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Incest & Sexual Abuse–the Oldest Taboos

One of the oldest taboos in the civilized world may be that of incest. The Bible addresses this issue in 2 Samuel 13 with the story of Amnon and Tamar. Amnon was King David’s firstborn son. Tamar was his younger sister for whom he lusted. Amnon devised a plan to fake illness in order get the virgin Tamar to come to his residence to cook for him. He then lured her to his bedroom and raped her. Once finished, his lust turned to hatred. (This may be common in instances of incest, as it absolves the attacker of blame and places it on the victim. It also probably involves some transference of self-hatred as well.) He cast her out and shamed her. The passage says she “remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s home” (NKJV). Interestingly, it says that when David found out what Amnon had done, he was angry, but it doesn’t say that he took any action to provide justice for Tamar. That would have compounded the feelings of betrayal, injustice, and humiliation she must have felt. Several years later, Absalom murdered Amnon for his transgressions.

Approximately 90 percent of sexually abused children know their abuser. Incest is the cruelest betrayal of trust between a child and parent and understandably has emotionally devastating consequences. When an older sibling or relative is involved, it’s just a damaging. Sexually violating children is probably the worst evil most people will ever experience. When people who are supposed to protect you end up violating you, it is thoroughly destructive. Statistically one in three girls and one in six boys will suffer unwanted sexual experiences before the age of eighteen. That number is probably higher, as it is estimated that a high number of people never tell anyone they have been molested. Regardless, those conservative estimates alone translate into about 60 million people in our country having been victims of sexual abuse. Literally, everywhere you go, you will be in contact with someone who has suffered this fate. Look around you. In a room full of women, at least a third of them have been sexually abused as a child. This has to stop. If this is your legacy, you can stop it in your lineage by following some of the steps detailed throughout this book.

It’s estimated that up to 90 percent of all incest victims never tell anyone. Why? Because they are afraid of breaking up the family. Susan Forward and Craig Buck say, “Incest may be frightening, but the thought of being responsible for the destruction of the family is even worse.”

And the damage is even worse if the victim experiences any pleasure from these acts as their shame is magnified. Our bodies are designed to be sexual beings. In addition, it is biologically programmed to respond (often as a form of physical protection) to sexual acts even in cases of non-consent and assault. This causes many victims to feel responsible for the event. Understand, as a child you were always the victim, whether you derived pleasure or not. The adult is always the one to blame in those circumstances.

Additionally, people do not tell anyone because incest abusers are very adept at psychological manipulation and fear-mongering. They use threats and manipulation to keep their victims quiet.

Threats Used by Incest Abusers

Tell and I’ll kill you.

Tell and I’ll kill your parents/siblings/grandparents.

Tell and no one will believe you.

Tell and your mommy will be mad at (or hate) you.

Tell and people will think you are crazy.

Tell and I’ll go to jail and there won’t be anyone to support the family.

Survivors of incest often report feeling worthless, bad, dirty, and damaged. Depression is a common result of incest. Women especially may allow themselves to become overweight as adults. This serves two purposes: (a) she imagines it will keep men away from her, and (b) the body mass creates the illusion of power and strength. Like many victims of abuse, incest survivors frequently self-medicate their pain with drugs and alcohol.[i]

Men who have been sexually abused have a special set of challenges to deal with, as it strikes at the heart of their masculinity. Men are not supposed to be assaulted, vulnerable, dominated, raped, or controlled. They may feel emasculated or that they are destined to be a homosexual.

Men generally find themselves uncomfortable dealing with and expressing emotions. In part, it’s how they’re brought up. Any form of sexual abuse creates intense emotions. Here are some common emotions men feel in these situations:

  • Dehumanized—They feel like they have no value and constantly compare themselves to other men.
  • Shame—They transfer false shame and guilt to themselves.
  • Ambivalent—They can understand the emotion of anger, but not love. During the abuse they were feeling horrified and scared but also aroused. Their mind was saying, “This is not right,” but their body is designed to respond when stimulated.
  • Impotent—A word no man even wants to think about. They believe they have no voice—that no one will listen to them.
  • Disrespected—They don’t feel other men will respect them. That they will make fun of them. That they never measure up. Often they will become very promiscuous in an attempt to prove their masculinity (to themselves and the world).

