Why am I acting out this way? Why can I not seem to break these cycles of drug and alcohol abuse? Why do I struggle to control my emotions and establish normalcy in my life?
Questions like these can plague the minds of incest victims. Because of the steadfast taboo associated with incest, even within the realms of clinical psychology, survivors of this form of abuse often times do not associate their addictions and behavior struggles with the incestuous events that they may have experienced.
The study of incest brings with it a deluge of complication, as its degrees, frequency, intensity and measures to which it is carried out vary between situations. This fact, paired with the lack of psychological study, can make identification, and more importantly, therapy and healing, all the more challenging. Consequently, victims often fall into destructive behaviors as a means of coping.
Does it Count?
Incest is a form of abuse that brings with it an array of professional opinions on what ‘counts’ in terms of diagnosis and what doesn’t. The sheer complication embedded in its social, psychological and medical history evokes intrinsic and distinct reactions amongst psychological professionals as well as the general public. However, it is generally agreed upon that incest is an intimate, often sexual relationship among related family members. Arguments on definition arise from issues of genetic or circumstantial familial roles, such as parents versus stepparents. Furthering its expanse, some professionals, according to Psychiatric Times, broaden the definition to encompass the abuse of any role that traditionally embraces the duty of protection, safety and authority, which can extend past familial roles and into that of teachers, clergy, therapists and other positions of trust.
Psychiatric Times states that incest is traditionally diagnosed as abusive when there is a discrepancy in age (a difference of five or more years), experience and power within the relationship. Some field experts assert that age difference isn’t necessarily a factor, maintaining that the damage from an incestuous relationship between brother and sister can be just as extensive as one between a father and daughter.
What is Wrong with Me?
Because of the varying degrees to which the term incest is accepted and applied, many survivors experience this abuse without therapy or a means to work through the inherent negative or dysfunctional emotions tied to such situations. In fact, only 30 percent of victims reveal their situation, and 43 percent of those that do, do so accidentally. This means that an incredible 70 percent of victims go unidentified and untreated.
Oftentimes, survivors of incest adapt their thoughts, feelings, and emotions as a survival mechanism, and according to the Psychiatric Times, these adaptations often become problematic in all other areas of the victim’s life. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) identifies these adaptations as a manifestation of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to RAINN, these symptoms can manifest themselves in several ways including: self-injury, substance abuse, eating disorders, problems with disassociation, and promiscuity.
The disorders stemming from incestuous victimization are used as coping mechanisms and a release of the emotional trauma. While acting out sexually, abusing drugs and alcohol or inflicting bodily harm, victims become a danger not only to themselves but to those around them as well. This release of negative emotions is a normal release for victims who have not worked through the psychological ramifications of the abusive trauma that they have experienced.
Is There Hope?
Regardless of whether a victim is currently in the midst of an incestuous situation or years have passed since the last incident, psychological treatment is paramount. It is vital for victims to understand first and foremost that their situation is not one of their own doing. While shame and guilt are often the first responses for victims of incest, these emotions are not only unnecessary, they are deceitful and have no place in the healing process.
If you or someone you know is or has been a victim of incest or any other form of sexual abuse, seek out a person that you trust, someone that you can confide in. Through the help of a psychologist, victims can work through their experience on an individual and personalized basis. Each victim will require different treatment according to their situation and circumstance, but ultimately, the PTSD stemming from incestuous experiences can be managed and treated, promising a healthy and productive life free from guilt, shame, and abuse.