It’s what — sixty years? — since Kinsey asked men about their sex lives and rocked everyone with the news that many of them had sex with other men? This in a time when they were well-advised not to admit it? And now we’re barely getting around to surveying children about whether they’ve ever been sexually abused. They have.
In such high proportions — a third admitted it which means many unadmitted or even unrecognized or repressed victims– that we’re rocked all over again. And yet why are we surprised when our whole culture mixes sex, power, money, ownership over and over. Now even JonBenet Ramsey’s father is saying maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to dress a little child up like a seductive grown woman and put her on display.
Now the research has gotten far enough along to identify three traumatic consequences of sexual abuse for both boys and girls. These consequences re-impose the trauma over and over.
(1) highly distressing intrusive thoughts of the sexual abuse,
(2) avoidance of thoughts, emotions, and situations related to the abuse,
Pretty understandable even in terms of ordinary trauma, but with the added element of sex, stakes go up because so much of our idea of morality is bound to sex of any sort.
We don’t worry about the morality of money or even about the morality of killing civilians in war, but sex is to us more powerful than religion, indeed it has become a religion with priests of its own. Not that differently than in the most backward sharia law countries who kill girls to rid themselves of dishonor.
In fact, I would say that our whole culture is showing these same three symptoms. To review:
(1) highly distressing intrusive thoughts of sexual abuse,
(2) avoidance of thoughts, emotions, and situations related to abuse,
Check out the plots of our media, take a look at our newspapers or the behavior of politicians as zealously reported, listen to the imaginary life of right wing radio hate-mongers.
They use the abusive language, they describe and exaggerate behavior, they express distress and scorn, but all the time in the midst of their obsession they insist that we should repress (avoid) such thoughts, emotions, and situations. Good counselors know that repression is a great way to remain attached while pretending not to be. Hyperarousal — yes, I’m surprised that so many of them need viagra since they so easily rise to rage. But most of them are old men.
These intrusions, often thoughts (eg, self-blame, self-loathing) are then avoided through:
or other avoidant-coping strategies.
“This avoidant stance, in sexual situations, can be hazardous as it interferes with the ability to confront risk, negotiate safer sex, and assert safety behaviors. Hyperarousal, chronic activation of the alarm response, interferes with the person’s ability to distinguish safe from unsafe situations. In sexual situations, the symptoms of hyperarousal impede the ability to make accurate and realistic sexual risk appraisals. This may lead to a loss of self-efficacy (or other important social or cognitive variables integral to self-care), as one doubts one’s ability to identify risk or one’s ability take steps to offset it.”
- (J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr Volume 59, Number 4, April 1, 2012 www.jaids.com | 331Editorial J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr Volume 59, Number 4, April 1, 2012)
Erik Erikson wrote two books that speculated about how some individuals can be representative of their times: “Young Man Luther” and “Gandhi’s Truth.” If a person can epitomize patterns in the culture, why can’t a culture personify the structure of individuals? Are we not now in a period that doubts its self-efficacy, it’s ability to take care of itself? Don’t our politicians doubt our ability to identify risk and take steps to offset it? Don’t we go back and forth between being obsessed with sex and trying to deny every trace of it?
What are the traumas that threw us into this?
Pretty clear that 9/ll was a double-phallic cataclysm, two towers destroyed by two airliner jets in a from-nowhere coup.
What about the spectacle of a president who got his semen on a dress whose owner flaunted it on television? What about the neglectful and confused destruction of a major, even iconic, city, New Orleans with its promises of blue-hot nights? But maybe it started with the twentieth century wars, for which some of those old men are nostalgic. They were important then.
Looking at these events in such a “high culture” way is a little fanciful but no more so than post-modern thought. In fact, maybe it IS post-modern thought. But it has no particular value unless it suggests some way to address it.
Dissociation (a changed consciousness that eliminates awareness of the problem) and substance abuse are rampant but seem ineffective. Projection is the one we like the best — it’s all the fault of the “other.”
The usual ways of addressing trauma include talking — which can mean testifying about what happened, which requires a convincingly protected place where the talking can happen. (A court setting is hardly safe but stories written under a pseudonym might work. Or the Internet.) Art is a kind of “talking,” an expression of emotion that resolves the pressure and, given the acquisition of skill, can provide a healing sense of accomplishment. (Our schools are eliminating the arts.)
What about the content of the secrets? Research is demanded because it has become clear that our assumptions are wrong. What we think is true and happening is only a comforting fantasy that describes a set of forces and practices that don’t exist anymore, if they ever did. Family, dependable jobs, homes, retirement funds, investment.
Supply of basic needs (housing, food, medicines) is woefully lacking for too many people in this culture. It’s not uncommon for a troubled family to choose one person among them, often a child or maybe a woman or the darkest person, to be the scapegoat, heap them with blame for whatever happens, and throw them out.
The whole culture does this, identifying children to send into the labyrinth where the minotaurs of combat, commerce, and cupidity lurk. We make sure the young have no guiding thread, no map, no GPS, by underfunding schools and indulging in as many wild theories about education as we have about diet.
Young people run from us. Who can blame them? Why are we surprised?