Understand that incest affects its victims in very subtle and damaging ways. This is another type of abuse that may require very intense counseling in order to heal from. Don’t wait! The longer you put it off, the more difficult it becomes.

[i]Susan Forward, with Craig Buck, Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life (New York,: Bantam Books, 1989

 

Excerpted from Rick’s newest book, Overcoming Toxic Parenting: How to be a good parent when yours wasn’t, by Revell Publishing.

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Inside the Abusive Family

Our family constitutes our entire reality as a child. It teaches us who we are and how we are supposed to interact with the world. Good families give us the skills and encouragement to interact successfully with the world and other people. They teach us to lead a successful life. Toxic families teach us survival skills that may or may not translate into leading a successful life. Because of this, many abused people make self-defeating choices like believing they can’t trust anybody, that they aren’t worthy of being loved, or that they will never amount to anything. They are programmed to conform to the dysfunctional behaviors of the family. People from abusive families are taught that to be different is bad—they must conform and obey the rules of the family at all costs. To be different is to be a traitor—and being a traitor or turning on the family is high treason in abusive families.

Many families take on role-playing to perpetuate the family system. For instance, if Dad’s role was to drink, Mom’s role was to be codependent, and the children’s roles were then to be the parents in the home. Children from dysfunctional homes often take on specific roles in the family.

Here are some common roles (my three siblings and I fit into these roles pretty clearly):[i]

The Rebel gets into trouble and is known as the “bad boy” or “bad girl.” Their behavior often warrants attention, distracting everyone from the real issues at home. They are also known as the “scapegoat.” They are ashamed of their family life and often the first to get into “recovery.”

The Mascot/Clown uses comedy to ease tension and calm explosive situations. The humor helps a family in pain but is a temporary balm. This child is kind and goodhearted but never seems to grow up.

The Good Girl (or Boy) or Golden Child is dutiful and respectable. They get good grades, don’t make waves, and are often a confidante of a parent. They are fixers of the family but never get their needs met. They can be rigid, judgmental, and controlling. They are very self-sufficient and usually very successful in life but lack emotional intimacy.

The Lost Child becomes invisible. They stay out of the house by escaping into activities, friendships, or sports. They escape from reality but are generally very sad and angry, which they deny and avoid.

How Toxic Parents Cope

Toxic parents react to threats to their balance by acting out their fears and frustrations, with little thought for the consequences to their children. Here are some common coping mechanisms:

  • Denial—Denial that anything is wrong or that it will never happen again. Relabeling is also denial—an alcoholic becomes a “social drinker.”
  • Projection—Abusive parents frequently accuse their children of the very inadequacies they suffer from.
  • Sabotage—In dysfunctional homes, other family members assume the roles of rescuers and caretakers. If any family member begins to change or get healthy, it threatens the balance of the home, and the other members may unconsciously sabotage their chances of success so that things get back to normal.
  • Triangling—One toxic parent may enlist a child as a confidant or ally against the other parent. The child is pressured to choose sides and becomes an emotional dumping ground for their parent’s discomfort.
  • Keeping Secrets—This turns families into private clubs. Children who hide abuse by saying she “fell down the stairs” are protecting the club from outside interference.[ii]

Parents are godlike in their positions in the home. They provide sustenance and shelter, make rules, and dole out pain, whether it’s justified or not. Without parents, children instinctively know they would be unprotected, unfed, and unhoused. They would be in a constant state of terror, unable to survive alone.[iii]

Abusive homes tend to have common characteristics, including the appearance of normalcy, emotional isolation, secrecy, neediness, stress, and lack of respect.

