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evidence of childhood sexual abuse?

(16 Posts)
microferret Fri 07-Aug-15 13:23:15

hi all

Recently it has come to my attention that a close family member may have been sexually abused by another, much older family member as a child. I was wondering if anybody who has more knowledge of the subject than I do may be able to offer a perspective on whether this is likely, based on some of the characteristics which have risen red flags for me.

- persistent, lifelong eating disorders (compulsive eating, compulsive starving, phobias of certain foods, periods of obsessive control and absolute absence of self-control
- general terror of loss of control
- persistent nightmares, night terrors
- general anxiety disorder
- aura of extreme fragility and sadness
- dislike of being touched, especially on the backs of the knees
- apparent mistrust of some male family members, with regard to the possibility of them committing sexual misconduct against female family members

I know it's not much to go on, but I have been looking for the root of this person's depression and sometimes hysteria for some time, and recently another family member hinted that they suspect sexual abuse may have occurred, which is something I had never considered but which may explain a lot. Any viewpoints at all would be much appreciated. I can give a bit more detail if it would help but obviously it's all very sensitive and for that reason I'd like to be relatively vague.

microferret Fri 07-Aug-15 14:33:22

anybody? anyone at all?

elementofsurprise Fri 07-Aug-15 15:00:56

Why are you asking exactly? For what purpose?

She might have been sexually abused, she might not.

apparent mistrust of some male family members, with regard to the possibility of them committing sexual misconduct against female family members <- this is concerning, is there currently a potential safety issue here? Does she think someone is at risk of abuse?

Pulledapart Fri 07-Aug-15 15:19:26

Agree with element I think it's more concerning that there is a possibility someone else maybe targeted!

As for the person u mentioned it is up to her to confide in whomever she wants. She may not want anyone to know at all in which case you should respect her wishes. I understand you are asking/worrying because you care but it really isn't yours or anyone else's place to be prying.

elementofsurprise Fri 07-Aug-15 15:38:03

I hope we haven't scared you off OP, I'd genuinely like to know why you asked the question... are you looking for advice on how to help/support this person?

Another thing to bear in mind is that finding a "root cause" doesn't really solve any of the problems, and often adds a load more. Compare it to someone with a rare physical condition, who eventually gets a diagnosis - it helps inform treatment, but doesn't do anything itself.

Whatever you do don't mention it to the person in question - if they haven't told you themsleves there's a reason for that. It's a deeply personal and private matter.

If someone else is at risk of abuse now, does the person who 'hinted' at sexual abuse know anything about it or have suspicions?

microferret Fri 07-Aug-15 16:17:38

Okay, more background is probably a good idea. I guess nobody has any chance of knowing who I am in RL so I might as well explain. Sorry if I seemed obtuse, I was just hypersensitive about keeping this private.

The person in question is my mother. She has recently been diagnosed with advanced cancer, and she is - understandably - not coping well. Now I don't expect anybody with cancer to feel anything less than bloody terrified, but it is more the fact that she refuses to admit that she is suffering psychologically and therefore refusing treatment for it - eg she has finally been to see a counsellor, but insists it is unnecessary, and will probably offer little to said counsellor, making it very difficult for this woman to effectively help her.

My suspicion is that she has repressed something, which makes her afraid of being psychoanalysed, because she is frightened of these repressed memories being unearthed.

It's very hard to watch someone you love deeply suffer so horribly and feel that you cannot help. I have watched her suffer for years though, with her nightmares and insomnia and eating problems. So this to me is just a natural extension of the personality I have always known. I tried to help her years ago but she is so bloody stubborn, she denies that she has any problems at all even though it is plain as the light of day that she is just so, so sad. I always wondered where it came from, as in her baby pictures she is such a happy little creature, and she was in a family that is full of love and confidence. Only she and her elder sister seem to have had psychological disturbances (the elder sister had eating issues too, and married an emotionally abusive man, and attempted suicide once) but the youngest sister has never had any problems - probably is one of the most confident, self-assured people I have ever met, just like my grandmother and her sister, so I have come to regard these disturbances as coming from some event rather than a genetic predisposition.

Regarding someone else being targeted, that is not possible. She once made a remark to me, when i was about 13, that she would not trust my older cousin (who was like a big brother) in a bed with me. I thought that was a really odd comment to make and wondered where she had got such a level of mistrust as nothing like that had ever occurred to me. She did also once say to me that if my father ever touched me she would always believe me, again, something I thought odd, as she loves him very much and he is a wonderful, decent, gentle man. The person who I suspect may have abused her was her grandfather and he died long ago so I have no fears about anyone else being targeted, except for her elder sister, as previously mentioned.

I don't want to violate her boundaries by asking questions she is uncomfortable with. I don't know how I would even begin to broach the subject with her, I don't think I ever could. Or maybe I could, I don't know. At the very least I wanted to know if this is a feasible theory, then I can have an idea perhaps of what to do next.

Sorry if this is rambling. I had hoped to avoid spilling out this huge cascade of words in the initial post but i think I went too far the other way instead!

microferret Fri 07-Aug-15 16:36:24

I guess the long and short of it is that I want to help my mother. I want her to have the best possible chance of being happy if she does only have a short time left. I want to ease her anxiety and insomnia and sadness. And I feel that confronting the root of her psychological disturbance could be a good way to do that. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking.

