Posted by: Marie | January 31, 2010

(238) A sense of badness

Post #238
[Private journal entry written on Monday, October 12, 2009 – noon]

As I am working with children more and more in the context of piano lessons, I am becoming increasingly aware of times and situations during which I feel distinct discomfort around some of the kids. I’m trying to figure out what specifically makes me uncomfortable so I can take steps to be more comfortable.

I recognize that I am most comfortable with the older kids – maybe age 8 and older. However, the younger kids, I feel very hesitant about allowing any physical contact between us. I am more comfortable with the idea of them touching me, but I am paralyzed by the idea of me touching them. When I do touch them, I feel I’m contaminating them with a premature awareness of sexuality despite the fact my touch has no sexual overtones to it

In my research on healing from childhood sexual abuse, I have recently learned it is normal for a survivor to feel uncomfortable around kids who are about the same age as the survivor was when he or she was abused. So, that makes sense to me.

When I stop to really “feel” that discomfort, I realize it is not my touch that I fear would do the contaminating. Rather, I fear I carry a “stench” of inappropriate sexuality on my body and inside my soul. I fear that children will become infected by this same stench by simply associating with me.

I think I believe the older kids are old enough to push away my stench and not allow it to penetrate their pores. But, the little ones are so . . . well . . . little. They have no defenses yet.

When I look back at these last several sentences, I am aware that my thinking is totally illogical. I’ve not stopped to put it all into words before, to put it down on paper. I’ve only been aware of the sensation; I’ve never given it language before. Maybe writing this down is a good exercise – maybe it will allow me to better see what is realistic and what is not.

For example, even when a specific interaction with a child is clearly a healing scenario (like some of the piano lessons with Matt, my 6-year-old autistic student have been), I still feel like I might be putting the child in harm’s way. It feels uncomfortable to me to be “using” children as “tools” in my healing process.

Even if I’m able to “hide” from them the war that is waging in my mind and body as I strive to find healing in the moments we are together, I fear that the stench will rub off anyway. They may not be consciously aware of my warfare, but they may be affected negatively through their unconscious awareness – their minds may not absorb it, but their souls surely do.

If I look at this realistically, is it in the children’s best interest for me to go away and “get healed” and then come back to them as a healed person? Or, am I presently “healed enough” to not contaminate them?

In order to answer those questions, I guess I need to answer the central question: What is this stench, this badness, I carry as if it is part of who I am?


[Private journal entry written on October 12, 2009 – 5pm]

In order to continue working with kids, I have to know they are safe with me.

The sense of being “bad” and “sinful” is so deeply rooted in the foundation of who I believe I am. Is that only because I was erroneously taught that as a child? Or, is there some actual truth to that? Are kids really safe with me – really???? How do I know that for sure?

Photo by Martin Chen

When I was in therapy with Mark (therapist #1), we talked about how victims of sexual abuse sometimes become perpetrators of sexual abuse. At that point, I had just uncovered the possibility that I had been sexually abused as a child – and the fear came up for me that I could become a perpetrator.

When I expressed that fear, he asked me very directly if I had ever done, or thought about doing, anything inappropriate with a child.

I told him “yes” – I had thought about it one time – when I was 12 years old and was babysitting a two-year-old boy with spina bifida.

One day, while changing his diaper, I thought about how easy it would be to experiment on him – to have sex with him. But, as soon as I had that thought, I was horrified with myself.

At that time, I wasn’t even aware of the fact that people do abuse little kids – that possibility had not been introduced to me (and I had buried the memories of my own abuse). So, I had no concept of the legal consequences and I had no concept of the psychological impact it would have on the little boy.

However, the logical side of my brain warned me that, if I did have sex with him, neither of us would be virgins anymore – and virginity was of utmost importance in the environment in which I was raised. I would no longer be desirable wife material.

And, I knew I would be taking his virginity, even if he would never know/remember – and that felt unforgivable to me. I knew I would always know the truth about his experience, even if he didn’t.

