3 Ways To Break Free Of Perfectionism

Worth reading – from Off the Web!

 “You’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging.” ~Brene Brown

There’s nothing perfect about me, and I’m okay with that… now. This wasn’t the case for most of my life, though. In fact, I’ve been a perfectionist for almost thirty years. I’m not counting the first five years of my life when I was free to be as messy and magical as I wanted.

In third grade I asked my mom to buy me a stack of lined notebooks and colored pens. I spent hours neatly labeling each notebook by class, date, and assignment deadlines. If I made one mistake, like a jagged cursive letter or a misspelling, I’d rip out the page and begin again on a fresh sheet.

This was tiring but it was also a compulsion. Everything had to be neat and ordered or else—or else I’d be out of control, scared, and overwhelmed.

Before my parents divorced, they rarely fought, but my father’s frequent absences and his coolness toward my sister and me sparked a firestorm in me.

Expressing anger wasn’t a thing in our family, especially for women. That simply wasn’t Christian enough or loving enough or good enough.

So I denied my anger and my sadness and, most of all, my fear that my family was breaking apart and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.

Inside I burned like coals after a long night’s fire. I never let it get too hot. I played the good child, the loving daughter and sister, but my life was out of control. Thus began my long dance with perfectionism.

I tried to be a perfect girlfriend, perfect student, and perfect employee, all the while denying the expression of my full self, imperfections and all.

At parties, I perfected the art of banter and hosted like no one else. All was accounted for, each detail a way for me to control life.

I never realized that perfectionism was an attempt to avoid all rejection,                                       all criticism, and all failure.  It was a matter of life or death.

Perfectionism saved me from drowning, but it didn’t help me to swim. I was treading water, staying safe, and desperately trying to control my reality, which is never truly possible. What I realized later was at the heart of perfectionism is the desire for love and acceptance.

Life is a practice and when we practice we make mistakes. The desire for love and acceptance are universal desires. There is no shame in mistakes, just an opportunity to learn and to grow.

No matter the root causes of your perfectionism or your desire for it, know that it is a desire for love and acceptance and there is another path to get there. Maybe your family only showed you love and attention when you did everything right.

Maybe you feel the need to challenge yourself to be bigger and do better in your work and your relationships. This is not a bad thing. But there’s a difference between excellence and perfection.

The One Thing You Need to Know to Overcome Perfectionism –  Surrender

… to the moment, to change, to messiness or imperfection. Surrender is about accepting where we are at in any moment, knowing that we are a work in progress.

Excellence, unlike perfectionism, is about lovingly pushing ourselves to act, think, relate, and create from the highest part of ourselves.

Perfectionism is about trying to control the outcome in order to receive love and acceptance.  It’s all about fear.

Surrender gently tug us toward our own center of perfect humanness. Surrender also invites self-forgiveness, an act all perfectionists need to practice daily.

3 Tips to Manage Perfectionism

1. Laugh.

About anything. Do it often. Having a sense of humor about ourselves and our actions, especially embarrassing or disappointing experiences, doesn’t have to be a shield or form of protection. Humor can heal or at least create enough dopamine and endorphins to get us through the tough moments.

2. Forgive, forgive, forgive. Most of all, yourself.

Forgiveness is actually a selfish act. This is not a bad thing. Forgiveness releases us from fear-based thoughts and emotions. It is the gateway to surrendering our perception of control over our lives and over the actions of others.

3. Surround yourself by free spirits.

If you can’t find anyone like that in your circle of friends, then read about them or watch movies about dreamers and risk-takers—people who’ve failed or made huge mistakes only to overcome them and create an even better life than they could have imagined.

 • ~ •

After thirty years of perfecting perfectionism, I’ve finally learned to let go of controlling every detail of my life. It’s scary sometimes, and there are days when I want to organize and reorganize my desk instead of facing what’s really bothering me.

But those difficult, uncomfortable, and challenging moments pass much quicker when I simply exhale and surrender to whatever is in my heart and in my mind. A softening occurs, and my body finally relaxes instead of being constantly braced for struggle.

I may still compare myself to that social media dynamo who effortlessly attracts a huge following on Facebook or avoid looking at myself as I pass a store window for fear of being disappointed by my reflection, but now I just smile and keep going, knowing that this too shall pass.

