The Search for Autonomous Intimacy: Sexual Abuse and Young Women's Identity Development

By M. Sue Crowley | Go to book overview

Chapter One
IMPACTS OF SEXUAL ABUSE ON SELF-CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT ACROSS CHILDHOOD

Introduction

Our earliest concept of self emerges from an amorphous stream of sensations that gradually becomes organized into a dawning awareness of being-in-the-world. How this dawning of the mind comes about in infancy remains largely a mystery. At some unknown moment the emergent self gazes out at a flailing arm and begins to perceive that the hand belongs to "she" who gazes. We might also imagine another first moment of awe when the infant-self comes to understand that the chubby fist at the end of that arm is separate from the surface upon which it lays. Then, too, she may know that sheathed within an endless fold of skin, the gazer lives alone. In that paradoxical moment of realization, the knowledge of separateness and unity gives birth to the first glimmer of self. As with this first moment of awareness-in-being, future self-concepts will emerge from a dialectical process between all that is "out-there" and the one within. To this infant self the great unknown "out-there" is the true mystery, one she will take a lifetime to explore.

In the years between this beginning in an amorphous stream of sensations and childhood's end, the infant self will metamorphose into consciousness, self-other awareness, and social being. Up to about the age of three, she will learn that her body defines the fundamental boundary between the self and the world, that trusted others are needed to meet basic needs, and that she can act on or react to those others in ways that influence the way they treat her. Later, in the preschool years, she will become more practiced in social interactions both in and out of her immediate family. Those interactions carry emotional weight and also help her to recognize where she belongs or doesn't belong in the complicated world of social and cultural relations. Stereotypes help her to organize her thoughts about her self and others in the midst of such complexity. Cognitively, she is exploring this strange world but remains somewhat unclear about that thin line between fantasy and reality. Fantasy is her playground, a place where others

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