In keeping with a human nature (or animal instinct) of hiding/subverting past memories away, the oft-said belief of “the past is the past”, “just get over it” is coming back to prove itself wrong. Deeply. As many of the support-therapists-Counsellors-medico’s I have dealt with told me: ”you can’t successfully move on from the past, if so much is hidden away”. This post isn’t to repeat my past sorrows, rather shift the focus onto another of SEQ’s GPS schools: IGS Ipswich Grammar School.
Our RCbbc Blog is getting more contact, from past Surviving-Victims of CSA of IGS. As one predator of BBC employment (Anthony Kim Buchanan) had been known to have moved onto IGS, our 2022 goal can now be to unravel more of hidden truths, impacts and solutions of this growing habit. Speaking with others (support-therapists-Counsellors-medico’s), is the best place to start, which should provide help in moving forward.
Professor Jill Astbury MAPS, College of Arts, Victoria University
All forms of child sexual abuse (CSA) are a profound violation of the human rights of children. CSA is a crime under Australian law and an extreme transgression of trust, duty of care and power by perpetrators. The rights violations that define CSA are critically connected to the deleterious behavioural and psychological health consequences that ensue. This article examines the long-term effects of CSA on mental health and the determinants of these outcomes, in order to identify opportunities to ameliorate the profound psychological impacts of CSA on the lives of many victims/survivors. The article is based on a literature review commissioned to inform the APS response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which was established in 2013 by the Gillard Government.
Prevalence of child sexual abuse
Rates of CSA are difficult to gauge accurately given the clandestine, sensitive and criminal nature of the sexual abuse to which children are exposed. Perpetrators of CSA are often close to the victim, such as fathers, uncles, teachers, caregivers and other trusted members of the community (Finkelhor, Hammer & Sedlak, 2008). CSA often goes undisclosed and unreported to professionals or adults for many complex reasons, including fear of punishment and retaliation by the perpetrator, as well as the stigma and shame associated with this type of abuse (Priebe & Svedin, 2008).
A global meta-analysis of child sexual abuse prevalence figures found self-reported CSA ranged from 164-197 in every 1,000 girls and 66-88 per 1,000 boys (Stoltenborgh, van Ijzendoorn, Euser, & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2011). In Australia, Fleming (1997) used a community sample of 710 women randomly selected from the Australian electoral roll and found that 20 per cent of the sample reported experiencing CSA involving contact. Another national survey involving both men and women (Najman, Dunne, Purdie, Boyle, & Coxeter, 2005) reported a higher prevalence of CSA, with more than one third of women and approximately one sixth of men reporting a history of CSA. A more recent study in Victoria (Moore et al., 2010) reported a prevalence rate of 17 per cent for any type of CSA for girls and seven per cent for boys when they took part in the study during adolescence. Both Australian studies involving community samples of women or girls and men or boys indicate that girls are two or more times more likely to experience CSA than boys.
Long-term mental health consequences
A significant body of research has demonstrated that the experience of CSA can exert long-lasting effects on brain development, psychological and social functioning, self-esteem, mental health, personality, sleep, health risk behaviours including substance use, self-harm and life expectancy. CSA often co-occurs with physical and emotional abuse and other negative and stressful childhood experiences that independently predict poor mental and physical health outcomes in adult life.
Nevertheless, the research literature indicates that when other predictors of poor adult mental health are statistically controlled, CSA remains a powerful determinant of psychological disorder in adult life (Kendler et al., 2000). Strong evidence from twin studies indicates that a causal relationship exists between CSA and subsequent mental disorders. Twin studies necessarily control for genetic and family environment factors and a number since 2000 have documented significant associations between CSA, depression, panic disorder, alcohol abuse/dependence, drug abuse/dependence, suicide attempts and completed suicides.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies published between 1980 and 2008 (Chen et al., 2010) found that a history of sexual abuse including child sexual abuse was related to significantly increased odds of a lifetime diagnosis of several different psychiatric disorders, including anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disorders and suicide. A particularly strong link between CSA and subsequent PTSD has been found.
Although the diagnosis of PTSD may be appropriate for those who have been exposed to relatively circumscribed CSA, Herman (1992) argued more than two decades ago that this diagnosis does not adequately capture the psychological responses of people who are repeatedly traumatised over a long period of time, experience subsequent re-victimisation in adolescence or adult life and typically display multiple symptoms of psychological distress and high levels of psychiatric co-morbidity. For survivors of this kind of CSA, Herman (1992) proposed the expanded diagnostic concept of complex PTSD on the grounds that it was better able to accurately capture the complex psychological sequelae of prolonged, repeated trauma.
Risk of suicide: Australian research
Survivors of CSA face a significantly increased risk of suicide and a higher prevalence of suicide attempts and ideation. An Australian follow-up study (Plunkett et al., 2001) of young people who had experienced CSA compared with those who had not, reported that those with a CSA history had a suicide rate 10.7-13.0 times the national rate. Furthermore, 32 per cent of those sexually abused as children had attempted suicide and 43 per cent had thought about suicide. None of the non-abused participants had completed suicide.
A more recent Australian study confirms and extends this finding. Cutajar and colleagues (2010) conducted a cohort study of 2,759 victims of CSA by linking forensic records from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine between 1964 and 1995 to coronial records up to 44 years later. They found that female sexual abuse victims had 40 times higher risk of suicide and 88 times higher risk of fatal overdose than the rates in the general population. Interestingly these rates were even higher than those for males, in contrast to the usual gender pattern for suicide. The respective rates for males were 14 times and 38 times higher than those in the general population.
Determinants of long-term mental health outcomes
While victims/survivors of CSA face greatly increased risks of poor mental health in adult life, a significant minority do not go on to develop psychological disorders (Saunders, Kilpatrick, Hanson, Resnick, & Walker, 1999). Broadly, two approaches to explaining this finding have informed research: differences in the nature of the abuse that has taken place; and post-abuse factors that positively mediate or intervene in the development of negative long-term mental health outcomes.
