Survivors of Sexual Abuse
Holli Marshall & Niki Delson on "Survivors of Sexual Abuse", Online Conference Transcript
Bob M is Bob McMillan, editor of the online magazine CCI Journal at Concerned Counseling.
Holli Marshall: Is a sexual abuse survivor.
Niki Delson: Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in treatment of children and adult survivors of sexual abuse.
The people color-coded in blue are audience members who had questions.
Bob M: Good evening everyone. Our guest is here, so we are ready to begin. Our topic tonight is Adult Survivors of child abuse. Our first guest is Holli Marshall. You may have seen her site entitled "Holli's Triumph Over Tragedy". Holli endured many years of abuse and fortunately sought out treatment and according to her, she has made a significant and successful effort towards recovery. Our second guest tonight, coming in about 50 minutes, will be Niki Delson, LCSW, who works with survivors of abuse. In fact, I believe that constitutes almost her entire practice. So again, I want to welcome everyone to the Concerned Counseling website and say good evening to our first guest, Holli Marshall.
Holli Marshall: Thank you, Bob. Good evening everyone. I'm glad to be here tonight and thank you for the invitation. I appreciate the opportunity to share my story and to hopefully let everyone know that you can recover and lead a reasonably happy life.
Bob M: Thanks, Holli. Can you start off by telling us a bit about yourself and give us some background on the abuse you have suffered?
Holli Marshall: I'm 27 years old. Obviously, I'm female. I'm disabled because of the abuse. Before I became disabled, I was a professional television engineer. I live in Minnesota now. At 5 years old I was raped by an 18-year-old male babysitter. Since then, in separate incidents, I was abused, raped, and incested by my brother and several neighborhood boys. This happened between the ages of 5-13. My mother has dissociative identity disorder (DID). She was physically, emotionally and verbally abusive to me while I was growing up. My mother constantly tried to commit suicide. So, she couldn't take care of me, much less herself. I'd go days without food, having my clothes changed, and without being held or nurtured. My father was an alcoholic and verbally abusive. My sister used to be a drug addict and ran away when I was very young, so I don't know much about her. So you can imagine, to sum it up, I had a nightmare of a childhood.
Bob M: Holli, you mentioned that you are now disabled. In what way?
Holli Marshall: I have stickler's syndrome. It's a tissue disorder. I was born with a cleft pallet. I am deaf because of the abuse I sustained. I also have had to go through many types of physical therapies because my bones aren't healthy. In addition, I became anorexic because I felt I needed to be fit and perfect in order to be loved.
Bob M: So, your earlier life was horrific and you live daily with the reminders of your abuse. Initially, as a teenager, how did you deal with all this?
Holli Marshall: I think I went "out of my head"...or I would've gone mad. Listening to music was very important. Being involved in track. And because there was simply no way out, suicide wasn't a choice or option, I just had to deal with it. So mentally, I tried to "step outside" of my reality. My diagnosis is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It's as if I've been through the Viet Nam war and I experienced all the symptoms of PTSD. For instance, I had nightmares, flashbacks, hot and cold sweats, anorexia, abdominal distress, stomach pain, migraines and I'm a very nervous and anxious person.
Bob M: For those of you just entering, we are speaking with Holli Marshall, from the website "Triumph over Tragedy", about her experiences with abuse and how she has dealt with it. In about 30 minutes, our next guest, Niki Delson, licensed clinical social worker, will be along to give us her professional insight into abuse issues. Most of her practice consists of working with survivors. We will be taking questions for our guest in 5 minutes. Holli, can you tell us a bit about the treatment you have received over the years and how effective was it?
Holli Marshall: I've been through "talk" therapy, doing some hypnosis, meditation, relaxation and breathing techniques. I've also been put on medications, Prozac, Klonopin, Vistoril. All have been very helpful combined together. I also have a wonderful psychologist who specializes in working with those with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The therapy, the healing process, creates safety about you and teaches you how to create a support system. You learn how to cope, nurture yourself, build self-esteem and confidence, build better relationships and boundaries within those relationships. You learn how to live with the feeling of "impending doom". Basically, you learn to live a better quality of life. It's the quality that counts. I AM NOT A VICTIM. I AM A SURVIVOR!! It's empowerment. And I like living my life that way, rather than considering myself a victim.
Bob M: How many years of therapy did it take to reach this point? And are you still in therapy?
Holli Marshall: I started 5 years ago and I'm still going.
Bob M: And would you say that you are "recovered" now? And could you have done this on your own without professional help?
Holli Marshall: I would say that I am deep into the recovery stage, but not done. Probably a few more years to go. It's hard to reverse 20 years of abuse and neglect overnight. I could not have done this or gotten as far as I am now, without professional help. I strongly believe people have to talk to one and other, and be heard, to aid in the recovery and to heal.
Bob M: Here are some questions from the audience Holli:
Pandora: Are you diagnosed with MPD/DID Holli? I have been told by both my psychiatrist and psychologist that I shouldn't mention this to people. It is difficult to be treated for a disorder that isn't readily acknowledged by the public and even many professionals.
