Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a traumatic experience. The effects of this trauma get amplified by the severity of the trauma experienced, closeness to the abuser, duration of the abuse and more importantly, how people they shared this information with reacted to it.
The dynamics of CSA are unique and often very different from that of adult sexual abuse. Perpetrators are typically known to the child and therefore rarely use physical force or violence. Instead, they manipulate the child’s trust in them and encourage (or threaten) them to hide the abuse. Helplessness to protect themselves or even understand what is happening to them and why sometimes makes them feel as if they’re being punished for being ‘bad.’ Depending on the frequency of access, repeated abuse becomes invasive over time and sometimes, perpetrators gradually ‘groom’ them, i.e., sexualise their relationship.
CSA disclosures are usually a challenging process rather than a single event. Fearful of threats by the perpetrator makes them feel trapped. Self-blame, guilt and the fear that no one will believe them and will dismiss their claims leads them to accommodate the abuser. It can also lead to further sexual abuse by others strengthening the belief in their young minds that they’re responsible for bringing it on to themselves. Family dynamics play a huge role here and sometimes even if the child discloses the family and caregivers might fail to protect and support them thereby increasing their distress. Consent and confidentiality make disclosure problematic as the best interests of the child conflict with the family’s concerns about giving consent. Reporting abuse is difficult for fear that the child will be victimised again. Thus, the incident of CSA goes unreported and becomes a family secret. Ironically, the onus of the secrecy also rests on the survivor and it’s painful because now they constantly feel judged and ashamed. The inability to come out of this shame spiral in adulthood leads to attempts to self-harm, impulsive and risky behaviour.
CSA significantly affects adult well-being. If one had a close relationship to the abuser, then it impairs the ability to feel safe and trust others. Often, survivors blame themselves for the abuse, even though it wasn’t their fault. This makes it difficult for them to feel good about themselves. They experience anger and struggle to deal with everyday stresses.
The struggle to cope with such overwhelming and conflicting feelings impacts the way they live their lives, what they expect from others and how they behave in relationships and their understanding of trust, control and boundaries. Other effects include a higher risk of depression, anxiety disorders and in extreme cases personality disorders. In an attempt to protect themselves, sometimes they find it difficult to remember what happened. It’s a way to dissociate the experience from themselves to lessen the pain and fear. Low self-esteem, body image issues, loss of social competence can lead to increased or inappropriate sexual behaviour. As CSA is a traumatic experience sometimes adults can exhibit symptoms (avoidance, numbing, hyperarousal, etc) that are associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Along with these psychological problems, physical health problems like eating disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic abdominal or pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, menstrual irregularities can be elicited. Substance abuse can also become unsuitable coping behaviour.
The notion that talking about CSA is taboo is still prevalent. Survivors fear being cut off support from family and friends when they talk about their experiences. Feelings of abandonment and isolation make it even harder so they continue to struggle alone. But survivors must seek help and support to heal from this trauma. Yes, revisiting memories and suppressed feelings are scary and can make them feel vulnerable. The same helplessness and vulnerability they felt as children are felt as is in adulthood too. Inability to breakthrough keeps them bound by using the same coping strategies that helped them in childhood. It’s almost like their lives are stuck at that moment with no way out.
Thus, sharing their experience with another is powerful and can help dispel the shame of remaining a victim, let go of the intense feeling of being dirty, understand that it wasn’t their fault and place the blame of the abuse on the perpetrators. There might be moments when they doubt their own perceptions but coming to terms with the fact that the abuse happened and it hurt them is critical to the healing process. It allows them to reach out to the child within, console them and grieve for their loss and pain. They’re permitted to feel anger at the abuser and take the decision to express it either symbolically or by confronting.
Healing is a gradual process. It allows survivors to take back control of their lives, create newer coping strategies, feel compassion for themselves and slowly learn to trust themselves again.
The writer is a mental health counsellor.
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TRUTH BRINGS VICTORY, AND ALSO HAPPINESS
What is truth and what is victory?