Nature of the sexual abuse
The likelihood of experiencing severe, negative mental health outcomes in adult life as the result of CSA is increased by several abuse-specific characteristics. Large scale epidemiological studies have consistently documented that forced penetrative sex, multiple perpetrators, abuse by a relative, and a long duration of CSA (e.g., more than a year) predict more severe psychiatric disturbance and a higher likelihood of being an in-patient in a psychiatric facility in adult life.
More than 20 years ago, Pribor and Dinwiddie (1992) investigated different types of CSA of increasing severity and found that incest victims had a significantly increased lifetime prevalence rate for seven psychological disorders including agoraphobia, alcohol abuse or dependence, depression, panic disorder, PTSD, simple phobia and social phobia. Bulik, Prescott and Kendler (2001) also confirmed that a higher risk for the development of psychiatric and substance use disorders was associated with certain characteristics of the abuse, including attempted or completed intercourse, the use of force or threats and abuse by a relative. More severe and chronic abuse which starts at an early age has also been reported to increase the risk of developing symptoms of dissociation.
Post-abuse mediating factors
Certain factors, both negative and positive, are likely to intervene after CSA has taken place and to mediate adult mental health outcomes.
Coping strategies Specific coping strategies used by survivors can positively or negatively predict long-term psychological outcomes. Overall, positive, constructive coping strategies such as expressing feelings and making efforts to improve the situation are associated with better adjustment (Runtz & Schallow, 1997; Tremblay, Hebert, & Piche, 1999), and negative coping strategies, including engaging in self-destructive or avoidant behaviours, with worse adjustment (Merrill, Thomsen, Sinclair, Gold, & Miller, 2001). However, the coping strategies used by survivors are contingent to some degree on the availability of social or material resources over which children have little or no control.
In addition, the number of negative or maladaptive coping strategies used is predictive of the likelihood of sexual re-victimisation in adulthood (Filipas & Ullman, 2006). This strongly indicates that the link between CSA, negative coping strategies and adverse adult psychological outcomes is strengthened by sexual re-victimisation. Several studies have confirmed this relationship.
Re-victimisation CSA is associated with an increased risk of subsequent violent victimisation including intimate partner violence and sexual violence in adolescence and adulthood (see, for example, Classen, Palesh, & Aggarwal, 2005). Sexual re-victimisation involving rape or other types of sexual abuse/assault poses a potent risk for worse psychological health in adult life. A number of studies have confirmed that women who are sexually re-victimised compared with their non-revictimised counterparts have more severe symptoms of psychological distress in adulthood.
Social support and reaction to disclosure Historically, the role of social support and other societal and cultural factors in determining survivors’ responses to CSA has been under-explored in comparison with the heavy focus on the survivor’s role in responding to sexual trauma. Increased interest in the contribution of social support and other sociocultural factors has prompted increased investigation into the social contextual factors that can mediate adult outcomes following childhood violence, many of which are associated with the reactions to disclosure.
Delay in the disclosure of CSA is linked inevitably with other delays, all of which are harmful to the child. These include delay in putting in place adequate means to protect the child from further victimisation, delay in the child receiving meaningful assistance including necessary psychological and physical health care, and delay in redress and justice for the victim. Without disclosure, negative health outcomes are more likely to proliferate and compound. Conversely, disclosure within one month of sexual assault occurring is associated with a significantly lower risk of subsequent psychosocial difficulties in adult life including lower rates of PTSD and major depressive episodes (Ruggiero et al., 2004).
Yet experiences of disclosure are not uniform and whether they are positive or negative depends on the reactions of the person to whom the CSA is disclosed. Unfortunately, negative reactions to disclosure are common, constitute secondary traumatisation and are associated with poorer adult psychological outcomes (Ullman, 2007). Such reactions include not being believed, being blamed and judged, or punished and not supported, all of which can compound the impact of the original abuse and further increase the risk of psychological distress including increased symptoms of PTSD, particularly when the perpetrator is a relative.
Specific characteristics of disclosure appear to be protective against the development of psychiatric disorders. This finding highlights the importance of social support in concert with effective action by the person in whom the child confides. The degree to which someone is affected is likely to reflect various indicators of the severity of the abuse as well as countervailing protective factors such as the strength of family relationships and the survivor’s self-esteem. One such factor is a warm and supportive relationship with a non-offending parent, which is strongly associated with resilience following CSA and lower levels of abuse-related stress.
Implications for psychological training and practice
The research outlined above shows conclusively that CSA is associated with multiple adverse psychological outcomes, although such outcomes are not inevitable. The identified mediating or intervening factors that increase or decrease the risk of developing psychological disorders as a result of CSA have important implications for psychological training and for the practising psychologists who work with survivors of CSA.
Training on CSA
It is a matter of grave concern that the issue of CSA has been neglected in psychology training. When psychologists lack appropriate knowledge and skills to work with survivors they put both their clients and themselves at risk and can cause unintended harm. Training on CSA is urgently needed in psychology programs to disseminate evidence to students on the protean psychological consequences of CSA as well as the skills necessary to carry out the demanding mental and emotional work of treating survivors. Survivors can have chronic, complex problems in many areas of functioning and psychological disorders can overlap with physical health problems, including pain syndromes and high risk health behaviours such as alcohol, tobacco and drug use. Careful long-term psychological care is often necessary. As survivors may seek help from a range of psychologists, it is important that all psychologists are educated about the magnitude and psychological consequences of CSA.
Apart from acquiring more in-depth knowledge of the emotional effects of CSA and experience in trauma-related interventions, postgraduate courses should prepare practitioners for how exposure to their clients’ traumatic material can traumatise them as well. To remain psychologically healthy while working with survivors of CSA, psychologists need to be able to recognise symptoms of secondary traumatic stress and develop self-care strategies and support systems that will help them to manage the stress related to working with CSA survivors.
Most practising psychologists today who work with survivors have acquired their knowledge and skills ‘on the job’ post-graduation or as a result of their own initiative by attending workshops delivered by specialists in the field. An unknown number of registered psychologists may have no training on CSA and a more systematic continuing education program should be available and accessible so that all psychologists are equipped, at the very least, to ‘do no harm’ to the clients who have experienced CSA.
