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In order to cope there are many things that you, the sexual abuse survivor, did. In fact, maybe you have not done all of them,  but most probably you have done most of them. Below are some of the coping mechanisms that many survivors have applied.  These are broken up into several categories for easy classification. The fist category is that I would like to call, denying it.

Trying to Denying that it ever happened
Now there are many ways to deny. One is that we can turn our head and we can pretend well whatever happened never really happened. Or that we can look at it, and say to our self, well you know it didn’t really happen. Or we can look at our self and say, well you know it happened, but “Oh well” you know these things happen, that is just the way that it is.

Ultimately it is a way of saying, well if I ignore it long enough, you know what, it will probably just go away completely, and in fact that never happened. Another popular way of coping, or another way of using denial to our advantage, is that, in the history of our family experience, if we expressed ourselves then it was turned against us, in some way. They would say “Oh well, we don’t believe you” or “It was your fault, or why were you looking for it” etc. etc. What we then try to do internally is just to deny it to ourselves. We then say to our selves ‘it never happened’ and we create a kind of block around this thing for ourselves. We cut ourselves off from our own feelings. We cut our self off from our body. It is often more comfortable for a child to deny reality than to face the fact that the adults around him/her, won’t protect him/her. In fact, may even harm him/her.

I Minimised events
Another favourite trick. Minimising means pretending that whatever happened wasn’t really that bad. The fact that I got hurt, or the fact that I tried to say no, or the fact that I begged, or the fact that somebody wouldn’t listen to me, is not really that bad. Because you know deep down, that that person is really a loving, caring person even though they hurt me and abused me. Somewhere on the inside, the perpetrator (may be dad or someone close), there is some lovingness / goodness in them. So we minimise the whole event. What we often do is we look for something positive in the perpetrator that allows us to say internally that what they did was not that bad. You know just look at it ‘Mom/Dad tucks me so nicely into bed at night’. The little girl/boy latches onto that, they see that by Dad tucking me so nicely into bed, that he really loves me. Off course another favourite one to say is, ‘well you know after all, these things that happened to me, and I didn’t really die, I am still here today’. ‘That I have experienced this, I have gone through this and I am still alive, so what’s the odds? It’s fine. This is the art of minimising.

I use Rationalising
Another favourite trick of the survivor. Rationalising is a means by which children explain away abuse. ‘Oh you know, he couldn’t help it, he was drunk’ or ‘He was high on drugs’. ‘He didn’t really know what he was doing’. Little girls and boys at the time, they can invent all sorts of reasons for the abuser and so often do. The one thing that they don’t ever really do, is say “This person did this to me”. They kind of rationalise it internally, in some way. Or they would say “Well you know we were so many kids and they had so many kids to look after”.

Well the issue that lies behind this, is that the parents chose to have you or the parents chose to have so many kids. When you are a parent you take on the responsibility of being a parent and look after your kids. That is the role of what a parent is. If you’re not up to it, don’t have children.

For the survivor, there is always a part of them trying and figure out, ‘why would somebody want to do this to me’? ‘What was in it for them’? ‘What was hurting so badly in their life’?  ‘Or what was going wrong in their relationship that they found that they had to do this to me’? and ‘Why or how can I rather make it better for them’. This is just another way of dramatising the story for the perpetrator instead of looking at the self and seeing what it was that was done to me and what was the cost to me. It is a way of trying to justify forgiveness for the perpetrator, rather than allowing the real anger and fury that the survivor may feel.

I try using Forgetting
Forgetting is one of the most common and effective ways children try to deal with their sexual abuse. We try and ignore it. We hope that it will go away. We try and just let it go. In fact it is not possible to forget because this would always sit in our subconscious. The subconscious will always bring it to the for when the appropriate opportunity arises. This is something that each of us, where we have been through a negative event in our lives, need to process and work through. One must never underestimate the power of our subconscious mind. We utilise the power of our mind to, what we like to call forget, (but we don’t really forget), repress these memories in our minds.

