Incest—The World Splits Open

In my family my father was known to be and allowed to be erratic, temperamental, and irresponsible. It was just “the way men are,” a fact. When I was three or four years old and he molested me, my world turned to confusion. Nothing made sense any more. Embraces that were supposed to be safe became unsafe.

The family system continued to support him after he abused me. My mother told me to forget about it—nothing could be done. With my entire world turned against me, what could I do but give in, forget and deny the abuse?

This is the essence of Betrayal Trauma. The child cannot keep her knowledge, but has to repress the facts, or the feelings, or both. She or he has to yield to the family system in order to continue to get the love and care that are vital to survival. Only later, when she leaves the birth family, can she acknowledge the truth fully. With deep journeying, such as Inner Child work, she can regain her power and ability to love self and others. This journey is the core of my memoir.

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Symptoms of Childhood Sexual Abuse in Adults

I’ve been writing a memoir about my recovery from incest. I didn’t recover memories of incest until I was in my fifties. In the process of writing out my story, I noticed a number of strong themes. Then when I began to visit online survivors’ forums ( and survivors and friends) I noticed that many other people had the same themes, although not always in the same order or style:

  • Doubt that it really could have happened—this is often reinforced by family silence or overt accusations that the survivor is wrong.
  • Fear and hypervigilance—being afraid in circumstances that don’t really need to be so threatening to an adult.
  • Dissociation—fogginess about memories; times when we whirl away from the real world.
  • Shame—despite the fact it wasn’t our fault.
  • Mistrust in relationships—it’s especially hard to trust others when our original family betrayed us; close relationships and sexual relationships are hard to maintain.
  • Anger—often displaced onto people other than the perpetrators.
  • Passivity—sexual abuse brings a feeling of learned helplessness.

It’s a depressing list, so I need to add that it is possible to heal and get past these symptoms by facing them with help. Therapy is what helped me to learn to trust others and to believe in and love my Inner Child.

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