Holli Marshall: MPD/DID is different than posttraumatic stress disorder in that I am dissociated, but not to the point that I lost touch with reality in myself. DID creates new people to take over the pain. I would suggest that you tell people that you have DID. I think the silence is very hurtful. If you've been diagnosed with DID, then you need to find a professional who acknowledges it and then get treatment. My experiences have shown me that the general public turns it's head away from abuse issues because it's difficult to hear and digest. That's why I created the "mint green ribbon campaign" for the awareness of abuse.
Journey: Holli, I read your web page earlier today! Great Page!!! My question is: how are the flashbacks different now from before when you first went through them; and also, does your anorexia get better as you go through your healing process?
Holli Marshall: Re: the flashbacks. I still have them. They range in severity depending on what I am going through at that moment. For instance, if I'm dealing with extra stress, that can trigger a flashback. But they are less frequent now than before and I now know how to handle them. The anorexia did get better for me as time went along because I was able to gain more self-esteem and awareness of myself and my needs as therapy progressed. Since I was a child, neglected, not fed food because my mom didn't feed me properly, I didn't develop a sense of hunger, like normal hunger pains. I would go on and on without eating. And because of the sexual abuse and incest, I didn't want people to see my womanly curves. But now I realize that's normal and natural and you should feel good about yourself and proud of yourself no matter what you've been through.
Robinke: How old were you when you began counseling and how many counselors did it take before you found the right person?
Holli Marshall: I was 22 when I began and it took me until my third counselor to get it right. I finally found a psychologist who I could work with and who specialized in PTSD. But it was frustrating during the interim periods before I found the right person. So please hang in there and find a good person who works for you.
Gryphonguardians: Did you have to remember everything in a lot of detail to heal?
Holli Marshall: No. I think it's impossible to remember everything in detail when going through the therapy process. And basically, I think you should just pick and choose what you know is going to work for you.
Precious198: Did you have to confront your abusers to heal or did the healing take place without that?
Holli Marshall: I had to confront my abusers which was very hard and did not go well. But I went into it with no expectations of it either going or not going, well.
Bob M: What was that like for you Holli--facing your abusers? And how did your abusers respond?
Holli Marshall: For me, it was very scary because I didn't exactly know what to expect. I tried to stay neutral, but obviously, you're worried if this person is going to physically and verbally attack you and try and discredit you. And they responded in multiple ways. Some acknowledged what happened and said they were sorry. Some said that's the past, get over it. Some denied it. And I also tried to pursue some of my abusers in a legal way. But because the case was so old, I found out I couldn't do it, even though they acknowledged it happened.
Rachel2: The ones who wouldn't admit that they abused you, did that cause doubt in your own mind about what happened?
Holli Marshall: My parents said they were sorry about the neglect and abandonment and they should've handed me over to someone responsible to take care of me. As far as the people who denied it, no it never caused me any doubt about what happened. I live in a "total reality" situation. Unfortunately, I remember everything.
albinoalligator: For the ones who didn't acknowledge the abuse, how do you feel about them?
Holli Marshall: I feel no mercy for them, but I do feel pity for them because they have to deal with it in their own minds. And if they believe in a higher power, they'll have to deal with it then. And whatever demons they live with, that's their problem. I don't believe you have to forgive people for what they've done. That's why I say I have no mercy.
Patty Cruz: Holli Marshall, I received an email inviting me to this chat. Has it been your experience that women who have been sexually abused hide their bodies as you mentioned?
Holli Marshall: Yes Patty. I have met more that do hide their bodies because of sexual abuse, than those who don't.
Bob M: Holli, you are married now. How have you been dealing with the sexuality involved in that?
Holli Marshall: I've been married since I was 21. I'm now 27. I never experienced sexual problems and I'm fortunate I guess. I don't know why I was able to get through that, but I'm glad I was. Within the first two dates with my husband to be, I spilled my guts. I told him everything. And it basically overwhelmed him, but he looked beyond that and saw me for what I am inside and fell in love with that. I was never scared to tell him. I've been very open about my abuse issues since I was 13. I told my friends and therapists. I actually found it very helpful and therapeutic to do that.
Bob M: Thank you Holli for being here tonight and sharing your story and experiences with us. Our next guest, Niki Delson is here. And I'll be introducing her in a second.
Holli Marshall: Thank you Bob and I appreciate having the opportunity to be here. Good night everyone.
Bob M: Our next guest is Niki Delson. Ms. Delson is a licensed clinical social worker and most of her practice involves working with people who suffered sexual abuse. Good evening Niki and welcome to the Concerned Counseling website. Can you briefly tell us a bit more about your expertise?
Niki Delson: I work in a private practice that specializes in family violence. We treat victims, family members, and perpetrators. I am also an instructor for the University of California and train social workers in investigating abuse and neglect.
Bob M: I know you saw part of the conversation we had with Holli Marshall. Is it typical for people who are abused as children to suffer the after-effects in adult life?
