Children should never be left in an environment where one parent abuses the other

If there are children in an abusive household, I believe that it is imperative to leave. Some people, including some researchers, feel that it is best to leave children in an abusive parental relationship, than suffer the trauma of leaving and losing a parent. I do not agree with this view. I strongly believe that if children are in the presence of any type of continuing abuse, they should be removed, before serious psychological or emotional damage is done. As I showed earlier, the longer they are left the greater the harm they will suffer. Children are like sponges. They absorb the tension, anger, hostility, and fear in an abusive home. I am greatly concerned, when I see children who have become withdrawn, fearful, anxious, and insecure as they constantly witness the acrimony between their parents. Not only are these children deprived of happiness and contentment, but they also have poor role models in abusive parents. Non-abusive parents, like Linda, are very conscious of the potential damage to their children
“As much as I thought about Jack coming from a broken home, he was already in a broken home. I couldn’t have my son grow up and see his father call me a “bitch” or a “cunt” which were commonly said to me. I was so fearful for my son and his future that I didn’t want him emotionally damaged from what he saw or heard. There was little love in the house in the end, and it was unfair to bring him up in a house full of tension, and so unstable.”
Her fears for Jack’s emotional safety increased when Stephen physically abused her. On one occasion when he raged and destroyed furniture, she made the decision to permanently remove her child from the abusive environment
“He pushed me out of the way to get inside. He grabbed my arms so tight and pushed. I had marks left on my arms that day from him. I followed him and told him to get out. He kicked things around the kitchen, kicked the clothes-horse to the other side of the room. He was shouting and was in a complete rage. His face turned red. He then went to the bedroom and started pulling the wardrobe doors off in anger, and throwing them across the room. My son was sitting in his high chair when all this was going on, screaming with fright. I told Stephen to get out, that I was calling the guards and that I was leaving. But, he didn’t calm down. When he had his damage done, he went out the front door and sped off in his van with the tyres screeching. I ran and locked the front and back doors, and I called the guards. About 5 minutes later, he came back. The doors were locked, and he told me to open the doors or he would break the glass, as the back door was a patio sliding glass door. I told him that I had called the guards, and he said to me “of course you did, you twisted bitch”. This was crazy – how can he be calling me twisted, when he has done all this. He blamed me for this, just as he did for everything.”
Even if abusers are only targeting a partner, there is always the possibility that in time they will begin to abuse their children. It is also worthwhile recalling that emotional and verbal abuse frequently lead to physical violence. Firstly, it may be a push or a shove, then a blow or a kick, and finally severe beatings. Abuse invites retaliation, which, however justified, intensifies the tension and hatred in the home, and children cannot survive emotionally in such an atmosphere.

Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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Children should not be exposed to abuse in any household

While recognising why people remain in abusive relationships, I consider it unethical as a counsellor to support them over a long period in such a relationship. The role of the counsellor is for the well-being of his clients, and I think it is wrong to collude with them in remaining in a toxic environment. However, leaving is a long, painful and difficult process. Elaine Weiss’s stories reveal that some women remain for years in abusive relationships. One survivor put it at 8 years, 7 months and 21 days. I believe that my role as a counsellor is to listen to my clients’ story, empathise with their suffering, educate them on abuse, challenge them about remaining a victim, and assist them if they decide to leave. Fortunately, as Sandra Horley reminds us, 88% of abused women leave, following repeated assaults. It would probably be true to say that victims leave when staying becomes unendurable, and it becomes less painful to leave than to stay. Linda puts it well when she says
The decision to leave was the hardest, most devastating, decision of my life. Jack and I lost our home, and our possessions. I lost my husband who despite everything I still loved and cared for. And like I predicted he got worse when I left. He didn’t work at all, but went on welfare, and lost all respect for himself and everything around him.
Yet, however devastating it is, there are good reasons for leaving. It is appropriate to leave if the perpetrator refuses to admit that he/she is being abusive, continues to abuse, and is unwilling to get help. You owe it to yourself to look for some type of peace and happiness outside the abusive home. If you are being devalued, and treated as worthless, life is hardly worth living.
Linda decided to leave when her husband said that he would assault her father, who had confronted him about his behaviour. This threat seemed to make her realise that Stephen did not love her
I am extremely close to my father, and my husband knows that. Yet he was willing to hurt my beloved father, and didn’t care about me, and how that would make me feel, or didn’t care about my dad – a man nearly 3 times his age. I was sick to my stomach when I heard that. How could my husband, who was supposed to love me so much, threaten to physically hurt one of the most important people in my life? I think those few words he said that night on the phone about my father really set things clear in my head. He didn’t care about me. He was just an angry man, ready to inflict that anger on a man who was so good to him in the past. My father often got work for him, when he had none, and helped him out as much as he could. I left him the next day for the first time.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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women can be as abusive as men and deny them access to their children