Edited for readability
by  Erin Dougherty    Join Erin Dougherty’s mailing list at www.birdsongreadings.com and get a free copy of “Finding Your Personal Mythology.” Or join her Facebook group“The Mythic Life,” all about the everyday hero’s journey.

3 Solutions to Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are NOT uncommon.

Some people experience them once or twice in a lifetime while others have them whenever they’re speaking in public or are preparing for an important phone call. In severe cases, sufferers may feel like they’re going to die.

Anxiety is defined as “fear of the unknown”, and historically, it aides in survival. It’s close relative,  fear,  prepared us to choose fight-or-flight in dangerous situations by heightening our senses and dumping the fine-tuning chemicals into our blood stream, like adrenaline and epinephrine.

Yet today, while still protecting us from genuine danger,  fear and panic somehow morphed into a bunch of barely relatable and dysfunctional afflictions:  panic disorder,  obsessive-compulsive disorder,  phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder.

As your rate of breathing accelerates, you begin to chest-breathe instead of belly breathing (breathing deeply). This causes hyperventilation, where you are blowing off too much carbon dioxide (CO2) . This leads to a rise in blood pH, which in lay-terms, means symptoms like dizziness, weakness, fainting, headache, and tingling in the hands and feet.

SOLUTIONS

1. Focus on deep breathing.

Hyperventilation brings on many sensations, like lightheadedness and tightness of the chest. By learning to tune into your breathing, and then consciously controlling it, you develop a coping skill that you can use to calm yourself down when you begin to feel anxious. If you know how to control your breathing, you are also less likely to create the very sensations that you are afraid of.

2. CO2 Normalizes blood pH.

If you are already experiencing a full-blown panic-attack, breathe into a paper bag.  It will reduce many of the extraneous symptoms of panic and help normalize your breathing by re-balancing your bloods pH.

3. Practice relaxation techniques.

The opposite of a panic-response is a relaxation-response. If you are prone to anxiety attacks,  learn and practice relaxation techniques. When practiced regularly activities such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation, you are strengthening the body’s relaxation response. It also helps you become aware of the difference between bodily sensations that are relaxed versus sensations that indicate dysfunctional tension. Make time for relaxation exercises every day!

**Note: If these techniques do not help, please see a therapist for a deeper evaluation of the causes for your panic. 

Source: The Neurobiology of Panic Attacks

5 Ways to Stop Being a People Pleaser 

Worth reading! – from Off The WebThere’s nothing wrong with playing nice and getting along. But people pleasers  rely on others’ approval to feel good about themselves. Saying “no” makes them feel guilty or worry that others’ will think they’re selfish, unreasonable, or inconsiderate. And so, in order to feel worthy and accepted, they said yes. And yes. And yes.
But constantly striving for others’ approval while ignoring your needs and well-being takes a toll. Though people pleasers may convince themselves that
making others’ happy makes them happy, the self-administered pressure to manage others’ emotionscan be exhausting, anxiety-inducing, and even lead to depression.

Here are five ways to disrupt your people-pleasing. Is that okay with you guys? Because if it’s not, I can change them. Just let me know. Really. 

1. Recognize the difference between people-pleasing versus simply being kind and generous.

Are you helping because it makes you feel good? Or because you feel less bad?
If helping out reinforces your values and makes you feel good, go for it.
For example, say you’re asked to head a committee at your kid’s school. If saying yes would underscore your value of contributing to the school community and make you feel happy and satisfied, even if it’s a bit stressful, go for it.

But if saying yes only allows you to avoid guilt, and makes you feel overburdened and resentful, you may be doing it for the wrong reasons. If you say yes simply to feel less bad, less anxious, less guilty, less sorry, it’s probably driven by people-pleasing.

This doesn’t mean you should stop being helpful and thoughtful and caring— it just means you should recognize whether you’re doing something because you actually want to, or because you’ll “feel bad” if you don’t. Recognizing the difference doesn’t make you selfish; it makes you honest.

2. Let your values be the driver of decisions

– not just whether you were asked or not. If the filter that decides whether or not to help out is, “Did someone ask me to do it?”consider changing out that filter. Instead, ask “Is this in line with my values and interests?”

