In my role as a life coach, I have a lot of difficult conversations. But I absolutely love my role of helping others overcome their trauma. My favorite part is breaking down the walls of shame by talking about what hasn’t been talked about. There is one conversation that always rises to the top as the most shame-busting topic. That conversation is the one about sex. It starts as a discussion about sexual abuse and the victimization they experienced. But very quickly, it turns to the present moment. It turns to their perceived sexual dysfunction. But there’s a reason for that. There is so much shame around our sexual survival mechanisms. And it feeds our unworthiness. So we often cannot talk about our victimization until we determine we aren’t a part of the problem.
The survival mechanisms that come from sexual abuse are not by accident. They are meant to perpetuate shame. Pedophiles and sex abusers know exactly how to keep their victims quiet. Make them think there is something wrong with them. Make them think it is their fault. But in reality, we are responding normally to your abuse. We are not crazy. We are not born this way. We are not “just like our abusers”. They are directly linked to our experiences of abuse.
It became obvious to me this week that I needed to write about this. I have been assured by many of my clients that had they known this happens to all of us, they would have discussed this sooner. And if there is one thing I absolutely know about shame, it cannot survive in the light. What does that mean? When we share with someone who says “me too”, the shame moves out. It can’t stay. So this blog post is meant to get people sharing. This post is a shame buster. Here are some of the most common sexual survival mechanisms we don’t talk about.
We Don’t Want Sex. After being forced for many years, it might not come as a surprise that we don’t want it. But it can be a problem in moving forward with our lives. Even when we deeply love another person, apathy toward sex can keep us from the connection we want. To our partners, it can be a major source of frustration. So we may be shamed for not wanting sex. Partners can turn a lack of sex into a discussion about what is wrong with us. And after years of feeling unworthy, this doesn’t help us find healing. When we can accept how sex can be re-traumatizing, it can help us let go of that shame.
Sexual Arousal During Recovery. Sexual arousal does not mean you are consenting to sex. I repeat. Sexual arousal does not mean consent. I know this is not what you were told. Your abusers needed you to believe that you “liked it”, so they used your arousal against you. In reality, your arousal was a way to keep your body safe during sex. A lack of arousal can cause additional pain and damage and your body knows that. It was not betraying you. It was protecting you. So when you are retrieving memories (or in a flashback) of sexual abuse, you may become aroused. This is a flashback. And this does not mean you wanted this abuse. It does not mean you want it now. Accepting this will be so helpful in your healing.
Being Turned on by Force, Rape or Control. Sexual abuse messes with a child’s brain. It makes a child equate sex and force. That child becomes wired to respond sexually to power differentials in all forms. A child might play this out through excessive masturbation or with other children in an attempt to make sense of their experiences. This can lead an adult survivor to an interest in BDSM. It can also create an aroused response to violence on television or in real life. But one of the most common stories I hear from survivors is a need to fantasize about forced scenarios in order to orgasm. This is completely normal. Sexual abuse wires us this way. We never experienced sex with love. We experienced sex with force. And it is completely normal.
Repeating Fetishes from our Abusers. If someone is willing to resort to pedophilia to deal with the pain of their trauma, they are probably willing to do many things. And the fetishes of abusers can pile even more shame onto their victims. They can make abuse victims think there is even more wrong with them to attract such ridiculous behaviors. But fetishes are formed from trauma. They are passed down from abuser to victim. And if you have an urge to repeat a fetish, you have an inner part who has taken that on as a survival mechanism (more than likely, a freedom fighter). With acceptance and expression, this part’s urges will dissipate. But acceptance can’t happen with the shame-response still in place.
Body Memories. The idea of body memories may not be particularly shameful at first glance. Body memories are a normal and natural part of trauma recovery. It could be something like feeling pressure on the upper arm because we were grabbed as a child. It could be an emotion which needs expression. But body memories about sexual abuse are extremely common. You could be working at your desk and suddenly have the full-body sensation you are being raped. This is an inner part sharing with you. They have a memory and they need your help processing it. And yes. This is a frequent and normal part of sexual abuse recovery. There is nothing wrong with you.
You may be feeling some relief after reading this. If you have repressed memories, you might be feeling panicked because I just made sense of your experiences. But no matter what, you probably want to know if there is hope. If all this is wired, can we change it? We absolutely can change it. But it won’t change until we help our inner parts express their emotions and memories. And that will come with acceptance and understanding of what happened to us and how it impacted us. So let’s bust through this shame and see our survival strategies for what they are. There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with us. There is no shame in surviving.