And that sub-title is my biggest "beef" with the book -- that the subtitle might alienate people from reading a book they could probably get a LOT of help from. Because, as the author explains inside the book, it's not necessarily about the possessor of the double-x-chromosome, or even necessarily a parent she is talking about in this book, it's the abuser's enabler. Because of the nature of Dr. Ricker's practice, she usually does see female survivors of paternal sexual abuse, but she has also seen other survivors, and these patterns have proven true of ALL enablers, not just mothers in father-daughter incest. These same patterns have proven true when the father is the abuser of a son, when the mother is the abuser of a son or daughter, if the abuser is a sibling or a distant relative or a family friend.
The subtitle also seems to ignore the non-enabling mothers -- the ones who figured out what was going on, and got their kids the hell out of the abusive system, charged the perpetrator, and got their kids the help they needed to recover. They are out there, I've witnessed some in action (and wished they'd been around when I was a kid). These kids who were believed and supported, of course, are not the ones who end up in years or decades of therapy -- so while it's understandable that Dr. Ricker can only base her studies on the cases she's seen, the subtitle does play a bit into the old "blame the mother" attitude that would probably prevent people from reading the book as well.
With those two gripes in mind, I'm going to switch terminology from Dr. Ricker's choice into my own: "The Enabler". Because, as she does explain early on in the book, these patterns are true of sexual abuse enablers across the board, regardless of their chromosomal make-up.
With that out of the way, may I once again exclaim: Oh, Thank You, Good-Timing-With-The-Book-Buying-Fairy!!!
Because this book helped me SO very much in the latest Gate-Keeper incident -- seeing the patterns for what they were, pretty much predicting events before they happened, allowing me to prepare for them, but also allowing me to centre myself, not take it on, not try to twist my brain around something that never would make sense, not try to do something to "deserve" better treatment, because the Gate-Keeper was (and is) incapable of treating me any better. Which is, honestly, a pretty sad place to be, but also quite a relief to finally be able to stop tap-dancing and realize it was never, ever about me.
I would advise that, if you're going to read this book, make sure you've got some sort of support network, because there is going to be a lot of anger, a lot of grief, and a lot of mourning, and you're going to need to talk through a lot of stuff with someone else. If you don't have a therapist or organized support group, you should probably consider visiting an online support group -- such as Pandora's Aquarium, which I found recently and has been a great place to talk with people who "get it". Yes, family (OUTSIDE family, don't even THINK of talking with members of the incestuous family about this, because as well-intentioned as they might be, they've been roped into the same damned patterns and may not be able to see things as clearly as an outsider) and friends can be a good support, but you need a professional specifically trained in childhood sexual abuse, and/or a support group of people who have been through the same things you have and understand what you're going through. I can't stress this enough. Take good care of yourself, this is going to be one hell of a ride!
The book is a combination of assessment checklists, illustrative case studies, and exercises for self-healing. The pangs of familiarity I felt with every single case study were truly heartbreaking, the assessment checklists eye-opening, and the self-care exercises... difficult, but helpful. I think I'll need to keep going back to them a few more times. Because it seems I am, once again, a ridiculous over-achiever when it comes to having symptoms of incest and CSA. There's a lot more work to do...
In the introduction, Katherine Trimm states what should be obvious but is often ignored: there is no correlation between socio-economic status or race for CSA -- it is Family Dysfunction that puts children at risk. Dysfunctional parenting enables the abuse perpetrator. A quote, if I may, because the intro sums it all up so perfectly, I don't wish to paraphrase:
It is usually less traumatic for a child to be victimized by a stranger than by a family member. Not only does the dysfunctional family increase the risk to the child, and increase the psychological damage, but the dysfunctional family also fails to provide the supportive parental relationship that helps the child to recover.
