Sex and Sexuality for the Developmentally Challenged, continued

Sex and Sexuality for the Developmentally Challenged, continued

Here is another take on the negative consequences of sexual abuse:

CONSEQUENCES OF SEXUAL ABUSE BY A “HELPER”

  1. Ambivalence : Clients who have been sexually abused by a counsellor find themselves careening between two opposite sets of impulses: (a) to escape from the abuse and its lingering effects, to seek justice and restitution for the offence, and to try to get on with life, and (b) to deny the abuse or redefine it or fantasize that it was not abusive, and to cling and attempt to protect the offender.  Such ambivalence can be very unstabilizing, because the victim is torn this way and that.
  2. Guilt : The client mistakenly blames himself or herself for the sexual assault, and for “breaking the silence” when they eventually do tell what happened.  This can be especially devastating when the  abuser is “clergy,” because the victim can also blame herself having done something to cause the clergyman’s or clergywoman’s “fall from grace.”  This is even further compounded by the fact that the client had been consulting a counsellor and “must,” therefore, have had some psychological disequilibrium prior to the seduction.
  3. Emptiness and isolation : The emptiness is experienced as “It is as if I don’t exist without him.”  At the same time, the client experiences a sense of isolation, as if the client’s identity has been degraded or altered to such an extent that he or she feels unable to rejoin the world of humans, as if he or she can no longer communicate with others.  However much they may know intellectually that others have been through similar experiences, it feels as if they alone have been singled out.  They may feel “dead” or numb or hollow inside, and they may find themselves waiting for death, convinced that there is no other way for them to re-enter the world of people.
  4. Sexual confusion : Sexually exploited clients may respond with uncertainty about their own sexuality.  They may feel, for example, that they are “only good for sex,” or that they only exist to satisfy other people’s sexual wants and needs.  Their experience with the sexually exploitive counsellor seems to generalize to other relationships, with the result that they reenact with others the sexual behaviours previously experienced with the sexually exploitive counsellor.  For others, sex — and particularly casual and unprotected sex — becomes a way to express their feelings of irrational guilt, as if to say “I am worthless and this is all that I deserve.”  Still others avoid sex altogether, or become so distrustful of others that masturbation becomes their only sexual outlet.  And sometimes, the trauma is so profound that the client has difficulty distinguishing sexual feelings and impulses from other affects and experiences.
  5. Impaired ability to trust : When a counsellor decides to use the client’s trust, not to help but to sexually exploit, the betrayal of trust can cause immense harm. The client is thrust into a world without kinship, a formless world in which most of his or her assumptions about relationships have to be questioned, suspended, and possibly abandoned.
  6. Boundary disturbance and confusion of identity: When a counsellor uses the counselling process to satisfy his or her own needs at the expense of the client, this leads to a loss or impairment of the client’s sense of boundaries, by which the client ordinarily defines himself or herself.   This, in turn, tends to generalize to the client’s  refusal to acknowledge, respect and care for his or her own self, which can be expressed in such behaviours as difficulty making up his or her mind, having difficulty saying “No” to people, being taken advantage of, getting involved with people who hurt him or her, feeling as if his or her happiness depends on other people, taking on the moods of those around him or her, getting caught up in other people’s problems, feeling responsible for how other people feel, having a hard time knowing or asking for what he or she wants, feeling ashamed of him- or herself, being overly sensitive to criticism, not knowing what to think or believe, loss of a felt relationship with God, etc.
  7. Emotional lability : For the client who has been sexually abused by a counsellor, emotions tend to lose their reliability and customary patterns.  Changes in emotion can be sudden, swift, and seemingly without any apparent reason.  Similarly, emotional intensity may alternate with emotional numbness.
  8. Suppressed rage : The client who has been sexually abused is most often angry, but this anger is often suppressed, only to re-emerge months or even years later.  The reasons why the anger may be suppressed are many: Some are taught by their counsellor to suppress any anger; while some fear that, if anger were to be acknowledged, it would be so intense that he or she would be overwhelmed by it.
  9. Increased risk of suicide : Of clients who have been sexually abused by a counsellor, about 15% will try to kill themselves and some will be successful.  Depression, suicidal thoughts, and pressures towards self-mutilation and self-harm are frequent.  Feelings of grief and guilt intensify these issues, with the result that they can come to dominate the client’s life.
  10. Cognitive dysfunction , particularly in the areas of attention and concentration, frequently involving intrusive thoughts, unbidden images, flashbacks, and nightmares: And sometimes, these cognitive difficulties are part of a post-traumatic stress disorder.

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