Adults who were sexually abused as children often have difficulty in finding and maintaining loving intimate relationships. Their personal boundaries were violated, and as adults they often don’t know how to set appropriate boundaries with others, which contributes to the difficulties they have in their relationships. For example, a woman who was sexually abused might not be able to confront a critical spouse. She’ll swallow her hurt and anger and internalize all her feelings. A man who was sexually abused might not be able to be vulnerable with a sexual partner, and turn to porn instead. They may suffer from a variety of compounding problems, ranging from sexual dysfunction and depression, to eating disorders and drug/alcohol addiction. In therapy, it is important to address these issues as part of helping the client learn to manage what is happening to them in the present. This sometimes requires the support of 12-step programs, which can serve as an important adjunct to the healing work of Integrated Feeling Therapy.
IFT recognizes that it is crucial for clients who were the victims of sexual abuse to feel and relive that abuse in a safe and supportive environment. In this context, reliving trauma provides emotional and physical relief, leading to an understanding of how past traumas negatively impact our present lives. These insights help us to begin to make positive healthy choices in our lives. All rooms at the Integrated Feeling Therapy Center are designed to allow our clients the full expression of their rage and hurt. The IFT therapist is skilled in helping clients who were victims of sexual abuse transform their pain and regain their ability to enjoy sex and ultimately to love and be loved.
There are two types of sexual abuse, overt and covert. Overt abuse occurs when a parent, grandparent, older sibling, religious figure – in other words, someone who holds a position of authority and trust, has sex with the child. This includes vaginal intercourse, anal sex, oral sex, and masturbation. Covert abuse occurs when the perpetrator does not actually have sex with the child, but the “feeling” of the relationship is inappropriate and boundary invasive to the child. Examples of this might be the way a parent talks in a sexualized way toward their child, or inappropriately touches and caresses them. Victims of sexual abuse often experience a lot of shame in sharing the details of their traumas. This is understandable, and we treat this with great empathy and compassion. In future blogs, I will explore the issue of shame, and how we work with it.