Thus, we have the triple whammy of the dysfunctional family. First, the dysfunctional family puts the child at risk. Second, parental involvement in the abuse aggravates the injury to the child. Third, the lack of functional parenting impedes recovery. This is why understanding the family dynamic in child sexual abuse is so key to protecting the child. And, when we fail to protect the child, understanding the dysfunctional family dynamic is necessary to understanding how to help the child heal.(underlines are mine)
She goes on to refer to the Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, and a number of rather frightening statistics, and then another quick quote that has been underlined and asterix-ed and given several explanation points in my copy:
The family should be the first line of defense for the child. ...To stop the violence, "parents should educate their children about appropriate sexual behavior and how to feel comfortable saying no." ["Child Abuse." AHA Fact Sheet #4. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association, 1993.]
But this kind of responsible parenting is not likely to occur in a dysfunctional family. Further, as this book makes clear, in the enabling family, not only is the child not given protective messages. Instead, the child gets the message that he or she cannot say no, or even has the right to say no. It is obvious how this facilitates the perpetrator.Later, in her own preface, Dr. Ricker outlines, quite clearly and simply, the Enabler's role in "the drama of abuse". The Enabler's role consists of four basic tasks:
- Refusing to interfere with the incest
- Discouraging the victim from hating the perpetrator by pretending that the family is perfect
- Giving the victim the unspoken but clear message that (s)he is a temptress/temptor who is inherently bad
- Making the victim need attention from the abuse by denying him or her the love, validation and soothing every child needs.
The book begins with a series of five daily "therapy sessions", for which she suggests you allot an hour each day -- honestly, I'd allot more, just so you have time to deal with the fallout. You might also want to do them in a room without sharp objects, and with the comfort food of your choice, and a blanket or teddy bear or whatever symbol gives you comfort. This will not be fun. BRING KLEENEX.
The first session seems benign enough -- a series of 26 questions regarding your Enabler, and how (s)he acted towards you as a child, to each of which you are supposed to write down Yes, Sort Of, Sometimes or No. (For those checking up on my overachiever status, I answered No to 4, Sometimes to 2, Sort Of to 2, and Yes to 18, unless you count the number of "Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes"-s I wrote down, in which case, my Yes count is 25.)
In the second session, she tells you what the answers to the previous day's questions mean. I won't spoil it for you, because if you're going to do this yourself, you need to answer honestly. But, without giving you the punchline, I can say that a total of 10 Yes, Sometimes and/or Sort Of answers means HOLY CRAP! (For those of you counting, even without my double, triple and quadruple Yes answers, I still totalled 24 -- over-freaking-achiever.) The rest of the session is dedicated to feeling all your feelings about those answers, and what they mean. Schedule this one for a day in which you don't need to face the public!
The following three sessions are used to process, grieve, sort through, and see the light at the end of the tunnel regarding these answers. Let me stress: Schedule these five sessions for a week in which you have no outside commitments. Make sure you have a support system in place!!!
The book then moves into the most common / ever-present characteristics of the Enabler, with a chapter dedicated to each, including assessment checklists and case studies:
1. The Enabler's Matriarchal / Patriarchal Status
- acting as a central figure around whom all family member's lives revolve (e.g., consulted on all decisions, often provides indispensable services such as babysitting or making loans or taking on trips)
- main capital is approval
- often a "spouse-worshipper", putting Perpetrator above children in attention and/or affection
- no-one is ever willing to (openly) defy him or her
2. The Enabler's Control of the Survivor's Feelings
- need to control others' feelings
- not allowing the victim's own feelings about the abuse to count
- deciding what the victim will feel -- especially about him or her, the Enabler
3. The Survivor's Loyalty to the Enabler
- loyalty at any price -- loyalty to the Enabler more important than loyalty to self or reality
- all children remain loyal -- even Victims/Survivors remain loyal until therapy makes it impossible
- demands the Victim/Survivor continue to keep family secrets quiet (!), thereby hobbling healing
- often "inspires" loyalty among all siblings not by being strong, but by being weak -- power lies in the ability to inspire worry and protectiveness from the children (complete parenting reversal)
- Enabler often believes himself or herself to be the most victimized family member of all
4. The Enabler's Destruction of the Survivor's Self-Esteem
- Victims/Survivors learn that their only worth to others is sexual -- makes them more vulnerable to the Enabler's attacks on their self-esteem
- for the Victim/Survivor to believe that the Enabler is wrong about anything is to risk making the Enabler furious enough to destroy him or her (Gate-Keeper incident, anyone?)
