reprints of articles published in magazines

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

right switch wrong person

Right switch wrong person.

Let me not mention names, but there was this middle-aged lady who came for consultation with complaints of vague aches and pains all over her body, poor sleep, bouts of irritation and sudden crying and very sad mood for weeks together. She had tried attending religious discourses, chanting prayers and meditating in the name of God….nothing helped.

Her complaints were all in favour of Depression and so she was given a robust dose of psychotherapy and a short prescription of antidepressant medication. Like most people she responded to that magic combination and within three weeks her depression was all but gone.

Her sleep had become normal, her appetite was good, her mood was cheerful and most important of all, she had no pains anywhere in the body. But she started talking about new complaints….she had realised that she was being forgetful, absent minded, very sensitive to criticism and having rage reactions at the slightest provocation….all these had been there for so many years, but now that she realised something as gruelling as a depression could be healed within few weeks, she also wanted to do away with these other troublesome symptoms.

It was then that she was asked about any past history of abuse - physical, emotional or sexual. The lady gave a blank look and stared straight into the eyes of the psychiatrist. Within a split second her eyes glistened and tears filled up, her first question was, “Why do you ask that?”

The answer was simple…childhood emotional abuse is extremely common, female sexual abuse is even more common. Some women who have had such experiences later on develop certain kind of psychological problems…that may lead to problems in paying attention to things around them, increased reactivity to even minor things and an unbalanced emotional state.

When she was informed of all these, the lady nodded subtly and whispered, “Yes, doctor. There was this man, he used to teach me tuition….he taught me very well. I liked him. But one day, he…he touched me in the wrong places. I was only eight at that time! I knew it was wrong….but I did not stop him…”

She closed her eyes and the tears dropped off her cheeks, “It was all my fault doctor, how could I let him do that!” She opened her eyes, looked up with trembling nostrils and asked, “You think I am a bad person doctor? I let this man do this to me…what kind of a weird child I must have been! To tell you the truth doctor, I think I might have even enjoyed that man’s caresses…which makes me all the more a bad child”

This story that this lady so hesitantly told is not so rare. Many adult women often have such secret histories of sexual abuse and the quirkiest part is most of these women blame themselves for their abuse.

The human body is designed to feel pleasure when certain parts are touched. Each of such touch sensitive-pleasure eliciting area is called a sensate focus. The human body has many hundreds of such sensate foci.

These sensate foci are like switches, when touched they automatically produce a rush electric sparks that travel all along the nerves and register in the brain as pleasure sensations. Just like anything of high temperature is recognised as hot and something of very low temperature is recognised as cold, so too the human brain recognises touch on the sensate foci as pleasure; pure and simple brain physics that!

It is only because the human body is designed on these pure and simple physical laws that the human beings derive great pleasure from the mere mechanical act of copulation…. no other animal on the face of the planet enjoys the copulatory act so much. Only the humans do and that is because the human body operates though such sensate foci.

But the problem with this Switch for Pleasure kind of body design is, these switches send sensations of pleasure, irrespective of when, where, by whom and how they are touched. The touch could be accidental, by a human, by an object, by an animal, with the consent of the body-owner or even without the consent of the body-owner…still all these touches can produce a sensation of pleasure.

For that matter the switch may belong to the body of a young child, but when touched it still produces pleasure sensations. That is why even infant boys take a great fancy to tweaking their penises….for young and innocent though these babies are, they had accidentally discovered a sensate focus, touching it caused pleasure sensations and so most little toddlers learn the knack of amusing themselves by fidgeting with their penises.

So too does a child abusee feel pleasure when an abuser touches the sensate foci of its body. Now the question is: is the abusee at fault because he/she felt some pleasure by the acts of the abuser?

Let’s look at it this way. Child A does not know that item Z can cause a sensation of feeling cold. But adult B offers the child this item Z. Because the child A trusted Adult B, the child touches item Z, only to discover that it causes cold sensations…now is this child guilty of some sin?

Definitely not. It is unfair to expect a child to identify Z as COLD. And it is preposterous that an all-knowing adult should deliberately give this cold shock to this innocent child…so too is child sexual abuse. The child is unaware of the pleasure inducing properties of some parts of its body. The child is blissfully ignorant about the switches and the sensations. But the adult does. The adult also knows it is improper to touch the child in the wrong places. But this adult, even after knowing what he/she is doing is wrong, operates the child’s switches…then who is at fault, the child or the adult?

Of course it is the adult who is at fault! That is why societies all over the world view child sexual abuse as the cheapest and most lurid of crimes. And responsible societies make sure that preventive measures are taken to route out the menace all together. No society at any time during the long course of human history has ever blamed an abused child of bad behaviour.

This being the case, it is quite inappropriate that many adult women with past history of child sexual abuse blame themselves for the event. They suffer from misdirected sense of shame and guilt and feel they are somehow flawed and dirty. This negative self-perception and low self esteem causes anger and irritation. Such off-putting emotions crowd their minds and they are unable focus fully on the present tense.

Sounds tough eh? But the good news is, knowledge frees the mind from its fetters. Typically when all these women suffering from child sexual abuse related emotional problems understand that they are definitely not at fault, that they were only the victims of the wrong person operating the right switches at the wrong age, they recover remarkably well.

As for example the above-mentioned client. A few sessions and all her negative emotions had vanished. She no longer felt low and inadequate. She learned to overcome her silly childhood fears and self-doubts. She realised that she was no longer a victim, she was actually a survivor. And as always, knowledge gave her power. The sense of being in power gave her the poise and equanimity to handle life in peace.

But she still had one hang up, “I do not want any other child to suffer like me! What do we do to the men who abuse little children doctor?”

Men who abuse little kids and what we should do to them…. that’s a whole new story altogether.

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