An example may help here. We can even go so far as to say that children are able to forget about the abuse, or rather repress the abuse (we put it under the heading of forgetting), even while the whole event is happening to them. This just gives you an indication of the power of the mind. This throws light onto the situation why so many adults when they come in for therapy, have completely forgotten about this kind of event, until something happens and it triggers them off. Such is the capacity of us to repress this in the mind, but repressing is not the same as forgetting. Repressing is just like putting a blanket over something so that you don’t see it, but it is still there and it will always be there until you actually do something with it. It is not possible for it to go away; your subconscious won’t allow it to go away. You can just cover it for a while but it will always be there.

To try and cope with this forgetting process results in two possibilities within us.

- The one is that we create or develop a certain kind of separate personality that is different from us and we try and hide with in this personality. Say to ourselves that we are this personality and not the other me. For instance one personality type would be one that would be very cheerful and the other personality type would be the one that is very sad and depressed. What often happens is that we can move between these two personalities depending on the circumstances around us and depending on how it is that we feel. In other words we have a split personality.
- The second way of trying to cope or forget is that we actually leave the body. We disassociate with the body. It is a protective mechanism. We are floating up there, sort of there, from the ceiling looking down at our body. We look from there at ourselves.

By us doing this we become completely disassociated from ourselves. We can see our body over there and we can see how it is that it functions going through life. Should something bad happen to our body, or something painful happens to our body, well it’s ok because we are separate from it. We are safe. The body is over there and it does not harm me because I am up there on the ceiling looking down. This is the more common occurrence. I have special techniques that I apply to get the survivor back into the body. This is normally a profound process for the survivor.

I have to Control
Control is the thread that runs through many of the lives of survivors. What they always try and do is control the environment around them. It’s a subconscious way of trying to make everything around them safe. If they have control over the environment around them then that means that they would never expose themselves into anything that would make them feel unsafe. When survivors grow up in a chaotic environment such as in a alcoholic / drug abuse situation where nobody can be relied upon for food or for shelter or protection on an ongoing basis. Life in general is rather chaotic.

To try and make it safe for them selves, the survivor goes to great lengths to try and get order into their lives. The creation of order is just a control mechanism that up from within in a desperate way to try and control the environment around them all the time. Look at control in this kind of environment, we can say see that control has both a positive effect and a negative in the survivor life. The positive side is that they are bringing order and something constructive into the survivor life. The negative effect is that there is a complete lack of flexibility or difficulty to negotiate something with somebody or to even compromise. It’s all got to be their way or nothing. These difficulties play out in their lives later on in life.

I create Chaos
Chaos is a sub control program that many survivors run. They find that if they can’t control the environment around them, then what they do is they create chaos. They create crisis and they move from crisis to crisis to crisis. Through this crisis that they are indirectly controlling, what is going on in their environment around them. It is a means for the survivor to get them to get attention, it is also a means of preventing themselves from being exposed to anything undue that may happen. Therefore what the plan is, is to create one drama after another. This is a subconscious drama that often happens of children from alcoholic and drug abuse homes. They are the survivors that are often good at resolving and generating crisis’ in later life. Strange but true.

I use Spacing out.
Many survivors have the uncanny capacity to space out and not be present. This can be due to us leaving the body as described earlier or it could be that we just stare into space. It is another form of blocking out. Yet another way of spacing out is a subconscious reminder that is triggered where we remember, when the sexual abuse or molestation was happening to the survivor, that during the event of this actually happening, the survivor focused on something on the wall or ceiling. In times of stress or confrontation, we often find that the survivor is able to just stare into space and become blank. When they’re older they’re able to space / blank themselves out and they would just stare blankly at something. Almost as if cutting them selves off completely. In a way you can call it a kind off distancing or disconnecting. It is a way that you found to cut yourself off from pain. The problem with this approach is that it tends to have a huge cost to ones self.  You tend to cut yourself off from the negative as well as from the positives in life. You miss out on the possible richness your own life can bring you and your own feelings as a human being. Through this process you avoid pain but you miss out on everything else as well.

