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Sexual Abuse and the Problem of Embodiment

NCJ Number
Child Abuse and Neglect Volume: 16 Issue: 1 Dated: (1992) Pages: 89-100
L Young
Date Published
12 pages
This article examines trauma, sexual abuse, and some of their potential long-term effects as regards the problem of "embodiment" and the formation of personal identity and psychological integrity.
The formulation of the concept of "embodiment" in this article is an attempt to construct an underlying phenomenological coherence that explains the psychological difficulties that frequently stem from severe sexual abuse as a child. "Embodiment," as used in this article, refers to the "realm of the self, experienced in and through the body." Concerning the problem of embodiment after traumatization due to sexual abuse, the dilemma of the survivor is to resolve how to live with a dangerous, damaged, or dead body. In addition, the survivor must determine how to live in "the body" of a family or a world that is equally dangerous, damaged, or dead. The sexual abuse victim, faced with physical and psychological annihilation, may abandon the body, make it "outside me," pretend the body does not exist, or turn on it in anger and confusion. This article first analyzes trauma and dissociation and then links them to the development and maintenance of a "posttraumatic" sense of personal identity. Then, several disorders associated with sexual abuse -- dissociation, multiple personality disorder, eating disorder, somatization disorder, self-mutilation, suicide, and suicide attempts -- are examined in terms of their phenomenological coherence and relation to the problem of embodiment. This conceptual framework may be useful to clinicians and researchers who assess and treat the survivors of sexual abuse. 40 references and summaries in French and Spanish