Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

The Legacy Of Incest

January 5, 2004

A victim talks. "Though I am a survivor, my life was made very difficult as I tried to rise above the hurt and shame and somehow prove to myself that I had worth, that I was a decent human being in spite of the hidden past.

"To put it simply, my self-image was so battered that I have lived though dozens of years without being able to trust or allow my emotions to show.

"My battered spirit drove me to overachieve, to ever flog myself to do better even if I was the best I could be. I looked for recognition to confirm my self-worth. And though I enjoyed many successes along the way, I also had periods of great despair, when suicide seemed the only way out.

"I lost something that can never be replaced. I lost my childhood. Even more, I lost that parental bond.

"My father crushed by spirit, robbed me of my childhood and erased my trust. I was coerced into silence by the threat that my family would be turned out without home or finances. I lived in fear. I suppressed my rage.

"I harbored guilt. I hid my emotions. There was not a single person I could go to for comfort or direction. "Home, supposedly a safe haven from all the evils that might assail from the outside, was for me a place to be very wary of if I was ever alone. My life was a living hell.

"It took me years to seek counseling for the inner rage that burned my soul. And it took even more years with a trusted counselor before I could get the words out of my mouth that I had been a victim of incest."

More to the story. The following statements are first person accounts of incest victims as they describe the intensity of emotion and range of negative experiences that come from incest.

- I drink and use substances to cover my pain. If it is not that, then it is some other compulsion. I am prone to eating disorders, shoplifting, and promiscuity. The fantasies and defenses I used as a child to survive are now problems to me.

- My sexual feelings are intertwined with a sense of shame and guilt. I have feelings of disgust and self-loathing that invade my attempts at intimacy and make it repulsive. I avoid sexual intimacy. I see desire on my husband's face and I hate it. I do not associate sex with love, care and giving. I have trouble reaching orgasm.

- I am caught between my helplessness, my strong dependency needs, my rage and extreme need for independence. I am a lousy wife. I am unable to meet my husband's needs. I overwhelm him with my needs. I get close to him and then I pull away. I confuse him and wear him out.

- I am not a good problem-solver. I am rigid and overcontrolled. I dread the loss of control. I mistrust men. I am numb. I have a hard time enjoying myself. I don't know how to have a relationship. I try to do everything perfectly to have a reason to feel good about myself. When I fail at being perfect, I like myself even less.

- I learned early and often that my will and desires don't matter. Nothing I could do could stop the abuse. I am prone to depression. My thinking and my hope have been distorted. You'll find me at a mental-health center being treated for depression.

- I have a victim's mentality. I feel powerless to make changes. I don't feel I have choices. I feel others are in charge of me and my moods. I expect others to meet my needs but they usually disappoint me. I don't feel like a real person - more like an object.

- I have headaches and numerous other medical problems. These are caused by my suppressed anger. I am at the doctor's office frequently.

- I experience a variety of intrusive thoughts. I am hypervigilent. I feel the world is a hostile place. I worry about danger, attackers, death, violence and evil. I see movements and shadows and hear sounds of intruders. I am afraid of darkness. I am plagued by horrid nightmares. I do not feel safe.

- My faith is weak. My prayers didn't stop the incest. I cannot honor my father and mother. This isn't a just world. I didn't deserve what happened to me. I wonder why God would create a world that allows so many children to be hurt.

-I was isolated. The incest kept me from my mother. She never really knew me. She could never really comfort me. The dirty secret kept me from everyone. I was agonizingly self-conscious. My bridge to others was cut off. I was denied parents. I was denied friends. I was denied being soothed and calmed. I was alone, alone with my pain. It is only now through treatment and support that I am finding the love and understanding I need. This is so foreign that it is hard to accept.

That is the legacy of incest.