Implications for psychological practice
Knowing how to facilitate disclosure and take a comprehensive trauma history is an essential first step in developing a treatment plan for survivors of CSA. How a psychologist responds to a client’s disclosure will have an enormous impact on whether a survivor continues or abruptly terminates treatment. Any hint of disbelief, blame or judgment is likely to fracture the client’s fragile hope that she or he will be believed and that it is safe to undertake the painful task of working through the original abuse and its aftermath. If the response to a disclosure is negative it may be years before a survivor is willing to try again, and in the meantime the psychological burden of the abuse and its effects can proliferate. The effort to remain silent and keep the abuse hidden is extremely isolating and cuts off access to potential avenues of psychosocial support.
It would be a mistake for psychologists to assume, for example, that knowing about prolonged exposure therapy for the treatment of PTSD, would, by itself, be sufficient to offer effective treatment to survivors. Beyond the symptoms of traumatic stress associated with CSA, survivors often struggle with many other pressing concerns. These often relate to the deep betrayal of trust by the adult/s with a duty of care towards them as children. This betrayal can prompt persistent negative self-perceptions, difficulties in trusting others and their own judgement, and abiding feelings of shame and intrinsic ‘unloveability’ that contribute to insecure, unsatisfying relationships in adult life. These same issues can impinge on the client-psychologist interaction, making it challenging to establish a robust therapeutic alliance or maintain appropriate boundaries.
CSA does not result in a single disorder such as depression, treatable within the 10 sessions supported under the Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative. The chronicity and complexity of the disorders stemming from CSA require much longer term mental health care. The current system under Medicare is very poorly suited to meeting the mental health care needs of perhaps the most numerous and psychologically vulnerable group in society – CSA survivors.
The Royal Commission has provided a timely opportunity to closely examine the enduring, deleterious and multi-faceted impacts of CSA on survivors, how institutions in which abuse took place failed to intervene and the kind of assistance survivors believe will be most helpful in healing from their traumatic experiences. Psychology has much to contribute to this process and to ensure that the best available psychological evidence is put forward to address the profoundly disturbing phenomenon of child sexual abuse.
Clergy-perpetrated child sexual abuseIn contrast with the large evidence base amassed since the 1980s on the prevalence and health consequences of CSA occurring in the general community, minimal research was published before 2000 on CSA perpetrated by clergy or others working for institutions or organisations, and evidence remains limited in scope.There is an additional theological and spiritual dimension to clergy-perpetrated abuse that sets it apart other forms of CSA, including a spiritual and religious crisis during and after the abuse (Farrell & Taylor, 2000). CSA perpetrated by priests and other members of the clergy has been described as “a unique betrayal” (Guido, 2008) and the “ultimate deception” (Cook, 2005), and the implications of such abuse for victims are eloquently described by McMackin, Keane and Kline (2008):The sexual exploitation of a child by one who has been privileged, even anointed, as a representative of God is a sinister assault on that person’s psychosocial and spiritual well-being. The impact of such a violent betrayal is amplified when the perpetrator is sheltered and supported by a larger religious community. (p.198)Psychological consequences of clergy-perpetrated child sexual abuseClergy-perpetrated sexual abuse of children can catastrophically alter the trajectory of victims’ psychosocial, sexual and spiritual development (Fogler et al., 2008). In the US, investigation into the Catholic Church by the John Jay Research Team repeatedly identified certain psychological effects of clergy CSA in the personal testimony of survivors and family members. These included major symptoms of PTSD with co-occurring substance abuse, affective lability, relational conflicts, and a profound alteration in individual spirituality and religious practices associated with a deep sense of betrayal by the individual perpetrator and the church more broadly (John Jay College, 2004, 2006; McMackin et al., 2008).Some of these negative psychological outcomes are shared with survivors of CSA in the general population but those related to spirituality, religious practices and a sense of betrayal by the church alter the nature of the harm caused by clergy-perpetrated CSA. While a diagnosis of PTSD may be useful as a starting point in understanding and treating survivors of clergy CSA, Farrell and Taylor (2000) contend that “there are qualitative differences in [clergy-perpetrated CSA] symptomatology, which the PTSD diagnosis cannot explain” (p. 28). Such symptoms include self-blame, guilt, psychosexual disturbances, self-destructive behaviours, substance abuse, and re-victimisation. These symptoms are argued to emanate from the theological, spiritual and existential features of clergy CSA. For these reasons, Farrell and Taylor (2000) suggest that a diagnosis of complex PTSD (Herman, 1992) offers a better fit for the symptoms reported by survivors of clergy-perpetrated CSA.Preventing clergy-perpetrated child sexual abuseThe history of denial, cover up and delays in response to disclosures of clergy CSA by churches has been well documented, with their responses to perpetrators evidencing a failure to implement any effective preventative measures. To stop institutional CSA from occurring, it is critical to understand the situational indicators of such abuse so that the opportunities they afford to perpetrators to commit the crime of CSA can be identified.Parkinson and colleagues (2009) identified that having immediate and convenient access to minors were the defining characteristics that facilitated abuse. The evidence also suggests the need for parents and their children to be made much more aware of the grooming tactics used by clergy who perpetrate CSA. The John Jay College study (2006) identified the strategies that allowed the perpetrators to become close to the child they subsequently abused including being friendly with the victims’ families, giving gifts or other enticements such as taking them to sporting events or letting them drive cars, and spending a lot of time with victims.A recurrent theme in Australian victims’ accounts is how their parents’ religious beliefs and trust and reverence for members of the clergy meant that they could not conceive of the possibility that priests could sexually abuse their children and betray their own vows. Yet there is ample evidence that this trust was sadly misplaced and the same caution that would be applied to other members of society needs to be applied to the clergy.Finally, in tandem with a message from churches that there is zero tolerance for CSA, there needs to be a clear and trustworthy process in place, independent of the churches, that encourages children to disclose CSA safely and confidentially. Educational programs in all schools beginning in primary school might be one way of achieving this.Victims of clergy-perpetrated CSA need to be heard with respect and compassion, given meaningful assistance to meet their psychosocial needs, and provided with justice through those who perpetrated the abuse and those who covered it up being held fully accountable. Only then will it be possible for recovery from the immense trauma of clergy CSA and the rebuilding of shattered lives to truly begin.
