I Have Dermatillomania (Skin Picking Disorder)

I have Dermatillomania (skin picking disorder). This is the first time I have written about this on this blog or anywhere online, ever. I’ve only recently told one of my siblings that I have this. I’ve never told a doctor.

Here is my resource page on the topic that I created recently:

Dermatillomania/Skin Picking Disorder

This is really hard to address straight on. I’m feeling a lot of anxiety and worry. Anxiety just because it is so hard to admit to this issue, there is a lot of shame there that has been hidden for decades. The worry is that I will write this post and feel worse or more ashamed or that no one will respond, and again I will be alone with this.

I’ve had it since I was a pre-schooler. It got really bad the year that I was four years old. My mother was very abusive during that time period, both physically and sexually, and I was not very effective at ameliorating her rage or abuse. Well, I was four.

I was already biting my fingernails down so I don’t think that I had much nail to damage myself with. I started scratching at my nose and the area beneath that and I cannot say if the dermatitis issues started before or after I started scratching at myself. I had dermatitis for the whole year of kindergarten and the whole year before it, my parents were forced after one year of doing nothing into taking me to a doctor and getting a prescription cream because I was going to be starting school.

It took a long time to heal, the whole year of kindergarten. Not surprisingly when I was in school the whole day I did much better. I was able to eat three meals a day, that was heaven to me. Eating, such a normal thing and yet not something I was usually allowed to do when my mother was alone with me, without an older sibling or an adult present as a witness. I knew that things would get better and better the more that I could stay away from her and the older I became the easier it was to hide from her.

I was fixated on my nose for most of my childhood after that. I picked at my face through all my teen years. After some recent years of flashbacks about my mother I remembered that she was the one who fixated me on my nose and face, through her bizarre abuses of me.

As a child I could not stop myself from picking at any scab, over and over, so it took a very long time for anything to heal. I was very much an outdoors gal, for obvious reasons, (wanting to be far away from her and only having brothers my age to play with) and had lots of sores and scabs from all my adventures outside. Sometimes I will wake up and find scratches on my arms or legs and not know how they happened, scratching an itch and not paying attention or doing it in my sleep, I guess. That can still happen.

About ten years ago I woke up with several deep scratches on my nose and around that area. I had seen a new therapist a few times and felt that I should stop seeing him, that made me decide he was wrong for me. I was deeply disturbed to see that it had been happening again while I was asleep.

At eighteen I started having issues with my feet, dry, cracked, or flaky skin and that is a trigger and again I tended to try to make it better, but sometimes that doesn’t help. I still deal with this now. My feet get so dry and cracked sometimes, it happens so easily. It used to be the bottoms of my feet, but the dryness and issues there have improved a lot in the last few years, but it still happens on the sides of my feet.

I’ve tried so many things to make it better; the disorder I mean. Still it’s like I avoid it most of the time, but there are 24 whole hours in the day and it is hard to control us all and to stop everyone from focusing on something that will not make it better and will only make it worse and yet that truth does not deter me or us one bit in believing that it will make it better by getting one little piece of skin off of our body.

I am working on that, because I realized recently that I am not the only one of us who does this behavior, hardly surprising that I’m not the only one in our multiple system who has this issue. Now that I know, I am working on it more; by learning more, doing more, and speaking up more. I learned that many people with the disorder often only fixate on one part of the body, so that makes me think my issues are worse, since I have dealt with many parts of my body. I guess I need to learn more.

When I think of that time period from three to five years old now I am flooded with so much love for me/us. I have so much admiration and devotion to that strong willful child who knew she wanted to live, and survive, and grow, and feel the fresh air on her face, to walk in the tall grass and fields, to talk to her guardian angel, to love God, to stare at the night sky out in the country, to breathe the free air, to talk to animals and love them, to know her intelligence and to love it so much and to fiercely protect it, to laugh, and to never have to see her abuser ever again. That fierce beautiful skinny little girl. I love her. I love her so much. I love her fiercely. I love us. I have so much love and compassion for what we have survived, our mother abuser. We survived her! We are a fierce warrior. We are totally fucking badass. And we will heal from her.

Any hugs or good thoughts or prayers are much appreciated. Good and healing thoughts to you all.

Body Shaming Does Not Happen in a Bubble

Abuse and body shaming negatively impacts so many of us girls and women, though boys and men as well are going through increasing body pressures and standards and bullying around their bodies, and we have to spend precious energy and healing work on healing from emotional and verbal abuse on body shaming and weight issues.

