UNDERSTANDING INCEST – PART II
Written By: Deborah R.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE INCESTUOUS FAMILY
We are going to take a look at only a few characteristics of an Incestuous Family. The ramifications of sexual abuse can be so extreme that the abused will lose all sense of reality and never know their own identity. However; through the Blood of Jesus Christ and His ever present grace and mercy, you can overcome sexual abuse/assault and live a very balanced and productive life. Jesus came so that we may have life and that life more ABUNDANTLY.
Shame can be a horrible spirit that attacks you when you feel you do not measure up to the standards of others. In some instances, an incestuous family will try to make it as though life is grand and the family is perfect to an extent. Typically the shame truly resides with the abuser and the victim. First, the abuser is shamed because some part of their life hasn’t measured up to a standard that was probably set by their abuser and a lack of acceptance based on who they really are. The victim is shamed in the sense that they are not accepted because they are “dirty.” They have to perform to a certain level to maintain the peace in the family or perform to keep the family together. Thus, losing their identity and their need for nurturing is unfulfilled. Too often this leads the victim into destructive habits that reach far into adulthood. Perfectionism and Approval must come at any cost. The victims masks the pain, shame and undo guilt by busying themselves in their careers, at church, and volunteering to the point they are overwhelmed; again, reinforcing the inability to perform for acceptance and love. This vicious cycle continues throughout the lives of both until they are able to see themselves as God truly sees them. Accepted and loved for who they are and not what they have done.
2. Abuse of Power:
Incestuous parents use their position of power to gratify their own needs without regard for harm done to others. Powerful individuals may rigidly demand one kind of behavior one day and, without prior notice, abandon the first expectation and substitute another. Such misuses of power are modeled in incestuous families, teaching family members that power is important in human relationships and that powerful people can make their own rules and change them when they want. This incestuous family system used power irresponsibly as a way to gain and maintain control. The family needs to understand how the wrong use of power has been destructive to every member of the family. Those who are abusing power must be willing to change that behavior and learn to replace aggressiveness with assertiveness. Those who have been abused must learn to become assertive rather then passive.1 Identifying and confronting this wrong behavior will bring balance to both the abuser and the abused; allowing them to walk in victory.
3. Distorted Communication:
The lack of communication is what allows sexual abuse to continue in a family cause any type of communication at all to be distorted to all family members. “No-Talk” rules are typically nonverbal rules set about many topics mainly pertaining to sex talks. “Walking on Eggshells” to an incestuous family is crucial because no one can ever know what has or is happening. Either the abused or family members carry a great deal of guilt and shame that causes them to protect themselves for the family from exposure of incest.
To avoid conflict at any level keeping becomes a way of life generally for the abused. Not wanting to “stir” the waters or bring attention to themselves. The abused typically feels as though they need to meet “needs” of others whether emotional or sexual in hopes of maintaining peace.
Blame is the presence of hidden shame and can be extremely destruction to the self-worth and self-esteem. Blame can come from the offending parent as well as the non-offending parent. It may sound like this, “If you hadn’t walked around in those shorts and nightgowns, I wouldn’t have done that. It wasn’t my fault, I was seduced.” Or from the non-offending parent, “If you would have kept your mouth shut, our family would still be together.” “It’s because of your behaviors my husband is gone.” “He’s really not a bad person, he just needs help.” This can put an overwhelming unjust guilt on the one who has been abused.
4. Social Isolation:
This is all based on fear! Fear from that someone will find out. Fear of exposure. Never having a true relationship with anyone causes a void. The lack of nurturing, love and acceptance is replaced with shame, guilt and fear causing the individual or the entire family to retreat into isolation.
Denial is a form of a self-defense mechanism that the abused or family members to cope with the reality, or the non-existence, of the sexual abuse. It takes a great deal of denial by family members to overlook incest. To the victim, they are getting a sex education or “helping Dad.”
6. Lack of Intimacy
Relationships involve closeness that is deep personal. The lack of trust, poor self-esteem, and the inability to acknowledge the needs of others creates a void that neither the victim nor family members are able to establish healthy relationships. In the incestuous family, this is typically found between the husband and wife.
7. Blurred Boundaries:
We all have boundaries, “the invisible shield surrounding us, something like a capsule. This invisible line marks our limits – where we end and the rest of the world begins. When our boundaries are well defined, we can express and take responsibility for what we think, what we feel, and what we do.”2 Veering off course from the typical roles of Father, Mother and child causes a role reversal and a blurring of boundaries. Parents have little respect for the privacy of the child. Walking into bedroom while getting dressed, walking in on others while taking a baths or using the restroom leaves the child feeling as thought their bodies, feelings and personal space has no value.
8. Dependency/Emotional Neediness:
When this neediness is developed in child, it produces a needy adult. If the adult’s needs are not met by another person, this is where addictive dependency occurs. “If you can’t meet my needs then Mr. Jack Daniels can.” A substitute will take the place of person. Often the dependent person tries to meet their needs through sources that will leave them unfulfilled. Such as alcohol, drugs, food, bad relationships, pornography or sex with a child. And so the cycle continues.
9. Lack of Forgiveness:
To put it plain and simple, without forgiveness, the trauma of incest will never be resolved. In not forgiving, the victim continues to give control to the abuser by replaying the scenes over and over and allowing the pain, anger and hatred to grow uncontrollably. Whether by the abused or the abuser, when forgiveness enters, it gives a person the power to turn off the video in the head and allows God by His grace to begin to heal the deep hurt. Once again, giving the person the ability to turn stop replaying the past hurts. A misconception of forgiveness is that it says it’s okay what the other person has done. Forgiveness is a process where trust has to be rebuilt after the ULTIMATE BETRAYAL.
1Lynn Heitritter & Jeanette Vought, Helping Victims of Sexual Abuse – A sensitive, Biblical Guide for Counselors, Victims and Families (Bethany House Publishers, 1989), 70.
2Marilyn Mason, “Intimacy”Center City, Minn. Hazelden Foundation