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Betrayal of Innocence: Incest and Its Devastation; Revised Edition Paperback – September 1, 1988
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About the Author
Susan Forward, PhD, is an internationally renowned therapist, lecturer, and author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers Toxic Parents and Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them, as well as Betrayal of Innocence: Incest and Its Devastation, Money Demons, Emotional Blackmail, When Your Lover Is a Liar, and Toxic In-Laws. In addition to her private practice, for five years she hosted a daily ABC talk-radio program. She has also served widely as a group therapist, instructor, and consultant in many Southern California medical and psychiatric facilities, and she formed the first private sexual abuse treatment center in California. She lives in Los Angeles and has two grown children.
Craig Buck, a film and television writer and producer, has written extensively on human behavior for many national magazines and newspapers. He is the coauthor, with Susan Forward, of Toxic Parents, Betrayal of Innocence, and Money Demons. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.
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It explains how and why incest occurs. It describes how the child perceives the event, the personality of an abuser, and the dynamics of abuse and the incestuous family. It talks about the aftereffects, diagnosis (PTSD) and treatment. We often have traumatic reenactment as we become sexual in outside relationships. We are either disconnected sexually from our bodies or we act out sexually with multiple, often random partners.
Being sexual or doing things for others was the only way I felt I was of any value to anyone else. Why else would they love me if I didn't service them? How else was I of any intrinsic value? I felt power, love and acceptance when I sexually pleased a man. This became my goal in relationships and was how I attracted men. I have confused love, guilt and sex and seen myself as a sexual object.
We must have the understanding of the child's reality, understand that it confounds and contradicts adult logic. Incest abuse is a process with five stages. The child usually learns to accept and accommodate and basic trust is violated. This causes fundamental trust issues for the victim for the rest of his/her life. The family is often enmeshed with lack of appropriate boundaries and role reversals where the child often becomes the significant other to the abuser.
To understand why children blame themselves look only at the child's perception of reality and their defense systems. To a young child, adults, especially parents, are the embodiment of all wisdom and goodness. The child must believe the parent is good because the child is totally helpless and dependent upon the parent. To believe, even for a moment, that a trusted adult is bad would be terrifying and overwhelming. THEREFORE, IF SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS, THE CHILD AUTOMATICALLY BELIEVES IT IS BECAUSE HE/SHE IS BAD!!! Any other belief causes too much anxiety. Self blame is a powerful defense mechanism for the child. Without it the child would feel unbearable feelings of panic and terror.
The problem is that while this defense is an important survival tool for the young child, victims often take it along with them into their adult lives. They forget they are no longer defenseless and helpless and continue to feel and believe exactly as they did as children. "IF I FEEL BAD, I AM BAD." This is what I am still working on today. I have felt the three D's of incest: Dirty, Damaged and Different. I have felt everyone else is more deserving than I am. I have tried continued self punishment to try to cleanse away the sins I never committed.
HOWEVER, INCEST IS NOT ABOUT SEX!!! IT IS ABOUT PURSUING POWER OR VALIDATION. There seem to be two powerful forces at work inside the large majority of incest aggressors. The first is an almost insatiable need for unconditional love and adoration. There is something terribly engaging about the way that a child can love. No adult relationship is free from conflict or criticism, but children love totally without judgment. This can be a powerful aphrodisiac for a man who, no matter how powerful or competent he may appear to the outside world, carries within him deep feelings of inadequacy. Another type of aggressor defends against his own feelings of inadequacy by gaining power and control over a helpless, dependent child.
It helped me to put the blame and responsibility back on my abuser instead of myself. It explained to me why my family has reacted with denial and a desire for suppression. The role and power of the abuser and family loyalty determine how the family will react. Some members have contracts of silence with the abuser. Many family members will look to suppress it or minimize it. The mother is most often a codependent enabler. Denial is what makes incest abuse a generational problem.
It has allowed me to understand why I feel bad when I have bad feelings. It has explained to me why I have made bad life decisions and shown self destructive behaviors. I felt it was my fault. I continue to want to act out so that I can feel justified in my guilt and be in my comfort zone of shame and blame once again.
I attempted to be good, both to deal with my guilt and to earn the love and acceptance I so desperately craved. I received special attention from my father and that is what kept me quiet and guilt ridden. I became my father's lover as my mother was distant and disconnected from him.
My bed and home were never safe. I had and still have constant nightmares, night terrors as I call them. I often "played possum", dissociated and pretended nothing was going on. I had a hard time often determining if something really happened or it was a dream. I felt powerless. I tried to gain control in other ways through addictions, such as my eating disorder. I developed OCD and an anxiety disorder. I was constantly afraid and felt like I was dodging bullets.
I idolized my father and always painted him as the "romanticized" version of the father that I always wanted. He had to be a loving man so I must be the bad one that was getting what I deserved. This caused self loathing. I hated my body and myself. I tried to kill both multiple times.
Secrecy is what communicates that something is wrong and it is dangerous to tell so no abuse and coercion rarely are needed for incest abuse to occur. Had the other family members been safe to tell then the dynamics of the incestuous family would not have been present, and the abuse would not have occurred.
We must stop denial and dissociation. We need truth and reality to heal. We need to get away from our family systems, intervention from the outside, to disclose and heal without desiring to suppress our abuse once again. Acceptance and validation are key for healing. If the victim is blamed, shamed or disbelieved then the effects of the abuse are compounded instead of changed.
Let us heal and shift the blame and responsibility from the victim to the appropriate place, the abuser. Let us recover and move from victims to survivors. LET US GO FROM VICTIMS TO VICTORIOUS!!!
Readers would also like "Jenna's Flaw," a novel about incest and demonic possession in the Middle West.
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Reading it marks the moment I started my own long journey to self-empowered healing.Read more