Do you suspect you may have been the victim of sexual abuse? Sexual abuse is one of the most traumatic events a person can experience. Victims of traumatic events commonly repress the memory of the event. Memory repression is a coping mechanism that allows the person to survive mentally, emotionally and physically. Memories are usually recovered naturally when the survivor is ready to face their painful past.
Listed below are some of the indicators of sexual abuse. Please note that one or more of these do not necessarily indicate abuse, but are merely indicators of possible abuse. There may be a variety of reasons for these symptoms.
- I began masturbating at an early age.
- As a child, I used to insert objects into my bottom, and I do not know where I learned to do this.
- I seemed to know some things about sex even before they were explained to me.
- I have never really been very interested in sex OR I’m preoccupied with thoughts about sex.
- I can’t stand to be touched in certain sexual ways or areas of my body.
- I have a strong aversion to certain sex acts OR I have a need for particular sex acts.
- My experiences with sex are degrading or short-lived.
- I freeze up or can’t say no when someone wants to be sexual with me.
- I feel threatened when someone expresses sexual interest. All pursuit feels like a violation.
- I have a sexual dysfunction, such as premature ejaculation, inability to have an orgasm, or pain during intercourse.
- I feel as if there is something wrong or dirty about my sexuality.
- There is only one way I can have an orgasm or one position that turns me on.
- I have fantasies of sexual abuse during sex or sexual fantasies of dominance or rape.
- I am or fanaticize about being a prostitute, stripper, sex symbol, or porn actress.
- I have an erotic response to abuse or anger.
- I have had promiscuous sex with strangers, but I’m unable to have sex in intimate relationships.
- I tend to sexualize meaningful relationships.
- I am compulsively seductive OR compulsively asexual.
- I cry after an orgasm OR am impersonal and shutdown.
- I cannot be sexual unless I am the aggressor.
- I am afraid of being alone in the dark or of sleeping alone.
- I had or have recurring dreams.
- I often have nightmares and night terrors (especially of pursuit, threat, or entrapment).
- I remember vividly one or more nightmares from my childhood.
- I have difficulty falling or staying asleep.
- I sometimes wake up feeling as if I am choking, gagging, or being suffocated.
- I have awakened from sleep trying to attack my partner.
- Sometimes I fear or sense that someone is in my bedroom.
- I often wake up frightened at the same time every night.
Fears and Attractions
- I am frightened of one or more common household objects OR I have a strange affection or attraction to a common household object.
- I would never go into a closet or any dark, confined space.
- Basements or certain other spaces terrify me.
- I am afraid to be alone or to leave my house.
- When I was a child, I cowered in corners and liked to hide.
- I hate going to the dentist more than most people.
- I neglect my teeth.
- My mouth seems repulsive to me.
- I hate to have someone touch my hair.
- I hate water on my face when bathing or swimming. It sometimes feels like I’m suffocating.
- I am always alert to the possibility of sexual assault.
- I don’t like making noise during sex, or while I cry or laugh.
- I carefully monitor my words or my volume, especially when I need to be heard.
- I am afraid to take risks OR I frequently take dangerous risks.
- I’m afraid to get too emotionally close to anyone OR I get too close to people too fast, before I even know if I can trust them.
- I have had periods in my life when I couldn’t eat, or I had to force myself to eat.
- Sometimes I binge on huge amounts of food.
- Certain foods or tastes frighten me or nauseate me.
- I am seriously underweight or overweight.
- I gag or choke easily.
- I make myself throw up, take laxatives, or exercise exhaustively to control my weight.
- I do not take good care of my body.
- Even if I think something might be wrong with me, I don’t go to the doctor.
- I don’t feel connected with my body.
- I hate the way my body looks.
- I avoid looking in mirrors.
- I wear clothing that covers up my body, either too much clothing or baggy clothes.
- I wear clothes even while I swim, bath or sleep.
- I need more privacy than most people when using the bathroom.
- I have odd sensations in my genitals or rectum.
