Childhood Signs of early sexual abuse

Geopolis

Confident
What are the signs of early sexual abuse? How do they show up and at what ages? What is the appropriate age for sexual curiosities?

I think I may have made a devastating connection in my past and I'm attempting to be as careful as possible right now not to tear myself apart.

1. At approx 6-7 years old I got caught playing doctor with a girl around the block. I was restricted from ever traveling to that side again.

2. I have always felt deep down that I was sexually abused early on (maybe age 3-5 or 6) but I could never nail down by whom. I have very few memories of early childhood.

3. I've recently discovered a shameful dynamic between my mother and I that is sexual. She says things about her appearance and fixes herself in front of me often. There is definitely something under the surface that even my wife has seen.

4. Mom was taking care of dying grandfather when she revealed that he abused her when she was a child.

I don't remember her ever crossing a line with me physically which is why I'm asking how these things typically manifest in abused children. Is 6-7 too early to be curious about bodies? Any help would be very much appreciated as I navigate through this. I don't want to jump to any conclusions but I have to admit that connecting my mother to my abuse felt true. It actually hit me like a sledgehammer.
 

Sideways

Moderator
I like to normalise things, which may well have been significant developmentally, wherever possible, so that shame is not inappropriately lumped on things that are totally normal. So...
At approx 6-7 years old I got caught playing doctor with a girl around the block. I was restricted from ever traveling to that side again.
There's 2 statements here.
The first: playing doctors, even at much younger ages (2-3) and young children curious about, and poking and prodding at, their own and others bodies? Doing that through play?

Totally normal. As in, not just humans even that do this from as soon as they're able to control their bodies. It's typical of many animals that have multiple babies being raised at the same time.

Assigning "shame" to that (which is the second statement) is something humans do often, and are still awkwardly stumbling through "how do we address this with kids appropriately"?

As someone who has been through multiple traumas, and carries high levels of shame, be aware that it's probably going to be difficult for your brain to remove shame from anything vaguely involving sex or your body. It becomes one big shame-dump in our brains.

The second statement means it makes sense that this event has been added to your brain's shame dump. Because you were treated like what you were doing was shameful. When in fact, it was very likely to have been entirely normal play that kids engage in. That animals engage in.

Give yourself a pass on that one. Forgive yourself for being a normal kid in that respect. Possibly even congratulate yourself for being a normal kid in that scenario.

Because yes, kids who are sexually abused with often explore theirs and others' bodies at a young age in ways that is entirely inappropriate once we get older.

But so do kids without sexual trauma on board.

I'm sorry that you were shamed for that. Adults (still) have trouble knowing how to negotiate that stuff appropriately. They let you down by shaming you for it. Not everything body related is shameful.

She says things about her appearance and fixes herself in front of me often. There is definitely something under the surface that even my wife has seen.
My mum and nan. God love 'em, have NO boundaries about changing clothes and peeing or "hand me that bra" in front of us kids. Is it generational? Is it because when you raise kids, you have to give up privacy when they're infants so you can keep functioning without losing sight of the little buggers? Idk.

I never wanted to be in the change room when we were shopping, or shower cubicle with mum when we were camping. I mean, yuk, what is that hair there for!? And why all the sagging!?

Awkward!

There's also culture at play here. For some cultures, it's weird that women won't get changed in front of women, men in front of men, vice versa in the same family units, friends in front of friends...

What is normal? What is shameful? It's a hot mess.

Are there behaviours that are warning signs for potential sexual abuse in young children? Absolutely. But they are nuanced, and (so far as I know) not certain.

For example, secondary nocturnal enuresis? (Starting to wet the bed at night again when you'd learnt how to hold on all night or wake up)? Warning sign. I did that. But still not conclusive. Because it could have been a medical condition, generalised stress, or even just because...

There is growing research available on the warning signs. Our recent Royal Commission here in Australia examined that research in a lot of detail. Unfortunately I don't have the reference to which of the volumes and volumes of reports that research got summarised in, but I'll hunt it down and see if I can link it.
 

Geopolis

Confident
Thank you @Sideways for that really thorough response. With all the new work I'm doing comes a steady supply of new memories and realizations that can scare the hell out of me.

