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Section 6
Parts of Childhood Sexual Abuse Experience

CEU Question 6 | CEU Test | Table of Content | Child Abuse
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The last track presented a brief overview of the three stages of recovery. These stages are discovery, active healing, and integration. In releasing the pain associated with childhood sexual abuse we also looked at how the Family Mottos Technique can offer opportunities to understanding influences from the past.

On this track, we will discuss the four parts of the childhood sexual abuse experience: body, emotions, mind & spirit and how they can provide Windows into the Past for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. At the end of the track, we will look at how your client might benefit from Dialoguing with the Body.

4 Parts of the Childhood Sexual Abuse Experience

1. Window into the Past: Body
As you know, even though the abused child may have repressed his or her conscious memory of the abuse, their body may have not forgotten and may provide the first window into the past. Gina, age 18 had had chronic constipation with occasional rectal bleeding for several years. Repeated visits to the doctor did little to relieve these symptoms or to find a cause. After she had been in therapy for a while, Gina stated, "I remember when I was in first grade, I had some vague memories of sexual abuse from my older stepbrother, Kirk. All I can remember is being thrown on the bed and a sharp, sharp, pain."

I asked Gina whether perhaps her physical body remembered what had happened, even though Gina had repressed the memory, and whether her constipation might somehow be connected. Think of your Gina who exhibits physical symptoms which may be a physical expression of abuse she has suffered? You might consider using the Dialoguing with Your Body exercise described at the end of this track.

2. Window into the Past: Emotions
A second "Window to the Past" as you know, is emotional memories. For Gina, her vague memories were accompanied by a vivid recollection of what she felt before, during, and after Kirk's sexual abuse. Gina stated, "At night I remember trembling, waiting for Kirk to come into my room. I was always afraid. My heart would pound. I would feel afraid but resigned and hopeless. I knew he would come, I just didn't know exactly when. My fear was so intense it was hard for me to breathe. I would jump at every little noise in the house. I knew I couldn't hide. I was almost relieved when he did come. Then the waiting, at least, was over."

Think of your Gina who has this strong emotional memory of fear, anxiety, and panic. Perhaps the Dialoguing with Your Body exercise may be of assistance.

3. Window into the Past: Mind
In addition to physical and emotional memories, the third Window to the Past is the mind or cognitive memories. As you know, survivors often experience purely cognitive recall without the associated emotional or physical feelings. David, age 13, recalling the sexual abuse which happened when he was five stated, "I remember everything about it. I can remember hearing the TV in the living room-I even remember what program was on. I remember seeing my uncle's face, the lines around his eyes, and hearing him breathing hard in my ear. I remember everything; even his smell. The strange thing is I don't feel anything when I talk about it." Do you have a David who has strong cognitive memories with no physical or emotional feelings connected to these memories?

4. Window into the Past: Spirit
The fourth and last window to the past some clients call the spirit or the untouched center. Maria's body had been violated, her emotions repressed, and her view of herself was filled with shame, guilt and fear.

Maria, age 18 who had a strong religious upbringing stated, "I feel somehow my spirit remained untouched." Maria described her spirit this way, "When I began these sessions, I always felt overwhelmed at school, at home, everywhere. I thought every part of me was wounded and hurt. I felt that everything about me had been molested by this monster, my Uncle Stan. It was very comforting for me to realize a part of myself had remained resistant to the shame and fear I felt. I could sense inside me at my very core, something that there was something that transcended my emotions, mind and body. It's sort of like the core of me was somehow pure and uninjured by what my uncle did to me. I liked that idea that there was an untouched part, sort like my soul or my spirit, or some kind of essence was untouched. It gave me hope."

Has your Maria expressed an awareness of some form of a spiritual or untouched core? If so, what words did she use to describe this "untouched" part of her? Would it be beneficial in your next session to reinforce the fact that not all parts of her were violated?

Technique: Dialoguing with Your Body
A technique I used with Gina, David & Maria to help them connect with their emotions was a Dialoguing with Your Body exercise. I began by asking each to begin a conversation with their body. In the beginning, Gina stated, "This feels awkward, like I am forcing the conversation." I encouraged her not to quit. It would come easier with practice. I provided a focus statement to assist her in starting. The following are excerpts from Gina's dialogue that took place during two sessions. See if you detect the value of continuing this exercise over time.

I gave Gina the focusing statement: "I remember how afraid I was, waiting for Kirk to come in to my room." Gina stated:

Gina: I was so afraid, I could barely breathe.
Body: You were listening for Kirk. Breathing makes noise.
Gina: I would jump at every little noise.
Body: You were afraid that it was him.
Gina: I knew that he would come for me eventually.
Body: And he did come. The waiting was bad as well. Knowing what Kirk would do to us.
Gina: I was relieved when it was over.
Body: You knew it wasn't going to happen again for a while.

Four weeks later, Gina stated, with the assistance of no focusing statement:
Gina: My feelings are still so jumbled up.
Body: It's overwhelming, but you'll get through this.
Gina: I still find myself jumping at every strange noise.
Body: Kirk isn't coming for you any more. You don't need to always be expecting him.
Gina: I'm not having trouble breathing anymore.
Body: You don't need to be afraid.

As Gina continued dialoguing with her body, she found it was a great source of "inner information," and a way to look into her feelings and memories. She stated, "I've gained a deeper understanding of my attitudes, feelings, and beliefs. I can see how they connect to my past. I don't have to respond that way anymore." A few months after Gina began dialoguing with her body regarding her sexual abuse, her constipation and rectal bleeding stopped.

Consider your Gina. Would the "Dialoguing with Your Body" technique help your client understand his or her current behavior?

On this track, we have discussed four parts of the childhood sexual abuse experience: body, emotions, mind and spirit and how they provide a "Window into the Past". We have also seen how Dialoging with the Body can help your clients gain a better understanding of their feelings, emotions and memories.

On the next track we will focus on a technique I have found successful to help clients who are living with the secrets of sexual abuse to Releasing Emotional Energy of held pain.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Hartman, M., Finn, S. E., & Leon, G. R. (1987). Sexual-abuse experiences in a clinical population: Comparisons of familial and nonfamilial abuse. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 24(2), 154–159.

Jones, T. M., Bottoms, B. L., & Stevenson, M. C. (2020). Child victim empathy mediates the influence of jurors’ sexual abuse experiences on child sexual abuse case judgments: Meta-analyses. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Advance online publication.

Polusny, M. A., & Follette, V. M. (1996). Remembering childhood sexual abuse: A national survey of psychologists' clinical practices, beliefs, and personal experiences. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 27(1), 41–52.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 6
What can be used to facilitate the "Dialoguing with Your Body" exercise? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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