All children have certain rights. They have the right to have basic needs met, such as being fed, clothed, sheltered, and protected. They also have the right to be nurtured emotionally, the right to make mistakes, and the right to be disciplined without being physically or emotionally abused. Unfortunately, these rights are seldom honored in abusive homes.

However, most people (especially abused ones who crave parental nurturing) still have a need to deify their parents—no matter how bad they were. Many victimized people still believe their parent’s behavior was justified: “I guess I probably deserved it” or “Sure I was beaten, but I turned out okay.” Abusive parents have a propensity to deny that any abuse happened or they justify it. Just because inadequate parents “didn’t mean it,” doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt and cause harm. Intentionality is not a prerequisite of abuse. We hear people excuse these parents by saying things like, “they didn’t mean to do any harm” or “they did the best they could.” Too often inadequate parents expect their children to somehow take care of them and meet their needs—tasks children are not capable of fulfilling. I truly didn’t believe that many of the behaviors my parents exhibited were abusive until enough counselors and friends pointed it out or asked if I would ever treat my children that way.

Since many of us either deny we were abused or justify our parent’s behavior, we will look at some specific types of abuse in upcoming posts. It’s hard to break a behavior (and heal a wound) if we are not aware of it or refuse to acknowledge it.

[i]Lisa A. Miles, “Early Wounding & Dysfunctional Family Roles,” World of Psychology, PsycheCentral, August 8, 2013, http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/08/10/early-wounding-dysfunctional-family-roles/.

[ii] Forward with Buck, Toxic Parents, 169–70.

[iii]Ibid., 15.

 

Excerpted from Rick’s newest book, Overcoming Toxic Parenting: How to be a good parent when yours wasn’t, by Revell Publishing.  To find out more or to get a signed copy, click here.

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Boundaries Teach Boys Self-Discipline

This past season, several high-profile college head football and basketball coaches have been vilified and lost their jobs due to the perception that they harshly enforced disciplinary methods upon a player or players in their program. I’m not defending these coaches’ methods as I do not know the situation, but here’s what I do know. Many young men today, especially talented athletes, have been raised without a father or any other form of accountability or boundaries in their life. They have gotten whatever they want their entire lives. They do not understand the value of true leadership or the concept of respect. These young men rebel against any kind of discipline and despise authority figures. Even though they may in truth crave discipline, they have steered their own ship for too long. They have learned to do what they want, when they want, and so any kind of restrictions—whether it is healthy for them or not—are very uncomfortable. They instinctively resist accountability and become self-focused and self-absorbed. Without willingly acceding to the mentorship and authority of other men, young males with this attitude will struggle their entire lives, creating problems in the lives of those who love and depend upon them.

Teaching boys’ self-discipline is difficult and requires effort on your part. Like most things worthwhile in life, it is hard. Boys learn best by what is modeled for them, not spoken to them. Teaching them self-discipline requires that you be disciplined. Constantly indulging your son in his every desire isn’t good for him. It doesn’t mean you have to be harsh, but you do have to say no sometimes–even frequently. For some parents today, pushing their sons to teach them self-discipline almost feels like child abuse. But the truth is that the more you can teach them to have a strong sense of self-discipline, the happier and healthier they will be throughout their entire lives.

Boundaries are a must during the teenage years. Boundaries help instill self-discipline. Without boundaries boys do not know what the rules are and what is expected of them. They may rebel, but remember no matter what they say, the very fact that you thoughtfully and consistently enforce rules of behavior makes them feel loved and valued. They might complain to their friends that you are mean and tough, but they will say it with a sense of pride too. I’ve known many at-risk young men who have told me that they wished their parents had loved them enough to make them follow a set of guidelines designed to keep them safe.

Recognize though that boundaries need to be flexible to grow and change as your son does. Just like your son is constantly growing and changing so too his boundaries should be dynamic. To hold a seventeen-year-old young man to the same boundaries he had as a thirteen-year-old boy would certainly cause rebellion at best and psychological damage at worst. As he shows more maturity and responsibility, his boundaries should be loosened to help him continue to grow in his decision-making and critical thinking skills process. Our goal is to help him become a healthy, functioning adult by the time he is out from under our umbrella. By not allowing him to grow, we are doing him a disservice by ensuring his failure in the world.