I had to work years and years in order to accept and love my body, as is. I had been taught and shamed by my sexual abuser mother to hate and loathe my body. The abuse also taught me this. I had weight issues that I struggled with for a long time, partly due to having undiagnosed and untreated low level thyroid functioning. I had gained extra weight, gained over two decades, contributed by health disabilities, a back disability, and being given a series of anti-depressants that caused more weight gain. I had body dysmorphic disorder for decades. It was exhausting to hate and loathe myself and my body.

Just think of all the other healing work I could have done on healing from my child sexual abuse and the mother daughter sexual abuse if instead I could focus on them and not have to work on them and body issues and self hatred and body hatred caused by my abusers, others, my society, and bullies.

In addition, abuse and body shaming do not happen in a bubble, they are supported by cultural norms and standards that are unrealistic and violations of autonomy and personal pursuits of integrity, body love, freedom, happiness, and respect, and they negatively impact males and females around the world.

I want to lose more weight, have lost thirty pounds and kept those off for more than four years, and it is quite an up-and-down challenge with my disability and mobility issues. I want to lose weight because it helps my back disability and my whole body; I even have less pain throughout my body when I have weighed less and that is not insignificant. But my weight issues are not based on societal or gender standards as far as I am concerned. I don’t care. But that doesn’t mean that I am not a target of those standards.

I won’t hate myself because I was taught to hate myself and I won’t hate myself because someone else believes those lies and feels good about being cruel and hateful to someone else. This type of stuff does impact women and girls and even guys, and it surely had a huge part in my mother’s body hatred and her transferring that onto my sister and I.

I want to help myself to be happier and healthier and weight and activity level are important components of that. However other people and my culture do not dictate how I do that, how I love myself, nor how I live my life.

My love for myself isn’t based on approval from my culture, other women, men, or anybody about my body, it is based on my assessment of my characteristics, my skills, my personality, my inner system’s worth, and our beliefs and actions as we move through the world. We have worked hard and long to love our disabled body and that is a hard won victory. The two men who participated in body shaming me recently had and have no impact on that. I’m sure they have done this kind of hatred towards other women. They were very comfortable doing it and seemed to enjoy it a great deal.

It hasn’t been the only incident, it even happened once last week from a seriously deranged older woman who didn’t think that I was moving fast enough to her liking when she was trying/demanding that I move out of her way at the entrance to the post office, as I was trying to lock my bike, and she insulted me and jabbed her long fingernails into my mid-back three or four times and bullied me about my body, saying insulting things about my body, in an attempt to body shame me.

There were three ways to get into the door and she had to rush up behind me and harass me. I was not blocking the front door. She was nuts, to put it in psychological terms. I seriously told her exactly what I thought of her and told her to stay away from me, and that if she touched me again I was going to call the police on her. Being disabled I move and walk slower than some, some of the time, but I was not in her way. She chose to walk up behind me and harass me.

None of that has any effect on how I live my life. But I know that it effects others and their lives and how they limit themselves and how they stay home and don’t participate in their lives as much as they would if these kind of hateful people were not out there in the world.

A friend of mine in college told me about a time that she went to a workout center, and got made fun of by two jock guys, calling her fat. She had trouble going back again. This is not rare.

It is awful that a person gets body shamed when they are being physically active. I’ve read about this happening repeatedly by fat/body acceptance bloggers. If someone really cared about people or a specific person, they would not shame them when they are being physically active, they would do it when they weren’t being active. This would just be the rational thing to do. They don’t want to helpfully motivate others, they want to engage in hate speech and bullying for their own gratification.

I was recently on my bike when two men in a car made fun of me; one yelling out the window, Lose some weight! A rational person would think and say to themselves, hey this person is being active, they are taking care of their body, but really and seriously what they do is none of my business, so I will shut up.

A rational observer would thus conclude that encouraging or even bossing around another person to be active and/or lose weight is not the goal, the goal is to attempt to body shame, judge, and be hateful, judgmental and bullying towards another person. The goal is to make someone else feel bad because the bully is feeling small and diminished and don’t want to feel their own pain.

When I was regularly going to the gym, several years ago, no one came up to me or encouraged me or even tried to smile, wave, say hi, nod, introduce themselves; not one single athletic person, male or female, out of the numerous times I went there, out of the numerous athletes there. One woman who was overweight and working out there came up to me once and introduced herself and really treated me well, giving me feedback and encouragement. What a bright shining light she was.:) I try to be that kind of light for other people.

