Accepting Your Sexual History

It is a common belief that many people who exhibit the more extreme or obsessive patterns associated with sexual addiction have been sexually abused themselves. That it is this past victimization which might have caused, or triggered the addiction. And while there is some truth to this assumption, it is not a rule. That is the purpose of this lesson: to clarify some of these misconceptions, to discuss the possible roles that previous abuse may have played in the development of your addiction, and finally, to take a look at how this knowledge can be used to assist you in recovery.

In a healthy person, sexual behavior is developed in stages. It first comes from the warmth and nurturing provided by an infant's parents. As a young child, it continues to develop through additional affection and nurturing, as well as through the observation of healthy exchanges of "love" between other humans. As the young child continues to develop through childhood, friends, teachers, clergy and other sources outside of the immediate family begin to exert a strong influence over the child's development. Also, social media becomes quite influential on the development of such "sexual values". By the time the child is a teen, with a healthy upbringing, he/she is ready to begin introducing true sexual experience into his/her life. This is a major transition, and one that may include the beginnings of the relationship between sex and guilt/shame (even when raised in a non-abusive environment--strictly religious or morally rigid parents, for example).

Now consider what happens when sexual abuse is introduced into a person's development. It's not hard to see how even a single abusive episode, in a young child's history, could break the chain of healthy development and corrupt each of the values associated with sexual development. Values such as safety, security, trust, sexual intimacy, self-respect, order, autonomy...these are some pretty important values to be developed. Imagining a life without them, is to imagine a life that would almost require an addiction to maintain sanity. Why? Because without these values to balance life's stresses...and without these values to produce the emotional stability/satisfaction that is naturally sought, only an artificial means of stability can be used to produce the feeling of balance. Drugs, food, sex, alcohol...some type of intentional behavior will need to be introduced that will allow the individual to temporarily escape from the pressure of their lives. The pressure from having to filter everything through a limited scope of values. Because when you have only a few healthy values (or none at all), everything in your life becomes that much harder. Family becomes a source of stress, rather than a source of strength. Relationships become a source of conflict, rather than a source of pleasure (unless the relationship is of an obsessive/addictive nature). Most everything you experience, you experience in the extreme, because you have no healthy values to balance your perceptions. All of the values that have yet to be properly developed continue to cause stress in the very areas of your life that should be bringing you comfort, security, stability and pleasure.

Life, for a completely healthy person, can be difficult at times. Dealing with death, job loss, cancer, raising children, finances and all of the other "normal" experiences that come with being human can take its toll on a person's emotional well-being. But, add to that "normal" stress the further consequences of having been through a traumatic childhood, and you are not only adding a significant stress event in the person's life, but you are also taking away the very values that that person needs to cope with such stress.

Three Main Categories of Abuse Survivors

When talking about the role of previous sexual abuse in a person's history, there are three main categories to examine: those who were abused, those who may have been abused, and those who were never abused. Let's briefly look at each:

Those who were abused

In general, those who have been sexually abused while growing up tend to have significant disruptions to the values associated with that behavior. Especially when this abuse was perpetrated by a close family member or adult in a position of moral influence (e.g. teacher, clergy, coach). When calculating the effects of such abuse on one's values, it is important to look at all of the following and more: who did the abusing, how long did the abuse take place, at what age did the abuse begin, how many people were involved (including more than one abuser over the course of childhood), were parents responsible/negligent for placing/leaving the child in that environment (or one parent responsible for not removing that child from a suspected abuse environment involving the other parent), were threats/coercion involved, what types of abuse occurred, did the person being abused experience pleasure/emotional satisfaction . Each of these elements will have an impact on the overall disruption that occurs across the individual's life span. What is also important to consider, and almost impossible to measure, is the impact that an individual's personality has on perceiving the abuse. This one fact alone is enough to confidently assure each of you that no one can know exactly what you are feeling, or how deeply the abuse that you have experienced in your past has affected you. In general, the younger the person was when the initial abuse occurred, the more damage that will have been done to their value system. In general, the more invasive the abuse (considering a range from subtle teasing to violent rape), the more damage that will have been done. In general, the longer the pattern of abuse (when this abuse starts in childhood), the higher the likelihood of promiscuity/prostitution. In general, the shorter the abuse in teenagers (e.g. a single forced rape, molestation), the more likelihood of the desire to avoid further sexual development. Again, these are all generalities, where the exceptions, especially when associated with other mental health issues (e.g. eating disorders) are rather frequent.

