The Damage Caused By Sexual Abuse
Heyward Ewart Ph.D., our guest speaker, devoted much of his 20-year career treating victims of child abuse. In his new book, "The Lies That Bind: The Permanence of Child Abuse," Dr. Ewart maintains that sexual abuse mangles the personality and introduces a "false self" that literally attracts predators throughout life.
David: HealthyPlace.com moderator.
The people in blue are audience members.
Beginning of Chat Transcript
David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com. Our topic tonight is "The Damage Caused By Sexual Abuse". Our guest is a psychologist and author, Heyward Ewart, Ph.D.
Dr. Ewart retired from a 20-year practice to devote himself to public education in the realms of domestic and child abuse and, more recently, the identification of dangerous students. He is a Diplomate of the American College of Forensic Examiners, and an adjunct professor of psychology at University of South Carolina. His new book, "The Lies That Bind: The Permanence of Child Abuse," is based on treating sexual abuse victims for his entire career. It contains graphic case histories demonstrating that abuse mangles the personality and introduces a "false self" that literally attracts predators throughout life.
Good evening Dr. Ewart, and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. Thank you for being our guest tonight. Are you saying that once a person has been sexually abused, the damage that has been caused leaves them open to further episodes of abuse?
Dr. Ewart: Absolutely. Such an event begins to mangle the personality so that the victim believes that it is his or her fault. The "my fault" thinking, is the biggest factor in people developing an attitude that it is their fault, and they deserve no better than being treated in an abusive way.
David: From what I've read, it is not unusual for the sexual abuse victim to reach a conclusion that the sexual abuse was her/his fault. In other types of crimes, that kind of thinking usually doesn't come about. How does that occur in the person who has been sexually abused?
Dr. Ewart: Usually, the sexual abuse is at the hands of a much older person. Children are taught that older people are good and correct and that children must learn from them. Therefore, if an adult does something that the child thinks is wrong, then the only conclusion is that it's "my fault". The trauma is directly related to the age difference.
David: You also used the term "false self". Can you explain in plain terms what that means?
Dr. Ewart: Yes. The original abuse will lead to further abuse, because of the attraction of predators. Predators, by their nature, attack wounded individuals. They are thus able to recognize wounded children, and they attack again.
As these incidents are repeated, the abuse tends to get worse and worse, and a kind of brainwashing takes effect so that the sexual abuse victim begins to believe that they were born to be abused and that they are equal to other people. It's the same type of brainwashing that happens in prisoners of war camps, where the captive's identity is broken down to the very bottom, and then they take on the identity that the captive or tormentor says they are. The biggest thing to understand is, that abuse is the strongest form of communication about one's self.
David: Given that scenario, the person's self-esteem at that point is almost non-existent and they are really a "broken" individual. What can be done to recover from that point?
Dr. Ewart: It would be deprogramming, and there are two stages in treatment. One is for them to understand how brainwashing works and how it worked on them. And then, they need to be treated for trauma because child abuse causes emotional trauma. When the victim understands clearly how these ideas about self were formed, they have the freedom to reject the lies.
David: Dr. Ewart's new book, "The Lies That Bind: The Permanence of Child Abuse," is based on treating sexual abuse victims for his entire career.
We have lot's of audience questions, Dr. Ewart, so let's get started:
smilewmn: How can I identify what is my "false self" and my "real self", so that I don't attract predators?
Dr. Ewart: The false self is intact and operating when predators are being attracted, and when you find that you can't break an abusive relationship. The true self is the one that expresses your individuality most completely, smilewmn.
lostgirl: How do we recognize predators?
Dr. Ewart: The very first indication is that a predator wants to own you, you become property, and you are treated as property. Possession is the opposite of love.
David: Here are a few audience comments on what's been said so far, then we'll continue with more questions:
helio: The worst part for me is when I confronted my family and they left me. Feeling "disposable" is the pain; being disposable to your own family of origin :( I know for sure that this was not my fault, but it took some time to realize this.
jellybean15644: I hear what you're saying Dr. When I was younger, I believed it was my fault and wondered what I did to provoke it.
Kassy: You should not have trusted someone so much.
sad_eyed_angel: I think that you are talking about children who are repeat victims of sexual abuse. I never, during my abuse, felt like I deserved the abuse that I was receiving.
LisaM: I have found myself attracted to men who are abusive, and though I have been in therapy for close to 5 years, I can't seem to break the pattern. Do you have any suggestions on how to stop this destructive behavior?
