Tag Archives: healing

Incest as a form of abuse can be challenging to define, as it differs from culture to culture. Perceptions of incest vary across societies, and the degree of taboo around incest—not to mention the legal ramifications—depends largely on where you are from. In some cultures (and eras), marrying your first cousin is a perfectly acceptable practice.

In this article we’ll focus on the contemporary Western attitude toward and definition of incest. According to Incest: The Nature and Origin of the Taboo, by Emile Durkheim (tr.1963), “The incest taboo is and has been one of the most common of all cultural taboos, both in current nations and many past societies.”

Incest is a type of sexual abuse that can (but does not always) include sexual intercourse, sexually inappropriate acts, or the abuse of power based on sexual activity between blood relatives. The important thing to remember is that incest is a form of sexual abuse. As a form of abuse, it is highly damaging to a child’s psyche and most often results in prolonged Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Feminist.com says that “Incest and sexual abuse of children take many forms and may include sexually suggestive language; prolonged kissing, looking, and petting; vaginal and/or anal intercourse; and oral sex. Because sexual contact is often achieved without overt physical force, there may be no obvious signs of physical harm.”

Incest is a reprehensible form of abuse not just because it is cloaked in shame and stigma, but because this type of sexual abuse in particular affects young victims by implicating and damaging their primary support system. This can be very confusing for children who have been taught to be wary of strangers, but to trust in family. Because they are in the beginning stages of developing their value systems and trust models, the betrayal of incest can be utterly confusing, if not permanently damaging, to a child’s delicate psyche.

The statistics on incest are extremely difficult to pinpoint because most cases of incest are never reported due to the intense level of shame associated with this type of sexual abuse. Aside from the misdirected shame that victims of incest often feel, there is increased pressure to keep it a secret because of fear of disrupting the family dynamic or experiencing blame or anger from other family members. However, it’s believed that the most common form of incest happens between older male relatives and younger females.

PTSD as a result of incest can result in a variety of coping mechanisms including

  • Self-injury
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Issues with disassociation
  • Promiscuity

The most important thing to remember when dealing with those who have suffered incest (especially if the victim is yourself) is that shame and guilt, while a common response, is not an appropriate one. The biggest immediate help you can offer to a victim of incest is to listen with respect and compassion… and belief. In other words, the first step is always to believe the victim.

RAINN (The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) has a protocol in terms of who a victim can feel safe reporting an incest situation to:

  • A parent
  • A teacher
  • A school counselor
  • A friend’s parent
  • Your doctor
  • Your minister (or pastor, priest, rabbi, imam, etc.)

To report suspected incest to authorities, call Child Protective Services (See this directory.)

How to report child abuse and incest: http://www.americanhumane.org/about-us/newsroom/fact-sheets/reporting-child-abuse-neglect.html

Your Inner Child

Your Inner Child

Many of us have a younger part within us, also called the “inner child”, that has not been heard, seen, or treated the way it wanted or hoped for in her/his live. As a result, whether it is an inner child, adolescent, or younger adult, feelings of being ignored, abandoned, or not loved may be retained. The memories of these unresolved feelings are carried into our adult life and often become buried in the subconscious. However, the younger part within us remains waiting to be found, to be listened to and to be nurtured, and keeps acting out in attempt to be discovered and attended to.

Anna described having a deep sense of loneliness and struggling with depression. When she searched for the answers of where these feelings originated, she discovered her 9 year old inner child. Her little girl was feeling lonely, bored, and sad, waiting in her room for her mother to arrive from work, even though she knew she was going to be yelled at. Her mother was working many hours and wrapped in her fatigue and worries, she became blind to what her daughter needed. During this time this young girl came to a few conclusions and beliefs about herself, her parents, and the world around her. One conclusion was that she had to stay busy to distract from her pain; the other decision she made was that she needed to please her mother as much as she could in hope to be loved in return. A pattern of having to please everyone and staying busy had been ingrained to the current day and she eventually forgot where these habits were coming from.

Anna decided to contact her “inner child” and began to have age appropriately conversations with her. These dialogues felt strange at first and building a connection between the inner child and the adult took time and trust, and did not go smoothly in the beginning. But after a while, they both formed a beautiful relationship in which little Anna was finally heard and was able to express herself. Although Anna’s work did not change her childhood, it changed her habits and perceptions because she recognized that her habits were coping techniques that had no functions anymore. She also realized that loneliness was an old feeling that lingered inside of her and unconsciously colored most of her experiences. As her relationship with herself improved, so did her feelings of lonesomeness, her relationships with others and the world around her changed in return.

Depending on children’s ages they do not always interpret their environment and parents’ actions correctly. When connecting to the younger part, false memories can be uncovered and give the inner child a chance to understand and make sense of something that was misunderstood in the past. For example, a pregnant mother told the story of her 4 year old daughter Sophia who believed that she no longer was needed because her sister was going to be born in a few months. In a straightforward way Sophia claimed that it wouldn’t matter if she died. The surprised mother told her that it would matter and that she is the best thing that ever happened to her. Her daughter replied “but you have Mikaela now”, to which she explained that Mikaela could never replace her and that she could love both of them. Children are not always able to make sense of their situation the way an adult can and therefore sometimes form beliefs that are not based on reality but their conceptual ability.

Many leading authors such as John Bradshaw, Erika J. Chopich and Margaret Paul, Whitfield and 12 step programs have written about the importance of building a relationship with the “inner child” and found that it can help with many issues including loneliness, fears, depression and raising confidence. The journey of discovering younger parts within us can be surprising and awkward at first but may also be very rewarding.