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Personal Issues

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Talking about the impact of sexual abuse, rape and sexual exploitation can be a really difficult and personal conversation.

We have created this area to provide you with a series of information and reflection pages that we hope will help you understand your thoughts on different issues and move forward in your healing.

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 Personal Issues links to open the relevant impact information:

Generally, as survivors, we all have issues with Intimacy. We can have trouble with emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, sexual intimacy, but the thing is… every close relationship has a degree of intimacy regardless of who its with, whether that’s a friend, a partner, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, wife, husband, sister, brother, son, daughter, so on and so on.

Intimacy has been described in many ways: a kind of unmasking of yourself in order to make yourself vulnerable in a trusting, loving, secure relationship; a closeness of proximity; a special, unique and distinct bond joining you and another person; a sense of being exposed, undefended and fragile; the sharing of tenderness, caring and affection; the mutual respect, recognition and approval of each other’s need to be a sexual being.

But as a survivor of sexual abuse, we can struggle with emotional intimacy, physical intimacy and psychological intimacy. But why?

It would probably be easier to create a list of points that are not connected to our problem with Intimacy. How about…

  • Inability to trust
  • Fear of being vulnerable to being hurt or subjected to pain
  • Inability to take a risk
  • Lack of role models for healthy intimacy
  • Inability to control the impact of anger, hostility or resentment
  • Fear of losing the other in death or some other calamity
  • Fear of loss of approval
  • Fear of rejection
  • Chronic defensiveness
  • Over aggressiveness or over passivity
  • Power struggles between the parties for control of the relationship
  • Fear that the relationship will become sexual in nature
  • Fear of loss of identity
  • Inability to show affection, tenderness or caring

We can have a whole load of beliefs which prevent us establishing intimacy.

“If I open myself up to another person, I am bound to get hurt and/or taken advantage of”

“People with whom I have been involved with in the past have abused, neglected and mistreated me. How can I expect it to be different in the future?”

“People have said to me “I love you” and “I hate you”‘ in the same breath. I get so confused. How can I ever believe anyone?”

“If I open yourself up to trust someone, they will always take advantage of me.”

“I am a worthless, useless piece of junk. How could anyone ever care about me?”

“I am a failure as a man sexually.”

“All men are out to rape or violate you.”

“Intimacy is only for women or weak gay men”

“It is impossible to have a close friend of the opposite sex without the relationship becoming sexual in nature.”

“Men who have close friendships in which they exchange signs of physical affection (like a hug) with other men must be gay”

“No one can keep a secret, so keep your personal business to yourself.”

“Intimacy always means sexuality and sexuality always means sexual intercourse.”

“It is impossible for others to remain faithful in a relationship. They always cheat!”

“Whenever I open myself up to intimacy, I am bound to lose it or fuck it up.”

“I can take care of myself just fine. I don’t need anyone else to clutter up my life.”

But why would any of these beliefs be true? You may have evidence from the past that backs them up, but what evidence do you have to back up the idea that it will happen in the future? Do you have a crystal ball that can show you? No, of course you don’t so how can you be sure?

The fact is we can’t be sure and maybe, just maybe, this time will be different. But maybe it wont. But maybe it will, yeah, but maybe it wont, yeah but maybe it will… does this look familiar?

What we’re trying to say is to defeat the issue with intimacy requires taking a risk, albeit a calculated one, and requires time.

It requires you to:

  • Develop confidence in yourself.
  • Believe in your self-worth, your goodness and abilities.
  • Let go of your fears.
  • Open yourself up to trust in the goodness of others.
  • Accept your body and body image.
  • Resolve feelings about past hurts, pains and failures.
  • Handle disagreements, conflicts or fights.
  • Work out anger, resentment and hostility over the past.
  • Work out blocking irrational beliefs about relationships.
  • Maintain mutual assertiveness in the relationship.
  • Problem solve, make decisions and execute plans to correct, rectify and enhance the relationship.
  • Improve communication to an open, honest and productive level.
  • Work out hangups, resistance and objections to healthy, normal sexual relationship with your partner.

