Note: If you’ve been sexually abused, this post could trigger you. Please read with care. For the National Sexual Abuse Hotline, click here. 

In healthy families, a child learns that adults are there to protect you; they are engaging with you as you learn and laugh and discover the world. They soothe you when you cry and teach you that bad feelings can go away with a hug and a kiss. 

Innocence in these families isn’t a choice; it’s how life works.

Incest — sexual abuse by a family member — destroys that innocence.

When confusion destroys innocence and trust…

From the moment you begin exploring the world, you hear, “Give Granddaddy a hug.” “Go to the store with Uncle Andrew, you’ll have fun.”  “Daddy and Mommy love you.”

Then, one awful day,  something happens you don’t understand. The look in Granddaddy’s eyes is not the same, as he tells you how special you are to him, or that he is helping you grow up. You love Granddaddy and he says he loves you, but you know in your gut that something feels different and… wrong. He touches you in a way you’ve never been touched. Your body feels things it has never felt. You are told to do things that you’ve never done.

You’re scared. You freeze up. You just want it to be over.

Maybe you are five. Maybe ten.

The next day, everything appears normal. You get up just like every other day; you grab the Pop Tart mom’s warmed up and then it’s time to go to school. “Granddad is going to pick you up today and take you to soccer practice.”

Nothing is normal for you any more. You eat a little bit and head to the bus, trying to avoid the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. 

When Granddad picks you up, he’s his usual jovial self. He asks youhow soccer practice is going, tells you he can’t wait to see your next game, and he drops you off.

You are left to wonder if it will ever happen again, and pray that it won’t. But you’re confused…

After all, it’s Granddaddy.

34% of all sexual abuse is incest… abuse within the family…

Sexual abuse in a family isn’t simply a story. It’s a reality for millions of little boys and girls and is the ultimate betrayal of children.

Brothers. Mothers. Fathers. Grandfathers. All can be abusers.

As an adult, you find yourself in a therapist’s office, revealing what happened with confusion and shame.

I don’t get the way I feel about him. I remember what he did to me. But there are also really good memories. I loved going fishing with him. He taught me about the kind of bait to use…why did he have to ruin everything?”

“I sit by my brother every Sunday at church. And I cry every week, remembering what he did to me. I’m so scared he could be doing the same thing to others. People have no idea what I’m really crying about.”

“I dread going to Christmas every year, because my uncle’s there. And I will see that look in his eyes, like he’s remembering. I feel dirty. Guys don’t talk about this stuff, so I don’t know what to do.”

The risk of revealing… as a child or an adult…

Why didn’t these adults reveal their sexual abuse as it was happening? There are many reasons... shame, being disillusioned, fear of punishment or someone else being hurt, confusion, feeling to blame..

There are lucky children who tell and are not only believed, but immediate action is taken to protect them from harm. These are the lucky ones — and being believed can be very healing. 

If a child tried to tell and is ignored or not believed, the abuse is highly likely to recur. The child’s life can become more of a hell than it was before.

If the revelation is in adulthood, and again is denied or ignored, the abuse just sits there, like the proverbial elephant in the room. Any information that doesn’t fit with what the family believes themselves to be, or what they need to look like to others, isn’t welcome.

The loneliness of that child or that adult is devastating.

Sexual abuse is about stealing power… Healing is about taking it back… 

Therapy often includes finding compassion for the child that you were and remembering the powerlessness and vulnerability of children. One human being is taking control of another — manipulating and using an innocent child for their own disturbed, sick agenda.

You can heal. It’s a process of weaving the reality of the trauma into how you understand your life. You can learn to trust again, not in a childlike way, but with awareness and care. You can re-empower yourself and disempower your perpetrator.

Think of your life as a tapestry, which has many colorful threads within it, yet darker threads travel through it. Both give meaning to the other and the darkness doesn’t overtake the light. The healing process takes time, courage and the development compassion for that child within you who needs comfort and connection. 

That child needs understanding and a way out of carrying such a lonely burden.

That child needs to know it never was and never will be — their fault.

That child needs to believe in their own innocence.

 If you’ve been abused, there are several excellent books that might help you. “The Courage To Heal” by Laura Davis and “Waking The Tiger” by Peter Levine are two classics. Many rape crisis centers also run free groups for victims, as do individual counselors. There are chat groups on Twitter — use the hashtag #CSA. Child Abuse Hotlines can be found here.

If you’re in a safe, supportive relationship, you might want to thank your partner in a small way. Click here for “Marriage Is Not For Chickens,” a gift book by Dr. Margaret!

You can hear more about sexual abuse and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly blog posts and podcasts!