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Priebe, G. & Svedin, C. G. (2008). Child sexual abuse is largely hidden from the adult society: An epidemiological study of adolescents’ disclosures. Child Abuse and Neglect, 32(12), 1095-108.
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Disclaimer: Published in InPsych on October 2013. The APS aims to ensure that information published in InPsych is current and accurate at the time of publication. Changes after publication may affect the accuracy of this information. Readers are responsible for ascertaining the currency and completeness of information they rely on, which is particularly important for government initiatives, legislation or best-practice principles which are open to amendment. The information provided in InPsych does not replace obtaining appropriate professional and/or legal advice.OCTOBER 2013 | ISSUE INDEX
There’s a bunch of things you shouldn’t say to an abuse survivor, but the biggest no-no is insisting they need to forgive their abuser in order to move forward.
Forgiveness is healthy. It doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation or condoning what happened. PsychologyToday.com defines forgiveness as the release of resentment or anger and describes it as “vitally important for the mental health of those who have been victimized.”
However, forgiveness is a process. And how someone navigates this journey is deeply personal to them. They have to do it in their way and their time. And sometimes, forgiveness is not what someone needs to do in order to heal. Insisting that forgiveness is the only way they can move on it extremely damaging.
I have tried to forgive my parents. But I can’t. It’s very hard to forgive people who show no remorse. If I am ever going to forgive them, I need time. And when people tell me to let go of my anger, it negatively impacts my mental health. You can’t just let go of emotions if you don’t experience them first. It’s unreasonable to ask someone to detach from something you never gave them the space to attach to in the first place.
When I am told to let go of my anger, I bottle it up to please people. The anger gets worse and I engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms. These behaviours are what people think I will engage in if I allow myself to be angry. But in reality, bottling up negative emotions is what leads to acting out and self-sabotage.
Anger is not a bad emotion. It is something everyone experiences. It can be expressed in unhealthy ways, and that is often what happens when survivors are told to “forgive” and “let go of their anger”. The anger isn’t being allowed to be expressed, so it has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, it is often directed towards the survivor themselves.
There are links between being a survivor of child abuse and developing addictions. In a report by the National Institute of Health, it was found that more than a third of teenagers who have experienced abuse will have a substance misuse disorder before their eighteenth birthday.
This anger is also directed at other people, with survivors being more at risk of committing crimes.
“…participants with histories of childhood physical and emotional abuse further showed that female participants were more likely to exhibit internalizing problems such as depression, social withdrawal, and anxiety during middle childhood, which in turn increased the risk of adult crime. In contrast, male participants were more likely to exhibit externalizing behavioral problems, such as aggression, hostility, and delinquency during middle childhood, which subsequently led to adult criminal behavior.”
These behaviour appear to be what people fear the survivor will display if they express their anger. And I believe the advice to forgive and let go of anger is usually well-meaning. However, survivors like me have been given that advice since forever. And since forever, survivors like me have not been given the space to address and understand this anger, which leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
The only way we can truly let go and be free is by having the support to experience our anger. And that’s okay because anger can be experienced in a constructive way. Matthew Tull PhD of VeryWellMind describes anger as a valid emotion that pushes us to express what we need. He gives tips on how to channel this anger constructively, so others hear what you need rather than just hearing that you are angry.
I believe a survivor’s reaction shouldn’t be policed. It’s hard to express anger constructively when you are experiencing pain you have been keeping a secret for so long. Sometimes, a survivor will need to explode and express anger in ways that make you uncomfortable before they can learn to channel it in healthy ways.
Cutting short this healing process with assertions that the survivor needs to let go of this anger is retraumatising. For so long they will have been punished for expressing negative emotions in response to what has happened to them. If I cried or showed I was struggling to cope with how my parents were treating me, they would punish me more. So when I say I am angry with them, it hurts me deeply when someone tells me I shouldn’t be.
If we really care about survivors, we need to support them even if we don’t understand their journey. They have made it this far, so we need to trust they will continue to heal. But they need to do this in their way. And if they cannot forgive their abusers and let go of their anger, that needs to be accepted.
I would argue that my anger and inability to forgive are what helps me to move forward. If I didn’t have these feelings, I would most likely reconcile with my parents and get trapped in the cycle of abuse again. This anger is because I care about myself now. I understand I deserve better. I understand it wasn’t my fault now.
A survivor has most likely been controlled for the entirety of their childhood by people who were supposed to care about them. As people who are supposed to care about them too, please don’t control how they heal from their abuse. Be part of them achieving the freedom they have always been deprived of.
“Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.” —Anais Nin (attributed)
Several months ago I wrote a blog post about how self-compassion can heal the shame of childhood wounds. I received many queries about shame and self-compassion from Psychology Today readers. I’d like to address some of your queries and share some of the major ideas in my book, It Wasn’t Your Fault: Freeing Yourself of the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion, with you here.
If you were a victim of childhood abuse or neglect, you know about shame. You have likely been plagued by it all your life without identifying it as shame. You may feel shame because you blame yourself for the abuse itself (“My father wouldn’t have hit me if I had minded him”) or because you felt such humiliation at having been abused (“I feel like such a wimp for not defending myself”). While those who were sexually abused tend to suffer from the most shame, those who suffered from physical, verbal, or emotional abuse blame themselves as well. In the case of child sexual abuse, no matter how many times you’ve heard the words “It’s not your fault,” the chances are high that you still blame yourself in some way—for being submissive, for not telling someone and having the abuse continue, for “enticing” the abuser with your behavior or dress, or because you felt some physical pleasure.
In the case of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, you may blame yourself for “not listening” and thus making your parent or caretaker so angry that he or she yelled at you or hit you. Children tend to blame the neglect and abuse they experience on themselves, in essence saying to themselves, “My mother is treating me like this because I’ve been bad” or “I am being neglected because I am unlovable.” As an adult, you may have continued this kind of rationalization, putting up with poor treatment by others because you believe you brought it on yourself. Conversely, when good things happen to you, you may actually become uncomfortable, because you feel so unworthy.