Steps to Improve Intimacy in a Relationship:

  • Before you can improve the level of intimacy in a relationship, you need to identify those with whom you already have an intimate relationship and those with whom you desire to develop a relationship.
  • Once you have identified the persons with whom you have intimacy problems and those with whom you desire to be intimate, identify those beliefs blocking your growth in intimacy with each of the people. Develop a replacement belief for each of the irrational ones.
  • Once you have developed the replacement beliefs, identify those behavior traits you need to develop to correct your intimacy problems. To do this, review the behavior traits; list them in a journal.
  • Working with one trusted person, practice your replacement beliefs. If not, then sit infront of the mirror and practice reading out loud your replacement beliefs.
  • Set yourself small tasks and tiny goals, e.g. choose a person your going to play this game with then without telling them, pretend and act like you’re fine with intimacy. Play the game to win, the object being that the other person wouldn’t know your pretending.

Clarity is the key to intimacy. Set your boundaries, rules and blatantly ask close ones for help with this.

Practice, practice, practice!

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How many times have you said “yeah I’m fine”, “I can cope” or “there’s nothing wrong”. It’s so easy to say that, knowing that deep down inside you there is chaos going on and you aren’t coping.

But why should you need anyone else, you’ve managed this far without the help of anyone. You’ve gone it alone before, in fact you’ve flown solo many times in the past. So answer this question… How was that for you then? How did that plan go?

How did it feel being on your own? What’s isolation like?

I know. Its fucking shit! But on the other hand you don’t have to rely on anyone else and so you aint going to be let down.

But isolation perhaps hinders you from finally getting the answers to the myriad of questions that have haunted you for so long.

You may even believe that no one cares, no one would ever understand how you feel, and why would anyone want to listen to you? But all those thoughts and beliefs say clearly that you locked into a cycle of isolation and loneliness that will, unless tackled, condemn you to silence for the rest of your life. How does that sound?

Abuse and sexual assault (especially as a child) generally takes place in isolation. The single most important thing for the perpetrator is to get away with it so he/she/they will do there upmost ensure silence happens. They will ensure that you become isolated and many survivors carry that feeling of isolation with them into adulthood. They will continue to act out the solo behabiour by avoiding company, talking and associating with others. All this time, they are losing out on the most instinctive behaviour known to man, engagement with others. Human beings are instinctively social creatures.

As survivors of sexual abuse, we were made to feel powerless, afraid, hurt, upset, guilty, etc. We may still carry those fears into any situation you may find yourself in and still wrongly continue to feel some responsibility for what happened to you. That includes guilt, in the fact that you feel bad for anything that happens to you or even those around you. We can also end up feeling bad about ourself and who we are or are seen as, e.g. weak, stupid, afraid, and nervous.

Feeling vulnerable and allowing that feeling to dominate your thoughts makes you shy away from situations that cause you to feel that, imagining or fearing, somewhere deep inside, if you’re not careful, you may be abused and hurt again, even just your feelings.

So, what do you do instead?

  • Avoid making friends, as that way you avoid any potential dangers that may exist.
  • Avoid letting people near you, especially partners, just in case they discover who you really are and reject you.
  • Don’t trust anyone, because the last time you did that look what happened!
  • Avoid making mistakes, because if you do, you will be again be seen as vulnerable and in some way lacking something.
  • Allow the abuse to continue to live your life by letting the fears that have arisen since, control your thoughts.
  • Allow yourself to be controlled by your inactions to say, do or speak about what is really fucking you up.

But why continue to live that way? Why continue to be afraid of what to say or do what you want to?

Like I said, the perpetrator(s) forced that silence upon you. Surely you don’t like feeling isolated and alone anymore?

People have said that in order to fully heal and become the person you want and need to be, you have to feel that vulnerability again, in a safe place, in order to become yourself – which can almost be as scary as being abused again. It’s a necessary part of the healing you undertake. Its like in order to fully move on to be a survivors, you have to accept that you have been a victim!

By undertaking a process of healing, it dispels the internal belief that you did something to cause it or even that you didn’t do something to prevent it. Everyone wants to be loved, needed, respected and acknowledged, but when abuse takes place, the boundaries become confused, and any defense becomes unclear.