More than that, I knew in my gut doing something like that to him would mean crossing a very dark line . . . it would mean doing something unbelievably sinful, unforgivable and life changing for both of us. I knew it would mean I would be crossing over into the territory of the devil himself.

I didn’t fully understand the consequences; I just knew in my heart it was something I could never forgive myself for doing. And, that was enough to keep me from doing it.

Despite the fact I didn’t act on my thoughts, since that time I have carried the shame of even considering that action. It was a clear piece of evidence that I was “bad” at my core – proof that I would always have to be prepared to fight against the demons living inside of me.

It was very, very difficult for me to tell Mark about it – but I felt a great sense of relief once I did tell him.

After I told him about it, Mark asked me a bunch of questions – rapid fire, very direct questions about how I felt, what I was thinking, did I ever come close to doing something like that again, do I have thoughts like that now . . . it was an interrogation of sorts. I knew he was watching my verbal and body language to gauge my truthfulness (he is a body language expert).

At the end of the questioning, he told me he believed I was not a pedophile and that children are safe with me. He said that he believed I was simply curious – which would be very normal for a 12-year-old girl with little access to information about sex.

That gave me encouragement . . . but, I still feel this stench and carry a fear that my stench will rub off on children just by me being near them. I’ve never been able to shake it.

How do I let this badness go? I logically know that sexuality is normal and good . . .

Sitting with this, I can make the connection that I don’t take care of myself (hygiene) because I feel untouchable. I believe that nobody is going to get close to me, nor do I want them close, so my hygiene really doesn’t matter.

My sense of “badness” affects me in so many ways . . . I don’t know if I will ever get it turned around.


  1. I wasn’t sexually abused in my past, but I grew up in a strong religious atmosphere (church, relatives) and can relate to that feeling of “badness”. I think there was so much attention put on what not to do, and so little attention on the good, that it left me feeling like there was mostly bad stuff in the world, and therefore mostly bad stuff in ME. For me, uncovering that core belief I had about myself and spending as much time as I can bringing it to light (in everyday small situations) and then gradually replacing that with the truth that I am not bad, is what is changing my belief system about myself. I was a piano teacher too for a few years- you know, I had similiar fears too! It was like a paranoia. I think that you being so aware of the impact you have on your students is a positive thing, and I would guess you are a great teacher because of that. I would encourage you to trust your good heart because it really sounds like one that cares and wants the best for your students.

    • Hi, Carla –

      I think religious ferver can sometimes do more harm than good when our natural sexuality is not honored.

      May I ask . . . how did you replace your earlier belief with the truth about yourself? What was the wording you used to capture your new truth?

      – Marie

      • Hi Marie~ I’m just revisiting here now, so I’m sorry this reply is a bit late. This is a good question… how I replaced my old belief system. There were a few stages. First, I found a counselor who came out of all that old religious abuse himself, so he was able to lead me out of a lot of the boxes I was living in. There were many moments when I would feel like, “Really? It’s really okay that I feel that way? Or, it’s really okay that I don’t want to do that anymore and I can quit it? It’s okay for me to make choices because I actually want to and not because I feel obligated?” It was like all these little doors to freedom. I guess, to keep this short, he helped me learn to trust my heart (I had come from so much guilt and shame, that my conscience was pretty well-tuned- so we worked more on cultivating my spontaneous side, but he nurtured the wisdom in me as well). Replacing my belief system really involves a lot of work, but I know I’m on the right track when I regain a feeling of freedom I hadn’t had before. It’s really hard to put into words! (and hence, I don’t really have certain words for my new belief about myself… it’s more like deep beliefs that are changing deep inside… deep feelings of respect for who I really am, honoring the feelings that come and go, learning to use my mind in constructive ways rather than destructive). In the beginning, it was mostly about just creating awareness of the beliefs I had about myself at that time. Then, in the process of learning what was really true about myself, it became a matter of catching myself believing or acting from what was not true, reminding myself of the truth, gradually actually believing it, and eventually starting to naturally believe it. I don’t know if this helps at all! But I hope something in here rings true. :) I go into more detail at my blog, and my friend Darlene is awesome at articulating this stuff too. Anyways, looking forward to coming back here soon!