Indeed, a 2013 study by happiness researcher Sonja Lyubormirsky recommended choosing activities related to one’s values and interests in order to maximize happiness. This can absolutely include serving important people in your life, organizations, and causes. Just make sure it doesn’t consist only of activities determined by others.

3. Practice being assertive

Healthy assertiveness can feel like brass-knuckled aggression to the people pleasers among us because the passive end of the spectrum is so cozy and familiar. But there is a long way between passive and truly aggressive. The aggressive among us just go for what they want, regardless of whether or not bystanders are harmed or what bridges are burned.
An assertive person, by contrast, commits to being polite and respectful. If you’re a people pleaser, you never have to leave behind being nice. You simply have to let go of trying to force others’ to be happy by doing whatever is asked of you.

So try increasing your assertiveness bit-by-bit. It will feel wrong to stand up for your needs and rights at first, but try it out.

Warm up by expressing an opinion when someone asks where you want to eat or what movie you want to see. Move on to politely disagreeing with Uncle Albert’s conspiracy theories, but listening respectfully and asking questions about his point of view. Then try saying “no” to a ridiculous request without bending over backwards to explain why. Keep calm and carry on, and eventually it will feel like second nature to meet others’ in the middle.

In sum, passiveness doesn’t respect you; aggression doesn’t respect others. Assertiveness lies in between, walking away from a discussion with respect for others— and yourself—intact.

3. Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries doesn’t make you a bad person. You can’t please all people all the time. Unless you’re a box of Thin Mints. Then maybe.

These days, everything is extreme, from politics to weather to ironing. Spend even a couple of minutes on the internet and you’ll find an extreme split between views of the world: from being empathetic and caring to all humanity, or screw everyone and tell them what they can go do to themselves.
People pleasers  fall into the former category, but worry if they say “no” or otherwise stop trying to make everyone happy, they’ll automatically be dumped in a second. In other words, the self-image of people pleasers  hinges on every request. If they say yes, they breathe a sigh of relief—they’re still nice, good people. If they say no, they feel guilty, as if they hurt someone or did something bad. But it takes a lot more than saying “no” to watching your neighbor’s three disrespectful kids, while he watches football, to breaking your moral character.

4. Stop over-apologizing

People pleasers are always sorry. One of my clients joked she should introduce herself with “Hi, my name is Joanna, and I am sorry.”

People pleasers are always sorry.
If you’re a people pleaser, you mean only the best. Over-apologizing feels like it smooths things over and keeps others happy. But it can actually be a wee bit dishonest. Hear me out on this one: apologizing when you did nothing wrong makes it appear as if you were in the wrong. It’s an admission of guilt for a crime you didn’t commit. What’s more, it can make it look like others’ outrageous requests or poorly-thought-out actions were reasonable and justified. Save true contrition for the times you actually screw up (and we all do).

5. To sum it all up, be a people-respecter, not a people pleaser

Never hesitate to do the right thing. When your mother-in-law asks, go shovel her driveway. When your colleague asks, make a donation to get the office cleaning lady a nice Christmas gift. That’s just being respectful. But of all the people you respect, be sure to include yourself.

by: the Savvy Psychologist : 5 Ways to Stop Being a People Pleaser :: Quick and Dirty Tips ™
For even more savvy, get every Savvy Psychologist episode delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the Savvy Psychologist newsletter. Or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, listen on Spotify, or like on Facebook.

Edited for readability

“Life doesn’t happen to you – it happens for you”

You are not a victim of fate or circumstances.

Lessons will be repeated until learned.

PemaChodron

In my psychotherapy practice, people often present with superficial problems, as if to distract from the deeper issues. I can see it in their faces – the way they avoid eye contact. I wouldn’t even say it’s a conscious defense- mechanism.  So I ask the deeper questions: “Why?  What would that give you?”  

The answers often surprise my clients.

“Well… I want my family to respect me”. .. And what do you imagine that would give you?  “Validation”.   And what would that give you? … “A sense that my life is worth something.”

That way we are getting somewhere – the underlying, often unknown, motives that drive their actions. 

