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: email@example.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.