        • Wow . . . great input here, Carla!

          It sounds like a very realistic plan for getting your belief system shifted. Thank you so much for taking the time to pass it along to us . . . I’m sure many people will find it useful (including me!)

          – Marie

  2. I turned down a couple of babysitting jobs in my early teens because I had a horrible fear that I would be tempted to molest the children I was babysitting. I remember my mother criticizing me for “not wanting to be helpful,” and I actually told her why I was refusing to do it. She was, perhaps understandably, appalled.

    In later life, I wonder whether I was molested by a babysitter or older child; there is something well-hidden in my past that I have never come close to being able to unearth. I know that children are completely safe with me, as I know they are with you. The point is — we knew it was wrong or off-kilter, and we didn’t do it.

    • Hi, David –

      I wonder why we think we will repeat the offense that was done to us, even when we know we won’t. I can logically know I won’t do harm but I worry more about unintentional harm. I know lots of good people are doing their best to do good, but still do harm to children.

      I really struggle with this.

      – Marie

      • But you have to remember that most of those “good” people who still do harm to children are uneducated about psychoemotional principles, and uneducated about what really does and doesn’t affect children in negative ways. They are well-intentioned, but they are ignorant.

        You are well-intentioned and well-informed. There’s a big, big advantage there.

        • Good point . . . and thank you for giving me credit for that!

  3. Hi Marie, I do think your fear is not logical.

    However, to give you an external reference point – let the children be your guide. If they are relaxed around you and have fun and like you, then it’s very likely that all is well.

    • Hey, Evan –

      I had never thought about letting the children be my guide — and, if I go by that reference, then I’m doing just fine! The kids really enjoy lessons with me (according to their parents).

      Thank you!!

      – Marie

  4. Oh my God! I’ve told you a smidgen of my past in a previous response and this post hit so close to home i feel like I may vomit. You have put into words what I’ve never been able to say. The difficulty being around children of the age my abuse occured (my ages were 3-17 years old. the worst ended at about 13 I believe). I have a 20 year old son and a 3 yr old son. Those disgusting intrusive thoughts make me ill. I know I would NEVER do anything to harm my kids but the fkashes that go through my head are sickening and I’m sure just flashes of my own abuse projected onto my kids. But, they still make me ill.
    Your experience while babysitting struck me as I too had a similar experience while watching a 2 1/2 year old boy when I was 12. The family had a very unusual way of parenting that I knew wasn’t safe for the child (like let him burn himself on the heater to learn not to touch it, let him drop the curling iron into the toilet to learn it would shock him, never tell him no so as not to stifle his “learning process”). I was able to use their parenting method as a way to explain to my parents/abusers why I wouldn’t/couldn’t babysit for them anymore. It got me out of an uncomfortable situation without having to suffer more abuse for not “pulling my weight” at home with the income.
    I’ve never really been able to explain to myself, much less anyone else, the odd feeling I get once in awhile when i’m around small children. ou’ve explained it perfectly with the “i’m going to contaminate them with my badness”. Thank you so much for putting into words what I’ve been unable to and showing me the why behind the intrusive thoughts. It’s one of the few things about my past I’ve not been able to address and put to rest.
    Please know that you are not a perpatrator. I can tell this simply by your ability to reflect on your life and know the damage abuse of any kind can cause.
    Thank you!

    • Hi, Chris –

      Thank you so much for sharing your story . . . it sounds like you clearly have many of the same difficulties with being around kids at certain ages . . . it seems that is pretty common for people with histories of abuse.

      I’m glad something I have written is of benefit to you . . . it makes all this worthwhile for me! And . . when you share your story, it means that someone else can know there are many of us in this world and we are not alone.

      I hope to hear from you again!

      – Marie

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