7 Steps for Healing the Scars of Sexual Abuse / Incest

boston sex therapy, incest

Portraits of Incest

Sam always looked up to Uncle Joe. And when Uncle Joe invited him camping to celebrate his 11th birthday, Sam felt very grown up. But one night in the tent something unexpected happened…

Don and Judy have noticed their daughter Carrie is clingier lately, and protests wildly when they leave for a night and put grandpa in charge. “What is going on with her?” they wonder.

Jade used to like playing with her older brother Dan. Not anymore. The new games he wants to play do not make her feel good.

Incest: Definitions and Key Thoughts

Incest is defined as sexual contact between persons who are so closely related that their marriage is illegal, such as in the case of parents and children, first cousins, and siblings.

Incest usually takes the form of an older family member sexually abusing a minor. [i]

In the last twenty years, child abuse (including incest) has been given more attention. Still, incest remains one of the most under-reported crimes in the US. The trust about incest often remains concealed by the victim due to feelings of guilt, shame, and fear of the abuser. [ii]

Incest is a particularly destructive form of sexual abuse because the abuse occurs at the hand of someone the victim is supposed to be able to trust.

Persons who were victims of incest have a higher incidence of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, substance abuse, and sexual dysfunctions. [iii]

Incidence of incest between siblings has been reports as follows: 74% of cases are opposite sex siblings. 26% are same sex, with 16% between brothers and 10% between sisters. [iv]

Incest occurs in families that are financially well off, as well as homes of low socio-economic status. Incest occurs to persons of all racial and ethnic descents.

A study of a nationally representative sample of state prisoners serving time for violent crime revealed that 20 percent of their crimes were committed against children, and three-fourths of prisoners who victimized a child reported the crime took place in their own home or in the child’s home. [v]

Victims of incest are often very reluctant to reveal what has occurred. Many young incest victims are told by the perpetrator that what is happening is a “learning experience” that happens in every family by an older family member. Incest victims may fear they will be disbelieved, blamed or punished if they tell what has occurred.

Action Steps

1. Be Patient

Healing from incest is a process and different people will vary in the amount of time required for their healing. Don’t put yourself on a time line or tell yourself you should “be over this by now.”

It takes courage to seek help for healing, to talk about your experience, and to bring what was once in darkness into the light.

2. Grieve your loss

Much has been taken from you. Let yourself feel the necessary pain and grieve the loss you have experienced.

3. Regain Control

Being believed and being able to say what happened are important first steps.

You have permission to stand strong, and to be empowered over the one who has exerted power over you.

4. Find support

Attending a group for survivors of incest can be a healing next step.

5. Establish Boundaries

For adult survivors of incest, it is time to learn how to practice self-care. One important step is to establish healthy boundaries. Be sure trusted people are aware of your personal boundaries.

Some people may want to confront their abuser. Others will not, or will be unable to do so.

6. Know that you will heal

You do have a bright future. You’re not a victim, but a survivor.

You may have lost a lot, but you are not “ruined” for the future. Healing is possible.

7. Find more intense guidance

You may need some professional guidance in order to truly deal with the depth of pain that incest has caused. It is not wrong to seek out professional help.

Seek out a counselor with some expertise in counseling survivors of incest.

For more information on sexual health related issues and to schedule an appointment with a Thrive Boston sex therapist, visit our Boston Sex Therapy page. Appointments scheduled within 24 hours.

Resources

National Children’s Advocacy Center
210 Pratt Avenue
Huntsville, AL 35801
Phone: 256-533-KIDS (256-533-5437)
Fax: 256-534-6883
www.nationalcac.org

Prevent Child Abuse America
500 South Michigan Avenue Suite 200
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312-663-3520
Fax: 312-939-8962
Toll-free: 1-800-244-5373
www.preventchildabuse.org

National Council on Child Abuse & Family Violence
1025 Connecticut Avenue, Suite #1000
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-429-6695
www.nccafv.org

National Center for Victims of Crime
2000 M Street, NW, Suite 480
Washington, DC 20036
Toll-free Helpline: 1-800-FYI-CALL
8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. Monday-Friday (ET)
www.ncvc.org

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)
Toll-free: 1-800-656-HOPE
www.rainn.org

Survivors of Incest Anonymous
World Service Office
P.O. Box 190
Benson, MD 21018
Phone: 419-893-3322


[i] (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, RAINN, 2008).

[ii] Matsakis, Aphrodite. (1991). When the Bough Breaks. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

[iii] (Christine Courtois, Healing the Incest Wound: Adult Survivors in Therapy, 1988)

[iv] (Healing the Incest Wound, Christine Courtois, Norton Professional Books, 1988).

[v] Greenfeld, Lawrence. (1996). Child Victimizers: Violent Offenders and Their Victims: Executive Summary. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice.

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