There's no doubt that my mom has had an inappropriate relationship with me in some way dealing with sex. She's shared info on her sex life with my abuser and there's just "something in the air" there. I wish I could be more specific but once we felt it a few times I distanced myself to avoid the shame that came with it. Shame shame shame. Always leads back to shame 😒

I'm sorry that you were shamed for that.
Thank you so much for saying this. No lack of shame dumping here. I'm sorry too for that little boy. He deserved so much better
 

Sideways

Moderator
With all the new work I'm doing comes a steady supply of new memories and realizations that can scare the hell out of me.
Right. I totally hear you. Memories, intrusive thoughts, messed up daydreams, and none of them come with a Viewer Warning labelling which is which.

I'm not suggesting you weren't sexually abused as a child.
I'm not suggesting you were sexually abused as a child.

I am not a huge fan of where psychological treatment approaches are at with this area of mental health treatment. I actually think the overwhelming majority of "trauma therapy" for poorly-recalled CSA has a shitload to answer for, and we will look back at this era of therapy and regret what we did to a lot of people, in a well-intentioned attempt to "help them heal". So, I'm hugely biased!

If you, or anyone else, was sexually abused as a child, it is very often the case that the only 2 people who will ever know, are the 2 people who were there.

Once you factor in the shitty unreliability of human memory, and the profound role that feelings have in all this? I don't know how it's possible to know, by memory alone, what happened, sometimes even for the 2 people who were there. I genuinely don't.

Knowing "something's wrong, and I know, but I don't remember..." - that describes a lot of us. And that's okay. It's valid to have suffered without remembering. It's valid to still be suffering, without remembering. It's valid to feel really shitted off that you can't remember, or to feel a right to your memories, or dozens of other very powerful responses that may well have dictated how your life has played out...without remembering. It's valid to suddenly start remembering. It's valid to never remember. And everything in between.

For example, until someone says "all kids do that": that "I played doctors" memory exists in our minds as this haunting, shameful memory that we never want to speak aloud, because it must say something truly dark and sinister about us because it feels so overwhelmingly shameful...

I know this, because of the sheer volume of people who come here, to this site, anonymously, decades after that game of doctors, to try and work through the shameful and profound implications of having played with their body, or their friend's body, as a young child. Of having masturbated (normal) as a young child. And on and on.

It doesn't mean they were, or weren't sexually abused.

And then someone explains, that's normal, and suddenly: awkward, now I feel ashamed because obviously there's no history of abuse and I'm making a big deal about it and...(facepalm). We're experts at feeling shit about ourselves!

No matter how strongly the rest of the world feels about these warning signs, the only people who likely can know your past are the people who were actually there.

So, in telling you "playing doctors is pretty normal, you don't need to be ashamed of that", I'm already manipulating what your brain decides it should remember, and how it should remember events...and we haven't even touched on CSA yet. We're still just talking about whether or not kids play doctors and is it something to be ashamed of.

Other people will have very strong opinions on this topic, and I'm hoping they venture into the discussion here for you so you get multiple perspectives.

For me personally? "Exploring" my very young sexual trauma, even vaguely, in therapy? Means I don't trust my brain to come up with realistic memories anymore. Period. Any chance my brain had at remembering this stuff reliably? Is gone. Because by being encouraged to "address" it in therapy, my brain is already proceeding on the basis that there's something there, and my adult brain has very strong opinions on what those things should be which would potentially explain all my suffering, whether I'm conscious of it or not.

I've made peace with "I'll probably never know". I've been able to find validation elsewhere. From something other than, "I'm allowed to be screwed up by this because I have solid memories of it....".

By the same token, I needed to explore it at the time. That's where I was at in my journey. There was something dark, and I needed to know. So, I don't beat myself up for it. I needed to go there at the time, and my Ts were trained to encourage me to do that.

Do what you need to do. The validation, ultimately, will need to come from within. In the meantime, if you are suffering, that's valid. And you deserve to heal from that. Whatever the cause. And I respect that figuring it out may be necessary for you and your healing. It's necessary for a lot of us.
 

Mach123

MyPTSD Pro
Many times I was dismissed by doctors and therapists saying sexual exploration is normal amongst children. This was when I was trying to tell someone, to get someone to listen. So I vehemently disagree.

Questioning what was going on is usually a pretty good sign something was going on in my opinion.

I had a very strong feeling that what went on with me wasn’t ok and as it turns out I was correct and I wish someone had listened. Would it have changed anything? Does it matter now? IDK. But little kids aren’t supposed to be having sex and no one is supposed to be showing them, not even other kids the same age.

So this talk about playing doctor being normal? I don’t like it and I never have. The problem is when you are trying to tell, which is nearly impossible and people say that stuff, well intentioned or not, It could take years before you’re able to get where you can say it again.