My Mothers

I know that I’ve written about some of the healing work I have been doing for some time on the blog about My Fathers, a special group of characters from literature, film, and television. I wrote and posted about some in particular last year and still have some more that I was to post about this year.

What really shocked me last year was to discover that unconsciously there were several mothers that I had sort of adopted over many years.

Suffice it to say that I do have terror about my attachments to women and might still have them for the rest  of my life. It really got going two and a half years ago when I met my advocate person at the shelter, who I firmly and stubbornly attached to from our first meeting as my mother. Terror is the most accurate word to describe how that feels. My love and attachment for her comes from a very small self inside us. It feels very much like being a baby, and yet at the same time I try very hard to be a reasoning rational adult at the same time when interacting with her. It is hard.

I know that I have written about that before on the blog, and probably will some more as I work on this issue; attaching to real women as a mother figure after surviving mother-daughter sexual abuse.

Actually the first one was a mother that I formed an attachment to when I was still an infant, under the age of one, though at the moment of attachment I formed it with a real live human mother, but replaced that with an idealized goddess mother. I’ll write more about that on the blog in the near future. I guess I think it is a wonderful thing to have a mother goddess and really I have had one almost all of my life, so it seems absolutely normal to me It was quite a shock to discover her firmly entrenched in my heart and in the hearts of many inners, when I re-discovered her during my healing process.

I discovered this attachment some time ago, but didn’t really think that there were any other “mothers” that I could form an attachment to. But the truth was something else entirely.

These attachments, to both mothers and fathers, have helped me to heal, to attach in some way to someone that was necessary for my life to go on in the right direction when I was still very tiny, and to believe in basic human goodness when I had no outside proof, except in my own self and own heart. As much as my attachments leave me with shaking legs and a faint heart; I have to admit I am so glad that we were brave enough to form them and to have them.

I/we had formed secret attachments to secret mothers for some time, and I think it was much easier that way because I didn’t have to admit it, or feel about it, or feel any of the terror that those conscious thoughts and choices would have done. 🙂 I’ll be writing about that process more on the blog this year, it is one of my 2016 goals.

Goals:

Do more healing work and posts on characters that I have formed a father attachment with.

Do more healing work and posts on characters that I have formed a mother attachment with.

I Am Happy to Report

That I am feeling better. This is so much better than a week ago, two weeks ago, three weeks ago, four weeks ago, and even five weeks ago. I finished 10 days of the two antibiotics. Yah!

Since I was done with that I thought I might start taking the thyroid medication that I have been holding off for more than a month. It is for low performing thyroid issues. One day and I feel better in a lot of ways. I tried to get the old rotten doctor to listen to me four and five years ago. He denied that I had an issue, even though my test numbers were low, though still slightly above what was considered for a diagnosis of hypothyroidism.

I even tried a year ago with the replacement doctor at the new clinic, who refused to do anything but “watch it” and who also refused to order the test for h pylori without my knowledge until I had walked all the way back in the clinic building to the lab. She just wanted to fob me off onto the gastro specialist and kept suggesting that I start seeing another doctor in the clinic, since I guess she thought that my issues were not important enough to request an internist. Ha! Not going to happen. I need an internist.

The doctor from last year, after I left her a complaint message about not getting the test ordered by her, wrote me a letter saying that since I did not show damage from the test I had done more than 18 months ago, she did not see any need for the h pylori test, though I could come back and have it done, though of course with my health it is hard to travel back to the clinic, so I didn’t. I really regret that. But perhaps she would have still decided that I didn’t have a big enough problem for meds. She sucks, almost as much as the previous one.

Now I think that I have a great doctor, she is really helping me to heal, and really and seriously, that is all that I have wanted and asked for from a doctor, a correct diagnosis, treatment, and healing. And here is another great thing; since she is so great to me and such a great doctor, I am not triggered by the facts that she is female, older than me, and has some extra weight on her, all triggers from my mother and her sexually abusing and physically abusing me.

Still plenty of issues to contend with, but I feel better and hope that I will keep feeling better and better. Good and healing thoughts to you all.

Drunk is a Trigger

Drunk is a trigger for me. Has been probably all my life. It is almost all due to my father, the alcoholic and all his drunk alcoholic work buddies. I recently had a memory of one of them trying to sexually offend against me once when I was in elementary school, so that might be a big issue in that as well. Perhaps there is more there than I have been able to remember so far.