By making it conscious, we then have choices – Choices about the authenticity of the goal; the strategies employed that haven’t worked, and an opportunity to re-strategize to make the goal achievable.

“Life doesn’t happen to you – it happens for you”  ~ Jim Carey

Love and caring will always lead the way – fear gets in the way of becoming what people most desire. If I can help a person realize this, I can help them create the life they were meant to have – one with passion, with exuberance, one that feels vital and real!

Helping people to NOT suffer has become my obsession. I know it’s possible. That’s why I love my work.

How to Communicate Effetcively

Communication Skills using the

Awareness Wheel

I remember reading somewhere that the average person has about 3000 thoughts per minute, along with the corresponding emotions, expectations, and conclusions. I don’t know how they came up with 3000, but lets assume it’s true – That’s a lot of stuff going on! If you want to be clear and congruent in your communications, it’s essential that you slow this process down. You have to learn how to check in with yourself.

One of the tools I use with my clients in therapy is called The Awareness Wheel. Once mastered, it helps the user understand their experiences (awareness), and, if desired, communicate clearly to someone else.

Each experience can be broken down into the following five categories:

AwWheel

  • Sensing or the Facts- what you have seen or heard. They are behavior descriptions, as if seen from a video camera, without evaluation or ascribing meaning.
  • Thoughts – what you tell yourself the facts mean. They are the interpretations, beliefs, conclusions, or stories you tell yourself about what is going on.
  • Feelings or Emotions – Keep it simple: Happy, sad, mad, or afraid.
  • Wants or intentions– What you think will fix the problem.
  • Doing or ActionsWhat you actually do.

Becoming a better communicator

  • Perception Check: This is my guess, am I accurate?  Sometimes it is a good idea to test, clarify and alter your interpretations by moving back and forth between the sensory data and your interpretations. (FACTS and THOUGHTS)

A common problem in relationships that often occurs is the result of confusing FACTS with interpretations about what is happening. Our interpretations generate emotions, and we can be caught up in our anger or hurt because our interpretation is different from our partners. The model helps you to clarify interpretations and emotions by going back to the original sensory data (what you saw, heard or felt) and checking each other’s interpretations. You may or may not get to agreement on the meaning of what you witnessed, but it’s helpful to know what each of you is thinking and perceiving.

  • Use Responsible “I” Statements  

Speaking as though we know the “other’s” intentions, feelings, or thoughts is offensive. By using “I” statements, we show that we are speaking responsibly about something we should be an authority about – ourselves!

  • Reflective Listening or “Mirroring”

Reflective listening consists of slowing the conversation down, while assuring your focus is on being a good listener and not your defense! After a sentence or two, you, the Listener, repeat back in your own words what you think your partner is saying. You then ask if you heard them accurately and completely. You keep trying this until your partner says, “Yes, I feel understood.” Then you switch, and you say a few sentences to your partner, and they repeat what they heard back to you.

Exercises using the Awareness Wheel

  1. Get to know yourself. Journal regularly about your experiences using the Awareness Wheel. Learn the difference between FACTS (what you have seen or heard); THOUGHTS (interpretations/ stories I tell myself about the Facts)); EMOTIONS (body-feelings – Happy Sad Mad Afraid); WANTS (goals or intentions – what you think will fix the problem) and the ACTION taken. Keep in simple.
  2. Practice expressing your Awareness Wheel, through writing first, to another person. Remember to use responsible “I” statements. Ask yourself:*** “ How can I say this in a way that the OTHER person is most likely to hear me?”

For example:

“When _(Facts)_   I thought    (Thought/Belief)    and I felt  (Emotion)  . What I’d like is  (Request/Want)What do you think?” (invites sharing)

Or:

“I felt _(Emotion)  when you _(Facts)_ because  (Thought/Belief)  , and I want _(Request/Want)_. What do you think?”

For example:

Let’s call my clients Joe and Jess.

Jess comes home after a frustrating, but productive day at work. She gets out of her car, and notices, again, the dead spots on the lawn (sensory data). She scowls (feelings- anger) and thinks (thoughts), “How many times do I have to ask Joe to fix the sprinklers!!!” (Wants and actions).

She enters the house and hears a football anouncer blaring from the TV (sensory data). She roles her eyes (feelings: sad/disappointed)  and thinks, “He’s not even with the kids. It’s like I have THREE children instead of two.”