Many of the factors mentioned in my last blog apply to male victims also. I have seen cases of severe emotional and physical abuse of males, who tell me that they endure it because they love the perpetrator. Men are as conscious of the wellbeing of their children as women are, and many remain because they incorrectly believe that they can deflect the violence from their children. I know of several cases where wives bluntly told their husbands ‘I will allow you to remain on my terms only’. This in effect meant strict control, where all contact with the partner’s families is totally severed. Many men also stay because they have become used to a comfortable standard of living, and rightly fear the prospect of poverty.
This is a well-justified fear. In many countries, men are vulnerable in legal separation cases, and I have known several male victims who were pauperised by separation, and could barely afford to rent an apartment. Of course, if a wife devotes her time to looking after her children, it is only fair and right that her ex-husband must support her. However, I also know men whose ex-wives are professionally qualified, earned a living before marriage, did not have children, and were granted substantial maintenance by the courts. The sums involved were ruinous to the ex-husbands.
Male socialisation can be as relevant a factor as female socialisation in the context of having an abusive relationship. Many men are conscious of how society might view them if it was seen that they were fleeing from physical abuse. They also rightly fear losing their children in a custody battle, where women are generally favoured by the courts. Some of my clients were denied reasonable access to their clients, because perpetrators told lies about them in court. There is a support group for male victims, appropriately named AMEN, which is a voluntary organisation. It provides a confidential helpline and a support service and information.
Just as belonging to particular minority groups sometimes attracts abusiveness, it can also create difficulties in leaving. Physically handicapped people may have become dependent on the abuser. Ethnic minorities face obstacles and problems if they decide to leave. They may not find the same social support as others, and for some minority groups it is seen as unforgiveable to leave a spouse. Services specifically for fleeing gay people are severely limited. Lesbians may not find a safe place because shelters are equally open to their abusers. There are even fewer safe places for gay men.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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The Jekyl and Hyde nature of the controlling person keeps the other partner in the relationship

Religious beliefs and personal values are very powerful influences in shaping the decision to stay. St Paul did women no favours in his concept of female subservience to men, who may have been conditioned by the Pauline teaching to see themselves as being the authority figures. On the other hand, many victims find that prayer helps them to leave when they realise that they have no feelings for the abuser.
One of the most powerful personal values is the belief that children need both parents. Many victims have a strong sense of duty and responsibility, and a belief that marriage is forever. When you add this to traditional female socialisation, you have a powerful guilt recipe for holding a woman in the relationship. Women were taught to believe that they have the responsibility of keeping the family together, or that suffering is the path to salvation. Living with the abusive man is the cross she must carry, and she does her utmost to fulfil her ‘role’ of making her partner happy, while keeping up the pretence of a successful marriage with two parents to care for their children. Look at Linda’s mindset as her marriage deteriorated
I was so upset. What was I going to do? I couldn’t have a failed marriage. I couldn’t tell my parents and friends and the general community that I had a failed marriage. I couldn’t let my son come from a broken home. That was not my plan for him. He had to come from a home with two parents. And, how could I ever leave Stephen? God knows what he would do if he didn’t have me to lean on! So who was I kidding thinking I was leaving? I had chosen to get married, so I had to get on with it, and hope it would get better. So, I plodded along and everyday carried the weight of the world on my shoulders, and played happy families to the outside world, including my family. I would put on a false smile and make out everything was great. But, you can only carry so much for so long! I was slowly getting worn out!
So she resolved to be a ‘better wife’, a behaviour that many abused women use. She may not have understood the abusive mindset at the time, but she soon came to realise that it was a fruitless effort
Who was I kidding – you need two people in a marriage. One person putting in the effort is not going to make a blind bit of difference. He wasn’t reading from the same hymn sheet as me.
I am convinced that one of the most potent influences on remaining in an abusive relationship is the confusion that arises because of the Jekyll and Hyde personality of the abuser. The 10 types of abusive personalities mentioned by Lundy Bancroft contain plausible and kind traits. Partners may see only those qualities, and are blind to the controlling, wounding elements. This can be reinforced by the reaction of the abusers, who may plead, promise to change, enter therapy, apologise, or threaten to commit suicide. Others, however, increase their abusive control, and make their partners powerless by making them pregnant as often as possible, removing birth control devices, and forcing themselves upon them.
Finally, psychologists suggest that a primary reason for remaining in abusive relationships is the failure of victims to mourn and accept their losses. You might surmise that escaping from severe abuse is a liberating loss, but there can be confusion because feelings about a partner are so mixed.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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you can be bonded to your abuser through trauma.