Dr. Ewart: Lisa: Number one, any therapy that goes beyond 6 months is useless because the prolonging of the therapy proves that the therapist does not understand the problem. Second, you must have a therapist that understands what abuse does and how it does it.
anomaly: Are you saying that we can expect to undo in 6 months or less, the damage that has been with us all our lives?
Susan Maree: Are you saying it should only take 6 months to heal?
Dr. Ewart: Most definitely! Some people have gotten well since reading my book. It should take 6 months, or less because healing or understanding are the same things. Understanding the truth, because the truth will set you free. Prolonged therapy continues to drive home and confirm the victim mentality.
David: Dr. Ewart, in your experience of 20 years of treating sexual abuse victims, how many are able to reach the point where they are no longer "victims" for these predators? Even with therapy, it seems like a very difficult thing to overcome.
Dr. Ewart: My patients have gotten well within a few months. When the therapist understands the problem and understands you, the therapist can help you understand and accept the truth.
anomaly: I don't have a "victim" mentality. I've been in a supportive relationship for 4 years, but my self-esteem has been so damaged I don't know how it feels to have any.
Dr. Ewart: You are not over the trauma and you are probably having triggers that bring reminders of things that were said to you in the past and done to you in the past. Those flashbacks need to be treated so that they don't bring a feeling of worthlessness.
LeeAnnCx: I host a chat for survivors of sexual abuse and rape. One of the common problems some of the survivors of sexual abuse face is stopping the "it's my fault" thinking. How can a person stop this kind of thinking, especially if they don't have a therapist or access to one?
Dr. Ewart: LeeAnn, they need to understand, at the deepest level, why children take on the blame. Children take on the blame because they rule out the older person as being at fault and because other predators abuse them in other ways. The message that "I deserve it" is confirmed over-and-over. The brainwashing of a child is more permanent than the brainwashing of an adult, as though the message is carved into the bark of a young tree and as the tree grows so does the size of the message.
Let me add that there is a strong factor of obedience and for a brainwashed child to brand as lies the communication, would make the child feel like the ultimate traitor. The greater the abuse, the greater the obedience and the greater the loyalty.
David: Here are 2 similar questions:
teddyjan1: How do you reach the deepest level in a person, to tell them that they are worth something? How do you do that?
Dr. Ewart: I have that person do it, by encouraging them to explore any possibility of a talent or ability they have ever thought he or she might have, and the development of one's unique abilities begins to give a sense of self.
con_3_3_3: I understand why children take on the blame, and I still struggle with shame and guilt. The self-hate in me, and the feelings of being damaged are so deeply rooted. How does one stop that? I do not feel deserving of much of anything.
Dr. Ewart: con_3_3_3, when you get that feeling, ask yourself who's voice are you really hearing and who first told you that and how. Get in the habit of always identifying the voice.
David: As you can imagine, we have a few audience comments on what's been said so far. I'll post those and then we'll continue:
DeafDeb: I believe I understand, but I still think I have more healing to do.
freshoney: Being a survivor of sexual abuse obviously has trust factors, and I know that for me, it took 6 months just to begin to trust my therapist. Now, can you rush 38 yrs of damage?
con_3_3_3: Are you saying that 6 months of therapy can take care of one issue? Or are you saying that it is sufficient for multiple issues? I cannot see how one can be free of it in only 6 months. At least not in my case.
freesia: I totally disagree with the 6 months. I did not even tell my therapist until I had been to see her for 2 years. I had to build up enough trust in her and work through other issues. I was sexually abused 30 years ago and had never told anyone.
DeafDeb: I believe I have a good understanding, but healing seems like a lifelong process for me after all the sexual abuse.
Susan Maree: I am 50 years old and consider myself, not just a survivor, but a thriver. That doesn't mean I have no problems relating to the abuse. It means I'm human.
helio: Dr. Ewart, I have been in therapy and trying to deal with my sexual abuse by my older brother for many years. When people tell me to get on and over this thing, it hurts so badly I can't even tell you. Thanks for saying some of the things you are pointing out to me.
Dr. Ewart: The most hurtful thing people can say to you is "why can't you get over it". That drives the wound even deeper and more permanent.
Montana: Most of us, have many more issues to heal from than just the sexual abuse, and/or further issues the sexual abuse caused. Do you actually feel that everyone can heal from all their issues and be whole in this time limit? It takes times to feel even safe enough to reprogram, much less understand and forgive.
Bascha: I sometimes think I'm afraid to get better. Maybe that's what's stopping me.
Dr. Ewart: When I first moved to Florida, I brought a second-hand boat, and whenever it broke, I tried replacing that part to fix it. I ended up spending more in parts than I did on the boat. And then a friend told me you can't do that. You have to find the problem and then fix it. The same holds true in a way with the problems people have. Sometimes, multiple issues are really only a single issue. When people are empowered, they can solve their own problems.
kit-kat: Do you have a specific therapy program that you use with sexual abuse victims and do you train other therapists to do the same?
