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Abusers, Survivors, and Self Hate


Many survivors feel and express guilt, shame, and pain because of the pleasure received during abuse, and experience and further guilt and shame about the ways they subsequently act; as well as grief, self-doubt, and guilt at not being able to stop the abusers. Many survivors turn that inward in the form of self-hatred; hatred not only of themselves as a person, but also hatred of their bodies, which is often expressed in self-destructive ways, up to and including suicide.

We survivors have had our own needs and emotions used against us by our abusers; we were outgunned, outmanuevered, and manipulated from the very beginning with no way of fighting back. The abusers kept us vulnerable; they ensured that we remained naive, unknowing; they ensured that we never had any opportunity to learn that what was being done to us was not right; and they ensured - often brutally - that any hint of resistance on our parts were squashed, eliminated.

Hopefully what follows shows (at least partially) that what happened to us is not our fault; that we are not bad people, that we've been conditioned all too well to believe the abuser's lies, and that it impacts our lives to this day.

I and my siblings - and my genetic mother - were sexually and ritually abused as children. We were further sexually abused by relatives and other adults. I've drawn on these experiences, and the experiences shared by other survivors and recovering abusers to write what follows.

In spite of what one is thinking or feeling, the human body can be forced to feel pleasure and to react automatically. I have been raped by adults (both male and female); in spite of the intense shame and hatred of what was being done to me against my will, the physical touching and stimulation always caused an erection.

My sister - and my mother and other female survivors as well as male survivors I've talked to - all shared that they too felt shame and intense hatred of what was being done to them - yet their own bodies also reacted to stimulation.

Many other survivors and recovering survivor/abusers have shared the same information.

Laboratory experiments have proven over and over again that the autonomous nervous system easily overrides the mind; that basic instinctive reactions will always occur when various nerve centers are stimulated, regardless of ones state of mind.

One common feature was that all of our abusers used the reactions of our bodies to drill into us that we were "bad, nasty, evil" because the bodily reactions "proved" that we enjoyed what was being done to us. The abusers used the fact that our bodies responded to justify telling us "we wanted it". Our abusers further reinforced this concept by physically punishing us and verbally brow-beating us each time our bodies reacted... conditioning us to submit to avoid the beatings, denigration, and humiliation... and also conditioning us to remain silent no matter how much we disliked and did not want what was being done to us... teaching us that saying "no" was always severely punished...

The abusers also used pleasure to further condition us... when we submitted in the manners that they wanted without resistance, they made sure that what we experienced was not just physically stimulating, but also sensually pleasurable... and; they used this too to further reinforce that we were bad and evil, suited only for their sexual pleasures.

The sensual/sexual pleasure was literally the ONLY source of physical pleasure; no hugs, none of the affection a "normal" child would experience as part of childhood. No bedtime stories, special treats, safe hugs... The literal carrot/stick approach... with the only carrot being sensual/sexual pleasure... and when a child - or adult - is love and affection deprived, this double-edged approach is devastating to that child or adult, with long-lasting consequences, and the child or adult all too often equates and substitutes sexual attention with affection and love.

In retrospect, it's easy for me to see - now - that the abusers knew very very well what would be sensually/sexually pleasing, and deliberately used that knowledge in a very calculating manner. Discussions with other survivors - and recovering abusers - have further emphasized the effectiveness of the double-edged approach that many abusers use...

When this is done over and over again (either by one abuser or by many), it is not long before the child (or adult!) begins to believe the lies - and for me and my sister, the hatred felt towards the abusers turned inward, and we started hating ourselves and our bodies... after all, the abusers were the adults, and adults are more knowledgeable than children, right? So they must be correct, right?

For me and my sister, that hatred not only turned inward at ourselves - resulting in very self-destructive behavior; but also outwards towards others smaller and/or weaker than ourselves... I feel shame to this day over the way I physically and verbally treated some animals and yes, some other kids... and it our extreme hatred of what was being done to us sexually and physically that prevented us from perpetuating the abuse, from becoming abusers ourselves... but, we were also acting out what we were taught about control: Using the same methods of fear, intimidation, and physical violence that were used on us to in turn control others... and that in turn fed our own self-hatred even more; we did not like what we did; yet we knew no other way to behave - and that acting out was encouraged by the abusers, giving them more reasons to denigrate us, humiliate us, and shame us.

And so the cycle continued, the conditioning being reinforced over and over again; the self-hatred and lack of self-esteem building year after year...

Until I started reading some recovery-oriented newsgroups...

And learned that all the abusers had told me were lies.

