Were You Affected by Incest? I Was…

If you’re 3 out of 4 females following or reading this  blog, then I’m happy that incest did not touch you.  The stats for males are less clear, perhaps because they fear it reflects on their manhood.

If you were exposed to incest, you may be like me–discounting the effect it had on you.  Men who commit incest, even those who were molested by a family member themselves, deny to themselves that it caused any psychological damage to them…or to their later victims, if there are any.  I always assumed that “this” is the real me; not the dregs left after the incest. I used  to treat incest offenders in prison and recall one  of the men denying that incest was harmful: “It happened too me and I turned out all right,”  (he said from his prison cell).

When I retired I decided  to write a  book about  incest, in an attempt  to illustrate from the research literature, and my own experience, the damage it causes.  I targeted it a little too much toward the offenders, I guess, because it hasn’t sold.

I was impressed that whether someone is judged to be damaged or not reflects the kind of measuring device used.  Some offenders said, “she wasn’t hurt. She got married, didn’t she?” or, “she went to college.”  I’d like to share with you some of the effects highlighted by David Finkelhor, all of which I eventually owned in myself:

Powerlessness.  The experience contributes to the survivor following a “victim” role later in life. Being trapped in the situation is part of this. How many teenaged suicides are due to being trapped and seeing no way out?

Betrayal.  The experience of being betrayed by someone you trust can’t help but leave the survivor less trusting in later intimate relations–or unable to engage in them. Or carrying a chip on your shoulder?

Damaged Goods.  It seems everything conspires to make the survivor feel dirty and damaged, especially carrying the burden of keeping the secret.

Sexualized.  Being introduced to sex in a deviant, underhanded, secretive manner developmentally limits the child. Developmental stages are a natural unfolding of growing and maturing and when a stage is blocked, there is a loss.

Another effect which Finkelhor does not specify is the defense mechanism of introjection, in which powerful aggressive figures are incorporated into their victim’s psyche, resulting in self hate and a tremendous  ambivalence in feeling toward the perpetrator. This is referred to  as the “Trauma Bond,” and often results in the victim seeking  out other abusers.

Another eye-opener from the research for my book was evidence that the victims who were first “incested” before the age of nine tend to be more depressed, while those first incested after nine tend to carry more anger.

The grief experienced during healing almost always focusses on the loss of “what might have been.”

The preceding is just a nutshell of info discussed in the book “FALLOUT: A Survivor Talks to Incest Ofenders,” available from Amazon.  Sorry I’m light in references here, but they are available either in the book or by e-mailing me: nmykel@gmail.com.

Strides toward therapeutic relief for survivors have been made in recent years, and are discussed at length in the section on “Getting to Okay.”  And, there is always strength in mutual support.  I have come across several survivors working on their healing via their blogs. I will try and add to these resources.

About Nan Mykel

I used to think I would be a child prodigy, but then I got old. Formerly I had fantasies of rubbing elbows with cultural and academic leaders but that did not come to pass because I did not become a cultural or academic leader or any other kind of leader, for that matter. I am not even an "Alpha Dog," a term learned from a friend who had to become "Alpha Dog" in order to influence her own pet. (When gazes lock, she never looks away.) For years I expected to become a published author, but in passing I could not avoid the fact that I had little to contribute to the world's bulging dumpsters. I'm embarrassed to report that I also considered my primary process artistic productions powerful, rather than mildly neurotic. Which is not to say that I disrespect myself, only that I am beginning to doubt my potential for making a mark on the world. If I focus on strict self discipline I may be able to keep my garbage removed on a weekly basis, to keep the kitty box changed, the clothes cleaned, the dog watered, fed and walked, but that just catches me up to the starting mark again. When writing I physically grapple with words, wrestling them from their indifference into attempted chunks of awareness. I sit heavily on my chair; I breathe in artificially cooled air; my ear drums note the tap tap of the keyboard and the steady uninterrupted sound of the air conditioner, What is that sound? The roar of the ocean from 30 yards away...Inside, my thoughts are are balls in an electronic game machine, bouncing hither and yon from lever to lever. I am a little grim and intent until I recall a dream related by a black man in the prison where I once worked. He said that when he was a small boy, back home, he dreamed he was standing on his front porch pissing, and that he suddenly found himself pissing stars...
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9 Responses to Were You Affected by Incest? I Was…

  1. All of the points you raised resonate with me. Support and understanding from within the family and from friends are very thin on the ground. They shy away from the topic, expect one to pull oneself together, and prefer to not discuss the topic as it is so extreme. It’s difficult for so called survivors. I suppose I call myself one: I get up in the morning, do what has to be done to eat, suffer sleep deprivation (some times are better than others), paint (seldom these days), write fairly well, and the gardening is rather good for me. That most men use sex as a weapon to betray, intimidate, scare and hurt girls and women is going to take a long time to eradicate. Not until organised religion, written and practised by the patriarchy, is changed, will there be relief for girls, boys and women. The stigma, the shame, the humiliation, is devastating. I’m at a low point so it is hard for me at present.

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  2. This resonated deeply with me. I find the “trauma bond” concept fascinating and I want to learn more about it for myself. I will be checking out the book. Thank you.

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  3. lexiconlover says:

    Thank you for sharing this! I’ve read a lot of Patrick Carnes work on Trauma Bonds. I believe he may have first coined the term? I was “incested” at age 8 by my brother, I made my first suicide attempt at age 18. I believe I was depressed for many years prior. I have an eating disorder, a history self-injury, and carry a tremendous amount of toxic shame. So glad to have found your blog!

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    • Nan Mykel says:

      Thanks for your response. Welcome to my blog, but I don’t talk too much about incest on the front page. There’s more on My Books and …Incest..and my book, which in all modesty I think is great, but few want to read about it, even (especially?) survivors of incest. But some researchers have found that the better survivors can understand and “make sense” out of it, the better off they are. Otherwise, it’s kinda like having an everpresent shadow always lurking over you. If you’re broke I can send you a Pdf copy as soon as my helper comes. I don’t entirely understand how to work sending pdfs.
      For my part, it’s been easy to live a depressed life without ever knowing it. I’m fairly avoidant, still, and afraid to confront. But I have great plans for the next lifetime!

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      • lexiconlover says:

        Thank you, my therapist recommended a book for me to read called,”The body keeps the score” . I would be absolutely interested in reading your PDF.

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      • Nan Mykel says:

        I guess I need your e-mail address. I forgot to recommend Survivors of Incest Anonymous (I think that’s the correct name) which was enormously helpful years ago, until the leaders moved away. A wonderful modified 12-step program. I need to wait til my helper comes again.

        Liked by 1 person

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