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By Richard B. Gartner
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-471-61910-8
Chapter OneTrust and Betrayal
There is potential for great beauty in the emotional currents that run between adults and children: the adult's power can be expressed as love, while the child's dependence is the beginning of trust.
As a child learns that the people who provided for him yesterday will take care of him today, he learns not only that people affect him but that the same people affect him in the same ways, day after day. He's learning how people behave with one another. He doesn't know what the word relationship means, but he knows what a mommy is to him, or a daddy, or a teacher, or a cousin, or a coach. He doesn't know what the word trust means, but he is able to feel it.
By the time he reaches adulthood, trust not only gives him an expectation that people will behave in specific ways but also that people will be who they are, especially in relation to who he is. He learns who people are by remembering who they've been. He learns to trust in the enduring qualities of a person and a relationship.
That's the way it ought to be. The idea of relying on a person to be that person and to treat you for who you are is fundamental to the nature of trust. According to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, trust is "the firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person." The wordtrust derives from words meaning help, firm, strong, comfort, support, and confidence. These words add up to what we know as love.
Trust is so important that you sense its presence or absence in virtually every one of your relationships. Of course, you can put limits on the trust you place in others. Often, these limitations are obvious and well defined by the role someone plays in your life. For example, you may trust your banker to keep your money safe, but you wouldn't necessarily trust her to design a new suspension bridge.
There are other reasons you sometimes limit the trust you place in others. For example, you aren't likely to trust someone who has lied to you or harmed other people. Fortunately, as an adult living in a free society, you can usually protect yourself from this type of person by exercising your rights and powers. You may live where you want, call law enforcement authorities for assistance, assert your constitutional rights, seek help from friends, and decide who you want to take care of your emotional and physical needs.
Your efforts may never be completely effective, but you possess the freedom as an adult to try to arrange your life so that you're surrounded by people you trust and you're protected from those you don't. You can accomplish this by reducing your dependence on untrustworthy people and increasing your reliance on those you can trust.
But what about a child? He has little choice about how to arrange his life. He isn't always able to protect himself from people he doesn't trust. Because he's completely dependent on those who are responsible for him, he trusts out of necessity. He trusts people to take care of him, to be who they are, to remain who they've been, to love him for his own good, to be attuned to his needs, and to cherish him as a person of worth.
When a child hopes for these things and they happen, then love and trust have worked their magic. They've combined into something beautiful. The child thrives. He begins to understand love and character. He grows in his relationships, believing that people are usually good and honorable, that authorities most often use their power to benefit others. At the same time, he learns, often with the help of these same benevolent authorities, to understand the difference between those who are trustworthy and those who are not.
Does a parent have to raise a child perfectly in order for him to thrive? Of course not. All parents make mistakes. Everybody has moods, and there is no blueprint for raising the perfect child or being the perfect parent. We do our best, knowing that sometimes we'll fail, hopefully in minor ways that won't damage our children. When relationships between adults and children-although sometimes imperfect-are basically honest and free of exploitation, children are well equipped to overcome life's difficulties with resilience, promise, and a capacity to love. This is not to say, of course, that all children who are not sexually abused have happy lives. Any child, however, needs to develop some capacity to trust in order to face life's inevitable troubles, and sexual abuse interferes with attaining this ability.
Throughout your life, people will come and go, but you want to make sense of all of your relationships, however temporary they are. This may be as simple as understanding that your mailman is, indeed, a mailman. In your more enduring and personal relationships, however, there is more to figure out.
This need to understand others begins in childhood, when you learn to make sense of your life. If you had nonabusive relationships with your parents and caregivers that encouraged trust, you could make sense of them. You knew you would be taken care of. If you were raised under these circumstances, you developed a strong heart filled with a sense of self-esteem, competence, and the belief that you're worth loving. You could look forward to a basically trusting relationship with the world, a sense of optimism, even a faith about life itself.
But maybe your earliest relationships didn't make sense. If your developing heart was broken by someone who you needed to trust, then it may be hard for you to get along in the world. Your current relationships may seem mysterious and tricky to manage. You may even have difficulty understanding your relationship with your own self.