Former victims of child abuse are typically changed by the experience, not only because they were traumatized, but because they feel a loss of innocence and dignity and they carry forward a heavy burden of shame. Emotional, physical, and sexual child abuse can so overwhelm a victim with shame that it actually comes to define the person, keeping her from her full potential. It can cause a victim both to remain fixed at the age he was at the time of his victimization and to repeat the abuse over and over in his lifetime.
You may also have a great deal of shame due to the exposure of the abuse. If you reported the abuse to someone, you may blame yourself for the consequences of your outcry—your parents divorcing, your molester going to jail, your family going to court.
And then there’s the shame you may feel about your behavior that was a consequence of the abuse. Former victims of childhood abuse tend to feel a great deal of shame for things they did as children as a result of the abuse. For example, perhaps unable to express their anger at an abuser, they may have taken their hurt and anger out on those who were smaller or weaker than themselves, such as younger siblings. They may have become bullies at school, been belligerent toward authority figures, or started stealing, taking drugs, or otherwise acting out against society. In the case of sexual abuse, former victims may have continued the cycle of abuse by introducing younger children to sex.
You may also feel shame because of things you have done as an adult to hurt yourself and others, such as abusing alcohol or drugs, becoming overly sexually promiscuous, or breaking the law, not realizing that these behaviors were a result of the abuse you suffered.
Unbeknownst to them, adults who were abused as children often express the overwhelming shame they feel by pushing away those who try to be good to them, by sabotaging their success, by becoming emotionally or physically abusive to their partners, or by continuing a pattern of being abused or subjecting their own children to witnessing abuse. Former abuse victims may repeat the cycle of abuse by emotionally, physically, or sexually abusing their own children, or by abandoning their children because they can’t take care of them.
Shame can affect literally every aspect of a former victim’s life, from self-confidence, self-esteem, and body image to the ability to relate to others, to navigate intimate relationships, to be a good parent, to work effectively, to learn new things, and to care for yourself. Shame is responsible for myriad personal problems, including self-criticism and self-blame, self-neglect, self-destructive behaviors (such as abusing your body with food, alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes, self-mutilation, or being accident-prone), perfectionism (based on fear of being caught in a mistake), believing you don’t deserve good things, believing that if others really knew you they would dislike or be disgusted by you (commonly known as the “imposter syndrome”), people-pleasing and co-dependent behavior, tending to be critical of others (trying to give shame away), intense rage (frequent physical fights or road rage), and acting out against society (breaking rules or laws).
Shame from childhood abuse almost always manifests itself in one or more of these ways:
It causes former abuse victims to abuse themselves with critical self-talk, alcohol or drug abuse, destructive eating patterns, or other forms of self-harm. Two-thirds of people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children (Swon 1998).
It causes former abuse victims to develop victim-like behavior, whereby they expect and accept unacceptable, abusive behavior from others. As many as 90 percent of women in battered women’s shelters report having been abused or neglected as children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2013).
It causes abuse victims to become abusive. About 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2013).
The truth is that for most former victims of childhood abuse, shame is likely one of the worst effects of the abuse. Unless you heal this pervasive shame you will likely continue to suffer from its effects throughout your lifetime.
Facing the problems that shame has created in your life can be daunting. You may be overwhelmed with the problem of how to heal the shame caused by the childhood abuse you experienced. The good news is that there is a way to heal your shame so that you can begin to see the world through different eyes—eyes not clouded by the perception that you are “less than,” inadequate, damaged, worthless, or unlovable.
The Healing Power of Self-Compassion
Like a poison, toxic shame needs to be neutralized by another substance—an antidote—if the patient is to be saved. Compassion is the only thing that can counteract the isolating, stigmatizing, debilitating poison of shame.
Many of you may be aware of the writings of Alice Miller. Miller believes that what victims of childhood abuse need most is what she called a “compassionate witness” to validate their experiences and support them through their pain (Miller 1984). For many years I have personally experienced how being a compassionate witness for my clients can help them heal and how transformative having a compassionate therapist has been for me.
One of the most consistent findings in this research literature is that greater self-compassion is linked to less psychopathology (Barnard and Curry 2011). And a recent meta-analysis showed self-compassion to have a positive effect on depression, anxiety, and stress across 20 studies (MacBeth and Gumley 2012).
Self-compassion also appears to facilitate resilience by moderating people’s reactions to negative events—trauma in particular. Gilbert and Procter (2001) suggest that self-compassion provides emotional resilience because it deactivates the threat system. And it has been found that abused individuals with higher levels of self-compassion are better able to cope with upsetting events (Vettese et al. 2011).
There is also evidence that self-compassion helps people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In one study of college students who showed PTSD symptoms after experiencing a traumatic event such as an accident or life-threatening illness, those with more self-compassion showed less severe symptoms than those who lacked self-compassion. In particular, they were less likely to display signs of emotional avoidance and more comfortable facing the thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with the trauma they experienced (Thompson and Waltz 2008).
Finally, in addition to self-compassion being a key factor in helping those who were traumatized in childhood, it turns out that self-compassion is the missing key to alleviating shame. Confirming what I knew from my extensive work with former victims of child abuse, research shows that traumatized individuals feel significant levels of shame and guilt (Jonsson and Segesten 2004). Shame has been recognized as a major component of a range of mental health problems and proneness to aggression (Gilbert 1997, Gilbert 2003, Gilligan 2003, Tangney and Dearing 2002). And it has been found that decreases in anxiety, shame, and guilt and increases in the willingness to express sadness, anger, and closeness were associated with higher levels of self-compassion (Germer and Neff 2013).
One clinician, Paul Gilbert, author of “The Compassionate Mind,” found that self-compassion helped to alleviate both shame and self-judgment. A study of the effectiveness of Gilbert’s Compassionate Mind Training (CMT), a group-based therapy model that works specifically with shame, guilt, and self-blame, found that the training resulted in significant reductions in depression, self-attacking, feelings of inferiority, and shame (Gilbert and Procter 2006).