It is important, then, never to lump a single abusive pattern to a specific result. As in, because my father fingered me when I was a young girl, I grew up to be promiscuous. Or, because my uncle forced me to have anal sex with him when I was a boy, I became a child molester. There are just too many people who have been abused that DID NOT grow up to exhibit those behaviors to say that it is a cause and effect relationship.

So why then, did you?

The answer to this falls in with what we have learned already about the development of universal values. There are certain patterns that need to be followed to naturally develop healthy values in a particular area. Considering the questions listed above, it will be important for you to map out the values that your being abused effected. To get a realistic "damage assessment" from your abuse. It is amazing to discover how many people continue to believe that their social ineptness, or their inability to experience intimacy, or their inability to trust is simply a natural extension of their personality. This is incorrect as all of these things are simply skills that need to be developed. When you are sexually abused, many of these skills are never taught correctly. When the early skills aren't taught properly, the later, more complex skills that require those earlier skills are also missed. Consider sitting through a Trigonometry class before you have learned Algebra. It would be extremely difficult to succeed in such a situation. Well, in cases where the abuse occurred very early in a person's life (infancy through five years), this is the equivalent of taking a Trigonometry class without having learned addition and subtraction. Logically, it is impossible. Yet, to the person struggling through that trig class; the person feeling like they are a failure; feeling like they are stupid; feeling that they are different from the rest of the class (or world) who seems to be picking up the concepts without too much of a problem: these individuals are unable to make the connection between their earlier abuse and their current lack of skill development. They tend to believe that the abuse may be responsible for their emotional development, but that they are responsible for their skill development. Or lack thereof. The truth is, that it is one in the same. The abuse is directly related to your current life skill development. Just as it is your current emotional state.

But, what is also the truth is that YOU are responsible for where you go from here. You are responsible for your future emotional state...your future skill development. It is called recovery. And it is why recovery is not a focus on behaviors, but on rebuilding the underlying patterns that lead to these behaviors. For you, there are no more excuses, as the road to health is clear...it is now your responsibility to go back and learn life's addition and subtraction, then to continue building on that foundation. The only other option is to continue focusing on how unfair it was that you were abused in the way that you were...and that you are not responsible for your life because of this abuse. Please understand, this is a very real option for you. And a legitimate one. Nobody will blame you should you decide to live out the rest of your life in pain and misery as a result of your past abuse. But when your life is over, how much will you have really gained? What good will it do you, when you are reflecting back on your life, to have remained a victim. To never have taken the time to learn the skills that are necessary to truly feel fulfillment. Yes, it is unfair that you were not taught these skills as a child. That you were not raised in an environment where these skills could have developed properly. But that is beyond your control now. What isn't beyond your control is where you go from here. Obviously, by your participation in this workshop, you have a strong desire to have a say in where you go from here. Begin to really embrace this. Begin to nourish yourself in your recovery. Because that is the only way to ever move past the abuse.

Those who think or wonder if they may have been abused:

In addition to the issues raised above, those who suspect or wonder if they may have been previously abused, but have no proof (or worse, those who suspect but are being told that they are wrong) have additional issues that they must deal with. Most significantly, is the issue of attempting to validate whether or not the abuse took place. The healthy answer? There is no need to validate such beliefs. Not at this time, anyway. Your only goal right now should be in rebuilding your life, and that is done through skill development, self-awareness, and by eliminating the destructive patterns that you have come to rely on. Is it important to know if you were abused? Of course, for some. But again, not now. Attempting to delve back into your past to uncover some possible reason for your behavior will serve as nothing more than a distraction. Further, discovering the truth will have no significant effect on your recovery, other than to delay it and refocus your attention on the wrong things.