There are two criteria against which one can discern truth. Truth must be eternal, and truth must be imperishable. If either of these two criteria are missing, then it is not truth. There are three eternal and imperishable truths: The identity of the self, the existence and identity of God, and the philosophy of Karma.
The identity of the self is consciousness, or spirit or soul. The soul is an indestructible, infinitesimal point of light energy, composed of thought. God is also an almighty point of immense energy, light and power. The philosophy of karma is based on the return of actions. However, what many fail to recognise is that karma is based on thought, and that is why our thoughts matter immensely.
We are living in a world of matter, of atoms in constant motion. A world of physical forms, all of which are perishable. A world of relationships and roles, all of which are transient. If I fail to hold the awareness of the three eternal truths in my consciousness, I am carried away into this world of impermanence and at the mercy of my own weaknesses, the opinions and directions of others, the expectations of my particular culture, and my own desires.
To reach a stage of being able to have constant awareness of these truths, I need silence. I need the silence that is only possible in deep meditation. With the power of concentration and the experience of deep silence and peace in meditation, these truths become crystal clear. With this clarity I can return to my responsibilities and roles in the physical world with the realisation of exactly what I need to do to live a life in freedom, no longer a slave to temporary desires and worries.
Meditation is the key to this kind of victory and happiness. It is worth devoting time each day to experience the truth of being a soul, and to connect to the Supreme Soul in the experience of meditation. In this experience I become aware of the quality of my thoughts, the seeds of all action. Truth, experienced in this way, brings victory over the senses, and therefore, happiness.
B.K. Rajni is the National Coordinator for the Brahma Kumaris in the Philippines and Japan.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DETACHMENT
From time to time, life confronts us with tests of tolerance — it may be in the form of a difficult person, or an adverse situation. Regardless of how we fare, if we learn from the experience, it leaves us wiser and stronger, and we are able to deal better with similar tests in future.
If we remain mentally strong, the test may even feel like a game. For example, when we fall ill, how we see the illness determines how we feel. If we repeatedly think, “I am ill! My body is aching,” we magnify our suffering. On the other hand, if we see it as a minor issue that will soon pass, the state of the body will not affect our state of mind.
Practice of detachment—seeing things as a detached observer—helps in such situations. Instead, if we are attached to a person, or our own body, there is turmoil in the mind if everything is not well with them. Rather than worry about “my body, my wife, my husband”, if we take a step back and remember that we are souls and the body is an instrument we are using to express ourselves, and that the relations are also souls, with whom we are playing a particular role in life, we will not be influenced so much by them.
A lot of people worry about “my son” or “my daughter”. This feeling of “my” creates a bondage and their mind remains stuck on those they regard as “mine”. This stops them from seeing the larger picture—that many others may be going through challenges similar to what “my” folks are facing—and having good wishes for every soul.
It is natural to feel concern for our family, but if we are caught up in attachment, we fail to notice that there are others who are equally in need of our attention and help.
The consciousness of “mine” keeps our thoughts and feelings engaged in a limited number of people, which does not allow us to serve the wider society. Once we have a genuine desire to serve the world, we are able to step out of the boundaries of “my” and “mine” that we have created for ourselves.
A NEW DIMENSION IN HEALTHY LIVING
Two of the most important things in life are peace of mind and health. If one has both of these and little else, one can still be happy.
Up to 70 per cent of all diseases today are caused by psychological factors. In recent years, researchers have been able to establish a clear link between certain kinds of emotion and the ailments they trigger or magnify. For example, those who are jealous are more likely to suffer from acidity and skin disorders. Perfectionists, who get upset if everything is not exactly the way they want it to be, are at a greater risk of suffering from migraine and heart disease. Those who are chronically unhappy have stomach ailments, and those who suppress their feelings, or are unable to forgive others, develop cancer.
Just as our emotions can make us sick, the right kind of emotions can make us healthy. Contented, loving, happy and carefree people are less likely to fall ill.