- Victim/Survivor becomes the bad one for saying bad things about the family
- Victim/Survivor accused of being too needy (for expecting basic compassion, etc.)
- Enabler's feelings and well-being is more important than the Victim's/Survivor's -- anything else is met with declarations of selfishness and guilt
- Enabler's blame-the-victim mentality is internalized in the Victim/Survivor
- Victim/Survivor becomes addicted to the parent(s) -- can't give up hope that the Perpetrator and Enabler will one day tell her (s)he's fine and will give him or her the approval (s)he has craved since childhood
5. The Enabler's Emotional Alienation of the Survivor
- engineer the situations and family dynamics by which the Victims are excluded
- Victims/Survivors must behave in certain ways or they become emotional outcasts
- insists the abuse never happened (!)
- all but excommunicates the Victim/Survivor for speaking up, and lavishes gifts and attention on the other family members
- the sacrificing of the Victim for the other children becomes a way of life for the whole family
6. The Enabler's Scapegoating of the Survivor
- Victim/Survivor is blamed for the abuse
- Victim/Survivor becomes the bad person for his/her accusations ruining the lives of the Perpetrator and/or Enabler
- Victim/Survivor is held responsible for lack of protection, not Enabler or other (adult!) parental figures
7. The Resilience of the Enabler
(this one I found really interesting, as I hadn't ever thought of this before...)
- despite their child's sexual abuse at the hands of their partner, the Enablers are able to go on with their own lives, to pursue successful careers, and to have positive relationships with other children and new partners -- meanwhile, the Survivors find their lives at a standstill, emotionally devastated, in need of psychiatric medication, unable to develop or tolerate healthy relationships, or even in some extreme cases, to live independently
- the abused child remains alive, still inside the Survivor's brain and body, able to watch the Survivor move on in life, while being unable to move along with him or her -- holding him or her back, or erupting as PTSD and/or DID when triggered
- many of the Survivor's Enablers spend energy and time on their own success, while ignoring the needs of their Survivor children
- these Enablers believe themselves to be excellent parents, and have convinced others they are exemplary as well
- Enabler is so dissociated from reality that (s)he cannot and DOES NOT see what is going on, often literally in front of their eyes -- a part of the Enabler's brain is just not going to compute anything that detracts from the official story
- in order to keep the "Good Parent" myth and appearances going, the Enabler was willing to sacrifice one child
- while most Enablers could be said to be good parents in some respects -- made sure the child's physical needs were met and the child survived to adulthood -- they failed to meet the most basic emotional needs of the child, and failed to protect the child from abuse, and no good parent would sacrifice a child to ongoing sexual abuse (one might say "no shit, Sherlock", but I've bolded this for my own sanity)
9. The Survivor's Relationship to the Perpetrator's new Wives/Girlfriends
(Not applicable to me, but may be helpful to others)
- the Perpetrator's new partners often know of the abuse, but fool themselves into thinking it's a clean slate now, and will not happen again
- the new partner may not know, and the Survivor ends up becoming blamed for wrecking another marriage
- the Survivor may hope the new partner will become the parent his or her birth-parent never was
- there may be jealousy (in either direction) between the Survivor and new partner
After this run-down of the common patterns, there is a middle section that suggests these patterns can also occur in the parents of sexual assault victims, and greatly affect the Survivor's healing. I'm not entirely comfortable with this section, but I can see that rapists choose their victims based on subtle cues, and that many people have these characteristics trained into them ahead of time, as well as their self-preservation"radar" trained out of them. I'm just not positive that rapists are always so calculating, or that having perfect parents would necessarily ward off rapists. She doesn't put it that simply, of course, and it's definitely worth a read -- I'm just saying "I don't know, I'm not 100% convinced". I can certainly see how it would apply to acquaintance rape, not so sure about the scary-person-on-the-street type.
