Updated: Nov 11, 2021
Before I really get into the intricacies of the abuse cycle, I’d like to explain things from my personal experience. Trauma is a weighty subject and it’s good to have a general understanding first, so that you can start to notice kids that are in danger and need someone to raise a red flag.
How does an abuser pick their targets? There are a few ways they find the perfect targets. Being aware of these targeting tactics might help you keep yourself or your kids safe. It might also help you understand how a person can become entangled in an abusive relationship to begin with.
First and foremost, child victims of sexual abuse are groomed to accept it. It starts gradually. They play the blame and shame game. As if a child could be “asking for it”! These people are disgustingly sick. They use the child’s empathy to get them to allow the abuser to touch them.
If the abuser is a parent, then they have easy access. If the abuser is someone outside the family, they will often go out of their way to help the parents of the child. This is common when there is a single parent situation.
Abusers are crafty and will play a slow game to get what they want. They look for kids who are often unattended or who aren’t watched closely. They look for children of parents with substance abuse issues or long work shifts, offering to babysit and bathe the child. They will often give gifts and special treatment to the child they are abusing, many times in contrast with how other children are treated.
How do these kids act? They may use inappropriate sexual language or behavior that is too old for their level of understanding. They may act out of control, like an ADD or ADHD diagnosed child. I’ve read that it’s arguable that all of these kids are victims of some kind of abuse and to medicate them the way we do is basically trapping them in their trauma. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Continuing on with behavior signs, the child may be withdrawn or have periods of dissociation or blacking out. The child may have accidents well after being toilet trained. The child may try to avoid bath time or physically resist going to a certain place. They may have an oral fixation or struggle with weight fluctuations. Promiscuity at a young age is a huge red flag. A young person trying to date a much older man is a red flag too.
Sexual abuse isn’t the only type of abuse that affects kids though. There are often many forms of abuse present. A child may be neglected, not have their needs met, may be present in inappropriate situations, be emotionally broken down, or beaten. The list goes on.
A child of any kind of abuse will have confidence issues. They may repeat the abusive behaviors, putting themselves in situations where the abuse is re-enacted to complete a process that is ingrained in their subconscious. They may even become an abuser themselves.
Verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, especially at a very young age can disrupt the development of pathways in the brain. This can manifest in memory disruption and learning disabilities. It can affect auditory processing. They may flinch at loud noises.
A child may want to spend all their time either outside of the home, if the abuser is there, or to avoid being put in the care of the abuser. They may spend long hours learning sports, arts, or academics.
How might you act as an adult victim of abuse or unaware survivor of a dissociative childhood event? You might be obsessive compulsive. You might be very particular about certain things or completely avoid certain foods, activities or places.
You may become entangled in abusive situations again and again. After all, if you’ve never been in the presence of a healthy relationship, how could you possibly know what one looks like?
You may not be able to separate a voice from background noise. Auditory processing can be slowed down immensely, making it hard to keep up mentally when things are moving too quickly.
You might black out sometimes or stare vacantly for long periods of time. You could have seizures when certain situations are recreated. You could fantasize about abusive situations that unsettle even yourself. You wonder where it could come from.
Abuse victims are prone to frequent and chronic illness. They are more likely to die of stress related diseases. They are more likely to develop dependencies on drugs and alcohol. They are more likely to be prone to depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation.
How do I know all of this? When my memories started to return, I googled everything I could find about it. I had such a hard time believing myself, because I couldn’t fathom having lived all of my life not knowing. I wanted to know how I’d act if it was true.
But I also know from personal experience. Another thing that happens when you’ve been abused is that you wind up attracting people like you, who have been abused too. It’s a Law of Attraction thing. I’ve talked to a LOT of abuse victims.
This is also why you’re more likely to be re-victimized over and over throughout your life. I became disconnected from my body. It made it impossible for me to connect on a meaningful level with other people. There was just a part of me that was unavailable.
That’s why I started dancing. I love it and it is fun, but dancing is extremely challenging for me. I often become disoriented. I couldn’t afford to do many private lessons, so I’m taking group classes. It’s hard for other people to understand what’s going on with me.
You tend to get triggered by things that seem inconsequential. I flinch hard when I hear a loud noise. I can’t breathe in the presence of steam. I used to pass out in the shower when the water got too hot. I found out later that I was having seizures. I can’t go near a sauna, the idea of it makes me sick to my stomach.
I have experienced so much abuse in my life. I’m a big picture person. I like to see where things fit in the grand scheme. I started to trace patterns. Of course I read a bunch of books about trauma.
Trauma has affected every day of my life. I want nothing more than to leave it behind. But assimilating memories of this magnitude is not an easy thing to do.
I have made a lot of progress. I’m quite motivated. I’m a fierce advocate for my children. If someone were to describe me, fierce would definitely be in the description. The progress is hard to measure. It’s hard to keep moving forward some days. But I can’t judge my progress by the weight of my trauma. There isn’t a gauge for healing.