You can also also remain bound in the memories that haunt you, so you need to find a focus on which to anchor onto. That can be almost anything, but should without doubt, be something or someone who is able to support you fully, without fail.

Isolation is silence. Break the silence, it stops with us!

Mind have produced a fantastic booklet on socialising and how to stay socially connected (the opposite of isolation) which you can read by clicking below. Mind booklets are certified by Information Standard.

Mind

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When your self-esteem is low, you feel depressed and hopeless. You see life negatively. Everything seems difficult, or too much trouble. It feels as if the world is a bad place, full of people who will abuse or ignore you, and you feel unable to do anything about it.

You end up treating other people as potential enemies, or saviours, and sooner or later they treat you badly or let you down. It’s a vicious circle.

Other people’s treatment of us affects our self-esteem; for example, if you have a boss or work colleague who is constantly undermining your authority or questioning your work, this can lead to you becoming very unsure of achieving what you once knew you were very capable of doing. Likewise, at home; if another member of the family is constantly picking at everything you do, eventually you believe that maybe you really aren’t good at anything and begin to feel worthless.

It’s that sense of worthlessness and powerlessness in low self-esteem that we can root back to the abuse. Being told things such as “your not worth anything”, “you deserve to be punished”, “this is because your bad” seeps into our being and the words ingrain themselves in our ‘self’. We believe it to be true, believe it’s a fact. But guess what, IT’S NOT TRUE!

They are the words used to keep us silent. They are words used to ensure the person that abused you got away with what he, she or they were doing.

Breaking the silence means that we break free from those words and we regain the power and control that was taken away. We gain back a sense of who we are and our true and valuable worth. The more we feel potent, the better our self- esteem.

When your self-esteem is high, on the other hand, the world feels like a good place, full of friends, potential pleasures and opportunities. You can assert yourself, ask for what you want and express your feelings. You feel potent, and know that you can make a difference. Other people, in general, respond to your positive attitude, so that, even when you don’t get your way, you feel good about yourself and them. This reinforces your self-esteem and stimulates your inner growth.

Break the silence… Increase your worth!

Mind have produced a fantastic booklet on improving your self esteem. Why not have a read by clicking the button below. All Mind information is certified by the Information Standard.

Mind

Mood Gym is a free self help program to teach cognitive behaviour therapy skills to people vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

Mood Gym

The BBC produced a page on their website looking at self esteem.

BBC

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PLEASE BE AWARE, THIS TOPIC INCLUDES SEXUAL AND BIOLOGICAL LANGUAGE AND MAY TRIGGER MEMORIES IN SOME PEOPLE.

Sexuality is a simple word that can cause so much confusion, embarrassment, fear, and questions for some people.

  • Just What is Sexuality?
  • Does it mean when your gay?
  • Do I have a sexuality?
  • I’m straight so I don’t have one, do I?
  • Its just talking about sex isn’t it?

Well simply put, Sexuality is the word that’s used to describe a persons sexual being – their preferences, interests, which influence a persons thoughts and feelings regarding sex and their choice of partner or partners. It is widely accepted now that a persons sexuality begins to develop from birth but most of us become consciously aware of our sexuality in our early teenage years as a part of puberty. Science has also discovered that when people feel sexual desire, a number of regions in the brain (several in the temporal lobe) become active and neurons stimulated.

From the people we like because of their physical appearance or their personality to some unseen, unspoken connection that you can only feel within you, a persons sexuality is theirs alone and no-one can take that away.

However, as survivors of sexual abuse and rape we can often have many issues with sex and become extremely confused about our sexuality. Having a ‘problem’ with your sexuality is not uncommon and is something many of us share. There are lots of different reasons why some people struggle with their sexuality and it would be impossible to talk about every issue. But from our own experiences, what others have told us and therapeutic research, we have highlighted some common issues and themes. Remember though, your sexuality is unique and personal to you… everyone has one, you just need to understand yours.

The ‘Gay’ Thing?

