For Survivors of Sexual Abuse, Understanding The “Good” Things About An Abuser As Part Of The Abuse Can Be Difficult
When working with survivors of sexual abuse in our NYC therapy practice, we recognize that sexual abuse is a heavy subject that can often create complicated and confusing feelings for survivors. In particular, it can be hard to recognize that seemingly good things about an abuser were, in fact, inseparable from the abuse. This is no small part of why sexual abuse can be so damaging–people who seemed safe and were supposed to be safe, were not safe. Survivors often question: How do I tell? How do I trust my feelings and my sense of what’s safe (and not)?
The New York Daily News recently quoted our director Matt on the difficulties of reconciling the trauma of sexual abuse with the supposed support and affection of an abuser. The article focuses on the experience of Jim VanSickle who was abused by Rev. David Poulson, one of the hundreds of Catholic priests named in the recent report documenting the sexual abuse that occurred across six dioceses in Pennsylvania. According to the article, VanSickle still struggles with equating the mentorship he received by Poulson with the abuse.
Abusers Exploit Trust To Abuse And Cover Up The Abuse
Speaking to the Daily News’s Megan Cerullo, Matt unequivocally asserts that the abuser was “a bad person and whatever seemingly good things that person did, that person did as part of the abuse.” Abusers are most often people in positions of trust who exploit that trust to create opportunity to abuse and cover up that abuse. Sexual abuse is opportunistic, and abusers are calculating and manipulative.
It’s also the case that the young people abusers are inclined to prey on are often vulnerable in some way. Kids, who have people in their lives that are stable, present and looking out for them, are less likely targets. Part of the opportunity abusers leverage is in selecting young people who need and desire attention, affection, guidance or advice. For many victims, the attention and affection are welcomed, which can make the abuse incredibly confusing, even though, as Matt says in the Daily News, “you can’t simultaneously truly care for somebody and also sexually abuse them as a child.”
Reconciling Affection Or Attention With The Sexual Abuse Can Create An Additional Obstacle In Recovery
Often victims wonder: How do I reconcile these things that seemed good, that I was craving in my life, with the abuse? While not explored directly in the Daily News article, if we look at this confusion from the vantage point of recovery, it creates an additional obstacle. In order to heal from abuse, it has to be understood as abuse. There has to be an understanding that someone who was stronger (in certain specific ways like physical and status) used that strength to do a very hurtful thing. That thing was bad, selfish and harmful. It is impossible to do that, while at the same time holding onto the idea of the abuser as someone who might have been good.