This is a new category that I’m starting today for bloggers who would like me to feature their article. Today’s candid post by A.T (who prefers to remain anonymous) deals with the effects of sexual abuse upon the behaviour of the abused. I welcome this article as I was once a victim too, although on a somewhat lesser scale. Look out for my interview with A.T next week which will be published in my ‘Life Experiences’ category.
A.T says: “Domestic violence does not need boots, fists, or weapons. Abuse starts with the mind.”
Sexual Abuse Damages Boundaries, by A.T.
Abuse – whether it be physical, emotional, mental, sexual or a combination of all of them – plays havoc with human boundaries and that all-important sense of self.
I have recently emerged from an abusive marriage. It has taken a huge toll, not helped by the fact that my ex-husband and I remain in the same house until frustrating delays can be overcome in the moving process.
My ex never hit me in anger, though he enjoyed pain – both receiving it and doling it out – sexually. For over three decades, I have been subjected to abuse in the bedroom, abuse which was both sexual and emotional – but, because it was enacted under the false umbrella of ‘love’, I fought battles in my own mind in order to call it healthy sex, and used every justification to excuse him.
More than this, however, I gradually erased that healthy line between what I felt safe and comfortable with – and acts which I dreaded and which were, in truth, little more than legalised rape. Trained to respond in an overtly sexual way, to be alluring and suggestive, to dress up and use props and act and be convincing, my signals were broken and my covert messages to men so messed up that I did not know what I was transmitting to male friends and colleagues half the time.
Accused of Vanilla attitudes to sex – though the actual name came much later – and persuaded that my compliance was proof of my love for this man, and terrified that he would have sex with someone else if I didn’t please him, I lived in constant fear. I could not say a convincing ‘No!’ you see – and, on the few occasions I tried, I received such manipulative behaviour in return (anger, back-turning, muted threats, loud wrenching sobs) that giving in was, ironically, less stressful than holding out.
He was, and remains, a man who would not take ‘No’ for an answer, in or out of bed. Things I felt very uneasy about were made to seem normal and necessary through his intimidation and gaslighting rhetoric. I felt as if I, as an individual, did not matter and barely existed: I was there to keep him happy, to keep his rage at bay, to satisfy his persistent fantasy in the sexual sense. I was expected to be speedily aroused, highly responsive and inventive in a demeaning way.
As a consequence of this, the natural boundaries – my sense of myself as being more than a sex object – have been badly damaged, and I still feel enormous anxiety around men and this dread feeling that I should be trying to appear seductive and willing and ready if they want me. I have no current wish for that kind of relationship – but there lurks an underlying fear that I should be available, at least in potentia, and that men (even those who are platonic friends) expect the sexual option to be clearly on the menu.
I suspect I flirt and tease without even being aware I am doing it, not because I want sex – but because something of self-esteem and self-respect and the hallowed sanctity of my own body has been ripped and torn and shredded. The boundary which allows women to feel they have the right to refuse sex, and still be loved and respected, has worn away.
It makes me feel so sad. I have a huge sense of loss and grief. There was a time, long ago, when sex was earthy and bawdy pleasure for me; when I was utterly spontaneous and adventurous and unafraid; when my boundaries were both deep and clear.
Sexual abuse makes us feel that we have to prove our love through ever-more outrageous acts; it means that our abusers are never satisfied with our performance because it is not about lust; it is about control – theirs. It is about the dark extremes of human sexuality – and is, in fact, the very opposite of true arousal. It is a cold and frightening universe full of unstated threat and despair.
For thirty years, I have been sexually abused. I will never again be the hopeful and innocent and undamaged young woman I was in my early twenties. That trust and openness and freshness and true connection with my own body has gone – and it may never return.
I mourn its loss.
Rebuilding my boundaries and healing my sexuality will take time. I know that. I could weep for the waste and pain of it all – and sometimes I do just that.
Abuse is real. It is out there. It is hidden behind closed doors. It does not inevitably involve fists and feet and weapons breaking fragile skin and bones. It is not perpetrated by obvious monsters. It can be committed under the pretence of love and after the ceremony of Holy Matrimony. It can break minds and cripple bodies.
Abuse: The Fifth Horseman – and the one too many people turn a blind eye to.
Thank you A.T, for such a heartfelt post.
If anybody else would like to send me a guest article, I’d be very happy to receive it. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your blog, making sure that ‘Guest Article’ is in the subject box. I will unfortunately have to reject anything that I do not deem appropriate for my site.