Instead, I judge my progress by skills I’ve learned. I’ve learned to trust my intuition. It hasn’t led me wrong, I’ve just ignored it. Never again. I’ve learned to watch closely. I’ve learned to read body language very well. It was a self preservation tactic as a child. It was how I knew when it was time to hide.
I speak up when someone pushes a boundary. I let them know it’s there. I don’t explain why. I don’t owe anyone an explanation.
I’ve also learned to address my needs fully. There is no grace in failing to take care of yourself. Remember to eat. Remember to take my meds. Remember to shower. Remember to take it easy when I”m freaking out.
This process of healing and connecting to my body is hard. I don’t like to be in my body all the time. It’s uncomfortable here. I need to learn how to be present not just in the moment, but in my body as well. That’s going to take time. I was violated in horrific ways. You don’t just walk away from that.
Maybe you can start to understand how the abused come to be that way. Abuse can repeat from generation to generation. The way I see it, you have three choices: You can become your abuser, you can be bitter about what’s happened to you and give up on life, or you heal and become very compassionate.
The last choice is the hardest choice. To choose not to let what happened to me as a child ruin my life today is not an easy choice. The damage is significant, both physically and mentally. It’s hard not to give up and just wallow.
But I have to keep moving forward. There isn’t another choice for me. I’m going to keep healing. I’m going to keep giving the abused a voice. Because I can’t save all the kids I want to save. Because I told my mom what was happening to me and she didn’t believe me. She let it continue to happen.
If I can help the status quo see one thing, it would be to see that these monsters hide in plain sight. You can’t dismiss a child’s confidence because you think someone is nice or an upstanding citizen. They overcorrect that way so they can fool people and undermine their victims.
I’m tired of victim blaming. Tell me how a six year old child can choose to be sold for sex? That is not a place for a child. Don’t blame me for what happened to me. Learn from me. If you find in the course of my articles that you see this pattern repeating somewhere in your life, do something about it.
The only way to get abuse to stop is to call it out. Society needs to tell these people it’s not okay. These people who abuse won’t be accepted into society until they own up to their transgressions.
You don’t get to get saved by God. You don’t get to skip retribution. You have to come clean. You have to apologize to your victims. You need to face the consequences. I will not offer my abusers forgiveness until they stop abusing others.
I will understand what happened to me. I will understand that it wasn’t my fault. I will not give them a free pass. I won’t give them any power over me. I’m not afraid. When I’m healthy enough, I’m going to confront my dad to his face. I’m going to tell him just what he is. Then I’m going to tell my aunt how betrayed I feel. I’m just going to call my uncle a monster, because what he did to me was depraved.
I can’t stand to hurt anyone. I was bred to be that way. But to stop my dad, my aunt, my uncle, and all the others, I have to hurt them. I have to hold them accountable for what they’ve done. But I can only do that in my own time. Triggers are too sensitive right now.
Believe victims of abuse. It’s not easy to come forward. It’s not easy to admit you were violated. Children can’t make up sexual abuse, they aren’t old enough to understand it. Their behavior gives away the abuse, but no one is watching. There’s no safe place for them to go.
This is on you, society. You’ve been cowards too long, afraid to call out these monsters. But it’s not okay. Innocent until proven guilty does not work in sexual assault. These crimes need to be punished more heavily.
If you think women aren’t targeted more than men, then you haven’t read the statistics. If you have been blamed for “not working on your marriage hard enough” after you’ve just explained the abuse you’re subjected to, then you know what it’s like to be minimized by the ones you love most.
I was told the other day that I didn’t respect the sanctity of marriage if I wanted another divorce. Excuse me? You think it’s okay to let a man abuse children because a marriage is sacred? I’ve got no time for you. You are an enabler.
Do you know who’s to blame for the perpetuation of abuse? All of society. It’s the victims who won’t get help and abuse others. It’s the isolated victims, too afraid to call out their abuser because they have NO SUPPORT. It’s on you society, the most, for brushing it under the rug. There’s no place in anyone’s life for abuse.
People can act a good game. People can seem really nice or be very generous or devoutly religions and still be monsters. It’s their cover story. Abusers are charming. Abusers are charismatic. Believe the victim over the accused, unless there’s no substance to the allegation. To side with the accused every single time is disgusting. It is rare for someone to falsely accuse someone of sexual misconduct.
Don’t be fooled. Educate yourself. I’m here to make everyone uncomfortable about abuse. I want to make it really hard for abusers to abuse. I want to talk about abuse until it’s normal to call it out and until people listen. Listen to victims, because we want justice. We want abusers to be stopped. We don’t want any more victims. We’re not after pity, but we could sure use some options.
I’m giving my compassion to the victims who don’t perpetuate the cycle. I’m giving a second chance to the people who have wronged but have apologized and done the work to heal and learn another way.
One last unpopular opinion: You are all wrong about “personal liberty” being all encompassing. What goes on in a person’s home is not just their business always. People don’t deserve their opinions. People aren’t entitled to their backwards way of thinking. You don’t get to put someone’s life at risk because you’re self centered and selfish. You don’t get to destroy someone because someone destroyed you. No, you can’t do whatever you want.