To me my father always seemed to be at work, asleep, or drunk all weekend, so there was few incidents of parenting and even less of kindness or expressions of love when I was a child.

He was often emotionally wounding and cruel to me. I never could figure that out as a child and I often wondered why he couldn’t manage to be kind and loving to me, except rarely. Perhaps more surprising was the fact that I knew how to be loving and kind and that I was always seeking it from others. I guess that says something about my heart and nothing about my parents’ hearts.

So my weekends were often one big drunk fest. My father would come home late on Friday, drunk, falling down, and screaming at people, sometimes just screaming at no one. It used to terrorize me. Saturday and Saturday night were often repeats of the same, except often with drunk friends over at the house, with Sunday being sport watching while drinking constantly.

I blame my father for a lot of the responsibility of protecting me. He married a sexual offender and and then he stayed drunk most of my childhood. My mother, being a child sexual offender, hardly cared about keeping me safe from other predators. If he hadn’t been an alcoholic, he might have been a better human being, though perhaps not. Perhaps he would have been even crueler and cared even less for me or about me. Perhaps his obliviousness and self-pity would have been even worse. Nothing guarantees that he would have chosen to be a better person and a better parent.

So I suppose you can all see why drunks would be a trigger for me. In my childhood the triggers often accompanied terror and feelings of abandonment, followed by bursting into tears that were uncontrollable, often I tried to do my crying alone. This would happen even when I was a teenager.

I’ve been very upset to find that living downtown the last couple of years means that a lot of drunks hang around, all times of the day or night, apparently, because I have been running into them a lot lately at all hours of the day or night. There are a lot of bars downtown and that seems to be a draw for drunks, but also a large number of drunk men seem to hang out downtown, some are obviously homeless and others homeless and alcoholics. Despite my avoiding them as much as possible, giving them dirty looks when they get too close or avoiding eye contact, they still seem to think it is okay to street harass me. They come up to me and start talking to me, asking for money, staring at me like they are eye humping me, or trying to insult me.

A few weeks ago I was downtown near the Target store at seven am Sunday morning. A white guy came up to me and tried to start talking to me, couldn’t walk straight or talk without slurring his words. This after my avoiding him and avoiding eye contact with him. He said, hello my dearie, hello my miss, hello my ma’am. I told him, fuck off. I had to say it four times and threaten to call the cops before he finally walked away.

So instead of walking away or avoiding me completely since I had more than adequately communicated my dislike and distain for him and his condition he stood there and wanted to know what it was about me and my ” past experiences” that would lead me to conduct myself in this manner. Rather than blaming himself and his drunk condition, and his conduct at 7 am on a Sunday and going up to a woman and talking to her like she is a vulnerable female who wants to be around a drunk he chooses to believe that her vulgar phrases are due to her and have nothing to do with him.

I told him, I’m not your dearie, I’m not your miss, I’m not your ma’am, fuck off! And then I still had to say fuck off two more times and threaten to call the cops until he walked away, pretending to be really concerned with what it was about my life that leads me to act this way.

My response to drunks who insist on inserting themselves into my life is anger, to be triggered, and a fuck off attitude. I hate men who have no boundaries and refuse to read body language. If a woman is refusing to engage with you from ten feet away and then from five feet away, she wants you to go away. If you smell and are dirty and drunk on the street, and can’t walk or talk straight, she does not want you in her life.

I realize that drunk and invasive men have a long tradition of getting away with a lot of shit downtown, but I am not that woman. It happened tonight a few hours ago. I was sitting downtown, having a snack, and minding my own business. A drunk guy was coming towards me, I looked in another direction while tracking him in my peripheral vision, he slowed and stared at me at ten feet away, he continued going slower at five feet, he got closer to me and started to talk, I ignored him and looked away, while listening to my headphones. He tried to get me to talk to him. I told him, I don’t want to talk to you, he stared at me and continued talking, I ignored him, and he moved away.

About twenty feet away he decided to come back to me to lecture me. I got out my pepper spray so that I had it handy in case I needed it. He continued to talk to me, gesturing that I pay attention, repeating over and over can you hear me, you need to listen to me. I refused to take off my headphones and told him to fuck off. I had to tell him several times.