Each situation is different, but perhaps like many women you are financially dependent on your partner. It might be that you cannot afford to rent a house, and it is true that in many countries there may not be sufficient hostels or refuges for fleeing women and their children. The bloglet Lean on Me. An Information Guide for Women Living with Domestic Abuse lists women’s refuges and support services in Ireland. These services are run by voluntary boards and are part funded by the health service.
Sadly, you may not have the support of your family, who may see separation or divorce as a scandal, and they may try to pressurise you to remain in the abusive relationship for the sake of ‘respectability’. It is also very difficult to leave friends and neighbours. There is every chance that you feel isolated and powerless, especially if the abuser’s family is powerful and well connected.
There are also many powerful emotional factors influencing the decision stay. Sometimes, it is because the full impact of abuse renders women incapable of leaving. They become exhausted, and are almost mentally paralysed from sheer terror, and from being in a state of continuous anxiety. Because of the controlling and sometimes physical nature of abuse, victims may also feel trapped. Others become emotionally dependent because they lack self-esteem, and, at another level, victims bond with perpetrators through the trauma, and this, too, leads to emotional dependence.
Even if you are not bonded with your abuser through trauma, you may harbour a whole plethora of emotions that ties you to the relationship. At the time of marriage, for example, you pledged loyalty to the abuser, and this lingers even in the presence of abuse. You may, like Linda, blind yourself to the reality, and make excuses for your tormentor. It is not easy to abandon the emotional investment in the relationship, and, like some victims, you may see the hidden, hurt child in the abuser, and a rescuing urge is magnified as you become aware of his vulnerability, depression, and loneliness. It seems as if you are abandoning a vulnerable child.
I have no doubt that you have experienced loneliness and rejection in your abusive relationship, and it is understandable that you may not wish to add to your sense of loneliness, and stall at the prospect of being abandoned and alone, of losing a relationship or the friendship of the abuser’s family, whom you may have liked. Staying may also indicate a denial or a reluctance on your part to admit that the relationship has failed, and a hope that it might be salvaged. It may be that an abusive environment was normal because of your childhood experience, and you have been unintentionally conditioned by a parent-victim to remain in the relationship.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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It is hard to leave a relationship even an abusive one, but it is necessary.

As a victim, you may harbour a whole range of fears based on your situation. You possibly fear the legal road you may have to take to disentangle the strands of your marriage. The system is adversarial and centred around the legal profession itself, rather than the clients. I have seen wealthy clients who paid enormous sums to lawyers, who are reluctant to advise them on other approaches, such as collaborative family law. This latter process provides a couple with the opportunity to resolve their separation issues without the threat of going to court. Lawyers and their clients meet on a number of occasions and work out a settlement that meets, as far as possible, their priorities, goals, needs and interests. It is less expensive than using the court. You might also consider mediation, which is free. Details of how this works are on the internet. however, since it involves parity and equality in coming to an agreement, I would be surprised if your abusive partner went with this option.
I have no doubt that you clearly understand the damage an abusive environment does to your children, but you may remain because you worry that the emotional damage to them may be greater if you separate. You may also be fearful of losing custody. You may be aware of survivors who went through the courts, and who were not in any way emotionally supported.
Apart from dreading the legal process, you may also fear the unknown, such as constructing a new life, and making formidable life changes. Linda briefly outlines her fears
So yes, I would say to anyone it is the hardest thing to do – because you still love the man you leave! You are so afraid of the unknown. You don’t know how you will manage financially; don’t know where you will live. Everything is unknown. But, it had to be done, and I am glad God gave me the courage and guidance to do it, or I’d still be stuck in the rut of a loveless home and marriage!
Perhaps you also fear the physical danger to yourself or your children if you try to leave. You may feel like prey, and are terrified of being hunted down, or of the abuser calling to your workplace. This apprehension is well justified. Frequently, when an abuser learns of the victims’ decision to leave his fury erupts, and there are cases when the threat to their lives is so great that they have to flee, and leave their children behind. Research shows that a battered woman is at a 75% greater risk of being murdered after leaving the relationship than those who stay. The reason for this is not about the anger aroused in the abuser, but in his loss of control and power over the survivor. It is almost like a drug addict being deprived of his ‘fix’.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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Remaining in or Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Remaining in or Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Shackled forever?
Never to leave the prison?
Never to find the key?
Never to breathe the air of freedom?
Never to find self-expression?
Never to be?
Always lost?
Always leashed?
Always rejected?
Never loved?
Always caring for the unlovable?
No escape from lash of tongue?
From invisible restraint?
From unwilling surrender?
Never to seek another place?

