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"It is estimated that there are 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America today." As quoted from Forward, 1993.
On this track, we will discuss the three core defenses of memory repression, dissociation, and denial, commonly used by children who are living with their secret of sexual abuse. At the end of this track, we will look at the various ways the Timeline Technique can be used.
Three Core Defenses
It might be noted according to MSNBC News, the suicide rate among sexually abused boys was 1½ to 14 times higher than girls in a similar age group. Reports of multiple substances abuse among sixth-grade boys who were molested were 12 to 40 times greater than their peers in the same age group."
as Douglas recalled his abuse, two major factors seem to have contributed to his memory repression.
Three Forms of Dissociation
b. The second form of dissociation is "switching off." For survival, Angie, age 15, who was sexually abused when she was 7, would "switch off" the feelings and body sensations experienced during the sexual abuse. It was a simple but effective defense. If she did not feel the pain, then she felt "safe" no matter what was happening to her body. This seems to be most common for very young children who need to feel "safe"
The difference between "going
numb" and "switching off" is that when Douglas went numb he
would refer to his abuse as though it happened to someone else. In switching off,
Angie shut down her body and felt nothing.
Think about your sexually abused client? Which form or forms of dissociation does he or she use? Going numb? Switching off? Splitting off?
#3 - Denial
Renee had clear memories of the abuse and could relate in detail what happened to her, but denied that it had any impact on her. Renee stated, "It only happened a few times, so I thought that it was no big deal. Besides it didn't hurt and felt good, even though I was ashamed about it. I would hear my friends talking about sex and boys and realize they were talking about things I had already experienced. I began to feel really angry when I thought about my coach. How could he do that to me?"
The three core defenses of memory loss, dissociation, and denial often work to support and facilitate one another. These three core defenses ensure the emotional, and even physical, survival of the sexually abused child. Douglas', Angie's and Renee's powerful feelings during the abuse were contained utilizing some of these defenses.
I provided Douglas with a horizontal sheet of paper that had a line drawn across it. He included the names of family members and significant people with which he interacted and the dates they either; arrived, moved out, interacted with family, visited or had any impact on Douglas. We continued to use the timeline during a number of sessions, as I had Douglas discuss: Who on the timeline did he think of when he was asked about family? Who did he have the least or vaguest memories of? Who was he most comfortable with and least comfortable with? For example Douglas's Uncle George was placed on the timeline at age five.
Three Key Words Technique
Douglas and I continued this exercise in several subsequent sessions by reviewing other observations about the word descriptions and the people who had the most impact on Douglas.
This exercise helped Douglas gain a clearer picture of his family, his past and potential impact, jogging bits of memory as the information gained from the timeline was discussed. Think about your Douglas and his or her sexual abuse secrets. Would he or she benefit from utilizing the Timeline Exercise?
On this track, we discussed the three core defenses commonly used by survivors of childhood sexual abuse of memory repression, dissociation and denial: as well as the role a Timeline Exercise places in assisting your client to uncover their sexual abuse secrets.
On the next track we will look at the secondary consequences of narrow range of emotions, emotional flooding, emotional numbing and shortened attention span.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
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