I know that it wasn’t hugely about me, because I heard him a half block down yelling at another woman, probably demanding money, while she was sitting at an outdoor seating area of a restaurant/bar. She was screaming back at him loudly and repeatedly until he left her. When I finally left the area he was half way between me and the bar, staking out the sidewalk area and waiting to approach women.

I think that this is happening so much because women are not calling the police and these men are not facing any consequences. I don’t understand why more is not being done about this problem. I see them doing this to women day or night. I see women being nice and polite, I’ve done that as a self-defense technique myself for a long time in my life, but it is not something that I choose to do any longer. If I don’t feel safe I just get on my bike and ride away.

Of course there are police cars downtown all the time and usually more than a few other people around, no matter what day or night time it is. I still can’t figure out why someone wouldn’t leave when it is obvious the other person doesn’t want them to be around them, even if they are invasive, rude, and without boundaries. I know I would leave if someone told me to fuck off. I certainly wouldn’t wait around for someone to say it four times.

Tomorrow is an Annual Trigger Day

I will be gentle with myself for the next few days.

Article: Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse: A Painful Topic

Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse: A Painful Topic

By Kali Munro, M.Ed., Psychotherapist, 2000

Sexual abuse perpetrated by mothers on their daughters is an uncomfortable subject for many people. It defies everything we believe, or want to believe, about women and mothers. Most people don’t want to believe that female perpetrators of sexual abuse exist, and certainly don’t want to believe that a mother could sexually abuse her own children. While mothers sexually abuse their sons as well, in this article I focus on the impact on daughters.

Sexist Views About Women and Mothers

Most of us are raised to view women as being very different than men – to view them almost as opposites. Some people can’t even imagine women doing the same things that men do, or being anything like men. Even when cultures view women to be strong, capable, and competent most continue to view women as inherently different than men because of their child-bearing abilities. Many character traits are presumed to be true about women because of their ability to bear children – women are believed to be more caring, sensitive, nurturing, and maternal than men. The reality that there are female perpetrators of sexual abuse, particularly mothers, is a fact that many people are not willing to believe.

These sexist views of mothers, of all women, run very deep in most cultures, and is linked with another assumption – that all women (and particularly mothers) are heterosexual.

Sexual abuse is not sex. Yet because of homophobia, same-sex sexual abuse is linked in most people’s minds with lesbian or gay sex. How often do we see in the newspapers exclaiming “lesbian sex abuser” but not “heterosexual sex abuser?” It is an ingrained presumption.

And so, if women who sexually abuse girls are perceived to be lesbian but mothers cannot be lesbian, plus mothers are all loving and caring, how could a mother possibly sexually abuse her daughter? It’s impossible. Or, so, “they say”.

Heterosexism and Homophobia

This presumption is important to examine for many reasons. That the perpetrator is perceived to be lesbian fuels many people’s denial. Mothers can’t be lesbian, the thinking goes, therefore the abuse couldn’t have happened. On the other hand, some people may be more likely to believe that the abuse happened, precisely because they perceive the perpetrator to be lesbian. It confirms their belief that lesbians are child molestors. When this occurs people are far more outraged than they are with father-daughter sexual abuse because a female perpetrator of incest has violated the social expectations of women and mothers. Sadly, this reaction also points to how little we expect of fathers.

How People View Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse

People tend to feel far more conflicted and confused about mother-daughter sexual abuse – or female perpetrators generally – than they are about father-daughter sexual abuse (or male perpetrators). People respond with outright denial: “A mother wouldn’t do that sort of thing.” Others minimize the abuse: “How bad could it be? The abuser was a woman; she was probably gentle.” And still others vilify female perpetrators, viewing them as worse than male perpetrators because they are women or mothers.

Some people try to explain away the behavior of female perpetrators by pointing to the history of sexual abuse that they have undergone. Having been sexual abused is one factor that can contribute to a mother abusing her own daughter (although there are plenty of survivors who do not sexually abuse children) – and it is possibly one of the more important factors that might lead female perpetrators to sexually abuse their children because they, unlike men, aren’t socially conditioned to be sexually aggressive, or to sexualize children. However, this argument should not be used to minimize the responsibility of female perpetrators nor the devastating effects of this form of abuse.

It is not uncommon when female perpetrators are discussed, the tone is often distinctly softer and more sympathetic than when male perpetrators are discussed. This misplaced sexist sympathy for female perpetrators minimizes the effects of the abuse that a survivor went through and denies a survivor’s reality of the trauma. In addition, when survivors are aware of this attitude, and many are, it can make it even harder for them to take their own abuse, and the effects of that abuse seriously.

