Posted by: Marie | September 19, 2009

(148) Lasting effects – Part 4 of 9

Post #148
[Book study – June 15-17, 2009]

The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
(Third Edition, 1994)
by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis

Part One: Taking Stock
Effects: Recognizing the Damage

[Table of Contents]


Green text: Quotes/Summaries from the book
Gray text: My words

This transformative work (the entire series of blog posts relating to this book) constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright law.


Writing Exercise: The Effects

Write about the ways you’re still affected by the abuse. What are you still carrying in terms of your feelings of self-worth, your work, your relationships, your sexuality? How is your life still pained, still limited?

(My answer is continued from the previous post . . . . )

Physical touch (continued)

Of course, I could never initiate such contact . . . the paralyzing terror appears whenever I consider that possibility. I can’t even ask the other person to initiate affectionate contact – I can’t allow myself to give any indication that I might be wanting that kind of touch for fear of being shamed – it has to be initiated totally by the other party if its going to happen.

But, here is something interesting . . . when our town was hit by the tornado last year, as I stood with “strangers” (were my neighbors really strangers just because I hadn’t met them before?) in front of their smashed houses, I had no problem at all with wrapping my arms around them and letting them cry on my shoulder. I didn’t give it a second thought; I just wrapped my arms around them. I wonder why that was so easy?

Anyway . . . when a man (and sometimes when a woman) approaches me with the intention of initiating this kind of touch, I experience diametrically opposing emotions:

– Desperate hope that he will go follow through on his intention and hold me tightly so I can feel safe for a few moments;

– Terror that I’m misreading his intentions, that he really intends to force me into sexual behavior or intends to cause me bodily harm.

In those moments, I feel like a skittish alley cat – I want the human contact but am too afraid to allow it. I can feel my body going through the same opposing motions I observe in the cat – Stay or run? Safety or harm? At what point is close too close? When is a fast approach too fast? Can I trust my judgment? Is it safe to show my desire for the contact?

Taiwan Expression by Martin Chen

Taiwan Expression by Martin Chen

If I allow it, how soon does the other person’s involvement switch from pleasurable to obligatory? I would just die if I found out someone continued staying in contact with me longer than they wanted just because they felt obligated to. I am always on the lookout for the little muscle twitch the other person can’t help but to make when he no longer wants to be in contact with me – when I feel it, I rush to disentangle myself from the contact.

The stress of walking through this maze of body language signals makes the experience not worth experiencing. It is fraught with dangers. It is so much easier to stay physically separated.

I haven’t been able to participate in certain activities because the bodily positions I would have to assume during the activities feel too vulnerable for me. Examples of such activities include yoga or any type of flexibility activity, weight training (unless I am standing fully upright while doing it), taking baths (as opposed to showers), massages, hypnosis or relaxation exercises, etc. (Strangely enough, I love getting my hair done, especially when she is washing out the color – it is the best feeling in the world.)

The fear is intensified if I’m interacting with an authority figure or instructor who is giving me direction. With every direction he or she gives, I have to analyze whether it is safe for me to comply. I really don’t have any guidelines to determine that, so I have to go with gut feeling. I am constantly analyzing if I am about to get pressured into doing something I really don’t want to do. Therefore, I am always hyper-attuned to the tension in my gut. This is not conducive to activities that require relaxation, or that require trust between the coach and the client.

This affects my ability to sleep when I’m sharing a bed with a partner – if I sleep with him every night (for example, if we are living together), I can sometimes fall deeply asleep, but most of the time my sleep is even more fitful than normal. If it is someone I don’t normally sleep with, I don’t sleep – I lay awake all night, terrified that I will move too much, make too much noise, take up too much of the bed . . . that I will keep him awake with all of my tossing, turning, dreaming, fighting demons in the night . . . that I won’t be as attractive and alert – or responsive – as I should be if he decides he wants sex in the middle of the night or in the morning . . . .

The fear of being caught off-balance, off-guard or unprotected makes these activities prohibitive for me, even when I can logically understand that I am not in any danger. I’m not sure where this fear originated from – I can guess, but I don’t really know.

[Continued in the next post . . . ]

Quotes 060


  1. God. This sounds like me, except I am not dating – couldn’t. I would love to have someone hold me tight and make me feel loved and safe. Has this gotten easier for you over time, or has it always been this way for you?

    • Hey, Ivory –

      Yeah, the dating thing is pretty tough. I haven’t had any noteworthy change in the “touch” department yet . . . I think I have to work on the inside stuff first and then I will see changes in the outward stuff. The inward stuff is getting better . . . I have hope!

      – Marie

  2. that I won’t be as attractive and alert – or responsive – as I should be if he decides he wants sex in the middle of the night or in the morning . . . .

    So many things about this series of exercises have broken my heart on your behalf, but this thought was particularly painful to read.

    I hope that you are able to heal far enough to find out that there really are men who are quite capable of non-sexual touch, and who don’t want sex unless you want it too, and for whom sexual intimacy is more about bonding than about sex per se.

    Incidentally, I have the same problems with any kind of physical activity that involves being watched/coached. I have also had the same issues with sleeping in the same bed with a partner, and this has required very careful negotiation in my current relationship, as my partner would very much prefer that we sleep together, but I have to honor my need for some degree of physical privacy, without which I simply can’t sleep at all. So we sleep in the same room, but not in the same bed. This has been a decent compromise, and we’re to the point now that I can sleep with her if we’re in a large enough bed to allow for some physical separation. It’s taken a long time though, and a lot of very generous patience on her part.

    • Hi, David –

      Thank you for the wishes around finding out that there are good, loving men out there. I will say that interacting with the male readers of this blog (like you) has done a lot for allowing me to believe in that possibility.

      I really like your idea of having two beds in one room . . . that seems like an intelligent solution! I’ll keep that in mind for when it is something I need to consider. I’m so glad that your partner has turned out to be such a gem! I’m happy for you!

      – Marie

  3. Hi Marie,

    Alexander Lowen (who invented a school of bodywork called Bioenergetics) said that our basic need is: to be in contact while remaining intact. I think this puts it very well.

    The difference in being able to hug others during an external disaster I found really striking.

    • Hi, Evan –

      So, does that mean physically in contact while remaining psychologically intact? I may need to check out this concept of bioenergetics . . . it sounds interesting!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      – Marie

  4. Yes, I think the idea was mostly physical contact and psychologically intact. Though also wanting to be physically close and not physically harmed too.

  5. I often see how spontaneous some people are with giving comforting type hugs and wish i could be that way. But touch is very hard for me as well. I like a lot of space around me.

    I think if I wanted to hug someone I would have to “learn” how to tell when it is appropriate to do so.

    • Hi, lostinamaze –

      I understand so well what you are talking about (“I would have to ‘learn’ how to tell when it is appropriate . . .”).

      That is how I feel — and not just hugging, but also cuddling and sexual contact . . . I wouldn’t have a clue how to arrange my body if someone invited me to snuggle up with them (or I asked to) on the couch to watch a movie.

      When I find myself attracted to someone, I can feel my “mental” body (the ethereal part of my physical being) lay back and open my legs, offering up my body like a bitch in heat. It is an involuntary reaction. I’m just glad I can hide that reaction and keep my outwardly physical body in a respectable position.

      However, if I ever wanted to initiate sexual contact, I have no idea how to do so without just “giving up the goods” and offering everything I have to offer in one bold gesture. I don’t have a clue how to be subtle. I feel like I’m starting at the beginning of the learning process — and it feels like a monumental process.

      Anyway . . . it is good to hear from you! Thanks for your comment!

      – Marie

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