Monday, November 17, 2014

Adult Survivors Continuing Relationships with
Abusive Family

A lurid and rather sensationalistic book about murderers that I recently read featured the case of Mary Bell, who committed two murders as a child of ten. In the years since, Mary has disclosed horrific child sexual abuse committed and/or facilitated by her mother, Betty. The author, Paul Roland, finishes with the following observation: “However, one has to wonder, if all Mary has claimed is true, why she invited Betty to live with her and her daughter in the latter years of her mother’s life (2008 p. 165).”

Perhaps, in a book of this nature, sensitivity and knowledge about the many effects of child sexual abuse were hardly to be expected, but what concerned me was the using of Mary’s ongoing relationship with her mother as a reason to doubt her disclosures of abuse. One thing survivors don’t need is people acting out of ignorance discounting them and fuelling myths about the unreliability of people who say they were sexually abused.

And yet, the question, “Why would a person who experienced sexual abuse want to be close to the very people who did it?” is genuinely puzzling to people who may never have experienced incest or other parental abuse. Partners of survivors may feel disgust and confusion or a natural protectiveness towards their partners – and it is very concerning when children are exposed to danger from an abusive grandparent. Some survivors themselves are baffled as to why they feel drawn to keep going back to their abusive parents.

Why does this happen? Why would a woman raped by her father let him give her away at her wedding? Why does the son subjected to sexual abuse by his mother continue to submit to demands for his money? Why would incest survivors eat Christmas dinner with people who continue to degrade them? This article will look at some of the reasons.

Damaged Self:
Many of us will have encountered children that cling tenaciously to parents who have hurt them terribly, and sadly some of us were those children. Judith Herman (1992 p. 103) writes that child abuse causes children to form a core image of themselves as “bad.” This is essential for their emotional survival. At the expense of their very selves, children rationalise that they caused the abuse in order to preserve an image of mother and father – those people on whom they must depend for care and protection - as their caregivers.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

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