Jess goes into the kitchen to find her mother feeding the kids their dinner, and is so thankful that she at least has her mother!  Jess thinks she wants a divorce.
Because Jess has worked with me for a while, she decides to not act on all these conclusions, but goes to her room to journal about first. 
After summarizing the last 5 minutes (as written above), she asks herself : 

“ok, so WHATS the issue?”.

I don’t feel supported;  and I’d like a more equal partnership. 

She practices her approach in the journal first, remembering the advice :”How can I say this in a way that Joe is more likely to HEAR me?”

Can I talk to you about some things? (Invites participation). 

Ok. This is just my perception, ok? When I got home today, I noticed the dead grass again, then I walked in to find you watching TV while mom was feeding our kids. (SENSORY DATA). And I Thought to myself ‘Joe isn’t taking our talks seriously!’ … because – I mean – how many times have I asked you to help me take care of the house better? How many times have I told you that the kids need more time with you (prior Wants and Actions)??  Naturally, I am incredibly frustrated (Feelings)! I’m seriously getting to the point of giving up (Want), and I may want a divorce.(future Action).

You Can Say Anything!

Communication Skills using the Awareness Wheel

I remember reading somewhere that the average person has about 300 thoughts per minute, along with the corresponding emotions, expectations, and conclusions. I don’t know how they came up with 300, but lets assume it’s true – That’s a lot of stuff going on! If you want to be clear and congruent in your communications, its essential that you slow this process down. You have to learn how to check in with yourself.

One of the tools I use with my clients in therapy is (aptly called) The Awareness Wheel. Once mastered, it helps the user understand their experiences (awareness), and, if desired, communicate clearly to someone else.

Each experience can be broken down into the following five categories:

AwarenessWheelSensing or the Facts– what you have seen or heard. They are behavioral descriptions, as if seen from a video camera, without evaluation or ascribing meaning.

Thinking – what you tell yourself the facts mean. They are the interpretations, beliefs, conclusions, or stories you tell yourself about what is going on.

Feelings or Emotions – Keep it simple: Sad, mad, glad or afraid.

Wants or intentions – What you think will fix the problem.

Doing or Actions – What you actually do.

Becoming a better communicator

• Perception Check

This is my guess, am I accurate? ” Sometimes it is a good idea to test, clarify and alter your interpretations by moving back and forth between the sensory data and your interpretations.

A common problem in relationships is the result of confusing FACTS with thoughts/interpretations about what is happening. Our interpretations generate emotions, and we can be caught up in our anger or hurt because our assumptions about what’s going on is different than our partners. The model helps you to clarify interpretations and emotions by going back to the original sensory data (what you saw or heard) and checking each other’s interpretations. You may or may not get to agreement on the sensory data or the interpretations, but it’s helpful to know what each of you is thinking and perceiving.

• Use Responsible “I” Statements

Speaking as though we know the “other’s” intentions, feelings, or thoughts is offensive. By using “I” statements, we show that we are speaking responsibly about something we should be an authority about – ourselves! (See below)

•Reflective Listening or “Mirroring”

Reflective listening consists of slowing the conversation down, while assuring your focus is on being a good listener and not your defense! After a sentence or two, you, the Listener, repeat back, in your own words, what you think your partner is saying. You then ask if you heard them accurately and completely. You keep trying this until your partner says, “Yes, I feel understood.” Then you switch, and you say a few sentences to your partner, and they repeat what they heard back to you.

Exercises using the Awareness Wheel

1. Get to know yourself. Journal regularly about your experiences using the Awareness Wheel. Learn the difference between FACTS (what you have seen or heard); THOUGHTS (interpretations/ stories I tell myself about the Facts)); EMOTIONS (body-feelings – Happy Sad Mad Afraid); WANTS (goals or intentions – what you think will fix the problem) and the ACTION taken. Keep in simple.

2. Do your Actions reflect your Wants? Reviewing one of your written Awareness Wheels, notice if your ACTIONS matched what you said you wanted. If not, what got in the way of you acting in a way that may have gotten you what you wanted? Hint: Other beliefs or wants? Write a few ideas of other possible ways you could have handled it (for the future).