Dr. Ewart: I used to, but don't do treatment anymore. I did treat people by means of group therapy, all women, with the establishment of complete safety, where no one is required to talk unless they wish to. I teach the principals of what abuse does, then the group interacts according to their experience. In addition to that, I individually treat the patient for emotional trauma, by desensitizing memories and by putting lies into the light of day.
Susan Maree: When you say "well" do you mean they are "normal" and have absolutely no problems relating to the abuse?
Dr. Ewart: No, I mean that they are well on their way to developing their individual abilities and establishing a strong sense of self, in addition to being able to recognize predators.
angelwoman: I have been in therapy and hospitals several times over the last five years. I also have dissociative identity disorder (DID) and I am nowhere near healing. How can you heal such a thing in six months?
Dr. Ewart: Good question, angelwoman. Usually, dissociative identity disorder is a misdiagnosis in the case of abuse and what seems to be DID is really the ramifications of emotional trauma. The diagnosis of DID is more of a philosophical concept than a reality.
weaverwoman: I would like you to explain what you said about DID. What do you mean that it is a philosophical approach? Are the alters a manifestation of people's imaginations?
Sonja: How is DID philosophical rather than a reality? Sure feels real to us!!!
Dr. Ewart: The alters are a few of the countless ingredients in everyone's personality. All of us are composed of many combinations of emotions and we tend to take on a different character when expressing a particular emotion. The truth is that everyone who has ever been born has multiple personalities. Human beings are the most complicated creatures imaginable. She, or you, may have thousands of alters, and I may have 1500.
David: One thing I'm finding in the questions Dr. Ewart, is that "6-month therapy deadline" is really a flashpoint for questions and criticism. Here's a for-instance:
LisaM: Dr. Ewart, seeing that I have been in therapy for 5 years now and that you don't think it is a good idea, should I just quit at this point? I am really confused.
Dr. Ewart: Lisa, do not quit unless you have something better. Don't start looking for a specialist in abuse and don't leave your present therapist unless you have confidence in a real expert.
delitenhim: I was sexually abused for many years as a child, have never had therapy and I am functioning. So why would it be beneficial to go?
Dr. Ewart: The fact that you are functioning demonstrates great strength of character, but for every action there is a reaction, and it is not necessary to continue to drag the baggage.
smssafe: How do you stop feeling unsafe. How do you regain feeling a sense of security?
Dr. Ewart: smssafe, the feeling unsafe, comes from the feeling of deserving punishment, probe why you feel you deserve to be punished.
David: Dr.Ewart, given that predators inherently know how to select their victims, is there a way for sexual abuse victims to identify the predator before she/he is taken advantage of again?
Dr. Ewart: Yes David; first, predators move very fast. Second, they will have either a strong or a very weak personality, one extreme or the other, and they will become possessive very early in the relationship.
David: Would you say that once you identify someone as a predator, run as fast as you can?
Dr. Ewart: I say run twice as fast as you can.
David: For those in the audience: Here's a question. Just send the answer to me. I'll post them as we go along. That way we can help each other.
Bascha: I find that I am open to abuse mostly from myself.
guardian: Yes, it makes you more vulnerable. Like the predator knows your weakness.
smilewmn: Yes, I feel like I have become more vulnerable and weak, and tend to succumb to what others want from me or want me to do, may it be sexual or not.
Montana: Yes, it did for me. I also got kidnapped, tortured, beaten and raped twice as an adult by perpetrators I did not know.
LauraM: I was told once by some friends, and then understood it was true, that I tend to be impolite to people who are nice to me and tend to be extremely nice to people who treat me badly. I had never noticed this until they told me so. Now I try to be conscious about it.
DeafDeb: There have been times that I felt I was a magnet for abuse.
freesia: Not further sexual abuse, but yes, as far as emotional abuse and physical abuse with other people and relationships.
Dr. Ewart: The nature of the predator has an uncanny ability to spot wounded prey and they always pursue them. A predator can spot a wounded woman a block away. And predators will never change, it's in their character. Like a hawk will never change into a dove, a predator will never change into a gentleman.
David: So it seems from some of these comments that Dr. Ewart has really struck a chord here; that sexual abuse really breaks down the personality, leaving the victim open for further sexual abuse.
Dr. Ewart: Yes, that's correct. That's exactly what I mean. The wounded draws more predators, and the person allows more predators because she believes she deserves no better.
