Category Archives: Opinion

Can You Forgive Those Who Won’t Admit They Abused You?

Sacrilige of the Goddess wrote an insightful piece commenting on one rapist’s story and the forgiveness she feels for him. She writes that she feels this forgiveness because this man is able to see his wrongs and change his life, but that she feels unable to forgive her own abusers, who never even admitted they abused her.

I can understand this. Even though forgiveness is something you do for yourself, it is a lot easier to forgive those who admit their wrongdoing than those who deny it. After all, you develop a sense of sympathy for them, which is a lot harder to develop for someone who not only did something evil, but refuses to have any remorse.

It is also the case that forgiving requires accepting that the wrongdoing happened, and this is hard for survivors and even harder when the people around them won’t acknowledge their hurting. These may include abusers, but also friends and family who are otherwise non-abusive. If you are not being acknowledged, the step to accepting that someone wronged you and that there is no changing the fact, is extremely hard, and even harder is it to get past your anger towards those who abused you.

However, it is possible maybe not always to forgive people their wrongdoing if they don’t admit it in the first place, but to let go of your feelings of resentmetn about it. This does not mean you feel any sense of sympathy for the abuser, but indeed, that you have better things to do than to hold onto a grudge towards them. Maybe it also means acepting that they will likely never admit their wrongdoing, and it is up to you, as a survivor, to decide what you are going to do with the fact that the abuse happened anyway. This is hard work, and not all survivors will get there, but it is possible for many.


Bullying in the U.S. Military

By chance, I stumbled upon last month’s New York Magazine article on the life and tragic death of Army Pvt. Danny Chen, who died of suicide in October of 2011. Chen was severely bullied and hazed by his superiors in Afghanistan. Among other things, he was made to run while carrying a sandbag, made to do push-ups with a mouthful of water, and was called racial slurs to his face. Bullying in general, and in the military in particular, is a major issue that needs urgent addressing. You might think that soldiers should develop strength of body and spirit and hence endure bullying – and indeed, some harsh treatment is part of basic training -, but I strongly disagree. It is this attitude that reinforces the widespread abuse of military personnel, especially those belonging to minorities. While the Army should reinforce toughness, it should also be based on equality and fairness. This seems to be far from the case, given that Chen’s death is not an isolated incident. According to ABC News, Mr. Chen was the second Asian American to die of apparent suicide in Afghanistan in 2011. Probably, more people killed themselves thanks to the culture of discrimination and taunting in the U.S. military. I don’t know whether the investigation called for by Sen. Gillibrand (which the ABC News article is about) has been initiated yet, but if it hasn’t, it needs to soon.

Stop Female Genital Mutilation Now

Today, February 6, has been declared international day for zero tolerance on female genital mutilation. In Europe, 500,000 girls and women live with the lifelong consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM). Worldwide, three million girls each year are subjected to FGM, and a total of 100 to 140 million girls and women live with its consequences. FGM may be culturally sanctioned in some societies, but it is a violation of dignity, bodily integrity and human rights as well as a health hazard. Besides, the continued tolerance for FGM is part of a wider range of oppression of and violence against women and girls in western as well as eastern societies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” There are four types:

  • Type I: removal of part or all of the clitoris.

  • Type II: removal of the clitoris and inner labia.

  • Type III: removal of all or part of the inner and outer labia and clitoris, fusing the wound, leaving only a small hole for urine and menstrual blood to pass.

  • Type IV: all other, usually less severe, procedures to mutilate the genitalia, such as pricking or piercing.

As many as ten percent of girls who are subjected to FGM, are subjected to type III.

Health complicatiosn of FGM include chronic pain, urinary and vaginal inections, obstetric problems, and complications from non-sterile performance of the procedure, as well as psychological problems. It should for this reason and others be clear that FGM should stop. It is an abuse of women that is unacceptable. Please get involved and spread the word about no tolerance for FGM.