In addition, research suggests that self-compassion can act as an antidote to self-criticism—a major characteristic of those who experience intense shame (Gilbert and Miles 2000). Self-compassion is a powerful trigger for the release of oxytocin, the hormone that increases feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity, and connectedness. Self-criticism has a very different effect on our bodies. The amygdala, the oldest part of the brain, is designed to quickly detect threats in the environment. These trigger the fight-or-flight response—the amygdala sends signals that increase blood pressure, adrenaline, and cortisol, mobilizing the strength and energy needed to confront or avoid the threat. Although this system was designed by evolution to deal with physical attacks, it is activated just as readily by emotional attacks—from ourselves and others. Over time, increased cortisol levels deplete neurotransmitters involved in the ability to experience pleasure, leading to depression (Gilbert 2005).
Neurological evidence also shows that self-kindness (a major component of self-compassion) and self-criticism operate quite differently in terms of brain function. A recent study examined reactions to personal failure using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) technology. While in a brain scanner, participants were presented with hypothetical situations such as “A third job rejection letter in a row arrives in the post.” They were then told to imagine reacting to the situation in either a kind or a self-critical way. Self-criticism was associated with activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex and dorsal anterior cingulate—areas of the brain associated with error processing and problem-solving. Being kind and reassuring toward oneself was associated with left temporal pole and insula activation—areas of the brain associated with positive emotions and compassion (Longe et al. 2009). As Kristin Neff (2011) aptly stated, “Instead of seeing ourselves as a problem to be fixed… self-kindness allows us to see ourselves as valuable human beings who are worthy of care.”
Of particular interest to me was recent research in the neurobiology of compassion as it relates to shame—namely that we now know some of the neurobiological correlates of feeling unlovable and how shame gets stuck in our neural circuitry. Moreover, and most crucially of all, due to our brains’ capacity to grow new neurons and new synaptic connections, we can proactively repair (and repair) old shame memories with new experiences of self-empathy and self-compassion.
In light of my research, I determined that in addition to offering my clients compassion for their suffering, I needed to teach them how to practice self-compassion on an ongoing basis in order to heal the many layers of shame they experienced.
Combining what I learned about compassion and self-compassion with the wisdom I’ve gleaned from my many years of working with victims of childhood abuse, I created a program specifically aimed at helping those who experienced abuse become free of debilitating shame. My Compassion Cure program combines scientific research on self-compassion, compassion, shame, and restorative justice with real-life case examples (modified to protect the subjects’ anonymity). Its proprietary processes and exercises help abuse victims reduce or eliminate the shame that has weighed them down and kept them stuck in the past.
By learning to practice self-compassion, you will rid yourself of shame-based beliefs, such as you are worthless, defective, bad, or unlovable. Abuse victims often cope with these false yet powerful beliefs by trying to ignore them or convince themselves otherwise by puffing themselves up, overachieving, or becoming perfectionistic. These strategies take huge amounts of energy, and they are not effective. Rather, actively approaching, recognizing, validating, and understanding shame is the way to overcome it.
“Shame is sickness of the soul.” —Silvan Tomkins
While many people suffer from shame, not everyone suffers from what is referred to as debilitating shame. Debilitating shame is shame that is so all-consuming that it negatively affects every aspect of a person’s life—his perceptions of himself, his relationship with others, her ability to be intimate with a romantic partner, her ability to raise children in a healthy manner, his ability to risk and achieve success in his career, and her overall physical and emotional health. The following questionnaire will help you determine whether you suffer from debilitating shame.
Questionnaire: Do You Suffer from Debilitating Shame Due to Childhood Abuse?
Do you blame yourself for the abuse you experienced as a child?
Do you believe your parent (or other adult or older child) wouldn’t have abused you if you hadn’t pushed him or her into doing it?
Do you believe you were a difficult, stubborn, or selfish child who deserved the abuse you received?
Do you believe you made it difficult for your parents or others to love you?
Do you believe you were a disappointment to your parents or family?
Do you feel you are basically unlovable?
Do you have a powerful inner critic who finds fault with nearly everything you do?
Are you a perfectionist?
Do you believe you don’t deserve to be happy, loved, or successful?
Do you have a difficult time believing someone could love you?
Do you push away people who are good to you?
Are you afraid that if people really get to know you they won’t like or accept you? Do you feel like a fraud?
Do you believe that anyone who likes or loves you has something wrong with them?
Do you feel like a failure in life?
Do you hate yourself?
Do you feel ugly—inside and out?
Do you hate your body?
Do you believe that the only way someone can like you is if you do everything they want?
Are you a people pleaser?
Do you censor yourself when you talk to other people, always being careful not to offend them or hurt their feelings?
Do you feel like the only thing you have to offer is your sexuality?
Are you addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, shopping, gambling, or stealing, or do you suffer from any other addiction?
Do you find it nearly impossible to admit when you are wrong or when you’ve made a mistake?
Do you feel bad about the way you’ve treated people?
Are you afraid of what you’re capable of doing?
Are you afraid of your tendency to be abusive—either verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually?
Have you been in one or more relationships where you were abused either verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually?
Did you or do you feel you deserved the abuse?
Do you always blame yourself if something goes wrong in a relationship?
Do you feel like it isn’t worth trying because you’ll only fail?
Do you sabotage your happiness, your relationships, or your success?
Are you self-destructive (engaging in acts of self-harm, driving recklessly, suicidal attempts, and so on)?
Do you feel inferior to or less than other people?
Do you often lie about your accomplishments or your history in order to make yourself look better in others’ eyes?
Do you neglect your body, your health, or your emotional needs (not eating right, not getting enough sleep, not taking care of your medical or dental needs)?
There isn’t any formal scoring for this questionnaire, but if you answered yes to many of these questions, you can be assured that you are suffering from debilitating shame. If you answered yes to just a few, you may still have an issue with shame.
Shame Is Not a Singular Experience
Just as the source of shame can be all forms of abuse or neglect, shame is not just one feeling but many. It is a cluster of feelings and experiences. These can include:
Feelings of being humiliated. Abuse is always humiliating to the victim, but some types are more humiliating than others. Certainly, sexual abuse almost always has an element of humiliation to it, since it is a violation of very private body parts and since there is a knowing on the child’s part that incest and/or sex between a child and an adult is taboo. (These taboos hold in nearly every culture in the world.) If the abuse involves public exposure—for example, being chastised or physically punished in front of others, particularly peers—the element of humiliation can be quite profound.