Pulledapart Fri 07-Aug-15 19:20:04

I'm sorry to hear your mum is going through really tough times. The best thing you can do for her is to keep her occupied as alone time means thinking time which makes things a lot worse. I know you want to deal with whatever issue you think is causing her to be sad but that is something for her to work through with the professionals I.e the councillor. She will when she is ready. There is nothing anyone can say to change that, it has to come from her. She may already be working through it with her councillor which means she is likely to get more sad. Painful memories are not easy to deal with and there is no timescale on how long it will take for her to work through it. Can they prescribe anything to help with the sleep?

It may seem like your helpless but the best thing to do is be there as her support network. She needs to know she has you all when things get really tough.

As already has been said it is a very personal and private matter so please respect her boundaries. Sorry for waffling on and hope it helps flowers

microferret Sat 08-Aug-15 06:45:09

I don't know, she has only seen the counsellor once, she insists it is a waste of time, and she says the counsellor said she doesn't think Mum needs to talk to anyone which suggests to me that she is holding back. Would it be unethical to call the counsellor and explain about Mum's eating disorders, anxiety, nightmares, insomnia etc? Otherwise I feel that nothing will change, and my Mum will possibly never ever be happy. I wish I'd done something years ago.

Sorry for this dragging on. I just can't bear the thought of her being so miserable all her life and not doing something to fix it

Freeble Sat 08-Aug-15 11:31:45

Hi micro
Couldn't read what you have written and not respond. I'm so sorry to hear of your mums difficulties, and yours. I too am desperate to help my mum, to try and 'fix' the damage of past abuse and I think I understand the strong need to understand, to know the truth and to help.

From my knowledge it is possible to consider the symptoms/ traits you describe as indicative of someone who has experienced abuse as a child. However, I would say for what it is worth, If she has been sexually abused it is very much her past to disclose and ultimately, if she can, face. Unfortunately, if she does not disclose the extent of her difficulties to an hcp/ therapist then I am not sure it is possible for you too, as if she can't/ won't admit to this she is not ready or able to deal with these issues. I may be colouring my advice to you with my own experience of my mum, who has never been truthful about her mh difficulties except to obtain anti ds. I wanted to inform her doc of what has actually been going on, but eventually felt as she was not committing harm to another,and was not at risk of significant harm to herself, it was not ethical for me to do so. Others may hold a different view about this.

You sound like a loving, committed, thoughtful and wise daughter and I wish you all the best flowers

microferret Sun 09-Aug-15 11:48:35

thanks Freeble. I really appreciate your response and I hope that you can find a way to help your mum too. thanks

Blue2014 Sun 09-Aug-15 12:12:26

I'm sorry if this is hard but it doesn't always help people to open up the trauma of the past. Trauma therapy is incredibly hard and exhausting work and if your mum is ill she may genuinely not have the emotional strength for it. It could actually make her feel worse.

It won't help to tell the counsellor, therapy only works if I person wants to address the issue. It would be a very unethical therapist who tried to make your mum discuss these things. I know it's hard when you just want to help someone you love but you can't fix this for her, all you need to do is love her, that's all.

microferret Sun 09-Aug-15 16:51:11

thanks Blue. sounds like very sound advice. It is helpful to know whether digging up the past would be constructive or not and it does sound like it probably wouldn't. Do you know of any more practical forms of therapy though? Would CBT help the anxiety and insomnia?

Blue2014 Sun 09-Aug-15 19:07:34

She could certainly use a skills based therapy to aid her symptoms. May also be worth considering mindfulness - if you google it there is loads of good stuff free online. I think the mental health foundation also has sleep meditations you can download for her?

microferret Mon 10-Aug-15 11:03:33

heh, i guess here's the catch-22 - she won't accept that she needs to do therapy or cbt and stubbornly insists she has no eating problems, anxiety, depression etc. she talks frequently of her insomnia and nightmares but refuses to tie them into wider psychological issues. I hoped to find the root of her troubles and talk to her about it in order to persuade her that she needs to address her problems, but it would be unethical to voice my thoughts to her. So I guess nothing can really be done. Life's a bitch sometimes.

TooTypical Mon 10-Aug-15 11:12:14

I think the important thing if somebody has been abused - and it's an 'if' - is that there was a time (many times?) when another person took away their choice and their sense of control.

Lots of behaviours which others would see as harmful and/or destructive are coping mechanisms.

It is very easy to think, 'Oh this person shouldn't drink to excess/starve themselves.' And/or 'They should seek counselling.'

But once again that's about an attempt - however well-intended - of taking away somebody's own choices, imposing your will on them.

Maybe the best thing is to ensure you mother can have the kind of physical care that she wants.

I think I had had this assumption that my father and I would talk about important things before he died. But those conversations didn't happen. He wasn't an open person, and I think he needed all his strength to deal with the illness.

Many people in the older generation were just more private. Some choose to open up a bit more sometimes. Others don't.

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