Survivors of Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse

Imagine how a survivor of mother-daughter sexual abuse feels, when the general population who has not undergone this trauma feels this confused and conflicted about it. Survivors tend to be very confused and conflicted about the abuse and their mothers, especially when, as usually is the case, their mothers were their primary care givers. They may have a lot invested in not acknowledging that the abuse happened. For one, it is emotionally traumatic to acknowledge abuse of any kind. Two, they may hold the same beliefs that society holds about mothers – that they are all loving and nurturing, and thirdly, it is very hard to take in that the very person who carried you through pregnancy and gave birth to you has sexually abused you.

When survivors of mother-daughter incest are able to acknowledge the abuse they experienced, they often believe that there must be something terribly wrong or bad about them. “How could my own mother sexually abuse me?” This belief that they are bad comes from the myth that mothers are intrinsically caring and loving as well as the reality that it’s hard to take in that one’s own birth mother could harm you. If all mothers are wired to take care of their children and are supposed to be loving to their children, then there must be something really bad about the child whose mother abused them. It makes sense that a child would think this way, especially in a context loaded with societal myths about mothers. It’s easier for a child to believe that the abuse is her fault than to admit that the person who was supposed to love and protect her actually harmed her. Sadly, this way of thinking is carried into adulthood by many survivors, and it hurts them a great deal.

That Which Has No Name

It is very difficult for even survivors themselves to acknowledge that they were abused by their mothers. It can be a great struggle to label their experience as abuse. Survivors may not have words to describe what happened; they may not know what to call it. They may fear that the incest was lesbian sex; something “dirty” – not to be talked about or admitted. They may be afraid of being perceived as lesbian, or afraid that the abuse makes them lesbian. Survivors who are lesbian may fear that their sexuality was caused by the abuse.

It is also difficult for survivors to acknowledge their abuse because there are very few places that survivors can hear or read about mother-daughter incest, or even about female perpetrators. Sexual abuse and incest have become almost synonymous with male sexual abuse of females and father-daughter incest. It is within this vacuum that survivors of mother-daughter incest struggle to make sense of and understand their experience.

Homophobic Beliefs: One Effect of the Abuse

Many people confuse same-sex sexual abuse with lesbian sex, thinking that the perpetrator and even the victim is lesbian, or was made lesbian by the abuse. None of this is true. Yet these myths continue to exist, and they confuse and haunt many survivors who live in fear and shame that they really are lesbian when they aren’t, or that their lesbian sexuality was caused by the abuse.

Being abused by her mother does not make a survivor a lesbian. Even if the survivor’s body physiologically responded to the sexual stimulation, this has nothing to do with sexuality. It is the body’s natural physiological response to stimulation, and has nothing to do with the survivor’s own sexual desires, or even consent. Sexual abuse effects a survivor’s comfort level with and responses to being a sexual person, but it does not cause her sexuality.

Identifying with Mother Perpetrators

Even when survivors acknowledge that they were sexually abused by their mothers, they often strongly identify with their mothers. This identification with the perpetrator can make it more difficult for survivors to separate themselves, emotionally and otherwise, from their abuser.

Many daughters look to their mothers as a mirror for their future lives. Survivors of mother-daughter sexual abuse often see their future as a woman and mother as dismal. Many adult survivors painfully worry that they will sexually abuse children, that they are unsafe around children, or that they are potential perpetrators – just like their mothers. This may lead survivors to feel that they are untrustworthy, thus many survivors are reluctant to have children of their own (although the choice to not have children can be a perfectly healthy choice on its own.)

Are They Victims or are they Abusers?

Daughters, and thus many survivors, often look to their mother’s experiences (in the home and with their fathers) as their future, and identify with their mother’s situation. If their mother is in an upsetting situation, survivors will often feel empathy for their mothers, and want to help them. This is heightened for survivors whose mothers turn to them for support.

If the perpetrator views herself as a victim of circumstances, or is a victim of her husband, the survivor often feels sorry for her and fears losing her. This dynamic makes it very hard for the daughter to see her mother as an abuser. Many of us tend to see people in extreme categories – either victim or abuser. For children, this either-or-thinking is the norm, but for survivors it often remains with them and becomes entrenched. The truth is that people can be both – victims in one context, and abusers in another.