3. Practice expressing your Awareness Wheel, through writing first, to another person. Remember to use responsible “I” statements. Ask yourself: *** “How can I say this in a way that the OTHER person is most likely to hear me?”***

Possible sentence structures:

“When _(Facts)_ I thought _(Thought/Belief)_, and I felt (Emotion) . What I’d like is (Request/Want). What do you think?” (invites sharing)

Example : “When you didn’t come home at 6pm (Fact), I thought you were possibly hurt or at least disrespectful of our plans (Thoughts/Beliefs), and I felt scared and then mad (Feelings). What I’d like is to trust that you will stick to our agreements so I don’t worry so much (Request/Wants). What do you think?

Or:

I feel _(Emotion) when you _(Facts)_ because _(Thought/Belief) _, and I want _(Request/Want)_. Does that make sense?”

Example: “I feel scared (Emotion) when you yell at me (Fact) because it seems aggressive to me, and I’m not sure what will happen next (Thoughts/Beliefs). I want you to lower your voice please (Want/Request). Does that make sense?”

 

Practice, Practice, Practice!… Now you can say anything!

 

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The Effects Of Sexual Abuse

– WORTH READING from Off the Web!

a_losided_gaze_by_imaginaryevfan-d3j8gvt“I was four when my father first molested me,” says Dana (her name, like others in this story, has been changed for the protection of privacy), a 36-year-old program administrator in Berkeley, California. Her face and voice expressionless, she continues: “It started with fondling. He’d bounce me up and down on his lap, or make me play hide-and-seek, and then molest me when he caught me. I got very good at hiding, but it didn’t help. By the time I was 12, he was raping me several times a month.”

Until she was an adult, Dana told no one about this abuse. “My father said, “If you tell, I’ll tell everyone it was all your fault,” she says flatly. “I was sure they would all believe him. My father was a successful businessman; our family looked completely normal from the outside.”

Dana left home when she was 18; she was married at 20. “Joe was the most non-male man I’d ever met,” she recalls with just a hint of a smile. “He created a real sense of safety for me. He was completely passive, easy to control. When I told him about my father, he was very understanding. I thought that being safe for the first time in my life would be enough to make me happy.”

But eight years and two children later, the marriage ended. “I just wasn’t able to be there, emotionally or sexually,” Dana says. “In eight years I think we had sex 15 times. To the day we got divorced, we never had an argument, but we didn’t share much happiness either.” She adds, “You see how I talk about all this, without any feeling? That’s how I coped with being molested: all through my childhood, I was detached, unemotional. My mother tells me she never saw me shed a tear after I was eight years old. Shutting down was the best I could do as a child. But it just didn’t work for me as a wife.”

A 1985 study conducted by the Los Angeles Times concluded that at least 22% of all Americans–27% of all women and 16% of men–have been victims of child sexual abuse. Like Dana, most of these children never told anyone: only 3% of the abuse was ever reported to police or other agencies.

Incestuous abuse is any kind of exploitative sexual contact between relatives that occurred before the victim turned 18 years old, and it accounted for 23% of the abuse victims in the study. 41% were molested by friends or acquaintances; 27% by strangers. Two-thirds of those victimized were girls and 93% of their abusers were men. Not all abuse involves intercourse but the effects are similarly devastating.

The Psychological Effect

Untreated sexual abuse,” says Padma Moyer, MFCC, a San Francisco therapist who works with adults survivors of incest, “is a time bomb. Sometimes it ticks so quietly that even the victim doesn’t hear it. But if it isn’t defused, eventually there’s an explosion.”

The fallout from this explosion was reported in the book, Father-Daughter Incest (Harvard University Press, 1982), by Judith Herman. She found that 65% of adult incest survivors suffered from severe depression; 55% had sexual problems; 35% became promiscuous; 20% became alcoholics and/or drug addicts. For many adults who were molested as children, self-destructive behavior is the only visible clue that abuse has occurred. Selective amnesia is common among survivors, whose memories may be blocked by years of threats to “keep Daddy’s secret–or else,” and by the tendency of the childhood psyche to repress traumatic experiences.