Jim O’Shea

Leaving or staying in an abusive relationship is a decision. Linda articulates it well when she says that she can choose to
live a horrible life, and expose my son to it too, because I was too afraid to leave, or get out and struggle in the world as a single parent, where I could start building a new life, and every day get a little bit further in our new life, and give a loving childhood to my son, so he can grow to be a good man.
Many women leave and return a number of times during the calm part of the abusive cycle. Eventually they learn through painful experience that the abuser does not change, as the cycle of violence begins again. Linda went from being optimistic during the calm period, to distress at the abandonment she and Jack endured within a short time of returning
We were about a month and half back together, and I was happy, because he was really making an effort. But, slowly things went back to the old ways. He went off every evening, and although he didn’t stay out all night, he returned very late. I remember one evening he went off with one of his friends, who called to the house. He said that he would be back around 11, but I went to bed at 10 or so. At 2am, I heard him come home, and got up and asked where he had been until this hour. He said that he was just chatting to his friend, and that he didn’t realise that the time had gone so quickly. I was so tired from hurting, and I was back with him to make a go of it again, I didn’t want to believe that he was being unfaithful again, so I swallowed his story and went to bed. I guess you could say I was living in denial.
I remember telling him that we were spending no time together, and that Jack hardly ever saw him. He didn’t listen. One evening when he was going out again, I was crying and pleaded with him to stay. I knew deep inside what was going on. I just didn’t want to believe it. He left that evening, and my last memory of him was walking out the door, and I felt so on my own. Because I was on my own. I was on my own in this relationship, and I was on my own with regard to the love in our relationship, because I was the only one that loved.
I recognise that it takes strength to stay or leave. Women’s Rural Advocacy Programs, an American organisation, outlines a long list of why women stay in abusive relations. WRAP sees three type of reason – situational factors, emotional factors, and personal beliefs, a powerful combination that makes it so difficult to leave an abusive relationship.

Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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Blogged to here 10 March 2017

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Sexually abused children suffer distress in adulthood.