I am Being super alert
The process of being sexually abused helps one top develop some senses within yourself that is generally not available to the general person. These senses enable you to pick up the slightest nuances in the energies of people around you. This came about as a result of you being super alert in trying to protect yourself. So when you sense that something is not safe you did something to make it safe for you like leave the environment. In later life you can sense straight away whether anyone of these messages that you were picking up would be unsafe for you. It would actually trigger something inside of you that would tell you that the environment is now not safe and you best leave the area quite soon. This plays out in many ways in your later life. It could be that you develop a deep sense of feeling what goes on around you in your life, or, it could be that you develop a very good listening ear that picks up all the conversations going on around you at the same time. This hyper vigilance always makes you focus on the outside of you most of the time. This is very frustrating to people that you are with or are interact with. They feel that you can’t be there fully for them, you are unable connect with them. People respond to you by saying he/she is here but he/she is not really here with us. Off course the other negative is that you never really learn to relax, you’re always on the lookout for something. You can’t relax and just be you.

I use Humour
What often happens is that we like to use humour as a protection mechanism for our selves. We develop a tough sense of humour and the humour is always tends to be focused on others out there. It is always at somebody else’s expense. It usually has a cruel side to it. What we are trying to do is to make the focus elsewhere and try to divert attention from yourself to somebody or anybody else who you perceived to be  weaker than yourself. Another way to use humour is that if you keep people laughing all the time, then you can maintain a certain protective distance for yourself. For as long as you keep laughing with everybody around you is that you don’t have to cry or show what was really going on, on the inside of you.

I use Busyness - don't you know
Off course this is a favourite one. Well if I am always busy doing something and I am always busy involved in something then I can’t do one of two things; I can’t relax and I can’t be me. I haven’t got time to look at and feel my feelings on the inside. We use the busyness to keep our attention away from what’s really going on, on the inside.

I try and Escape
As a child or an adolescent you may have made many attempts to escape or to run away. If you were more passive there was escape through sleep or books or television. Many adult survivors still often read obsessively. Others spend hours and hours in front of the TV, watching sport, watching news, watching anything that would focus their attention elsewhere. There are many ways to try and escape and all forms of escapism are just a protective mechanism. We can also channel our energies into other areas in our life, such as excessive sport or running or any one of those activities that would absorb huge amounts of time in our life and make us physically exhausted so that when we came home, we would collapse in a heap and we would be able to forget.

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There are many tricks that we apply when we are trying to survive, when the pain gets to great to bear. One could be that we attempt suicide. Two could be that we mutilate our self. Three could be that we create a form of mental illness. So let’s look at these three, let’s look at suicide first.

Try Suicide
When our life is really chaotic and completely out of control, we sometimes feel that the only option left in our life is actually to take our life. This is just a way of us trying to avoid facing what really happened to us and sorting it out. It is possible to sort out and live a happy fruitful life. Please don’t commit suicide, do find help. It would be the best decision that you make for your life in your life.

I use Self mutilation
Self mutilation is one way that survivors use to try to control their inner feelings that are coming up within. Often what goes on, on the inside the survivor would say to themselves, ‘instead of the abuser hurting me the way that I was hurt (during the sexual abuse event), I will hurt myself. It is a way for me to move the pain that I am feeling on the inside to a pain that I will feel in my body. This way will help me forget about what my feelings are on the inside. It will refocus my attention. I heard the story a few times, where the client would say to me, ‘I wanted to hurt myself in a way to cause myself pain’ so that my cutting myself or mutilating myself will allow the pain to actually come out and flow out through the wound. There are many ways that we can go about mutilating ourselves, instead of cutting or stabbing ourselves we can try and hit a wall or break a glass window or look for a fight etc. The list is endless.

I use Mental illness
Problems occur when the line between fantasy and reality blurs. For many survivors going crazy makes a lot of sense. It is just one of the most fantastic fantasy ways to escape out from all of our pain. We create an environment saying to ourselves that I am mentally disturbed and I have been so all my life. That is OK. Where all it is really, is just a protection mechanism to protect us from actually facing that emotional pain.