Marriage is the spark that ignites the time bomb within many survivors, says Eugene Porter, MFCC, an Oakland, California therapist who counsels couples in which one or both partners is an incest survivor. “Making the commitment to marriage brings up all the issues connected with the betrayal of being molested: intimacy, trust, sexuality,” concludes Ms. Moyer. “And when marriage is perceived as an obligation to take care of their partners’ sexual needs, it recapitulates their worst childhood experiences–being trapped and unable to say no.”

If the abuse hasn’t been resolved, victims blame themselves for the molestation, Mr. Porter says. And the resulting disturbances – depression, anxiety, guilt, low self-esteem–often put a strain on the spouse. “On the one hand the spouse feels the urge to cure the survivor; on the other, there’s a resentment about having to take care of this vulnerable, fragile, often withdrawn partner,” he continues. Survivors often have difficulty forming close emotional relationships and trusting their partners. Many female survivors project the rage they feel toward their fathers onto their husbands.

Mark, 35, a copywriter in Oakland, California and his wife Ellen, 31, an accountant, says: “When Ellen and I first got together she told me she’d been molested by her brother all through her childhood. Neither of us knew at the time how much that would affect our relationship. All I knew was that every time we started feeling close to each other, Ellen would freak out: she’d accuse me of cheating on her; she’d say she knew I was planning to dump her; she’d start threatening to leave me before I could hurt her. Then she’d go into a deep depression,” Mark sighs. “Meanwhile, I was getting hurt, because no matter how I tried, I couldn’t convince her that I loved her. Finally, Ellen started seeing a therapist. Then she figured out that she was afraid to trust me; she thought I’d betray her the way her brother had.” When Ellen first asked Mark to see a therapist with her, mark was resistant. “I thought it was her problem,” he recalls. But eventually Mark agreed and now says that therapy saved their marriage. “She started being able to distinguish me from her brother,” he says, ” so she could interpret our interaction as it was–not as a replay of what he’d done to her. That took the pressure off me. I stopped feeling like it was my job to prove that she was entitled to be loved. We’re a lot more relaxed and loving now.”

Sexual Problems

Sex is a particularly problematic area of marriage for molestation survivors, whose most traumatic memories involve sexual acts.

Jane, a 35-year-old nurse in Oakland, California remembers almost nothing of her childhood years. But she knows that both of her sisters were raped repeatedly by their father, and her own out-of-control behavior and nightmares have convinced her that she, too, was sexually abused. “Before I got married, I’d sleep with anybody,” she says. “But with my husbands, I was totally disinterested in sex.” Sighing deeply, she adds, “I’ve never been able to believe that there’s any reason to make love besides that it’s how men use you. I’ve never had an orgasm. I’ve never been able to say no to a man, and I’ve never felt close or cared for.”

Many incest survivors have “flashbacks” while making love, says Julie Robbins, LCSW, a therapist specializing in child and adult survivors of sexual abuse. Women who had orgasms while being abused as children may punish their bodies for “enjoying” the abuse, becoming non-orgasmic, obese, or anorexic as adults, she says.

Some male survivors suffer impotence, most often under circumstances reminiscent of their molestation. “Men who have been molested, particularly by their mothers,” says Mr. Porter, “experience a tremendous amount of guilt. Society thinks of mothers as sacrosanct, virginal, so the self-blame among these men is acute. Also, mothers who molest often transmit an expectation of fidelity to their victim sons, which distorts male survivors’ view of what fidelity means. One patient of mine thought he was abnormal and deceptive because he occasionally fantasized about women other than his wife. Another was totally compulsive about sex as a reaction to his molestation by his mother, who had been quite insistent that she be his ‘only one.’”

Alcohol and drugs are used to dull sexual responsiveness, a well as the pain of repressed or remembered abuse.

“Until I started therapy last year at the age of 36,” says Laura, a legal secretary in San Mateo, California, “I had no idea why I could never undress in front of my husband, let alone have sex with him, unless I was completely drunk. Or, why I used to get smashed at parties, or whenever there were any strange men around. Now my memories are coming back; I know that my father was messing with me and I know I used drinking to keep myself from realizing why I’ve been so terrified of men all my life. But now I have two problems to deal with: being molested, and being an alcoholic.”

