Academic journal article Perspectives in Psychiatric Care

Rage and Women's Sexuality after Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Phenomenological Study

Academic journal article Perspectives in Psychiatric Care

Rage and Women's Sexuality after Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Phenomenological Study

Article excerpt

TOPIC. One common long-term effect of childhood sexual abuse is rage. This phenomenological study deals with such rage as it is expressed through women's sexuality.

METHODS. A guided interview method (N = 7). The constant comparative method was used for data analysis.

FINDINGS. Results provide information about ways rage and maladaptive behaviors are learned in childhood and carry over into adult relationships.

CONCLUSIONS. Healthcare professionals need to be sensitive to the sometimes devastating effects of sexual abuse on women in our society. There is a need to create treatment programs that empower survivors to avoid revictimization.

Key words: Adult survivor, childhood sexual abuse, qualitative studies, rage

According to Briere (1989), childhood sexual abuse can exist only in a society willing to allow such victimization and oppression toward powerless groups. The sexual abuse of children is an important issue in our society. Statistics vary concerning the extent of child sexual abuse, depending on the definition of abuse, the population sampled, and the methods employed. Laumann, Gagon, Michael, and Michaels (1994), using a rather narrow definition of sexual abuse that excluded voyeurism or exhibitionism, reported that of the 3,432 subjects interviewed in their national study, 17% of the women had a history of childhood sexual abuse. The rates of sexual abuse are much higher among psychiatric inpatients (Swett & Halpert, 1993).

Although anger is common in the abused female, it is frequently pushed into the unconscious at the time of the abuse; when the abused becomes aware of her anger, it frequently has become rage. She is unlikely to express her rage openly in a patriarchal society such as ours, owing to a role definition for women that does not easily permit such expression (Blume, 1990). Women who were sexually abused as children grow up repressing anger; as a result they may enter adulthood totally unaware of the rage that lies within them.

Researchers (Draucker, 1996; Maltz, 1991) reported that childhood sexual abuse may cause negative attitudes about touch and sex that result in troublesome reactions to adult sex, such as one woman's response: "I got very angry with my husband if he wanted sex. Once I got so angry I bit him. I had no idea why I was that angry" (Maltz, p. 19). The current study focused on the impact of rage on sexuality in the lives of women who were abused as children.

Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Blume (1990) suggested that many incest survivors probably struggle with their abuse unaided, and that a number of those who are in prisons, mental institutions, or working in prostitution have been influenced by a history of sexual abuse. She further suggested that those who have been most affected by such abuse may be unable to verbalize their pain and anger. Child sexual abuse is a violation that affects every aspect of a child's life. Trusting relationships may be brought into question for a child once sexual boundaries have been violated. Children's perceptions of the world and those around them become distorted as a result of this trauma. Blume further described the violation:

   Try to imagine the humiliation and violation of a rape. Then imagine it as
   constant, unpredictable but inevitable.... What sense of control over your
   life would you be able to salvage? The lesson is, why try? Why even use
   your voice if it is never heard? The child's life becomes like the
   nightmare that many of us have had: We' re in danger, we open our mouths to
   scream for help, and nothing comes out. (p. 43)

We believe this anger over childhood sexual abuse is repressed until a time later in life, when it is triggered or permitted expression, as in psychotherapy. Pribor and Dinwiddie (1992) interviewed women incest survivors (N = 52, ages [is greater than or equal to] 23) to understand more precisely the psychiatric illnesses associated with child sexual abuse. …

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