The second section gives a low-down on the various after-effects of sexual assault. After a lifetime of "normalcy", PTSD symptoms can sneak up on you decades later. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Panic attacks
- Terror of being attacked again
- Recurring nightmares
- Irritability (piss off, I have an excuse! ;-) )
There are many more symptoms, but these are the most obvious and prevalent. These can often be triggered by a news story, meeting a person you hadn't seen since the time of the abuse / assault, or even a song coming on the radio.
Dissociation and DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) are also common symptoms -- ranging from feeling "not quite there" or viewing life from the outside at times, to total black-outs of time, to actual fragments of personality or full-blown separate identities that emerge when needed (or when they're decidedly not wanted).
Self-harm is a very common symptom -- this can be as simple as drinking too much, but burning and cutting are very prevalent, especially for incest survivors (an outward manifestation of inside pain, control of the injury).
These symptoms and more are dealt with in this final section, along with some coping strategies for the more "minor" ones -- and the regular insistence to find professional therapy for the more destructive ones.
In case you haven't noticed yet: I LOVE THIS BOOK!!! And I can't believe I'd already had the foresight to buy it earlier in the fall, and had promised myself to start reading it just before my Gate-Keeper's most recent attacks began.
This book helped ground me during a crisis. But more than that, it opened my eyes to the patterns that had insinuated themselves in my life, probably even before my birth.
It showed me, plainly, that I never stood a chance. That no amount of tap-dancing or good behaviour or perfection was ever going to have protected me, that I never would have been able to "earn" protection from the people who were supposed to be my care-givers. That I did deserve better. That the fact that I didn't get any better was not because of me, but because nobody was there to give it to me.
Which was a sad place to find myself, just before the holidays. At times a very angry place. A relieved place. Mourning the loss of the Family Myth. Mourning the loss of the parents and caregivers I wished I'd had, but never did. Mourning the loss of all those years when I'd been convinced I was the wrong-doer, and needed to make amends to my poor, suffering family. Mourning the loss of all those years when I thought I didn't deserve any better, and kept finding myself in relationship after relationship with the same god-damned patterns, neurotically hoping for a happier ending. Grieving all the damage caused to a little girl forced to grow up too soon. Grieving all the damage repeated over and over again to the adult trying to make sense of it all.
It doesn't make sense. It was never designed to make sense.
I felt like the sacrificial lamb because I WAS THE FRIGGING SACRIFICIAL LAMB. I felt like my thoughts and feelings and well-being didn't count, because making them count would have destroyed the whole system. Because, as far as the system was concerned, my thoughts and feelings and well-being DID NOT COUNT.
But they do count now. I count now. I know I never will count to the Gate-Keepers, and I'm not going to try any more. There are SO MANY PEOPLE in the world for whom my thoughts and feelings and well-being DO count, and I don't have to tap-dance a single step in order to deserve their love and compassion and caring.
Let the Gate-Keepers do what they will. I've got the secret key to their instruction manual now. And I've got the greatest antidote of all -- I know that my thoughts, feelings and well-being count. I trust my gut and my perceptions. On the days I don't, I can point to page 43 or 86 or 112 in the manual and say "oh yeah, that's you not me". I know they will never give me what I needed as a child. I will no longer expect them to see the error of their ways and give it to me now. I'll give it to myself, thank you very much. As will the people who actually DO love me, instead of just using that word to manipulate my consent.
This book was not easy. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth. But there WAS a happy ending.
I apologize for this "book report" taking so long -- I know I had promised it weeks and weeks ago. The day I finally felt ready was the day of the school shooting, which changed everything. It didn't feel right to write about the book until I was back in the right head-space. Happy to report I finally am. :-)
In the meantime, I've finished reading another gem, which I shall try to report on next week!