“I Thought It Was My Fault”. Why It Is So Hard To Talk About Sexual Abuse. Part 1
Names and identifying details changed in the following post to protect privacy.
It took Denise numerous attempts to actually step foot in the office of my private practice. She had cancelled a couple of times, saying she had to work. She admitted in the first session she was very nervous.
She knew she needed help, as she was not sleeping, and she was anxious all the time, even when it seemed there was nothing to be anxious about.
She felt like she was losing her mind.
She was snapping at her kids and partner, crying often, and withdrawing from her friends and social activities.
She felt very alone, but couldn’t let anyone in to help her.
Denise said she felt “silly” being in her forties, and not able to pull herself together. She had always thought of herself as being strong.
At work she could barely tolerate her colleagues, let alone the clients she was supposed to be helping.
She normally had a very good work ethic, and felt guilty for being a “useless employee”.
It was Denise’s close friend Jen who suggested she come to see me, as Jen had experienced a lot of relief from doing EFT with me.
Jen didn’t know what Denise was going through, but she could tell it was big. Denise was not talking to anyone except her partner about what she was dealing with. And he was at a loss as to how to help her, beyond suggesting she go see someone who specialised in the area of sexual abuse.
Denise told me she was sexually abused by her youth group leader “Ben” from ages 10 to 14. It began with him being very nice to her. He was tall and good looking, with blonde hair and brown skin. He was a cool surfer.
Ben was in his early twenties, and he complimented her a lot, telling her how beautiful and special she was. She felt proud that he liked her.
Denise was good friends with his younger sister Emily, and she spent lots of time at their beautiful big family home near the beach. When she was there she felt happy, like she belonged somewhere.
Life at Denise’s family home was miserable, and she spent as much time away from her parents as possible. Her dad was an angry alcoholic, and he was always yelling at her mum and putting her down. Denise hated listening to this.
Her dad would throw things around the house in a rage.
Her mum was very unhappy and stressed. She cried lots and worked a lot, probably also to avoid home. Denise tried to comfort her mum when she could, but didn’t know how to help her.
Nobody was very tuned in to what Denise was doing or how she was feeling about anything.
She had an older brother who spent most of his spare time away from home too, playing sport or hanging with his friends.
He was usually mean to her if she spoke to him. So she didn’t.
Spending time at Ben and Emily’s house seemed very attractive initially. Denise was made to feel part of the family there.
Their mum Carrie was very warm and welcoming. She was motherly toward Denise, and encouraged her to sleep over often.
Denise felt guilty that she sometimes wished Carrie was her mum. She loved her big squeezy hugs.
There were usually lots of kids at Ben’s house, and home made treats were coming out of the oven regularly. Not crappy, cheap packet biscuits like they had at her house. “Help yourself!” Carrie would say.
Life there seemed so normal and nice. Until one day, everything changed.
Denise seemed to be doing a good job of explaining to me the context in which Ben was able to groom her into believing that she was having a “relationship” with him.
Even though she was a child, and he was an adult.
As always, I had her tapping on the side of her hand whilst she gave me this first part of the story, to keep her as emotionally regulated as possible.
Denise explained that Ben started to do sexually inappropriate things to her at around her 11th birthday, which made her feel very uncomfortable.
He also got her to do sexual things to him, which she was also really uncomfortable about. “Actually I remember thinking it was disgusting” she said, and she said she felt sick in the stomach even thinking about it now.
But Ben had given her a necklace with a blue bird on it, told her that he loved her, and it was their “little secret”.
He said he would get in big trouble if she told anyone about them. He said he would go to jail, and his mum would be very angry at her.
Ben was the only person who seemed to care about Denise at this point in her life. She didn’t want him to get into trouble.
She also had a strong feeling that what she was doing was very “wrong” and “bad”. She thought she would probably get in big trouble too, and hated the thought of Carrie being angry at her. Let alone what her dad would say or do.
So she kept the secret.
Denise became very upset at this point, saying she really felt like it was her fault. She never said “no” to Ben. Or even that she didn’t like what was happening.
Most of the time, she never said anything. She just did what he said.
She never told anyone about this time in her life until last year, when her partner begged her to tell him why she was so different now.
She never wanted to talk about it with anyone. Not even her partner who was very kind.
“I’m not even sure that what he did was actually sexual abuse” she said, sobbing. “That’s just what my partner said. I’m not sure I should even be here. I’m sure there are lots of people who have experienced worse things than me. I don’t know why I am so upset about all of this, it seems ridiculous.”
I got Denise to do some “tap and breathe”, a gentle technique that calms a person and helps them to be able to talk again, when their brain is being what we call “highjacked” by trauma.
After a round of tap and breathe, Denise was able to say that what was really bothering her was that her daughter was now around the same age that she was when Ben started doing sexual things to her. And she found this extremely confronting, and very triggering.
“She’s just a little girl”. She said, wiping streams of tears away. “She’s so sweet and innocent. She’s not the slightest bit interested in boys. Nobody should even have to know anything about sex at this age. It’s all so confusing.”
When her daughter turned 11, Denise started to develop anxiety, and flashbacks, and to have trouble sleeping, with weekly nightmares.
But she couldn’t understand why all of a sudden she was thinking about all this stuff from the past.
I was relieved to have EFT up my sleeve to help Denise in a safe and gentle way to understand what was happening for her and why. In the next post I will explain how we used EFT to help Denise.