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Child Abuse

  Abuse (Latin, ‘counter-use’) means making the wrong use of another person: reviling, ill-treating and violating them. It means the misuse of power within a relationship, and has become most strongly attached to the phenomenon of child abuse, the existence of which began to be more recognized as the social movements of the 1960s and the women\'s movement of the 1970s exerted an influence on psychology.

Freud, early in his career, acknowledged the existence of the sexual abuse of children. After analysing those of his women patients who were suffering from hysterical illnesses, he developed his seduction theory: that the symptoms were the result of these women having been seduced and molested as children, usually by their fathers or by family friends. The painful memory was avoided by being repressed and replaced instead by debilitating symptoms.

Freud abandoned this theory for three reasons. First, recollection of the sexual abuse did not usually relieve the symptoms. Second, he thought that childhood memory was unreliable. Third, he believed that the abuse happened too often to be plausible. He replaced the seduction theory with the idea that children fantasize rape in the Oedipal phase. Ferenczi, writing in his diary in the early 1930s, still privately believed that actual child abuse was a possibility, but it was not until the 1960s that therapists began once more to take the descriptions patients brought of child rape and abuse as recounts of real events.

Results of being sexually abused as a child are far-reaching and the effects can be inability to form intimacy, underlying anger, damage to self-esteem, self-abuse (such as drinking and taking drugs), and a deep sense of guilt and shame. If abused as a child, we can continue to allow others to abuse us or to be adult abusers ourselves—an example of the way in which we carry both the child and parent we knew around in us as two aspects of ourselves. MJ

Further reading Alice Miller, Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuries.



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