all things social work

CSA: karen e fennell’s blog: Why Treatment and Recovery are Important

on January 14, 2012


Wed, 01/11/2012 – 14:21 — karen e fennell

I think it is important to recognize the work done by those who have who have suffered childhood trauma. Today I want to acknowledge bravery.  I know many of you seek treatment for personal relief, or because someone has recommended you do so, but I don’t know if you take any time to understand the significance of what you are doing.

Abuse tends to be generational; it is the “gift” that just keeps on giving.  Statistically, 80% of those who abuse have an abuse history.  Let me clarify that a bit; it doesn’t mean that 80% of all abused children will go on to abuse, but 80% of those who do abuse, have been harmed during childhood.  Those are pretty big numbers; treatment and recovery can bring that statistic way down.

Surprisingly, the harm passed down generation to generation doesn’t always come packaged in brutal sexual assault either.  Without a proper understanding of how sexual abuse has affected the survivor, there is a chance that that survivor can unwittingly pass down the wrong message.  I will give you an example.

I worked with the “Smith” family.  I was seeing one of their sons, but I spent time a significant amount of time with the entire family.  Their son, “Jeff”, age 20, exhibited all of the classic symptoms of PTSD, he was depressed, anxious, had a history of self injury, felt guilty and ashamed of sexual activity, and couldn’t manage to keep his life on track.  His two sisters were struggling in a similar fashion.  The interesting thing was that there was no evidence what-so-ever of any sexual abuse.

Jeff was part of a really great family.  The parents were happily married and the environment was supportive and loving.  His childhood was unremarkable; no bullying or difficulties with peers.  He was a good student, as were his siblings.  The family had enough money to travel and have Jeff attend good schools.  Nothing was out of place except one glaring issue.

Jeff’s mother, “Becky”, had a horrendous sexual abuse history.  She had been brutalized by her grandfather on a weekly basis for many of her young years.  The abusive grandfather died before Becky married.  The trauma was so intense that Becky never mentioned it to her spouse and was too ashamed to seek treatment.

When the children were young, Becky tried to be a wonderful mother and wife, but suffered from bouts of deep depression.  She felt uncertain as to how to be a good mother and often found herself disengaged from her children.  That emotional detachment was felt by her babies and small children; mommy just didn’t feel “right”.   Jeff and his siblings learned early on to feel unsafe and wary of the world because they could sense the fear that their mother carried.

But probably the most harmful aspect of their infancy and early childhood was Becky’s feeling of perversion when she changed diapers, bathed and clothed her children.  Becky was so damaged by her grandfather and her boundaries so twisted, that she felt like a predator when she performed the necessary tasks of motherhood.  She felt like a child molester when she cleaned her son’s penis, she felt ashamed when they stood naked waiting to be dressed, she was overcome with a sense of guilt when she washed their little bodies in the bathtub.

I want to be perfectly clear here…..Becky never did anything inappropriate with those children, but she conveyed a message that the normal, loving touches by her were somehow perverted and twisted.  The certainty that she was being sexually perverse raced through Becky’s mind every time she touched her children and they sensed and absorbed her guilt and shame.  Jeff and his siblings became abuse victims through their mother’s message that her touch was somehow wrong and shameful.

It took some time for the entire family to get back on solid ground, but they did.  And they did it by letting go of the secrecy and talking openly about their experiences.  By being brave, the family has done a great job of greatly reducing the chances of the next generation getting caught in the cycle of abuse.  I am certain that horrid abuse dished out by a grandfather can be buried with this generation.

So my hat is tipped to all of you who are not hiding.  You are brave.  You are strong.  You are part of the solution to ending the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse.  Well done….I am proud of each and every one of you.


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