If we wish to remain healthy, we need to become totally positive. Some people complain that this is easier said than done. That is true, but every situation has a silver lining, and we should try to identify that. Sometimes, it may not be immediately visible, and in such a case we can tell ourselves that there will surely be some benefit from it in future.
If we find it impossible to think positive, we can at least think right. For example, if we are unwell, we can think, “I have to get well soon at any cost”. It has been found that hopeless patients, who take no responsibility for their health and leave everything to their doctor, do not recover quickly.
We need to work on our emotions, as they carry a lot of energy. If we cannot avoid negative thinking in an adverse situation, we can at least accept that fact, understand why we are doing so, and then change our thoughts.
In order to have thoughts that make us healthy, we need to change our subconscious mind, which contains our belief systems and has the greatest influence on our thinking. We can create some healthy belief systems, for example, “I am healthy”, or “I am calm and relaxed, and I will be healthy all my life.” Of course, we will have to adopt a healthy lifestyle too.
The way to heal the body with one’s thoughts is to start with appreciating the affected organ, thanking it for serving us thus far in life. Secondly, apologise to the organ for having harmed it. If we have a heart problem, surely our diet has not been very healthy, or we have neglected exercise. Then visualise the affected part of the body healing and becoming whole again. The more powerfully we visualise this, the better will be the results.
Dr Girish Patel is a well-known psychiatrist based in Mumbai, and a student of Rajyoga with the Brahma Kumaris.
INTEGRITY MAKES THE SOUL POWERFUL
Anybody who wants to be instrumental in serving the world needs to know how to work with integrity. Integrity elevates character and brings internal power. It reveals a pure attitude.
Those with integrity maintain great humility, even while holding positions of high status and commanding a lot of respect. They do not alter their character or virtues according to whom they are with. They have pride in themselves.
Integrity over a long period of time makes the soul powerful. The intellect is clear and does not mix truth with falsehood. A person with integrity is able to reveal truth through words spoken with wisdom. They never feel the need to prove truth.
Because a clear conscience is the reward of such honesty, a person with integrity considers the consequences of every action and is never drawn mindlessly into anything. To behave in any lesser way is to deceive people.
To serve nature, first tend your inner world
We are only beginning to understand the effect of our consciousness on the environment. Lack of inner harmony expresses itself in the upheaval in nature — the unprecedented natural disasters and abnormal weather conditions — that we are seeing across the planet. We are now seeing how there is growing acknowledgement that, for us to tackle the huge challenges that climate change is posing before human beings, what is needed most of all is a fundamental change of mindset at all levels.
Mindsets will start to shift when individuals have the understanding and the tools to be able to make constructive changes in their own lives, which then impact positively on the community and the planet. When there is harmony within, our relationship with the environment, with matter, is one of respect and compassion. We take care not to contribute to the destruction of other forms of life; we support their existence and the diversity and beauty of the world around us.
Inner harmony also brings physical well-being. There is a healthy, comfortable relationship between mind and body and that creates a sense of security and a feeling of warmth and ease around us.
When we are not feeling peaceful inside, our bodies are also restless; we then automatically create restlessness around us and are affected by the negativity of people and situations around us.
The correlation between physical health and mental well-being is also well documented. It has been said that 70 per cent of visits to the doctor and 80 per cent of serious illnesses may be linked to stress. Conversely, it has been shown that when people dealing with sickness or injury are able to keep their attitude and their thoughts and feelings peaceful and positive, they have a greater chance of recovery.
Meditation enables us to rediscover and re-energise our inner qualities. Becoming more aware of them and practising them in everyday situations can transform our thinking, our speaking and our doing and bring them back into alignment and harmony.
So, it is worth making time for yourself on a regular basis to observe, understand and care for your inner world. When we sit in silence and nurture the soul by reminding ourselves of our true, spiritual identity and our inner qualities and strengths, we are able to connect with God in a relationship of deep love and trust. It is this divine energy that gives us the clarity to see what changes we need to make in our lives—and the power to do that.