I try Addiction and / or Isolation
This is yet another favourite way for survivors to try and cope with the pain of their sexual abuse. They are usually self defeating and self destructive. They are often addicted to creating dangerous situations, to crisis, to sex, to abuse, to being abused etc. etc. Often the survivor turns to drugs, alcohol or food. Food is often the one that you’re using to trying and fill the hole on the inside. We become obese through over eating, wrong eating, and emotional eating as a way to try to keep the memories down, to try and numb the hollow feeling in the stomach. That is what all addictions are really about, is that there is a need that comes up that needs to be satisfied and we choose some or other mechanism to numb / overcome / fill / escape from this feeling. Another favourite way of survivors is to isolate themselves. The isolation can also be coupled with an addiction of some sort. The survivor often says to themselves internally, ‘if I cut myself off and no one is close to me then nobody can hurt me anymore’. So the survivors shuts themselves off from the world. We shut ourselves away from others. In a way we create a life in saying well I don’t really care. We ice-o-late (isolate) ourselves – we become frozen,  

I have Eating difficulties
Eating difficulties often arise from young girls who were sexually abused. This can develop into anorexia and bulimia. Here very little food is consumed and the body begins to fade away – reflecting a condition of near starvation. As can be seen from the afore going that this is intricately intertwined in the issues of love and nourishment. Here we secretly have the longing to be loved and nurtured – and so we subconsciously decrease the size of our presence (weight loss) or reduce the presence of us so that what ever little is passed on to us is ok / or the love that we demand and receive is so little that it cannot possibly be an inconvenience to others or if it does not inconvenience them too much. 

So we can see that there is a chronic sense of, of lack of self worth, so much so that our own feelings are considered unimportant. The trigger for this is often guilt or shame. Some of the things that spring to mind are that love was always conditional, based on performance and success, or dependent on giving to others (the others are always the ones on whom they are dependent on for recognition in some way). Yet there is a longing to be loved unconditionally for who we are. Please see full article here.

I use Lying to cover up
When children are told never to talk about abuse or don’t want people to know really what’s going on at home, they become rather slick about lying. The becomes a practiced event and eventually results in lying about what’s happening on the inside of them. As we grow older as adults this becomes a pattern in our lives and eventually  we become compulsive liars. This is but a representation of the biggest lie of all and that was about the sexual abuse. If you don’t talk about how you feel and you are not acknowledged, then you start lying to yourself. This then becomes the biggest lie of all. The rest is just habit.  

I use Stealing
When we go out and steal we often go out for the thrill that a stealing would actually give us. It enables the survivor, for a moment, to completely forget how you’re feeling on the inside. When things in your life are really so bad and you’re feeling the pain and you can get, let’s call it a cheap thrill, stealing becomes a way of life to survive. It’s a distraction or form of excitement for you. Stealing is also a way of defying authority. It is an attempt to take back what was stolen from you. In a way it is to even the score in some way. What’s really lying down deep inside is that it’s a desperate cry for help.

I use Gambling
The real reason that there are so many gamblers about is that the deep inner desire of all the gamblers is to create a situation that life can now suddenly magically change.If we win big then all problems would be resolved. That will resolve all these feelings on the inside of us. We wont have to look at them and work through them or the pain that is so bad. If our luck will just shift in some way, that we can win big and then we’ll be able to create the life for ourselves that we were meant to have. Gambling is also a thrill, it is just like stealing, it gives you a quick sense of adrenalin flowing through you. It is like entering a different world, one that is totally consuming and in which the risks and payoff for you could be immense. The lure is almost unmanageable.

I am a Workaholic
This is just another form of gambling, stealing, lying etc. etc. If I throw myself into the work environment I can maybe develop a sense off myself ,  that I can achieve, that I can get somewhere. Through this achievement I can make up for all the badness, not good enough, the dirt that I feel deep inside of myself. Excelling at work is something that I can control and is also something that supports me. It is something that rewards me and in a way I am looking at this and saying, ‘well now I am filling  up the deep hollow feeling on the inside of my life’.