Historically, society’s messages about homosexuality have been extremely negative and being gay has been seen as a sin, a perversion and even a sickness. Gay men have been viewed as being weak, dirty and often not real men – more like women?!. One thought is that because the world is predominantly set out for being heterosexual (from parenting, schooling, education, medical care, religion, the books and magazines you read, the TV and films you watch, the music you listen to, and the laws you live under), heterosexuality is normal so therefore gay is wrong. When a guy becomes aware of his sexuality and realises that he finds men attractive, an internal conflict may arise within him. One part of him will want to accept his feelings (which may mean him accepting he is not heterosexual) and start to express and embrace his sexuality. On the other hand, another part of him will be saying, “Gay is wrong, it’s a sickness, sinful and perverted”. So the conflict arises but which part does he listen to? The part saying, “I’m gay?” or the part that has been absorbed and internalised from the culture around him that is saying, “Gay is wrong?” This internal conflict makes it difficult for many individuals to accept their sexuality.

But some for some male survivors, the internal conflict can also be complicated even more by the memories of the actual abuse and the feelings we had at the time and since, in regards to sex and gender.

It Was A ‘Gay’ Act?

If the abuser was a man, then some people can confuse that as being a ‘gay’ act. The reality is that the abuse of a boy or man by a man is no more of a ‘gay’ act than the abuse of a girl or woman by a man is a ‘straight’ act. It is an act of abuse or rape. It is an act of the removal of power and control by one (the abuser) from another (the victim). It is not an act of a sexuality.

Bodily Reactions

Some men remember feeling stimulated, having pleasurable feelings and climaxing during the abuse. So often, this can be confusing and results in a thought “i liked the abuse” and therefore (again if the perpetrator was also male) concluding that “I must like men and therefore I must be gay”. To break this down, we need to recognise that the human body is an extremely complex and incredible machine that automatically reacts to situations and events in certain ways. Touching and stimulating parts of a mans body will cause a chain reaction which he has no control over (like pressing a light switch will cause the light bulb to become light) – its a automatic reaction.

Certain touch or touch to certain parts of the body will cause the nerve endings to be stimulated which in turn, send signals to the brain which are rewarded with pleasure chemicals. This then causes the blood to rush around the body (increasing breathing, heart rate and pulse) and flood the erectile canals in the penis, resulting in an erection. Stimulation of the erect penis over a period of time will cause an automatic response resulting in ejaculation. Its simple human biology really.

But we can often not think in these biological terms and seeing our body’s own physical reaction to what is happening can confuse us. In our mind we don’t like what is happening during the abuse act but our body is reacting in a way we don’t want it too and we cant stop it reacting that way.

I’m Gay/Bi Because Of The Abuse!

There is no one clear reason why some people are gay, bisexual or heterosexual. A number of factors are suggested including it being innate (we are born lesbian or gay); genetic or hormonal factors; a result of our childhood and parenting; or maybe a result of the society and culture we grow up in. The reality is that no one has a clear and proven answer. What we do know though is that unlike many of our animal counterparts, human beings are sexual creatures and our sexuality is very fluid, it doesn’t always stay the same throughout our lives but please don’t confuse this with the belief that conversion is possible, we are wholly opposed to the unethical and dangerous practice of conversion or reparative therapy.

So…

Maybe the point is to look at understanding and accepting that although we may not know what our sexuality is, we know we have one. We should never deny ourselves the right to explore our sexual feelings as long as we know we are not aiming to hurt another person and that both we and our partners are comfortable in what we are doing.

There is not one person in the world that has not worried about their sexuality or doubted themselves because of their feelings at some time in their lives. The most important thing is that we come to understand our feelings and use them to express ourselves in a way that can help us celebrate who we are and make sure that we give ourselves the opportunity to share our thoughts and desires with someone we really care about, and our own self!

LGF-GuideThe most important thing is to relax and take time to understand your emotions, your moods and when the time is right for you to share your sexual thoughts and feelings. The only person you have to be honest with is yourself. Always remember that you are not the only person who may be feeling confused about sex and sexuality, it is one of the most common things that human beings share the world over. Without sex their would be no -one left in the world and if it didn’t feel good we wouldn’t want to do it.

