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 (isurvive.org 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.