- Whenever I think of a certain person from my childhood, I get a sensation in my genitals.
- I sometimes feel physical pain or numbness associated with a particular memory, emotion, or situation.
- I avoid going to the gynecologist, or I dread it terribly.
- I have gastrointestinal problems, gynecological problems (including spontaneous vaginal infections), headaches, arthritis or joint pain.
- When I was a child, I had frequent stomachaches or headaches.
- When I was a child, I wet the bed.
- When I feel threatened I sometimes feel detached from my body, like I am watching a scene from a movie.
- I sometimes hurt myself in a way that marks or sears my body.
- I have an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
- My drug or alcohol use started before I was thirteen.
- I do some things to excess and I just don’t know when to quit.
- I can’t seem to control myself when it comes to spending money or gambling.
- I try to control things that don’t really matter, just to have control of something.
- I need to have the feeling that I am in control of myself, others, or situations.
- I have a strong need to protect what’s mine.
- I have often taken foolish risks with my safety.
- I pick at my body, often without even thinking about it.
- I space out or daydream.
- I have an extensive fantasy life. I imagine relationships or identities that I don’t have.
- I feel the need to be invisible or to make as little trouble as possible.
- I instinctively know and do what others want or need without having to be told.
- I don’t know why people would want to be nice to me. I have a high appreciation of small favors by others.
- I often feel like I have no right to set limits or to say no.
- I seem to have a pattern of being victimized, especially sexually.
- I have a pattern of having relationships with a much older person, which started in adolescence.
- I feel the need to be perfect OR I feel the need to be perfectly bad.
- It is difficult for me to recognize, own, or express anger.
- I am constantly angry.
- I have an intense hostility toward an entire gender or ethnic group of the perpetrator.
- To smile or laugh means I am losing control.
- I often feel like I am being watched.
- I get nervous when I am being watched.
- I tend to be secretive.
- I don’t like surprises.
- I startle easily.
- When I am in crisis, I go into shock and shutdown.
- Sometimes really violent or strange pictures flash through my mind.
- I feel a sense of doom, as though my life will end in tragedy or disaster.
- I get nervous when I am happy and tend to sabotage it.
- I have the feeling that if I am happy, it’s not real or won’t last.
- I have unexplained bouts of depression or I cry without knowing the reason.
- The pain in my life seems too big compared to my known history.
- I have a strong sense that something terrible has happened to me or that I carry an awful secret.
- I have the feeling that no one will listen to me, though I have an urge to tell OR a strong fear that my secret will be revealed.
- There is a blank period in my childhood when I can remember nothing.
- Other people seem to have childhood memories at an earlier age than I do.
- I feel different from everyone else; I feel that I’m not real and everyone else is or vice versa.
- I feel marked, like I am wearing a scarlet letter.
- I have multiple personalities.
- I have the feeling that I am crazy.
- There have been times when I had suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide, including “passive suicide”.
- Nothing seems very real sometimes.
- I am not in touch with my feelings, I am usually numb.
- I identify with abuse victims in the media, and often stories of abuse make me want to cry.
- I have a desire to change my name, either to get away from my abuser or to take control through self-labeling.
- I have a strong need to believe that nothing bad happened to me. “Maybe it’s my imagination.”
- I tend to minimize the bad things that were done to me. “It wasn’t that bad.”
Adapted from symptom checklist from “Repressed Memories” by Renee Fredrickson, Ph.D. and Incest Survivors’ Aftereffects Checklist from “Secret Survivors” by E. Sue Blume.
If you can identify with this list, you probably have a lot of questions. Many survivors of sexual abuse remember some or all of their abuse experience but haven’t defined it as sexual abuse. They minimize it with statements like:
“I wasn’t penetrated.”
“It only happened once and he didn’t actually hurt me.”
“It was just kids being kids.”
If you’d like to learn more:
What is Sexual Abuse?
How Do You Know If Your Memories of Sexual Abuse Are Real?
No matter what happened to you, you don’t have to live with the effects of abuse. Healing is possible and you have what it takes to heal.