Your sexuality is unique to you, don’t hide it away. You are not only denying yourself the pleasure of sharing one of the most important parts of your life, but you are denying someone the privilege to love you for who you are.

You know what, we all have the right to love and to be loved, that includes YOU!

Working with us, our friends at the Lesbian & Gay Foundation have developed a fantastic resource for gay and bisexual men who have experienced sexual violation and we think its pretty damn good (if we do say so ourselves). You can download a copy by clicking here or go take a look at their specific sexual violation page on their website by clicking here.

The Lesbian & Gay Foundation

lgf logo

The Lesbian and Gay Foundation provides more direct services and resources to more lesbian, gay and bisexual people than any other charity of its kind in the UK. Services include face to face counselling, support groups, social groups, health promotion (including STI testing services) and the largest distribution of safe sex packs across the North West than anywhere else.

Survivors Manchester is grateful to Paul Martin MBE and his staff for their continued support of our work.

Check out www.lgf.org.uk or call the helpline on 0845 3 30 30 30 for further information and support.

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Trust can be defined in the following ways:

  • Letting others know your feelings, emotions and reactions, and having the confidence in them to respect you and to not take advantage of you.
  • Sharing your inner feelings and thoughts with others with the belief that they will not spread them indiscriminately.
  • Placing confidence in others so that they will be supportive and reinforcing of you, even if you let down your mask and show your weaknesses.
  • Assuming that others will not intentionally hurt or abuse you if you should make an error or a mistake.
  • The inner sense of acceptance you have of others with whom you are able to share secrets, knowing they are safe.
  • The sense that things are fine; that nothing can disrupt the bond between you and the other.
  • The ability to let others into your life so that you and they can create a relationship built on an understanding of mutual respect, caring and concern to assist one another in growing and maturing independently.
  • The glue or cement of relationships that allows you to need others to fulfill yourself.
  • Opening yourself up to let others in on your background, problems, concerns and mistakes with the assurance that they will not ostracize you because of these things.
  • The act of placing yourself in the vulnerable position of relying on others to treat you in a fair, open and honest way.

Trust is described as being a belief that the person you put trust in will allow you to be vulnerable to their actions without causing harm as you have an expectation that you know how they will behave.

It starts at the family and grows to others. According to the famous psychoanalyst Eric Erikson, development of basic trust is the first state psychosocial development occurring, or failing, during the first two years of life. Success results in feelings of security, trust, and optimism, while failure leads towards an orientation of insecurity and mistrust.

Trust can be naturally attributed to relationships between people. It can be demonstrated that humans have a natural disposition to trust and to judge trustworthiness.

Trust is a major brick in the foundation of interpersonal relationships, whether it is between parents and children, friends, or lovers. It is just as easy to build trust as it is to break it down on a daily basis. If your interpersonal relationships are plagued by that deadly element called “suspicion,” then you might find success if you put effort toward trust-building. Trust is heart warming, a great attribute often abused and broken by many. We learn to trust, as we learn to love. If trust comes by so easily, it is also lost and destroyed by a single moment of breaking and in a fraction of a second, all hope and security can be lost.

As survivors of abuse or rape, trust is usually a huge issue. We can have problems trusting people in authority, our family members, our partners, our friends, our colleagues, in fact most people. Its hardly surprising, the last time we trusted someone without question, we got hurt, so why the hell should we do it again!?!

Well the simple reason is because we are breaking the legacy and in doing so we need to start taking risks, small ones at first, small calculated risks… trusting one person with bits of our lives. Then building on that.

So how do we begin to trust or rebuild trust? The answer is commitment to it and support from others in a safe environment.

1

Set our your boundaries to people.

3

Volunteer information and ask others to do the same.

2

Do what you say you will and ask others to do the same.

4

Honour your promises and ask others to do the same…

…can you see a pattern forming here?

Communication, clarity and commitment! It’s the best way to build trust and once you start doing it with one person, you will be able to spread it out further and try it with more.

One step at a time. Its not a race.

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