Pleasure and Orgasm After Sexual Abuse

Brittany P. from Butterfly Closures wrote an interesting article on the effects of child abuse on adult sexuality. She writes, among other things, about the inability to have an orgasm even when a sexual encounter is pleasant. I do not know how commonly this occurs, and Brittany wonders whether she’s alone in it, but I can understand its dynamics. Many sexual abuse victims orgasm when they are being raped, and often feel that their sexual pleasure is stolen from them by their perpetrators that way. Contrary to common belief, orgasming does not mean you wanted it. Even though it is influenced by one’s mind’s perception of pleasure, this is not a voluntary mechanism: sexual sitmulation is pleasant to some subconscious brains, even if consciously you don’t find it pleasant at all.

Brittany also writes about the effects of the inability to orgasm on a potential relationship. To this, I replied that a sensitive partner will understand the lack of orgasm doesn’t mean you didn’t like it. After all, you may not want sex and still orgasm, but the reverse is also true.

I want to address one more issue in this post: the fear of orgasm. I have this because of sensory issues that have probably little to do with abuse, but it is understandable that survivors of sexual abuse will have the same feeling, especially if they orgasmed during abuse. The connection between pleasure and orgasm is lost, in a way, and it is hard to gain this back. Orgasming can be triggering, too, because it reminds you of the abuse. This is also hard to overcome: when you don’t want sex because of the trigger, it would be unwise to give in anyway. That way, you run the risk of being retraumatized, after all. I don’t know of any solutions to this at this point.

Traumatic Memories: Validate Your Feelings

Patricia Singleton of Spritiual Journey of a Lightworker has a very validating brief post on memories, self-doubt and disbelief among survivors of abuse. In this post, she highlights that memories will come to your conscious when you are ready to deal with them, and that the self-doubt many survivors have does not indicate that the memories are not real, but that the survivor is not ready to face their feelings.

Joke Lijnse, a Dutch psychologist specializing in dissociative disorders, writes that traumatic memories, unlike other memories, remain intact until they are recovered. Regular memories are distorted by our reconstructive capacity when recalling them, but traumatic memories, she says, come to your conscious unchanged. This does not mean they come to mind in full at once: many people experience flashbacks and memories that only have a certain component of the actual event to them, such as a smell, the perpetrator’s appearance, or an emotion experienced during the abuse. Now I am not certain what Lijnse’s opinion is based on, and have not looked for research that validates it, so I am not sure she is right.

However, in essence, it is not important whether your memories are 100% true, unless you are going to pursue legal action based on them. The things that are important, are the emotions you experience as you recover and process a traumatic memory and the way you cope with these feelings. Therefore, constant self-doubt and invalidation are not going to be productive. Rather, we need to be validated in our experiences and validate our own feelings. Memories may or may not be distorted, but you have to deal with them as they come to you in the present, not as you experienced them in the past.

Against a Hierarchy of Trauma-Based Disorders

An earlier version of this entry was posted at my two personal blogs in April of 2011.

There was a discussion on a DID forum I participate on, in which someone asserted that there is a hierarchy of trauma-based disorders from PTSD via complex PTSD and other dissociative disorders to dissociative identity disorder. I have read similar things before, such as in the dissociative spectrum, where depersonalization is on one end and DID is on the other, with dissociative amnesia and dissociative disorder not otherwise specified being inbetween.

I strongly disagree with this hierarchy of disorders. After all, both depersonalization disorder and PTSD – the “mildest” forms according to either spectrum – can be very severe and disabling. It is true that depersonalization and other dissociative phenomena often accompany DID, so in that respect the dissociative spectrum makes some sense. However, it is not always true that DID encompasses all other dissociative phenomena.

Secondly, there is a lot of overlap between dissociative disorders and (complex) PTSD. There is also a lot of comorbidity. This makes it harder to presume a hierarchy between PTSD and DID: most people with complex PTSD, also have some dissociative features or disorder, and most people with DID or DDNOS also have a form of PTSD.

Lastly, it is simply invalidating to presume a hierarchy of trauma-based disorders. No trauma is “mild”, and its consequences should never be trivialized. Presuming a continuum of trauma or its consequences, is therefore offensive to people presumed to be “mildly” affected.