Clark Barshinger, in Haunted Marriage, calls childhood sexual abuse “murder of the psyche.” The depth of psychological injury from childhood sexual abuse and the long-term existence of its manifestations surpass the effects of most other forms of trauma. The notion that survivors “just get over it” ignores the trauma of abuse and the intricately intertwined wiring of our personhood; emotional, sexual, mental, and physical. Childhood sexual abuse is an imprint on the soul of the survivor.
An analogy from horse breeding vividly illustrates the imprint upon the soul resulting from childhood sexual abuse. Les Sellnow, in the online article Foal Imprinting (January 1, 1998) explained that when a mare goes into labor and gives birth, the foal, for a short time, lies helpless in the straw or on the grass. The human handler quietly approaches the wet foal that is drawing its first breaths. The handler kneels beside the foal begins toweling the newborn dry, runs his or her gentle hands over its body, and repeats the motion until there is no longer a response.
The goal is desensitization. The desensitization is accomplished through a gradual process wherein the handler eliminates the response of the foal to the stimulus. This process of rubbing and touching is called imprinting. When done successfully, the foal will eventually yield to being saddled with little to no resistance, muzzled, and even to the bodily invasions that occur for medical purposes.
There are human handlers of a very different sort who are perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse. The intentional, intrusive, and insidious actions by these perpetrator handlers upon young girls results in an imprint that compromises responses, muzzles any outcry, and suffers appalling invasions.
Research and clinical practice continues to reveal that at least one in four women were sexually abused before age 18. Childhood sexual abuse inflicts an imprint that is: (a) rooted in the trauma of the abuse, (b) reaches into the depths of the soul, and (c) results in manifestations that impair individual and relational health.
I will be addressing specific long-term effects – imprints – of childhood sexual abuse in my upcoming blogs. Be watching and join with me as I lead us into a closer look at: (a) the survivor’s shame, (b) how the survivor is verbally silenced (muzzled), and (c) the survivor’s distorted perception of God, themselves, and others.
The imprint from childhood sexual abuse and its long-term effects is not something that a survivor can “just get over.” But with good counsel and hard work on the part of the survivor, God can handcraft His own redemptive imprint on the survivor. God’s imprint uses the trauma to refine rather than define the survivor’s life.