Feelings of impotence. When a child realizes there is nothing he can do to stop the abuse, he feels powerless, helpless. This can also lead to his always feeling unsafe, even long after the abuse has stopped.
Feelings of being exposed. Abuse and the accompanying feelings of vulnerability and helplessness cause the child to feel self-conscious and exposed—seen in a painfully diminished way. The fact that he could not stop the abuse makes him feel weak and exposed both to himself and to anyone present.
Feelings of being defective or less-than. Most victims of abuse report feeling defective, damaged, or corrupted following the experience of being abused.
Feelings of alienation and isolation. What follows the trauma of abuse is the feeling of suddenly being different, less-than, damaged, or cast out. And while victims may long to talk to someone about their inner pain, they often feel immobilized, trapped, and alone in their shame.
Feelings of self-blame. Victims almost always blame themselves for being abused and being shamed. This is particularly true when abuse happens or begins in childhood.
Feelings of rage. Rage almost always follows having been shamed. It serves a much-needed self-protective function of both insulating the self against further exposure and actively keeping others away.
Fear, hurt, distress, or rage can also accompany or follow shame experiences as secondary reactions. For example, feeling exposed is often followed by the fear of further exposure and further occurrences of shame. Rage protects the self against further exposure. And along with shame, a victim can feel intense hurt and distress from having been abused.
The following exercise can help you discover what your primary feeling experiences of shame are.
Exercise: Your Feeling Experience of Shame
While you may have experienced all the feelings listed above, you may resonate with some more than others. Think about each type of abuse that you suffered and the various feelings that accompanied it. Ask yourself which of the items listed above stand out to you the most for each type of abuse or each experience of abuse. In my case, for example, when I think about the sexual abuse I suffered at age nine, I resonate most profoundly with defectiveness, isolation, self-blame, and rage.
Further Defining Self-Compassion
If compassion is the ability to feel and connect with the suffering of another human being, self-compassion is the ability to feel and connect with one’s own suffering. More specifically for our purposes, self-compassion is the act of extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. If we are to be self-compassionate, we need to give ourselves the recognition, validation, and support we would offer a loved one who is suffering.
Kristin Neff, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, is the leading researcher in the growing field of self-compassion. In her book Self-Compassion (2011), she defines self-compassion as “being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s experience is part of the common human experience” (224).
Self-compassion encourages us to begin to treat ourselves and talk to ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion we would show a good friend or a beloved child. Just as connecting with the suffering of others has been shown to comfort and heal, connecting with our own suffering will do the same. If you are able to feel compassion toward others, you can learn to feel it for yourself. The following exercise will show you how.
Exercise: Becoming Compassionate Toward Yourself
Think about the most compassionate person you have known—someone kind, understanding, and supportive of you. It may have been a teacher, a friend, a friend’s parent, a relative. Think about how this person conveyed his or her compassion toward you and how you felt in this person’s presence. Notice the feelings and sensations that come up with this memory. If you can’t think of someone in your life who has been compassionate toward you, think of a compassionate public figure, or even a fictional character from a book, film, or television.
Now imagine that you have the ability to become as compassionate toward yourself as this person has been toward you (or you imagine this person would be toward you). How would you treat yourself if you were feeling overwhelmed with sadness or shame? What kinds of words would you use to talk to yourself?
This is the goal of self-compassion: to treat yourself the same way the most compassionate person you know would treat you—to talk to yourself in the same loving, kind, supportive ways this compassionate person would talk to you.
The Benefits of Practicing Self-Compassion
By learning to practice self-compassion you will also be able to begin doing the following:
Truly acknowledge the pain you suffered and in so doing, begin to heal
Take in compassion from others
Reconnect with yourself, including reconnecting with your emotions
Gain an understanding as to why you have acted out in negative and/or unhealthy ways
Stop blaming yourself for your victimization
Forgive yourself for the ways you attempted to cope with the abuse
Learn to be deeply kind toward yourself
Create a nurturing inner voice to replace your critical inner voice
Reconnect with others and become less isolated
I hope I have been able to convey to you how self-compassion can help heal you of your shame. But it is difficult to adequately explain this concept in one blog. In the coming weeks I will write more blogs about how shame can be healed with self-compassion and explain to you how you can go about becoming more self-compassionate. As you continue reading the blogs and practicing the exercises you will grow to more fully understand what a powerful healer compassion can be.
In the next blog, I will discuss the various obstacles that get in our way of becoming more self-compassionate including: our belief that self-compassion is the same as “feeling sorry for ourselves,” the belief that self-compassion is selfish, and our need to forgive ourselves for past actions in order to believe we deserve self-compassion.
Having completed my initial NRS Experiences and Impact Statements (NRS Fact Sheet, 2019), it initially felt ironic that the most nerves I had felt was actually at the final stage: Apologies. Advice that has given earlier indicates that description of each individual instance, together with personal impacts from each of their ongoing effects supports the evidence throughout the Instances and Impact Statements. While I had previously had the wrong POV, that completing Instances and Impact Statements, my work would be over – taking a wider POV, it’s now clearer that each section confirms and complements related matters throughout the NRS Submission.
As exciting as all this may sound, the journey of its lodgement isn’t over. knowmore (Community Legal Service) is another body involved in the National Redress Scheme. There are also Senior Staff within Blue Knot, who are able to offer their advice into the fine-tuning/tweaking of the order, expressions, focus and editing of Preliminary NRS Submissions.
In working my way through some of the updated NRS data, I came across the following list of possible example list of impacts of CSA experiences (Describing Impact of your Application, 2019). In closer focus, it began to both horrify my and reminded me in the instance(s) that I’m drafting up a list of requested apologies. I also realise that I am ‘but one fish in the sea’ of previous CSA Assaults. Although I feel fortunate for the beneficial discussions I’ve had, my deepest request/suggestion goes out to any other Surviving-Victim of CSA: Seeking Help can be done anonymously! When you’re ready to take things further, Expert Guidance is available.