As we have seen when looking at boundaries, adolescence is a time of intense sexual change, and these normal changes become entangled with the impact of sexual abuse. Instead of being seen as normal, they are now infused with the shame that sexual abuse engenders in the adolescent. Emotional reactions at bodily changes are severely charged by such abuse. Sexual abuse of adolescents also brings the risk of pregnancy, an added element of trauma for the developing female. A high number of pregnant teenagers have abortions, and this too can bring its own trauma.
It is also highly likely, and increasingly a worry, that sexual abuse can make a child sexually active at an early age, and become promiscuous. Promiscuity leads to a high risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease. Paradoxically, adults abused as children, may come to see their value only as a sexual object. Therefore, while fearing sex, they may also feel rejected if they are rebuffed in an intimate relationship.
Sexually abused children bring emotional turmoil to adulthood, and may be consumed by intense shame, guilt, and rage. It is little wonder that many suffer from depression, feel suicidal, and become addicted to alcohol and abuse substances. Many survivors of sexual abuse develop personality disorders and suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem and a sense of worthlessness. They have been used and abused as children and feel unlovable, often have a poor body image, and feel anxious in intimate relationships.
Sexual abuse of boys has particular consequences. Masculinity is stereotyped as dominating, fearless, and tough. The shame, rage, and sense of worthlessness that a raped boy brings to adulthood are difficult to imagine. He struggles with a plethora of debilitating feelings such as fear, inadequacy, and alienation. He may be beset by sexuality issues, such as sexual dysfunction and confusion over sexual orientation. I have never met a person sexually abused in childhood, who did not have a negative outlook about others and about himself. They generally feel helpless and isolated, and many use alcohol to dull the pain. There is also a risk of suicide. Adult male survivors of childhood sexual abuse experience self-blame guilt, shame, humiliation. They may become anxious, depressed and find it difficult to relate. It is likely that they will have low self-esteem, and possibly symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Sometimes their behaviour as adults is to emphasise their masculinity in order to negate the turmoil boiling within. Risky behaviour such as sexual promiscuity, crime, aggressive acts, may become habitual. They construct a facade of bravery, strength and success, while the inner emasculated child cringes in terror. How exhausting it is to keep up this facade, and to keep the helpless child hidden. Ironically, this is sometimes done by deflection away from themselves, and becoming involved in helping others.
Mike Lew, in his blog, Victims No Longer, raises the issue of loss. It is a good way to look at the impact of child sexual abuse. The victim loses his childhood, loses memory of his childhood (as a defence mechanism), loses the ability to relate and properly socialise, loses the chance to play, to learn, to be happy and peaceful, to defend his or her boundaries, to be nurtured, and much, much, more. In the case of clerical and institutional abuse, the victims also suffer a spiritual loss, a loss of faith, and of trust in their church.
Considering this painful legacy, it is important that parents, teachers, social workers, and people in authority should be aware of signs of child sexual abuse. These may vary with the age of the child, although they do not always indicate sexual abuse per se. For younger children, there may be inappropriate sexual activity such as excessive curiosity about sex, promiscuous behaviour, and sexual acting out with other children. Sexually abused children may find it difficult to sleep, and frequently wet the bed. Inevitably, many have learning problems, cling to their mothers, and develop psychosomatic disorders. Pre-puberty and early teenage children may become passive and withdrawn, and bathe excessively. They may have sexual references in schoolwork, and be aggressive or depressed. There are serious warning signs such as refusing to change clothes in front of others, stained or bloody underclothing, bruises or bleeding on the external genitalia or anal areas, and pre-occupation with sexual organs. With older children, there may be suicide attempts, early marriage, running away, pregnancy, substance abuse, and carrying out illegal acts.
In this age of technology, parents should also be highly alert to sexual abuse via the internet. Children spend a considerable amount of time at the computer, and those who use the internet are targets for sexual abusers, and risk becoming sexualised at an early age. Government supported research in Ireland show that 33% of 9-16 year old children have been approached on the internet by people who asked them for personal information such as photographs, phone numbers, addresses and the names of the schools they attend. Three out of every ten said that their parents never check up on them while they are online, and half revealed that their parents did not use filtering software to block unsavoury sites. Many also said that their parents knew less about the internet than they did. Hence, it is important that parents become computer literate, so that they can negotiate the computer activities of their children. It is always worth checking the computer, and the internet history, to see if there is any pornography on it. Looking at phone bills is also recommended, as they may indicate that the child is making phone calls, especially long distance ones. They should investigate unfamiliar phone numbers. Another warning sign is if a child receives mail and packages from people that the parents do not know. It is also worth investigating if the child turns off the monitor or changes the screen quickly if a parent enters the room. The child becoming withdrawn from the family may also be a sign of internet sexual abuse. Finally, it is worth checking if a child is using an online account belonging to someone else.
There is no excusing sexual abuse. Sexual abusers are seen as having a sickness. That may be so, but sexually abusive behaviour is a choice, and there is a moral and serious responsibility to make the opposite choice of respecting the child rather than using them to fulfil sexual needs, and inflicting on them lifelong pain.
I began this chapter on how precious our children are. Our duty of care and our responsibility involves not only protecting them from an abusive environment, but the creation of a positive, nurturing one that affirms them, and sows the seeds of self-confidence and a strong identity in them. In order to do this we must begin with respect, the very opposite of abuse. If we give our children respect, love, attention, empathy, honesty, and allow them appropriate independence, they will embody these traits as adults. We only need be ‘good enough’ parents, and I cannot find a better explanation of what a ‘good enough’ parent is, than the thoughts enshrined in the beautiful poem by Mary Rita Korzan, When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking
When you thought I wasn’t looking,
You hung my first painting on the refrigerator
And I wanted to paint another one.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
You fed a stray cat,
And I thought it was good to be kind to animals.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
You baked a birthday cake just for me,
And I knew that little things were special things.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
You said a prayer,
And I believed there is a God I could always talk to.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You kissed me good-night
And I felt loved.
When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw tears come from your eyes,
And I learned that sometimes things hurt–
But it’s all right to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking,
You smiled
And it made me want to look that pretty too.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You cared
And I wanted to be everything I could be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
I looked…
And I wanted to say “thanks”
For all those things you did
When you thought I wasn’t looking.
(Reprinted with the kind permission of Ms. Korzan. Copyright, 1980. All rights reserved).
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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the pain of cutting is easier to bear than childhood emotonal pain