David: I'm wondering Dr. Ewart, if the further abuse has to be sexual abuse, or can it be emotional abuse or physical abuse too?
Dr. Ewart: All abuse has the same results. All abuse is communication at it's strongest form, and that is brainwashing.
David: Here are some more audience responses to my question:
If you have been abused; have you discovered that your personality has left you open for further emotional abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse?
marque: Yeah, to a point in my life. Then, I think I turned it inward in order to 'protect' myself from others.
wintersgold: Yes, I feel my personality has left me open for further abuse because I am twice divorced from abusive men.
bales_of_hay: Yes, very much so. The frustration with that though, is that you are constantly telling yourself that you would never let anyone ever do anything abusive to you again...but it always seems to happen.
MsJune: Yes, where one neighbor left off, about the age of 13, another one picked-up. Then I jumped into a relationship with a man I knew for hours, moved in with him, and found that he was extremely abusive. This followed a 2-year "fling" with a married man. He was 29, and I was 17.
Dr. Ewart: That's a perfect example, MsJune. Under the circumstances, you could not have done otherwise. Remember that there is no normal way to respond to craziness.
We B 100: I feel like I could still be controlled by my father (my abuser) mainly because he is so manipulative. Is this common among victims?
Dr. Ewart: It is universal, web100. Again, the greater the abuse, the greater the loyalty. That's the prisoner of war syndrome. Always remember that possession is the opposite of love, and that love always fosters freedom.
daffyd: Is the same pattern of abuse seen in men or boys who have been abused? Are most predators men, or are there women predators too?
Dr. Ewart: Good questions, daffyd. There are also women predators. There is a chapter in my book devoted to a man's life story. Little girls are abused more often than little boys but not by much. When boys are abused, they tend not to become abusive, but to be very sensitive to abuse and careful not to abuse others. This is the opposite of what most people believe.
marque: I wonder where those who were abused, who turn into abusers fit into this? Underlining the fact that I know they're a minority!
Dr. Ewart: They're simply an exception to the rule, marque. Let me add that some predators might be predators, no matter how they are raised.
delitenhim: Does a predator know they are a predator, or could it just be part of their personality?
Dr. Ewart: It's not part of their personality. It's part of their character. And they do know that they are a predator and they choose to remain that way. No form of therapy has proven to be successful in changing them.
David: Here are a few more audience comments on what's been said tonight:
wintersgold: Now, when someone seems to be "too nice", I run because I don't trust anymore. Nice equals hurt and pain.
guardian: My ex was abused and he was abusive to me.
LauraM: I have a question, Dr. Is it possible to actually become dependant on abuse? Many times I feel that I have developed a whole web around it hard to break because in some ways it gives a lot of support to many things in my life. It makes me take off responsibility for many things in my life. Can that be a reason for the constant "victimization"?
Dr. Ewart: LauraM, there's obviously a payoff to being a victim, and I don't mean this as an insult, but there are victims who choose to remain that way because it relieves them of all responsibilities. And I'm not saying that you are one of these people, but there are such people.
LauraM: I mainly meant using abuse as some kind of "crutch". I am a victim, so most things that happen to me or that I do, are not my fault. I don't say this to others, but to myself mostly. I am breaking that, but still sometimes think this way.
Dr. Ewart: That is the "my fault" mentality that is common in abuse. It sounds like you are trying to overcome the 'my fault' mentality, but not in a constructive way.
Jazzmo07: Is it worse, or the same, if one was sexually abused by both parents?
Dr. Ewart: I would say that it's worse, because it's crazier, and the degree of craziness determined the degree of reaction, Jazzmo06. And again, there is no normal way to respond to craziness. But seeing it as craziness does help.
David: Before we sign off, I want to invite everyone to visit the HealthyPlace.com Abuse Issues Community, and to sign up for the mail list at the top of the page, so that you can keep up with events like this.
I know it's getting late. Thank you, Dr. Ewart, for being our guest tonight. I think this conversation and topic has been very enlightening. From the audience comments, for the most part, it seems to have been helpful.
Dr. Ewart: Thank you. It's been an honor to be here. I wish power to every member here tonight.
David: It certainly brings the topic of revictimization to the forefront of our thoughts, and the need to realize that it can happen makes us aware that there's something we can do to prevent it.
I also want to thank everyone in the audience for coming and participating tonight.
Dr. Ewart: Good night all.
David: Thank you again, Dr. Ewart, and good night everyone.
Disclaimer: We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.
Gluck, S. (2007, May 10). The Damage Caused By Sexual Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, December 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/transcripts/damage-caused-by-sexual-abuse