So I hope you can continue to ask until you can arrive at a satisfactory answer . It’s a terrible thing to have to even try and get your head around it . I’m sorry and I wish no one ever had to try and figure this out .
 

Geopolis

Confident
First I want to thank you both for taking the time to share your opinions and experiences. I'm pretty sure you know how amazing it feels just to have someone listen after years of searching. 🤗 I mustered up all the courage i had just to post the question.

I've made peace with "I'll probably never know". I've been able to find validation elsewhere.

Questioning what was going on is usually a pretty good sign something was going on in my opinion

I'm straddling these two perspectives at the moment. I have a rage burning inside to peel this onion to the core. On the other hand I know that its basically impossible to untangle the influence that books, t's and contradicting personal inventories have already had on my recollection let alone going forward.

I have never had the experience that you have @Mach123 with doctors. Quite the opposite. From my first institutionalization at 14 they have said that something probably happened. I'm sure thats colored my perspective now.

Open to all possibilities here. I figure I owe myself due diligence at the very least before I go running off 100% committed to my memories or feelings or thoughts or anything else. All of them are flawed. Your passionate responses are very much appreciated 🤝 Seriously... thank you
 

Movingforward10

MyPTSD Pro
There's no doubt that my mom has had an inappropriate relationship with me in some way dealing with sex. She's shared info on her sex life with my abuser and there's just "something in the air" there. I wish I could be more specific but once we felt it a few times I distanced myself to avoid the shame that came with it. Shame shame shame. Always leads back to shame 😒
I often have felt my sexual trauma started earlier than I remember. (first contact thing I remember is 11/12). But actually what I think I experienced before that is feeling like my mum owned my body. So whilst I have no memory of any contact sexual abuse: my mum would treat me and my body (and her body) as one and the same. She had rights to see my body.
Which I think gives a similar impact to contact abuse? Or at least that is what I have read.

The impact, on me:
No sense of self
No boundaires
Lack of self hygiene and self care
Inability to say what I want and need
Very low self esteem
Lots of self doubt
Bit of self harm
Risky behaviour (sex, drink, drugs)
Bit of a self destructive streak

Those were my behaviours from 11/12 upwards.
 

OliveJewel

MyPTSD Pro
If your mom was sexually abused as a child then her ability to relate to your body and feelings in a healthy way would have been limited at best, toxic at worst.

My dad sexually abused me when I was a baby and I didn’t recover a full memory of it until I was 39 (now age 43). I had a memory but assigned the wrong meaning to his actions. At 39 I figured out what was actually happening. I had such a detailed memory of it that he actually admitted to doing it.

Because my dad’s dad was an actual child rapist (I learned when I was around 30) I didn’t think that what my dad had done was that bad. I now understand that even though my dad had messed up boundaries he made a ton of bad decisions on my behalf over and over again as an adult, and he abused me sexually, physically, and emotionally. The sexual was when I was a baby with echoes of it while growing up, the physical was until I left the house at age 18, and the emotional was until I went no contact with him at age 39. I probably would still be living with him and letting him emotionally manipulate me if he hadn’t sexually abused me after the age of 2 when I could form more than a body memory.

Once I accepted that he really admitted to a memory that had been so mysterious all my life I began to face the body memories. Those I concluded were csa events that happened in the first year of my life. I had specific body memories that plagued me. Once I specifically accepted them (out loud, crying, saying, “Yes, this happened. I believe it, I don’t doubt it anymore,”) then the specific body memories stopped. Like they had gotten their message across.

Because I went no contact with my dad I didn’t ask him if the other things were true. In some ways it didn’t matter whether he would admit to it or not. When I accepted them the body memories stopped which was evidence enough for me.

It is still very hard for me to talk about “what he did” because the one confirmed memory, while it does qualify as sexual abuse legally, doesn’t seem that bad, but this site helped me understand that dismissing one’s own abuse is practically a defining characteristic of CPTSD. The body memories are worse acts. If I gaslight myself about the body memories I get much worse with my PTSD symptoms. So it’s like a pact with myself to believe myself.

One time I read that people who were sexually abused as children but couldn’t remember it had the following behaviors: difficulty getting face and head wet, obsession with teeth and oral hygiene, and fear of doctors. It might just be random, but I had all three!

People make up stories about themselves all the time to feel better about who they are. Bob Dylan made up a story that he was born in New Mexico and was a hobo. If accepting your own thoughts rather than doubting them changes your outlook, maybe it’s worth it? If you try it and end up feeling worse you can change again!
 
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