One of Steven Levenkron’s storytellers told him that cutting was like medicine for her fears, because the psychological pain of the abuse is greater than the pain of the mutilation. Cutting also gives the victim control over who inflicts the pain, in contrast to the powerlessness experienced when being raped. The physical pain of the mutilation also releases endorphins, which are opiate-like substances produced by the brain to kill pain. It is easy to see how people could become addicted to the release of this substance by self-inflicted pain. Self-mutilators also get relief from seeing the blood seeping from their wound.
It can be argued that cutting is a cry for help, but it is also likely that the sense of shame engendered by abuse may be magnified by the shame of cutting, and hinders disclosure about the abuse. These feelings are increased as the victim further withdraws from human contact, and is imprisoned in fear of rejection. They find it difficult to confide in their families. It robs children of self-esteem and self-worth, and damages their trust in people, making them see the world as a hostile place. This is increased if the child is infected following sexual assault, because occasionally this can result in the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease such as herpes, gonorrhoea or syphilis.
Sexual abuse fills a child with shame, and they bring this into adulthood. Shame is a powerful and painful sense of the self being damaged and worthless. The feeling of shame can be intensified if the child experiences physical arousal and pleasure from the abuse. This applies to both boys and girls. Feelings of arousal and pleasure create guilt, confusion, and self-loathing.
All humans have to negotiate the difficult challenges of life stages, from birth until death. The abused child, however, not only has to survive the challenges of childhood and adolescence, but also must carry the burden of the abuse. It is a heavy burden, and distracts the child from dealing with normal developmental tasks, such as becoming independent, creating a unique identity, having a sense of achievement, and nurturing self-esteem. If you want a comprehensive exploration of sexual child abuse at the various life stages from infancy onwards, I suggest you read Felicia Ferrara’s blog Childhood Sexual Abuse. Developmental Effects Across the Lifespan.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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cutting to relieve emotional pain

The child seeks love and gets abuse. It needs love, and gets cruelty. The child’s psyche withers in the barrenness of rejection, as it carries the fear created by its powerlessness and inability to defend its boundaries. Sexual abuse can bring on eating disorders, depression, suicidal thoughts, as well as addiction, anxiety, withdrawal, nightmares, and somatic complaints. Many of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, such as hypervigilance, sometimes manifest themselves due to sexual abuse. Sexually abused children may experience a wide range of feelings such as fear, anxiety, and depression. They will be angry, hostile, and aggressive. They may be involved in self-destructive behaviour, feel isolated, have poor self-esteem, and find it difficult to trust others.
Because of the confusion and fear raised in the abused child, any touch or physical tenderness may be interpreted as sexual, and bring on fear. Severe sexual abuse may also cause the child to dissociate and freeze. When victims dissociate from their feelings, they compartmentalise the abuse, go into a trance, and shut out the violation of their bodies. This reaction can be seen in Martha Long’s witty but sad account of her physical and sexual abuse in her blog Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes. This defence mechanism may become a permanent way of dealing with trauma, and may be carried into adulthood, with fatal consequences for intimate relationships.
Dissociation is also reflected in self-harm, commonly known as cutting, but includes burning, scratching, and biting oneself. Generally, people who cut are in a trance-like state as they turn inwards from connecting to others. Steven Levenkron, in his blog, Cutting. Understanding & Overcoming Self-mutilation, asserts that the first incident of cutting begins with strong feelings of anger, anxiety or panic. Globally, the numbers involved in self-harm are staggering. In the U.S., at least 2 million people are self-injurers. In the European Union, it has been found that 3 in 10 girls and 1 in 10 boys self harm. Boys use lethal methods. Cutting generally begins in adolescence, and often extends into adulthood. It is short-term relief from the constant feeling of emotional pain resulting from sexual abuse, and is an external manifestation of this suffering. It may also be an act of anger towards the abuser.

Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
THERAPISTS IN TIPPERARY
PSYCHOTHERAPISTS IN TIPPERARY
COUNSELLORS IN TIPPERARY
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
ABUSE
DEATH OF A CHILD

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