society’s installation of masculinity and the ‘macho’ image. We learn very early that males should be able to protect themselves. In truth, boys are children – weaker and more vulnerable than their perpetrators – who cannot really fight back. Why? The perpetrator has greater size, strength, and knowledge. This power is exercised from a position of authority, using resources such as money or other bribes, or outright threats – whatever advantage can be taken to use a child for sexual purposes.

Myth #2 – Most Sexual Abuse of Boys is Perpetrated by Homosexual Men

Pedophiles who molest boys are not expressing a homosexual orientation any more than pedophiles who molest girls are practicing heterosexual behaviors. While many child molesters have gender and/or age preferences, of those who seek out boys, the vast majority are not homosexual. They are pedophiles.

Myth #3 – If a Boy Experiences Sexual Arousal or Orgasm From Abuse, This Means He Was a Willing Participant or Enjoyed It

In reality, males can respond physically to stimulation (get an erection) even in traumatic or painful sexual situations. Therapists who work with sexual offenders know that one way a perpetrator can maintain secrecy is to label the child’s sexual response as an indication of his willingness to participate. “You liked it, you wanted it,” they’ll say. Many survivors feel guilt and shame because they experienced physical arousal while being abused. Physical (and visual or auditory) stimulation is likely to happen in a sexual situation. It does not mean that the child wanted the experience or understood what it meant at the time.

Myth #4 – Boys Are Less Traumatised By The Abuse Than Girls

Each individual, regardless of gender, deals with the abuse experience in individual ways. Studies show that long term effects are quite damaging for either sex. Its possible to hypothesise that males may be more damaged by society’s refusal or reluctance to accept their victimisation, and by their resultant belief that they must “tough it out” in silence.

Myth #5 – Boys Abused By Males Are or Will Become Homosexual

Sexual orientation is a complex issue and there is no single answer or theory that explains why someone identifies himself as homosexual, heterosexual or bi-sexual. Experts in the human sexuality field do not believe that premature sexual experiences play a significant role in late adolescent or adult sexual orientation. It is unlikely that someone can make another person a homosexual or heterosexual. Whether perpetrated by older males or females, boys’ or girls’ premature sexual experiences are damaging in many ways, including confusion about one’s sexual identity and orientation.

Many boys who have been abused by males erroneously believe that something about them sexually attracts males, and that this may mean they are homosexual or effeminate. Again, not true. Pedophiles who are attracted to boys will admit that the lack of body hair and adult sexual features turns them on. The pedophile’s inability to develop and maintain a healthy adult sexual relationship is the problem – not the physical features of a sexually immature boy.

Myth #6 – The “Vampire Syndrome” That Is: Boys Who Are Sexually Abused. Like The Victims Of Count Dracula, Go On To “Bite” or Sexually Abuse Others.

This myth is especially dangerous because it can create a terrible stigma for the child, that he is destined to become an offender. Boys might be treated as potential perpetrators rather than victims who need help. While it is true some perpetrators have histories of sexual abuse, it is NOT true that most victims go on to become perpetrators. Research by Jane Gilgun, Judith Becker and John Hunter found a primary difference between perpetrators who were sexually abused and sexually abused males who never perpetrated: non-perpetrators told about the abuse, and were believed and supported by significant people in their lives. Again, the majority of victims do not go on to become adolescent or adult perpetrators; and those who do perpetrate in adolescence usually don’t perpetrate as adults if they get help when they are young.

Myth #7 – If The Perpetrator is Female, The Boy or Adolescent Should Consider Himself Fortunate to Have Been Initiated Into Heterosexual Activity

In reality, premature or coerced sex, whether by a mother, aunt, older sister, baby-sitter or other female in a position of power over a boy, causes confusion at best, and rage, depression or other problems in more negative circumstances. To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is always abusive and often damaging.

Believing these myths is dangerous and damaging.

So long as society believes these myths, and teaches them to children from their earliest years, sexually abused males will be unlikely to get the recognition and help they need. So long as society believes these myths, sexually abused males will be more likely join the minority of survivors who perpetuate this suffering by abusing others.

So long as boys or men who have been sexually abused believe these myths, they will feel ashamed and angry. And so long as sexually abused males believe these myths they reinforce the power of another devastating myth that all abused children struggle with: that it was their fault. It is never the fault of the child in a sexual situation – though perpetrators can be quite skilled at getting their victims to believe these myths and take on responsibility that is always and only their own. For any male who has been sexually abused, becoming free of these myths is an essential part of the recovery process.

This has been adapted from a presentation given at the 5th International Conference on Incest and Related Problems, Biel, Switzerland, August 14, 1991.

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