Lies told over and over again to me and my siblings and the others to dominate us, manipulate us, keep us submissive to their whims... to make us hate ourselves and subsequently become even more pliable to their manipulations.

Even now, I find myself playing the old tapes... even though I hated and abhored what was being done to me and my siblings; because my body and mind reacted to what was done to me, it is very easy to believe the lies of the abusers and fall back into the falsehood of believing I'm bad; because the dysfunctional methods I developed to deal with the abuse were encouraged by the abusers and rewarded, that too fed the belief that I am bad, worthless, and even evil. My sister shared similar feelings about herself with me before she attempted suicide in 1973. In the years since then, I have heard many other survivors express the same feelings and beliefs about themselves - all the result of cold, calculated, and relentless abuse.

YET... I also have to remind myself that it is my very hatred and dislike of what was done to me against my will that is real proof that I am not bad... for if I was truly bad, then I would not hate what was done nor would I abhor it or feel sick inside everytime I remember it and relive it...

Each one of us survivors was attacked across all levels - mental, emotional, spiritual, sexual, physical; sometimes violently, sometimes subtly and oh-so-gently. We were taken advantage of, placed in situations where we could not escape or fight back; we were blocked by the abusers from finding out that what they were doing was not normal; the abusers used every physical, emotional, and psychological trick in the book to assert their control of us...

The abusers loaded us down, buried us in so much guilt about reacting to the stimulation and feeling pleasure that we then in turn submitted to their abuse as a way of self-punishment; the idea being "this is what we deserve" and "we don't deserve anything better"... and they backed this up with not just sexual abuse, but also physical and mental/emotional punishment.

The abusers also addicted us to pleasure by providing it to us only when we were completely submissive to their will... occasionally, we'd receive small "gifts" as a reward; candy, toys, perfumes, money - sometimes some "kindly" voiced approval for a "task" well done... or for the speed at which we submitted to their demands...

In discussions with those who abused me and some survivors I know, it became very apparent that those abusers knew that one starved for acceptance and love is very vulnerable to this type of approach, to this very subtle and insidious form of seduction... and they hunted for those who are touch and affection and love deprived... for those who have a deep need to be accepted, wanted, loved...

It also became very apparent that our ages did not matter; that because of the subtlety of the initial manipulation and control there was nothing that any of us could have done about it at that time to prevent it... we did not have the necessary knowledge to fight back, to resist... and our own deep-rooted need for affection and attention was used against us by the abusers...

I have to keep reminding myself of the truth that there was nothing I could do to prevent what was done to me and my siblings; the truth that the abusers knowingly manipulated us, laid massive guilt trips on us, and reinforced that guilt through physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and by withholding affection from us... and that, as a result, none of us have any reason to feel shame or guilt... that none of us are to blame for what was done to us...

I have to remind myself that because of the autonomous nerve centers that are built into this body, that it is illogical to feel shame about the pleasure this body experienced; that this mind too experienced during the abuse... hatred toward the abusers, yes; towards myself, NO.

Hate the incidents, yes. Hate myself because my body responded as it is built to do, NO.

I have to remind myself that there was no way I - or my siblings - could have defended ourselves against the attack for which we had NO experience or knowledge, no tools, no skills to have prevented it; the attacks and abuse we could not even see coming because the ones attacking/abusing us were people we were supposed to trust... figures of authority and power who were supposed to take care of us and care for us...

There were so many different ways our abusers maintained their control of me, my siblings... and yes, my mother too, for she too is a survivor.

In speaking with other survivors and recovering abusers, some patterns emerged in addition that of the violence that was used on me and my siblings; patterns that seem common to many abusers.

The Authority Image Approach:

The abuser is generally older and/or more experienced than the intended victim, and takes advantage of the innocence and the lack of knowledge of the intended victim. The abuser wins the person's trust by paying attention to them, providing very innocent and enjoyable attention that wins the person's trust... with repeated reminders that they are, after all, the one who must be obeyed, because they are the older one, the one whom the intended victim must obey, and disobediance is a Bad Thing. Obedience is rewarded, gaining the intended victim's trust.

That initial innocent and enjoyable attention not only wins the trust, but also uses the person's lack of knowledge to the advantage of the abuser - and quite often teaches the person that the "attention" is good... laying the ground for the attention that is not good...

The abuser is often viewed at this stage as the kindly "aunt or uncle or grandmother or big brother or babysitter".... further building that trust...

Once the trust is won and the person has an emotional bond to the abuser, the abuser moves in and starts the sexual abuse; perhaps subtly at first, or perhaps openly...