That said, all children (even teens) need clear-cut rules, structure, and guidelines in order to develop self-discipline. They thrive under firm supervision and guidance—they need strong boundaries and discipline from adults. They don’t need you to be their friend. They have plenty of friends. They need you to teach them the things they will need to be successful in life. And sometimes that requires courage on our part. Teens (especially strong-willed ones) know how to push buttons—they are developing their critical thinking skills so they like to argue. They are masters at manipulation. They wear you down—it’s part of their battle strategy. That’s one reason it is important for a husband and wife to be on the same team. They must work together to ensure that a child is raised with consistency and with the same agenda. The bane of many divorced families is that Mom and Dad have a differing value system in their respective homes. Kids are confused from week to week as to what is expected of them.

Discipline comes in two forms—internal and external. Internal discipline or self-discipline is what we strive to teach our kids by applying external discipline. External discipline is applied in a variety of forms—allowing them to suffer the consequences of their actions, teaching them the pleasures of delayed gratification, understanding the relationship between hard work and success, and through personal accountability. Kids, who are not subjected to healthy discipline while growing up, tend to live unhappy lives and create chaos in the lives of those around them. When we discipline our kids, we are actually preparing them for much more fulfilling lives.

Think of it this way. Self-discipline is a gift you give your son that will benefit him his entire life. It will benefit your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren as well. Like all things that are important in life, though, learning self-discipline is difficult and requires hard work. One of the most effective ways to teach boys self-discipline is by holding them accountable for their actions and choices. The sooner they learn that every decision they make (or don’t make) has consequences associated with it, the sooner they start making disciplined and healthy choices. This will be extremely important when he becomes a man and his choices have magnified consequences to both him and his family. Want to see this in action? The next time your son wants an item from the store, tell him, “Sure, you can have it if you buy it with your own money.” You’ll quickly see what he places value on when he has to be responsible for purchasing it himself.

Excerpted from Rick’s book, That’s My Teenage Son” by Revell Publishing. To find out more visit www.betterdads.net.

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Teaching Boys Discipline

This past season, several high profile college head football and basketball coaches have been vilified and lost their jobs due to the perception that they harshly enforced disciplinary methods upon a player or players in their program. I’m not defending these coaches’ methods as I do not know the situation, but here’s what I do know. Many young men today, especially talented athletes, have been raised without a father or any other accountability or boundaries in their life. They have gotten whatever they want their entire lives. They do not understand the value of true leadership or the concept of respect. These young men rebel against any kind of discipline and despise authority figures. Even though they may in truth crave discipline, they have steered their own ship for too long. They have learned to do what they want when they want, and so any kind of restrictions—whether it is healthy for them or not—are very uncomfortable. They instinctively resist accountability and become self-focused and self-absorbed. Without willingly acceding to the mentorship and authority of other men, young males with this attitude will struggle their entire lives, creating problems in the lives of those who love and depend upon them.

Teaching boys’ self-discipline is difficult and requires effort on your part. Like most things worthwhile in life it is hard. Boys learn best by what is modeled for them not spoken to them. Teaching them self-discipline requires that you be disciplined. For some moms with their nurturing nature, this can present difficulties. Constantly indulging your son in his every desire isn’t good for him. It doesn’t mean you have to be harsh or mean, but you do have to say “no” sometimes, even frequently. For moms who feel guilty about the circumstances in which they are raising their sons, this can be difficult. For some parents today pushing their sons to teach them self-discipline almost feels like child abuse. But the truth is that the more you can teach them to have a strong sense of self-discipline the happier and healthier they will be throughout their entire lives.

What is the best way you’ve found to teach your son self-discipline?

Excerpted from, That’s My Teenage Son: How Moms Can Influence Boys to Become Good Men, Revell Publishing, 2011.