CPPNJ - The Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy of New Jersey

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Learning for Penn State: the Legacy of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Much has been written about the recent news out of Penn State. Throughout the country, people were disturbed by the magnitude of the sexual abuse allegations, and the negligent way that coach Joe Paterno and the administration swept aside this serious matter.

The news brought home a dynamic of childhood sexual trauma with which many survivors and fellow professionals are familiar. In fact, a number of former abuse victims in my practice again felt violated by the news that unfolded throughout the week, including the way the beloved father-figure Paterno had further betrayed the children involved by not acting on the charges more seriously. (The insensitivity of Penn State students who violently rallied on behalf of Paterno as if he, and not the boys involved, was the victim also upset some.)

It is sadly ironic that the name Paterno sounds so much like paternal. When a young person is abused, frequently a parent (or both) who should have known instead adds to the victim's trauma. Whether consciously or not, they ignore signs (including of the child's distress) that something is amiss. Worse, they may disbelieve or even blame the child, perhaps re-creating a dynamic from their own childhood. (Victims of child abuse frequently marry abusive partners to whom they cling.)

The results can be devastating. Sexual trauma -- including various forms of seduction and boundary violation -- can overwhelm the child's ability to make sense out of what has happened, leaving him or her feeling frightened, overwhelmed, and guilt-ridden. Without the support of protective parents, the child feels doubly isolated and betrayed. He or she may blame themselves for whatever small degree they enjoyed the attention. Incest and other forms of child abuse generally take place in dysfunctional and chaotic households where children feel unseen and unprotected. The attention of a seductive father can be the only form of love the child knows, leaving her to blame herself for what had happened. ("I must have wanted it.") When one or both parents reinforce this message, the child is left burdened by a sense of guilt and shame too massive to process.

And so the victim frequently employs something called dissociation to try to maintain some form of self integrity. Dissociation is a coping mechanism designed to help an overwhelmed individual cope with trauma -- although at great cost. Threatening experiences and feelings are split off from the person's conscious awareness and are experienced as if not part of the self. The unconscious is acting like a surgeon, sacrificing a cancerous limb to protect the rest of the body -- except the person is not aware of what they are missing. In severe cases, called Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder), the parts of the self associated with the trauma become autonomous personalities that take over the person's consciousness.

However, dissociation need not be so pervasive. An adult can function quite competently in the world, yet be afraid of sex, for instance, since sexual feelings cannot be tolerated due to their link to the original trauma. Or he or she may be unaware of their own anger, dating back to the original betrayal. These people present as compliant adults terrified of aggression or confrontation. Without being able to get in touch with their own healthy assertion, they attract demanding others who use them and leave them confused -- precisely the original trauma from childhood the person was trying to avoid.

This is one explanation why trauma survivors often unwittingly reenact painful situations in the present. What cannot be integrated and understood can only be lived out over and over again, seeming to reconfirm for the adult that life is in fact terribly dangerous, that they are bad and worthless and sure to be betrayed.

For such adults, psychotherapy -- particularly a psychodynamic approach -- can be a vital part of the healing process. Therapy helps the individual understand and incorporate parts of themselves that have been left behind. The analyst -- another parent-like authority figure -- creates a safe environment to inevitably reawaken the patient's hope and dread of being both recognized and helped, but also once again seduced and betrayed. It involves more than simply recovering memories, but rebuilding trust. This involves the adult being able to experience and integrate what had previously been dissociated. Rather than simply reenacting the trauma in adulthood, the person finally begins to see themselves in a new light and moves on in their lives in ways they never would have imagined.

If some good comes from the Penn State tragedy, perhaps the discussion about sexual abuse and adult responsibility may increase awareness and make it that much easier for others to come forward and get the help they need.

-- Eric Sherman, LCSW


  1. Jordan lorsque michael jordan intégra le monde de la nba en 1984, ce ne fut pas seulement le début d'une carrière sans égal, mais aussi

    le début de la série célèbre "Air Jordan" de nike. le fabricant d'articles de sport accorda toute

    une série de chaussures et d'habits au basketteur doté apparemment de talents surhumain. cette série fit tout de suite sensation : l' Air Jordan 1 fut interdite par la nba puisque la combinaison des coloris noir/rouge ne

    correspondit pas au "code vestimentaire" de la nba à l'époque. pourtant, cela ne put empêcher le succès mondial de cette sneaker unique.

    au contraire : la chaussure de basket déclencha une véritable hystérie et est, dès lors, lancée dans une nouvelle édition chaque

    année.jordan - plus qu'une simple chaussure de basket les spots publicitaires de jordan sont aussi innovateurs que les produits eux-

    mêmes. au cours des années 80, avec spike lee alias mars blackmon, ils conquirent les écrans de la télé. aujourd'hui, les spots pour les

    différents modèles d'air jordan sont toujours de vrais classiques sur youtube. de nos jurs, le jumpman ne se porte pas seulement sur les

    chaussures : Air Jordan 3, Air Jordan

    , Air Jordan 5, Air Jordan 6,

    Air Jordan 7, Air Jordan Spizike.

    ils se distinguent par le design typique de la marque et convainquent par une excellente qualité et des matières hut de gamme. en 1997,

    nike externalisa même la série de jordan : aujourd'hui, la marque de jordan développe ses propres produits, mais coopère néanmoins

    étroitement avec nike. des joueurs comme carmelo anthony ou dwyane wade portent le jumpman dans la nba. ainsi, michael jordan reste

    présent dans la meilleure ligue de basket-ball du monde. Obtenez les dernières Air

    Jordan 2012
    Chaussures avec style avant-gardiste et la technologie. Obtenez les dernières Chaussures Air Jordan avec style avant-

    gardiste et la technologie. Boutique 100% authentique Nike Air Jordan à partir des collections les

    plus emblématiques. Air Jordan Retro, Fusion, Hommes, Femmes et Enfants Chaussures.

  2. This is first time I visit this post. I collected so many interesting things from your site especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your posts, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here. Keep up the good work.

  3. The other causes of loss of libido, impotence and sexual weakness in men are because of being affected by some diseases.
    enlast cream in india

  4. The website is looking bit flashy and it catches the visitors eyes. Design is pretty simple and a good user friendly interface. findrehabcenters.org