Breaking the Cycle

Perhaps the most devastating effect of childhood sexual abuse is that it has proven to be a key link in the multigenerational chain of emotional, physical, and sexual violence. Parents United, the nationwide incest treatment agency in San Jose, California reports that 80% of the sexually abusive parents, and 60% of the physically abusive parents they treat, were themselves molested as children. And, it is highly likely that children of untreated survivors of molestation will also be abused, both in and outside of their families. Eighty percent of the molested children treated at Parents United have mothers who were sexually abused.

How can adults who have suffered the anguish of childhood sexual abuse do the same thing to other children that was done to them?

Some molesters have sex with children because low self-esteem (due to self-blame for their childhood molestation) convinces them that no adult will willingly have sex with them.

Many women who were abused perpetuate the cycle – not necessarily by molesting their children, but by putting them at risk. “If a female survivor’s feelings and memories remain unconscious,” says Ms. Moyer ,”and she doesn’t examine the family dynamic in which she grew up, she may choose a husband like her perpetrator, and create a family like her own family. In that way, she may inadvertently lay the groundwork for her children to be abused.”

The tragic repercussions of multigenerational abuse can be prevented. In the past 10 years, researchers and therapists across the country have developed specialized treatment techniques that can help to heal the wounds of childhood sexual abuse, and thereby lessen its impact on future generations. “When people deal with what happened to them, and the pain of it,” says Ms. Moyer, “they’re much less likely to re-enact it.”

Therapy

Mr. Porter advises survivors of sexual abuse who are considering marriage and/or child rearing to tell their partners that they’ve been molested before proceeding. Therapy for one or both partners, and relationship counseling is recommended. “In my experience,” he says, “most women tell their fiancées; most men don’t. But the first step toward establishing healthy family is establishing honesty within the couple. Often the safest way to disclose is to come in as a couple and work it through together in the safety of a therapist’s office.”

What can a couple expect from the therapeutic process? The “disclosure phase,” Mr. Porter says – the breaking of the secret – often precipitates a good deal of stress in the relationship. The survivor worries about being rejected; the spouse feels confused and disoriented, wondering how he or she should feel, should treat their partner, etc. And, while feeling bad for the partner, they may also feel anger–a “why didn’t you tell me?” reaction. Therapy can help navigate these complex responses.

Spouses of survivors who must have ongoing relationships with their abusers often experience a range of intense emotions. “The first time I met Ellen’s brother,” says Mark, “I wanted to murder him…slowly and painfully. It was the strangest feeling to realize that this man was not only the person who had hurt the woman I love, this was also a man who had sex with my wife. Neither Ellen nor I could stand to be around him. First we stopped going to family gatherings; then we moved to California, partly to get away from him.” Ms. Moyer says that the relationship between an incest survivor and the person who molested her is usually either non-existent or problematic. “Survivors whose offenders are still living,” she says, “have a variety of ways of coping with that relationship. Many simply cut off contact. Many have minimal contact.”

Ms. Moyer states that counseling offers other great benefits. “It’s a stressful thing to go through,” she says, ” but it can also be a time of building a bridge of intimacy that can bring incredible love and solidarity.”

Dana began therapy shortly after her divorce in 1980, to work through the aftermath of the abuse she suffered from her father. A few years later, she was married for a second time. “This time around, marriage is really working for me!” she asserts.

“And I can safely say that being in therapy made all the difference. It’s been very painful, but worth every teardrop. For the first time, I went beyond knowing in my head that the incest happened – I connected with my feelings about it. Now, I don’t’ retreat emotionally the way I used to. I’ve learned to say no, and strangely enough, that’s helped me to become more sexual. I used to just do it and not be there, but now I’m able to acknowledge I’m a sexual person.”

But the greatest reward of the healing process she has gone through, Dana says, is watching her two children grow up happy and healthy. “I’ve taught them they have control.”

Working through this issue makes it possible to make conscious choices and to break old patterns. Says Ms. Moyer: “People who work to heal from child sexual abuse are changing the legacies of future generations.”

Edited for readability from:  meredithmaran.com/mag_bride_abused.htm

Meredith Maran is the author of many books including My Lie: A True Story of False Memory. She’s on twitter @meredithmaran