If you believe that you have been abused, but others tell you that you are wrong, you only need to keep in mind that, if you don't know...they certainly won't know (unless it is the possible abuser--and then you are left at the mercy of someone with a lot to lose by admitting the truth). The only thing that people can substantiate for certain is that you were abused, never that you weren't. So, when people say that "it never happened"...there is no need to get into an argument, or try to prove that it did. Remain focused on your goals, and there will come a time when such an answer will be pursued in a safe and growth-oriented way.

If you believe that finding out the truth of whether or not you were abused will help you in your recovery, well, you may very well be right. Many people, after having discovered that they were indeed abused, found significant strength and energy in the fact that there was a "reason" for their behaviors. This allowed them to forgive themselves easier and move on with life faster. But, the healthiest recovery is one where recovery occurs without knowing the truth, and then, once the transition has been made from recovery to health...to discover what really happened (if they are still interested). Why? Because at that time, you will have taken control of your life on your own. You will have accepted responsibility for your future on your own. You will have eliminated the major effects of the abuse by rebuilding the very values that were taken away. When this happens, no matter what the truth may come to be, you will be in a much stronger and healthier position to deal with it--and the stress that comes with.

Those who do not believe that they were ever abused:

First, realize that it is impossible to completely rule out the fact that you were never sexually abused. Some sexual abuse takes place in infancy, with a baby being used as a masturbatory tool. It is impossible to know. With that said, there is also no reason to suspect that you were. Addictions occur for many reasons. Sexual addictions occur for many of the same reasons as other addictions, it just so happens that the behavior is related to sexual stimulation, rather than food or drugs. For you, the question of "Why sexual addiction?" is one that is most likely filled with shame, as there has been no clear trigger for your sexually acting out, and so it becomes easy to believe that the behavior is simply a part of you. A part of your identity. That you are somehow defective. Rest assured that you are not. In love addiction, the past abuse might not be related so much towards sexual abuse, but more along the lines of parental trauma--divorce, death, neglect, emotionally absent parent, etc.

Given what we have learned so far about the role that addiction plays in our lives, what is certain is that at some point in your life, you have suffered through some type of major trauma. Almost always, when there is no clear suspicions of abuse (sexual, physical or emotional), this trauma involves either a strictly religious upbringing and/or a dominant, controlling, emotionally unavailable parent(s). Another common element is the experience of a devastating loss, like the death of a parent, or a divorce that disrupts the development of healthy values in the child. Other personal trauma might involve a lack of nurturing, or the development of low self-esteem, shyness and/or other personality patterns that made social interaction unpleasant (and thus, the further development of important universal values difficult).

Other Relevant Sexual/Relationship History

In addition to a history of previous sexual abuse, there are other issues related to those with a history of sexual/love addiction that must be considered. Most notably, past behaviors that continue to elicit guilt and shame. In this particular case, we are referring to behaviors in which you have voluntarily participated in...and may have even victimized others in the process. What is the best way of dealing with these memories? Let's look at the options:

I. You can hold onto the memories of these behaviors and continue to hate yourself for them. You can continue to punish yourself for being weak, sick or morally corrupt. As we know, these types of thought patterns will serve to cause an emotional imbalance, and since they actually destroy the development of healthy values, the imbalance grows even greater. When it gets too great, the need to find temporary relief will return, as will a return to the addictive patterns. It may not be the same exact behavior, but the patterns will look awfully familiar. Or...

II. You can acknowledge your role in these behaviors, trace them back to their roots, realize the roles that they played in your life, learn new ways of filling those roles (in ways that promote your values and are within your boundaries and the boundaries of others), and most importantly, come to accept the things that you cannot change. Come to realize that your past is something that cannot be changed or relived. That all you can do is to move forward in a direction that you can be proud of. That, in some circumstances, it may be appropriate to "make amends" for your past behavior, but only when such action will further promote your values and those of the people you have affected.

For those who are ready to move on towards a healthy life, there really is only one option: you must accept that these behaviors have occurred, forgive yourself and vow to continue working towards a future that will never again include them as a part of your life.

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