The Haunting Effects Of Sexual Abuse.
At our initial interview session, Jessica was emotionally distressed when she said, “When I sit down and look at my life and what had happened to me in childhood, I get very angry and very frustrated. Angry with the distortions that sexual abuse had on my values, my perspective on life, and my relationships with people.” She came from a troubled home where her parents were constantly quarrelling over how they managed their finances. Bringing up their only daughter seemed to be a peripheral responsibility. One day, when they had gone out together on an errand, her uncle who lived with them, called Jessica into his room, closed the door behind her, and undressed her. She was then close to 5 years old. Her uncle said that he loved her a lot, and he began to sexualise her as an object in various degrees of depravity. This went on for several years. Although Jessica felt uncomfortable with the level of her abuse, she was warned and bribed to keep silent, as her uncle seemed to be the only one in the family that gave her any attention that a young girl at her age craved. As she grew up in her teenage years, Jessica was re-victimised countless times by approximately 20 persons, from strangers to cousins, and other uncles.
Despite her partial amnesia of what actually transpired on many of these abuses, her recall of certain tastes and smell were extremely vivid. Whenever flashbacks of these senses were triggered, she suddenly paused during the session, and would crumble into a heap, weeping bitterly. These memories usually seemed unrelated to the subject of our conversation, but would interfere with the train of Jessica’s thoughts now and again. Then, in her 40s, she was a gifted magazine illustrator, who had won several accolades and prizes for her work. However, unknown to her family members and colleagues, she suffered from depression and anxiety attacks, with constant suicidal ideation and severe arthritis. The latter meant that she had been on strong pain medication since her early 20s. The only thing that kept her from giving up on life was her Christian faith, and her circle of close church friends.
Traumatic events of the earliest years of infancy and childhood are never forgotten or lost, but like a child’s footprints in a puddle of wet cement, their preservation are often lifelong and haunting. Time does not heal these wounds, but it conceals them. They are not lost – they are embodied in our minds, at times with deeply imprinted physical and emotional sensations that seemed to surface out of nowhere. How we eventually become the people we are, not just as biological entities, but also as truly human beings with an outer persona and an inner soul, warts and all else, would depend on those years of growing up into adulthood. There is overwhelming evidence to imply that some of the results of unconscious attempted solutions to problems dating back to the earliest years, but hidden by time, by shame, by secrecy and by social taboos against exploring certain areas of life experience, are related to adult medical and mental health issues. Biomedical researchers have helped us to recognise that childhood events, specifically abuse and emotional and physical trauma, have profound and enduring effects on the neuro-regulatory systems that mediate medical illness as well as psychopathological social behaviour from childhood into adult life. However, to the degree that we do not figure out how to integrate this knowledge into everyday clinical practice, we contribute to the problem by authenticating as biomedical disease that which is actually the somatic inscription of life experience on to the human body and brain during our earliest years.