Children and young adults are particularly vulnerable to this approach; love-starved older adults are also vulnerable... and the abuser often uses variations of the technique listed below...

The "I care" Approach:

This one has to be one of the most insidious, treacherous, and devastating methods used by abusers; and it works across both genders and all age groups...

From day one, this abuser has one goal in mind: sex. This kind of abuser does not care how long it takes, as long as the end goal is achieved. More often than not, the abuser gets as much pleasure and satisfaction out of the "hunt" as in the closure of the hunt...

This abuser's first step is to make the person completely emotionally dependent - all the abuser has to do to achieve this is pay attention to the person, to show "sympathy" and "understanding" to the person, and - here's a vicious little twist: the abuser avoids any mention or discussions of sex and/or sexual relations...

The abuser seems to genuinely be kinder, nicer, gentler, more sensitive than any one you've ever met before; the abuser pays attention to you and makes you feel good about yourself; the abuser is fun to be around, and gives NO appearance or impression that sex is anywhere on his or her list of priorities....

What does this cost the abuser? Not much at all... the abuser only needs to listen to you, thus making you feel cared for; the abuser only needs to spout whatever words are needed to make you feel appreciated, cared for... and words are cheap. It only costs the abuser time...

After a certain amount of time has passed, the first physical moves are made - a hug that is just slightly intimate, a kiss that is just slightly more passionate - and if noted; the abuser is embarassed, sheepish, apologetic - which in turn makes the intended victim feel bad and guilty for even having such suspicions... the abuser then backs off for a while - and works on making the intended victim even more dependent.

Sooner or later, after this has happened a few times, the person completely trusts the abuser - and why not? Nothing harmful has been done in the mind of the person (or so it seems)... The abuser by now knows the person very well, and starts making the moves...

The more sophisticated abusers manipulate the person's emotions and feelings - something as simple as a back rub can be a tool; the abuser offers the massage; at first staying far away from intimate areas ... maybe it goes this way the first few times... then, as the person becomes accustomed to this - the hands get closer; but why worry? Trust has been established.... a gentle kiss, the trust, a caress - all leading to the point where either (1) the person offers what the abuser wants, or (2) the person offers it during the course of a conversation; i.e. sex comes up in the course of a conversation, and the abuser shows shyness (faked!), and the person ends up "talking" the abuser into it (this gives the abuser a major high), or (3) the abuser then springs the emotional blackmail of "if you loved me, you'd..." or "if you don't... then you'll never see me again"... there are many variations of this...

The less sophisticated abusers will use drugs to weaken the will of the person - be it hard drugs all the way down to the cliche' alcohol...

This covers the abuser very well; after all, the victim got high, the victim lost control, the victim made the first moves, etc. etc. etc.

Either way, the abuser has set himself or herself up to be completely blameless, conversely laying a tremendous guilt trip on the victim... who has been nothing more than a challenge; a game; the abuser never had any emotional or personal buy-in to the relationship at all... and once the challenge has been met, the abuser discards the victim without a backward glance...

These are but a few of the techniques used by abusers... some use violence to enforce control and submission as I shared at the beginning of this post... others use very subtle approaches as described here at the end...

It wasn't until I started talking to other survivors and to recovering abusers that it really hit home how thoroughly all of us were outgunned and outclassed and outmaneuvered and deceived by our abusers...

It wasn't until I heard what recovering abusers had to share that I finally realized that even as a young adult, I was literally powerless in the face of my first and second wife's emotional manipulations and my own very deep insecurity and loneliness... Looking back, I see that both were very aware of this, and used it to their advantage...

I didn't stand a chance, my siblings didn't stand a chance... all of us survivors didn't stand a chance... there literally was nothing any of us could do; none of us had the knowledge or the skills to fight back...

NOT our fault...
NOT our guilt...
NOT our crime...
We are NOT bad or evil or nasty...

GhostWolf


Addendum:

I visited my mother in late September, 2005; and we were going over my web site, discussing quite a range of topics.  When my mother read this article, she asked me to add the following:

They [the abusers] tell you that when they are "loving" you, that they are teaching you what life is actually about, that they are preparing you for living in the world because "sex is life". The abusers also threaten you with what will happen if you tell anyone what is going on: disbelief from siblings, from parents - with a strong chance that one or both parents will not believe the victim and instead blame the victim and subsequently kick the victim out - leading to prostitution as a means of survival among others- "80% of runaways run away because they are being sexually abused by one or both parents - and even siblings and relatives - including uncles and aunts."


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Last updated: Sunday, 25-May-2008 00:02:34 PDT