“I Feel Like I Am My Mother”

The more a survivor identifies with her mother, the harder it is to separate her identity from her abuser – a crucial step in healing. Many survivors of mother-daughter incest report looking in the mirror and seeing their mothers, and hating themselves for it. When they see their own body naked (which they may avoid doing), many survivors see their mother’s body, and as a result feel deeply ashamed of and angry at their bodies. Some survivors respond to these feelings by not wanting to be women, or lesbian (as they may perceive their mother to be), or anything associated with women or lesbians.

The feelings of shame and self-hatred that survivors can have may lead to their feeling uncomfortable with and/or hatred toward women and lesbians; inadequate and bad about themselves; confused and ashamed about being women; uncomfortable with their sexuality; engaging in self-injurious behavior (particularly in the genital and breast area); developing an eating disorder; experiencing body shame; and having difficulties in relationships, particularly with other women.

It is crucial for survivors of mother-daughter sexual abuse to create boundaries with their mothers (physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual); to re-claim their bodies as their own, and to truly know the differences between themselves and their mothers.

Longing for a Mother’s Love

Mother-daughter sexual abuse wounds survivors’ hearts and souls. Their mothers were often their only care-givers and the only source of much-needed care. When this care is mixed with sexual abuse, the effects are devastating. This mixture of nurturance (if there was any) and sexual abuse may have been all the parenting a survivor received. Often the father was absent or simply did not take an active role in parenting. This mixture of caring and sexual abuse leaves survivors with an unpleasant, and often sickening or repulsive feeling. On the one hand, the survivor desperately needed to be loved, held, kissed, and nurtured, but when that nurturance comes with such a high price, it is devastating to the child’s psyche. Even nurturance that is offered separate from the sexual abuse becomes hard to trust or to take in freely and openly. This leaves many survivors feeling a desperate need for love, and at the same time, highly conflicted about that need, and wary of those, particularly women who offer support. The grief connected to not receiving safe love from a mother or primary caregiver is profound.

Summary of the Effects of Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse

While survivors of mother-daughter sexual abuse experience many of the same effects as other incest and sexual abuse survivors, they tend to have heightened difficulties with:

Naming Their Experience As Abuse.

This is particularly true in light of the myth that women do not sexually abuse children.

Identity.

Many survivors have difficulty knowing that they are separate from and different than their perpetrators.

Boundaries.

Many survivors have difficulty maintaining their boundaries, especially with other women. They may be overly flexible or overly rigid.

Self-Blame.

Many survivors blame themselves. This self-blame is heightened in a cultural context where mothers are mythologized as all loving and caring. It can’t be the mother’s fault, the thinking goes, so it must be theirs. They must be really bad if their own mother abused them.

Gender Identity.

Many survivors have trouble identifying as women, or do not like what they perceive women to be, because the abuser was a woman and because the abuse focused on their female body. They know they are women, but in their minds being a woman is associated with being a victim, and/or being sexualized, “less than”, weak, etc.

Gender Shame.

Many survivors feel great shame about being a woman because of their identification with the perpetrator and the abuse. They feel that they are guilty of something and that it has to do with being female.

Body Shame.

Survivors often feel great shame about their bodies, particularly their bodies’ womanliness, both because the perpetrator had a woman’s body and the abuse focused on their female body.

Homophobic Fears About One’s Actual or Perceived Sexuality.

Survivors are often very confused about the differences between sexual abuse and lesbian sexuality, and may believe the myth that abuse causes a survivor’s sexuality. This can lead to confusion about their own sexuality and how others perceive their sexuality.

Longing to Be Loved.

Survivors frequently have a profound need to be loved in the way that they were not as a child, and they may fear or be unable to accept it, particularly from other women.

Final Thoughts.

Abuse is never pleasant. However, mother-daughter sexual abuse seems to provoke particularly strong reactions in people, even those working in the area of trauma. Sometimes, when mother-daughter sexual abuse is acknowledged, people feel the need to say that it doesn’t happen as frequently as father-daughter sexual abuse, or that women aren’t as violent as men. Even if those things are true, it is not helpful information when listening to and understanding women who have been sexually abused by their mothers (or other women). If we want to create a safe environment for women to speak about their experiences, we need to talk and write about the fact that women and mothers do sexually abuse children. Only in that environment will survivors be truly free to tell their stories and heal themselves.

Copyright © KALI MUNRO. All rights reserved.

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Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse Resources