By Sallie Culbreth, M.S.
Once your body has been violated, the way you think about it can drastically change. You may loathe it for being weak or vulnerable. You may never forgive it for responding the way it did. You may punish it or negotiate with it or ignore it, but please note that all of this begins from the neck up – in your brain, in your thoughts.
The age that you were when you were initially violated becomes a significant factor in how your brain formed ideas about your body. If you were a child, the experiences of abuse may have caused you to associate exploitive sex with your developing sexuality, and that has distorted how you think about and experience sex now. Perhaps you struggle to experience pleasure because you associate shame and secrets with sexual expression. Perhaps you are only aroused when you feel degraded or used because those were your sexual gateway experiences as a child.
If you were a young person or adult when you experienced sexual assault, harassment, or manipulation, you may believe that something about your body invited those experiences – such as your gender, your looks, your limitations, or your disabilities (these assumptions are also common among child abuse survivors). These views overshadow how you care for your body and impact how you eat, dress, exercise, work, and live.
Even without these exploitive experiences, the mixed cultural messages about your body and sexuality can be confusing. If your ideas about sex were formed by how the entertainment industry portrays it, you’ll be profoundly confused and disappointed. If your ideas were formed by the often negative messages that many religions focus on, you’ll be conflicted. When you compound that with the experiences of abuse, you can become filled with self-loathing, shame, and false beliefs about your body.
Here are a few facts to consider:
- People are designed to experience pleasure when sexually stimulated. Even when that stimulation occurs in the context of abuse, pleasure is often felt. Pleasure is not synonymous with consent. You were abused because someone misused their power for their own gratification.
- Gender or gender identity has nothing to do with why you were abused. You were abused because someone misused their power.
- Your looks, your body, your abilities, and your limitations are not why you were abused. You were abused because someone misused their power.
Abuse can have a profound impact on your relationship with your own body, but that relationship happens from the neck up. A vital part of recovery involves careful examination of your core beliefs – particularly when it comes to your body. Do you blame your body? If so, why? Are those reasons a distortion of the truth? What is the truth? How can you use that truth to develop a healthier relationship with your body and how you treat yourself?
Treating your body with contempt causes you to remain a victim to the manipulation and abuse of power that the perpetrator committed against you. When you begin to question why you think the way you do about your body – and how that translates into how you treat yourself – the bonds you have to the perpetrators’ actions weaken and ultimately fade away.
I’ve found that deep breathing, stretching, and silent meditation go a long way to help me realign my relationship with my body to a more balanced way of thinking. What practices can you include in your life to help you challenge wrong thinking and begin to live as a whole person – both from the neck up and the neck down?
Category: Roadside Assistance - Weekly Articles