B.K. Jayanti is the director of the Brahma Kumaris’ services in Europe.
How to bridge the gap with your loved one
Openly communicating one’s needs is a fundamental step towards building a healthy relationship.
Have you ever wondered, if the basic qualities and emotional connection you seek from your partner is similar to what they’re expecting from you, then why do you both continue to struggle to meet each other’s needs?
The simple answer is that there’s a crucial distinction between talking about our needs and relating to them. The way we tend to give to our partner is different from how they receive it and vice versa. Alternatively, the way these qualities are understood, interpreted and expressed by our partner and us mean different things to us.
Let’s explore the basic qualities of Love, Honesty, Understanding and Respect, and while at it, think, reflect upon, and question yourself about what you’re seeking.
Lovecan be a sense of affection or care, a need to be with the person, know their world or to do things that will please them and physical attraction. Often, love is expressed as an intangible feeling. So, it’s worthwhile to reflect on what you mean by love, how you see, smell, taste, and feel love, how you experience it and when do you feel the most loved.
Even though you have your ways to show love it might not be the way that your partner wants or expects. You might understand it in your own way but not in the way that your partner would like you to. There are certain actions, thoughts, behaviours that might not be you or your style or be important to you. At this juncture, it’s important to explore how much you’re willing to make the effort to move out of your comfort zone to do something that matters to your partner? Often we’re not afraid to love but are afraid of not being loved back.
Honesty is to speak the truth. However, truth is not absolute. Understanding of the truth requires that you interpret it as a combination of how you see things and perceive them and the situational context. It’s important to note that no matter what the truth is, partners struggle to forget how they’re made to feel.
For example, think about how you feel when your partner expresses their honest opinion about your cooking. Their truth is that they don’t like it based on their sense of taste and likability but how open are you to receiving (hearing) that? Do you feel hurt and angry because you think that they’ve dismissed all your effort? If yes, then you might ask yourself, what did you want to hear? Were you looking for ‘honest feedback’ or an ‘acknowledgement for your hard work?’
Honesty involves being open to sharing emotions. How do you respond when your partner shares their feelings? Are you confident about how your sharing will be received or do you fear rejection? Alternatively, the fear of rejection exists because honesty isn’t received as expected. Here lies the challenge as honesty requires space and a mindset. Being honest (giving) is as important as receiving (accepting) honesty.
Understanding develops as you begin to know one another. It involves listening and empathy, recognition and realisation that being unique individuals you’re bringing into the relationship the differences in your outlook, upbringing, exposure, background, disposition, conditioning, and emotional baggage.
Often for understanding to take place, it needs to manifest itself in the form of an agreement followed by an action confirming the same. And here’s where the struggle begins so it’s important to distinguish between understanding and agreeing. Reflect on how you would feel and how open you are to your partner saying, ‘I understand but I don’t agree.’
Understanding is further complicated by the difficulty we experience when communicating our needs. Cultural outlook tends to promote the notion, ‘if they love you, they will understand your silence or what you want?’ The inherent expectation being that the partner will hear the unspoken and respond to the expectation of the other. Considering how often you tend to change your mind, how can you expect that your partner will be able to anticipate your needs and respond to them?
Respect is largely about how we treat and interact with each other regularly. The most effective way to earn respect is by treating the partner with as much respect. Respect connects to our self-worth and influences our interpretation of our partner’s behaviour. Often a disagreement, loud voice or snappy tone can be interpreted as being dismissive. And when you’re dismissed or not acknowledged you feel disrespected. So it’s important to look at theactions or behaviour, which make you feel respected/disrespected and communicate that. Simultaneously, it’s equally essential to discuss that for you to feel respected, what is it that you would like your partner to do. For each of these qualities, sharing and openly communicating one’s needs is a fundamental step towards building a healthy relationship.
The writer is a mental health counsellor. The views expressed are personal.
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