Even if everyone else in a boy's life loves and cherishes him, sometimes a single adult can wreak havoc in his heart and soul. If this happened to you, you may have been imprinted with the belief that no one in the world is trustworthy, that the character of life itself is false. Maybe you came to believe that life means being hurt, lied to, or exploited. Worse, this belief may have made you vulnerable to what you fear most: You may consciously or unconsciously send signals to others that you expect to be abused. Then ill-intentioned people may perceive you as a walking victim and select you for mistreatment.
If you were abused as a child, betrayal is your life's core issue. It ravages your self-concept as a man, especially if the betrayal was sexual. It affects how you behave with your family, your parents, your partners, and your friends. Recovering from your betrayal must involve not only you but your relationships. Without understanding and help from those who love you, the prospect for your recovery and growth is diminished.
Betrayal is the violation and destruction of trust. Lying is an obvious and direct form of betrayal. But trust is also violated when an adult uses his relationship with a child to satisfy his own needs without regard for the child's needs. The adult may subject the child to violence, adult sexuality, or otherwise treat him as less than human. She may violate the child's trust by trying to take something from him that the child can't give. When any person who is ordinarily expected to protect a child from harm instead reverses his role and demands an "adult" relationship from the child, he destroys trust.
There are at least two kinds of trust between people. The first is formal, as in a written legal agreement or an oath of office. This is explicit trust. The second is unspoken and expected. This is implicit trust. It exists when it's so naturally part of a relationship that no contracts need to be signed and no words need to be spoken. A suckling infant, for example, doesn't need to ask his mother if he can trust her not to drop him. A parent trusts a teacher to educate a child. A boy trusts his coach to respect the boy's ownership of his own body.
If an adult used you when you were a boy to satisfy his sexual urges or romantic (i.e., "boy-loving") fantasies, that adult stopped treating you as a worthwhile, developing person. This betrayal may have led you to develop a tragic understanding of the way the world works. If you were physically abused, you learned that violence is a normal part of relationships. If you were sexually abused, you learned that in at least some relationships what people really want is your body. You may have deduced that your primary function in life is to provide sex to those who need it. You may have assumed that when anyone gives you affection, it's just a prelude to your having to "put out." You may have figured out that the only way you can get attention, protection, nurturing, and "love" is by offering your body for sex.
Betrayal creates immediate pain as well as a hurt that lives on. On the one hand, you may feel pain without any conscious memory of what caused it. On the other, the pain creates harmful connections, demolishing parts of life that ought to give you satisfaction: friendships, good feelings toward the people who care about you, and loving, intimate relationships.
No matter what form betrayal took, no matter how seldom or how often it happened, it challenged and changed your perception of yourself as you grew into manhood. Your whole world may have shifted in cataclysmic ways. The connections you make with other people, in love, friendship, authority, and dependence, may all have been damaged by suspicions and fear. You may feel completely unable to control your own states of consciousness. At times, you may experience the intrusion of powerful, unwanted thoughts and feelings that leave you confused, afraid, and depressed.
When we talk about adults' sexual misuse of children, we often use such expressions as sexual abuse, incest, and sexual trauma. In a moment, we'll talk about what each of these terms means. While all of them indicate some form of sexual violation, none conveys the great range of human experience suggested by the term sexual betrayal.
Maurice: Doing Good Means Feeling Bad
Looking back at his life with hard-earned insight, Maurice said his sexual betrayal by his father created a pattern that kept him from flourishing in any endeavor. This was most apparent in school, but it also affected his career. "Even if I liked my teachers and employers, at some point in the relationship I developed a resentment that I didn't understand," he told me. "Even if I knew they were sexually harmless toward me, even if I knew that what they wanted me to do was legitimate and for my own good, anything I did for them still felt bad. It was awful! It didn't matter whether I really thought they were sexually interested in me. It still felt like I had to 'put out' for them."
It's not surprising that this intelligent, gifted man never "excelled" in school. He dropped out twice, finally graduating with a mediocre record. It was only years later that Maurice made a connection between the bad feelings he experienced when doing good things for himself and his childhood betrayal by a father who fed him, protected him, and encouraged him to be good in life, all the while violating him sexually.
