There are two ways abuse can manifest; first is overt abuse. Overt abuse is usually aggressive behavior that is measurable, such as bruises, a raised voice, a verbal attack, or an insult. The second is overt abuse. Covert abuse is passive, often unconscious, and not seen as abusive (such as withholding love, giving a stern or threatening look, failing to protect a child, or minimizing her or her realities). One can be abused covertly and/or overtly and, no matter how the abuse is perpetrated, it always leaves victims feeling shame and pain on some level.
Clients often have normalized abusive behavior or, even worse, blame themselves for the abuse, "If I hadn't been drunk, I wouldn't have been raped." "Putting each other down is just what my family does." When I point out that these are examples of abuse, I am often met with denial, defensiveness, or confusion.
Because of these common reactions, it is important to grasp the scope of abuse and to become aware of how abuse may have affected or influenced one's life. Below is an outline of the types of abuse, with examples of specific behaviors in each category.
I. Physical Abuse (any forced or violent physical action)
- Unsolicited touching or tickling
- Pulling hair
- Cursing, swearing, screaming
- Harassing or interrogating
- Insulting, name-calling, shaming, ridiculing
- Threatening to harm; beat up; sabotage; hurt; maim or kill pets, children or family members
- Controlling others (e.g., through money or power)
- Forcing others to engage in degrading acts
- Making accusations
- Punching, throwing, destroying property
- Going through others' personal property or possessions
- Threatening to kill oneself as a form of manipulation
- Sexualizing others
- Driving recklessly
- Not letting others sleep or eat
- Making facial expressions or physical gestures that indicate judgment, rejection, ridicule (e.g., smirking, covering the ears as if unwilling to listen, walking out of the room while someone is sharing, rolling the eyes, shaking the head, moving the hands in a manner indicating that the other is wrong or inadequate)
- Not respecting "no"
- Making sexual remarks, jokes, innuendos, suggestions, insults
- Taking advantage of situations and exploiting others' intoxication or incapacitation
- Demanding or manipulating unwanted sexual acts (e.g., anal penetration, physical restriction, choking, golden showers, oral sex, sadomasochistic acts, role-playing)
- Having unprotected sex while knowingly a sexually transmittable disease
- Giving sexual criticism
- Engaging in inappropriate touching (e.g., touching in public, grabbing, piecing the breast or groin)
- Blackmailing or manipulating the vulnerable (i.e., the much younger and/or sexually inexperienced, the dibbled, the mentally or emotionally challenged)
- Taking advantage of a power differential (e.g., the case of a boss, clergy member, judge, law enforcement officer, landlord, teacher, coach)
- Medical care
- Dental care
- Attention to physical, emotional, intellectual needs
Being mature means taking responsibility for our actions and setting limits or boundaries with others. when we are able to act in a mature way, we will create the safety, respect, and sense of well-being we deserve.
That is what happened to Harold as he began to understand his abuse. He learned that he felt disempowered as a child because of the continual fear, guilt and shaming he received, particularly from his mother. As he grew up, he was unable to resolve these shameful messages, and so he continued to react as he always had... as a victim. From this stance, Harold felt vulnerable and powerless. To counter these unbearable feelings... and fostered by his feelings of anger... he moved to the role of perpetrator. "I am not good enough; I'll masturbate." "My girlfriend doesn't appreciate me; I'll have an affair." "My boss is an asshole; I'll pick up a prostitute."
The wreckage of such abuse leaves all sexually compulsive people with a sense of betrayal so severe that they lose the ability to trust. They are convinced that if they are seen or really known, they will be despised. But when I establish a bond of trust, we can have a respectful attachment... a place at which the healing can begin.
(To be continued.)