Partners of sex abuse survivors are often referred to as “Secondary Survivors.” While we may not have experienced the horror of sex abuse as our loved one has, we are left to deal with the aftermath¹. In this way we are not much as the survivor. Let’s see how the damaging effects of sexual abuse affect us and perhaps how we can cope.
Abuse survivors may be depressed because of unresolved anger in response to feeling hopeless about having some sense of a normal² happy life. Susan is nowhere close to resolving anger in the direction it should go. I find some days being whipsawed from feeling positive to hopeless and back again. It hurts to see someone you love feeling totally lost.
I try to be positive but there are times when my hope battery loses amps and my light dims. It’s so hard for me to share that burden with my partner who is hurting.
Abuse survivors with their fully aware minds, look back and blame themselves for causing the abuse. The honest-to-God truth is they did nothing to cause the abuse and their body responded exactly how it was designed.
I have felt guilt as there were times I unknowingly caused Susan harm by being sexual with her. But how could I know she was hiding the what she was feeling and how much it hurt. Yes, that is misplaced guilt, just as the survivor’s guilt is misplaced. Misplaced guilt is needless and harmful.
Shame is the fraternal twin of guilt. Closely related but not identical.
The survivor may remember that their body may have sexually responded, even though they may have dissociated while the abuse was happening. Another
honest-to-God truth is the body responded exactly as it was designed to. Even as infants, the body responds sexually. The adult mind of the abused recoils and shame overwhelms.
I’ve been told by a number of professionals that we can unconsciously and immediately sense that our prospective partner was abused. What? I would seek out
someone who was abused? I’ve have to deal with that thought occasionally, but not as often as I used to, because I made it a topic of my therapy over time.
Anger or Rage
Some survivors, especially the ones that used dissociation (developing into D.I.D.) have their anger and rage buried so deeply, they can’t even feel it and / or are afraid if they do let it out, it will come out in a torrent that can not be contained. D.I.D. or not, survivors may take out the inside anger on those closest to them for minor or trivial trespasses. Secondary survivors are the easiest and closest target.
One of the tasks of a secondary survivor is to try to recognize the misdirected anger and not take it personally. Yes, much easier said than done. I have not mastered the technique.
Strong Negative Feelings About The Abuser’s Gender
I have no trouble understanding Susan’s negative feeling towards men. If anything is logical to me about the feelings of a survivor it’s this one. What I have a hard time accepting is the supposed exception she has made for me. I believe that is her mind speaking, and not what is in her heart at this time. She has told me at times when we were sexual, she would see her father’s face superimposed over mine.
Difficulties With Closeness And Intimate Relationships
Survivors may associate intimacy with pain and being close to people will get you hurt.
I am here, among other things to support and share. Does what I share mean anything to someone who can’t share at a similar level? This is half the reason I feel like a roommate at times.
The sexually abused child is taught by the abuser that there will be an incentive or reward for certain behavior. Could be a ice cream or a trip to the park. This process is called “grooming.” It’s a quid pro quo that a child can’t really understand, but they remember. Then as an adult, the survivor recalls the grooming deep inside and think they are being prepared for sex by an ordinary thing a couple might do, like go out for ice cream. The survivor may think anytime someone is nice to them that person is expecting sexual favors.
I’ve pointed out the nice things we have done together and she’s been safe so she may discuss that with the people inside her. How long will I have to be careful about what event leads or does not lead to something else?
This is the focus of almost every self-help book for sex abuse survivors and their partners. What they don’t tell you before you buy them is that the survivor better be damn honest about being ready for physical intimacy. They can’t do it just to please you, the secondary survivor. Susan tried but she was not being honest with herself or me. This is the other 50% of feeling like a roommate.
All I got was depressed, which takes me back to the top of the page.
¹. It is not unusual for sex abuse survivors to find each other.
². I’m not sure if anyone has a normal life.