Abuse is a potent form of betrayal. It occurs when one person exploits another. Abusers take advantage of their power in a relationship to satisfy their own needs without regard for the needs of the person being abused. For example, a drug dealer who tells his young brother to carry drugs across the street is endangering his brother in order to satisfy his own needs.
Sexual abuse (or sexual molestation) occurs when someone uses her power and control to coerce someone else to engage in sexual acts without regard for the other person's will or needs. If you were sexually abused, your abuser cared more about satisfying his own desires than about the fact that you were still developing and your development was being put at terrible risk.
Your abuser may have believed she loved you. But genuine love isn't simply a desire to be with a loved one. It certainly isn't a sexual desire for that loved one that ignores the loved one's needs and priorities. Loving someone requires sensitivity to what he needs in order to thrive in life and a willingness to temper your own wishes if satisfying them would harm him.
Why do people sexually abuse children? What is this need they have? Sometimes, of course, it's about sexual desire. But for many abusers sexual longing isn't an important factor. Sexual behavior may mask many motives. For example, adult abusers may be prompted by insecurity. They attempt to feel more secure by exercising power over someone who is weaker. Other abusers, unable to soothe themselves without being sexually aggressive, choose children because they're easy targets. There are also adults who feel an inner urgency to have a deeply personal connection with children, sometimes because they themselves are psychological children. Sometimes these adults have sadistic fantasies and may brutally act out their own early betrayal on a helpless child. But others yearn for something they can't have: a child lover. Children can't be lovers in the adult sense, not in the real world.
Sexual abuse can be violent when force and coercion are involved. But sometimes it seems loving. Some abusers create an atmosphere that seems safe. If the abuser senses a boy is attracted to him on some level, the abuser may appeal directly to this desire. It will appear that a seduction is taking place, even a mutual seduction. The boy may fall in love with his seducer, and the seducer may believe he is in love with the boy.
Understanding seductive experiences is complicated. Many men believe that as boys they had loving, pleasurable, nontraumatic sexual initiations from adults. I don't dismiss this possibility. If this describes you, though, look at the rest of your life. Do you exhibit symptoms of sexual abuse described elsewhere in this book? Have you suffered from compulsions or addictions? Have you been able to maintain intimate relationships? Are they exploitative in some way? Think through your situation before deciding whether you were abused.
Abusers who don't try to seduce a boy directly may groom him slowly, perhaps over many months. Through grooming, they gain access, authority, and control over the boy. They may even groom the boy's family, convincing parents that it's safe to leave their child with this adult. We'll see in chapter 5 how Seth's abuser attached himself to a family with numerous sons, then abused several of them.
During grooming, the abuser may offer a relationship that the boy desperately needs, or show him pornography, sexualizing the relationship. An atmosphere of secrecy about what they are doing may be established. Gradually, physical contact is introduced. By the time overt sex is introduced, it may seem to be a natural outgrowth of all that came before. The boy may feel he should go along with it-even if he doesn't really want to-because he's gone along with previous sexualized activities. Or he may feel increasingly aroused by grooming behaviors (as well as from his own hormones), so sex feels welcome.
If you were abused, maybe you grew up believing you agreed to it or were even responsible for it. Maybe your abuser said you wanted it. It was easy for her to conclude this if you needed love and affection. In fact, in order to get what feels like love, you may have been willing to engage in sex. You may have even believed that sex is love.
But a child can't freely consent to sex with an adult. Children don't have the capacity to give informed consent to sexuality with adults. After all, it's hard enough for an adult to comprehend the meaning of a sexual encounter. Look at all the books, theories, movies, and everyday conversations between adults trying to understand sexual relationships. Children can't participate as equals in dialogues like these. They're simply not developmentally prepared to understand the consequences of a sexual relationship with an adult.
Adults encountering problems in a relationship can address them, and, if necessary, change or even end the relationship. But if you were dependent on your abuser for protection or survival, you couldn't just declare, "It's over. Take a walk." And it would be hard for you to find ways to express your feelings if you were afraid of punishment, abandonment, or the safety of your family.
Excerpted from Beyond Betrayal by Richard B. Gartner Excerpted by permission.
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