To Generate Safety at any Price I try These

There are two ways that survivors try and create safety around themselves after being sexually abused.
  • The one is that they try to overcome every obstacle in their life in some way. They subconsciously look for obstacles to overcome in life. This keeps them busy and safe. They cant be exposed.
  • The other is that they choose security.
  • This form of security can take all sorts of mannerisms and often the underlying theme is, not to expose ourselves in some way where we could invite abuse, violence of some sort. These are often the obedient daughters, the good wife, the honour student, the selfless girlfriend or the selfless mother, or where we give out to others on a continuous basis. We often take very few risks in our life. If we perform well, we get the recognition.  All of these behaviours come at a cost to our selves. We don’t learn to shine for ourselves, we don’t learn to be ourselves, we are always trying to be the right one that does the right things so that we will not be singled out. What often happens in scenarios like this is that we sacrifice opportunities to learn how to establish healthy protection mechanisms for our selves. We choose to opt for security which can provide the grounding and stability for us but ultimately results in us giving up our ambitions, our desires, our dreams, our will to express ourselves. One of the paths that we choose is a subconscious desire to seek a partner that would provide a really safe family unit for us, so that we can immerse ourselves into being a safe family unit.

I try using this trick - Avoiding intimacy
This is also a favourite survivor trick. If I avoid intimacy then that means I don’t have to let anybody close to me. If no one is close to me then I can get hurt (both emotionally and physically). It’s a form of isolation (ice-o-lation). Lets not make intimate contact, this way no one can really hurt me. Survivors often go to great lengths to limit intimacy. Often survivors will go for relationships where there is a great physical distance between them. Let’s say it is two hours drive or a plane ride away or far enough away from where they are. This is to make sure that it would take some time for them to come to see me. When I know that they are coming, I have enough time to prepare myself for possible intimacy.

Some survivors try to avoid intimacy in less seemingly obvious ways. They would appear to be open and friendly on the surface but really hide the real feelings of terror on the inside. Avoiding intimacy keeps one safe. A by product of this behaviour is often that it leads to us developing our own independence and autonomy.  On the one hand it’s rather a good thing, on the other hand however, by avoiding intimacy, we miss out on the rewards that a healthy relationship can actually bring us. This is often sensed by the survivor but they usually don’t know how to overcome it.

I do this - Religion
Safety can often be found in religious activities or belonging to a religious movement. We can attach ourselves to the belief system of that movement. We can lose ourselves in that movement. I can give my control over to that movement – they must tell me how to live. I give control of my life to somebody else out there. Often the the lure for divine forgiveness can be a really, really powerful draw card for the survivor – for they often feel that they have done something bad and need forgiveness. It helps the survivor who still feels that the sexual abuse was their fault.

I try this - Promiscuity, excessive sexual thoughts as a way out

Depending on what happened at the time of the sexual abuse can result in promiscuity or excessive sexual thoughts. If the dynamics of where this sexual abuse took place was the only way for you to get love, attention, recognition, closeness, close physical contact, it may affect you in that you may think that this is the only way of gaining physical closeness. I have to be sexual. So you think about it a lot and subconsciously try to meet non sexual needs (love tenderness, closeness, attention, recognition etc) through sex. It is a sub conscious driving force. Many survivors find this way just do daunting and avoid sex completely for themselves as discussed above.

I try this - Numbing the body as a way to protect myself
In some survivors they numb their bodies so that they no longer respond in the sexual act. This makes then less vulnerable to what sex could potentially bring. The history of this is that during the sexual abuse it felt really good but it was with the wrong person and it brought up all sorts of confusion within themselves as to what sex is really about. The internal dialogue often goes like this, ‘sex will never feel good and I wont allow it to feel good, because it felt good when it should not have felt good, and therefore it  must be bad. I will not allow myself to feel ever again. I wont pay any attention to sex again, it is bad, and I don’t care about it and it does not make me feel anything anyway’

If the other person is happy then I have done my duty and when it is done, it is done. In fact, can they do it quickly and get it over with, so that I can get out from the uncomfortable situation that I am in, so that I don’t have to do it again. Please God.

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