Basic Check List of After Effects of Sexual Abuse

Do you find many characteristics of yourself on the list?

  • Swallowing and gagging sensitivity; repugnance to water on one’s face when bathing or swimming (suffocation feelings).
  • Alienation from the body – not at home in one’s own body; failure to heed body signals or take care of one’s body; poor body image; manipulating body size to avoid sexual attention.
  • Gastrointestinal problems; gynecological disorders including spontaneous vaginal infections; headaches; arthritis or joint pain.
  • Wearing a lot of clothing, even in the summer; baggy clothes; failure to remove clothing even when appropriate to do so while swimming, bathing, sleeping; extreme requirement for privacy when using bathroom.
  • Eating disorders, drug or alcohol abuse (or total abstinence); other addictions; compulsive behaviors.
  • Self-destructiveness, skin carving, excessive tattooing; self abuse.
  • Phobias
  • Need to be invisible; perfect or perfectly bad.
  • Suicidal thoughts, attempts, obsession (including “passive suicide”).
  • Depression (sometimes paralyzing); seemingly baseless crying.
  • Anger issues; inability to recognize own, or express anger; fear of actual or imagined rage; constant anger; intense hostility toward entire gender or ethnic group of the perpetrator
  • Splitting (depersonalization); going into shock, shutdown in crisis; any stressful situation is a crisis; psychic numbing; physical pain or numbness associated with a particular memory, emotion (e.g. anger) or situation (e.g. sex).
  • Rigid control of one’s thought process; humorlessness or extreme solemnity.
  • Childhood hiding, hanging on, cowering in corners (security-seeking behaviors); adult nervousness over being watched or surprised; feeling watched; startle response.
  • Trust issues: inability to trust (trust is not safe); total trust; trusting indiscriminately.
  • High risk taking (“daring the fates”); inability to take risks.
  • Boundary issues: control, power, territorial, fear of losing control; obsessive/ compulsive behaviors (attempts to control things that don’t matter, just to control something).
  • Guilt, shame, low self esteem, feeling worthless; high appreciation of small favors by others.
  • Pattern of being a victim (victimizing oneself after being victimized by others), especially sexually; no sense of own power or right to set limits or say no; pattern of relationships with much older persons (onset in adolescence).
  • Feeling demand to “produce and be loved”; instinctively knowing and doing what the other person needs or wants; relationships mean big tradeoffs (love was taken not given).
  • Abandonment issues.
  • Blocking out some period of early years (especially 1 – 12), a specific person or place.
  • Feeling of carrying an awful secret; urge to tell, fear of “it” being revealed; certainty that no one will listen; being generally secretive; feeling “marked” (the scarlet letter).
  • Feeling crazy; feeling different; feeling oneself to be unreal and everyone else to be real or vice versa; creating fantasy worlds, relationships, or identities (especially women: imagining or wishing self to be male, i.e. not a victim).
  • Denial: no awareness at all; repression of memories; pretending; minimizing (“it wasn’t that bad”); having dreams or memories (“maybe its my imagination”); strong, deep “inappropriate” negative reactions to a person, place, or event; “sensory flashes” (a light, a place, a physical feeling) without a sense of their meaning; remembering the surroundings but not the event.
  • Sexual issues: sex feels “dirty”; aversion to being touched, especially in gynecological exam; strong aversion to (or need for) particular sex acts; feeling betrayed by one’s body, trouble integrating sexuality and emotionality; confusion or overlapping of affection, sex, dominance, aggression, and violence; having to pursue power in sexual arena which is actually sexual acting out (self abuse and manipulation, especially among women; abuse of others, especially among men; compulsively “seductive” or compulsively asexual; must be sexual aggressor or cannot be; impersonal, “promiscuous” sex with strangers concurrent with inability to have sex in intimate relationship (conflict between sex and caring); prostitute, stripper, “sex symbol”, porn actress, sexual acting out to meet anger or revenge needs; “sexaholic”; avoidance shutdown; crying after orgasm; all pursuit feels like violation; sexualizing of meaningful relationships; erotic response to abuse or anger; sexual fantasies of dominance or rape (Note: homosexuality is not an after effect).
  • Pattern of ambivalent or intensely conflictive relationships (intimacy is a problem; also focus shifted from incest issues).
  • Avoidance of mirrors/compulsive attraction to mirrors (connected to invisibility, shame/ self-esteem issues, distrust of perceived body image).
  • Desire to change one’s name (to dissociate from the perpetrator or to take control through self-labeling).
  • Limited tolerance for happiness; active withdrawal from happiness, reluctance to trust happiness (“ice-thin”).
  • Aversion to making noise (including during sex, crying, laughing or other bodily functions); verbal hyper-vigilance (careful monitoring of one’s word’s); quiet-voiced, especially when needing to be heard.
  • Stealing (adults); stealing and starting fires (children).
  • Multiple personality.

The Incest Survivor’s After Effects Checklist is not complete. Never will be. As awareness increases, it will grow and be further refined. Ultimately this list will combine with such bodies of knowledge as trauma theory, feminist power analysis, and bereavement theory, to enhance our understanding of the total experience of the incest survivor described by Post-Incest Syndrome.

List excerpted from Secret Survivors by E. Sue Blume.