From the above chart’s simple 8 points, how many viewers know of these ordeals? Whether sexual or physical violence, they each are an act of VIOLENCE. Anyone’s childhood is meant to be appreciated, while we are raised to become ‘young adults’ at 18. The following image, may also remind some of the hardships as victims of their CSA teachers.
Coercion and threats
Minimising, denying and blaming
“Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, exposing them to sexual situations, or making them feel worthless or stupid are also forms of child abuse and neglect – and they can leave deep, lasting scars on kids.” (Harrison, The Minds Journal, 2020). The following are major forms of CSA:
Survival of any of the above listed actions, are strongly suggested to talk to someone else about it. It’s preferable that it be someone outside your immediate family, as there are many Counsellors available. NRS is also being updated, allowing for it to be easier for CSA victims to have their matters sorted – not impacting others (“minimising”).
INSTITUTIONS are identified, with description of many of scenarios dealt with in Australia’s Royal Commission (CARC) and the current National Redress Scheme. For the benefit of those Victims-Survivors that have come forth, we ask for you to consider coming forward. Counselling can be confidential, lodging an Application is when details begin to be made public.
Some Private Schools in NSW are supported outright by Religious bodies, also sharing traits with many of Brisbane’s CSA experiences (GPS). Coupled with the ‘Teacher-swapping’ habitus of GM Cujes and his involvement in the CARC, there’s been withdrawal of School Seniority from Catholic Schools and Change-of-Names. The ‘Christian Brothers’ (seriously, not satire) had withdrawn their church leadership (ABCNews 2019), appointing laymen to these Headmaster roles. As there had already been suspicious reputations of secrecy and cloister (ABCnews 2019 & BRA 2020). Thankfully the separations into ‘good’ Patients and ‘bad’ Patients extended to occasional medical checks at local hospitals. In keeping with canon law to remain completely anonymous to outside authorities (King 2019). Ironically the Patients who made the majority of the ‘bad’ group, were Catholic Christian Brothers. Seemingly, like persona forced themselves to flock together leading to give a negative impression on nurses who were used to serving a wider public audience.
Unsurprisingly, George Pell had perjured himself in his Defense of Gerald Ridsdale. As immortalised by the following photo, Pell would later be acquitted by an overruling Australian High Court (2020). Potentially on legal-technicalities, the multiple Judges overruled a previous Guilty Verdict of Pell. Now in the Catholic’s Vatican, Pell may be enjoying his escape from judicial trials yet as any CSA Victim-Survivour knows, their actions will leave their mark until the end.
Ironically, GM Cujes (although denouncing CARC allegations, 2016) achieved Headmaster of Trinity College. Previously St Patrick’s College, later renamed Trinity Catholic College by the Catholic Church. Changing names (persons, businesses & institutions) is frequently associated with desires to create distance from historic events of the previous namesake. Psychology, Justice and other fields acknowledge these facts. Unsurprisingly, GM Cujes had preferred to be referred to by his middle name whilst Headmaster of BBC (1990-1996). Under Trinity appointment, Graham appears missing as their preference. AK Buchanan (‘Butch’) used similar choices between his hunting-playgrounds (BBC & IGS): (A) Kim at BBC and Anthony K at Ipswich Grammar School.
Psychologists at California State University, Northridge, studied 234 professional performers, looking for a reason why mental health disorders are so common in the performing arts.
“The notion that artists and performing artists suffered more pathology, including bipolar disorder, troubled us,” dance coordinator and psychologist Paula Thomson, a co-author on the new study, told Psypost.
“No one seemed willing to also include the effects of early childhood adversity and adult trauma and its influence on creativity and psychopathology.”
The study examined 83 actors, directors, and designers; 129 dancers; and 20 musicians and opera singers. These study participants filled out self-report surveys pertaining to childhood adversity, sense of shame, creative experiences, proneness to fantasies, anxiety, and level of engagement in an activity.
The participants were able to be categorised into three groups: those who reported a high level of childhood adversity; those who had experienced a lower or medium level; and those who had experienced little to none.null
It’s the high-level group that demonstrated the greater extremes. These performing artists had much higher anxiety, much more internalised shame, and reported more cumulative past traumatic events. They were also more prone to fantasies.
But they also seemed more connected with the creative process, the researchers said. They were more aware of it, and reported feeling more absorbed in it. They reported heightened awareness of a state of inspiration and a sense of discovery during the process.
They were also able to move more easily between the state of absorption and a more distant state for critical awareness, and were more receptive to art.
“Lastly,” the researchers wrote, “[this] group identified greater appreciation for the transformational quality of creativity, in particular, how the creative process enabled a deeper engagement with the self and world. They recognised that it operated as a powerful force in their life.”
Obviously the study has caveats, as self-reported studies can be prone to personal bias. Also, since it was limited to performing artists, comparisons couldn’t easily be made with other subsets of the population.
Nevertheless, the finding, the researchers said, may indicate that adult performers who have experienced childhood adversity are better able to recognise and value the creative process; and the ability of that group to enjoy the creative process could indicate resilience.
“We are saddened by the number of participants in our study who have suffered multiple forms of childhood adversity as well as adult assaults (both sexual and non-sexual),” Thomson told Psypost.
“So many participants in our sample have experienced poly-traumatization and yet they also embrace their passion for performance and creativity. They are embracing ways to express all that is human.”
Of particular interest, is the notable leaps in visitors from non-English (ESL) countries. Noting that BBC has been & continues to aim to build on its international reputation, this past begins in asking what issues may occur in translations of our posts. As collected from various sources, including “Translation errors and forgeries in the Bible”, which many excuses wrongly using “in the name of God” to hide suspicious behaviours. Anything, anybody may find doubtful, at any institution should now be followed-up with GOVERNMENT Departments of relevant States.
“Mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect”, is from the AIFS (Australian Institute of Family Studies). This paper outlines the complex mix of both schools/education, within different states yet included in the same country. The information includes:
Abuse & neglect
Reporting & reporters
How mandatory reporting legislation defines a child (per state)