Niki Delson: Many children who were molested, or had other traumatic experiences in childhood, continue to suffer or experience a variety of symptoms as adults. There are, however, victims of sexual abuse who are asymptomatic all of their life.
Bob M: How is it possible that after an experience of being raped or molested as a child, one can be without symptoms then and later in life?
Niki Delson: Children who are molested don't have the cognitive ability to understand a lot of what was done to them. It's important to remember that most molestation experiences are not rape. Children are mostly confused when they realize that what was being done to them was not okay and the disclosure of the abuse sometimes creates more symptoms, depending on the reactions of parents and others involved in the process of dealing with the disclosures. The aftermath of disclosure and the fallout from that is usually what we deal with in therapy first. Children can be asymptomatic before puberty and develop symptoms when sex takes on a different meaning in their life.
Bob M: What role do the parents play in the ability of a child to heal after a child is sexually abused?
Niki Delson: If it is a family member, an incestuous relationship, then the mother is the key to the healing. Research clearly demonstrates that children who have supportive mothers who acknowledge the molestation experience and clearly hold the perpetrator accountable will heal faster. The perpetrator's admission is also a key factor in health.
Bob M: I'm wondering, in many abuse cases, there is a legal process. What is your feeling about bringing the abused child into the legal process and having them testify and go through extensive exams, etc.? Is it better to do this or not do this in terms of the healing process?
Niki Delson: That all depends on the child. I have worked with teenagers who clearly wanted to go to court and testify. They believed that was the only way to get their father to be held accountable and they wanted to do it publicly. I have worked with teenagers who wanted to have a sexual trauma exam because their mothers didn't believe them and they hoped it would give her the wake-up call she needed. I have also worked with children who were as traumatized by the sexual trauma exam as they were by sexual trauma.
Bob M: Let's say the abused child doesn't get the professional treatment needed during childhood. What is the key to the healing process in adulthood?
Niki Delson: Clarity in their minds that it was nothing about them, not their body, not their mind, not their soul that caused them to be "chosen" by the perpetrator. Sometimes that comes from psychological counseling, other times it comes from family, a minister, a mentor, a teacher, a good friend. etc.
Bob M: Here are some questions from the audience:
Precious198: Is it necessary in healing to confront the abusers- especially if it involves mom, dad, and brother if you know they will not acknowledge that any abuse happened?
Niki Delson: If you know they will not acknowledge it, what would be your purpose? You have to be clear about that, because otherwise you just put yourself in a position to feel victimized again.
Robinke: I guess you have had victims where the family (parents) doesn't believe them. How do you deal with them?
Niki Delson: It depends on whether they are children or adults. If they are children and not believed, they are usually removed from the family, and it is the separation and abandonment issues that we deal with first. That is usually way more painful than being molested.
BobM: And what about as an adult, finally confronting your abusers? How does one deal with the situation of confronting your parents or abuser and they deny it?
Niki Delson: I have seen that backfire many times. And it takes a lot of preparation. Some women say that they just wanted to experience the power of confrontation and did a confrontation with supportive women or family. They experienced a sense of completion when the perpetrator no longer had power over them, even though there was no admission.
BobM: What about men who are abused? Is it a different experience for them than women and the way they handle it? And is the treatment different?
Niki Delson: It is different for many men. When they are children, they are dealt with differently. There is the issue of homophobia if they were molested by a man, and if they were molested by a woman, and they are adolescent, they are supposed to feel like they had a great sexual experience. As little boys, they are expected to take it like a man, not have sad feelings, not cry, etc. And for many boys, unless there is sodomy, and usually there is not, they find the experience pleasurable and do not want the offender to get in trouble. The offender, with both males and females, creates confusion by getting the victim to think that because they complied, they really consented. Then when they are adults, they have no clarity about what consent means. Victims get compliance and consent confused.
Rachel2: How do you ensure personal safety when having an abreaction, a real-life remembrance of the abuse, where it feels like you are actually there? What steps do you take to ensure that safety?
Niki Delson: It is important to work with a therapist and get clarity where you are trauma bonded. There are certain triggers that link certain aspects of your environment to memories. Each molestation experience is unique and so for each individual, understanding the experience means untangling those reminders. Trauma bonding is where the trauma, is cemented so to speak, in your mind with other things that you experienced, could be smells, something visual, etc, and the triggers bring about the memory.
BobM: Can you talk a little about the different types of therapy that would be effective in helping adult survivors?
Niki Delson: The most successful form of therapy seems to be cognitive behavioral, where you work with the therapist to understand your thinking, and feeling, and how your thoughts generate your behaviors. There is some research on EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) as a very useful intervention in untangling the traumatic memory.
Precious198: If you have multiple personality disorder/DID, how do you get to the point that the personalities/voices get under control and you can live a semi-normal life again?
Niki Delson: If work with a therapist isn't helping, some victims find various forms of medications very helpful with quieting the mental conversations that disrupt everyday functioning. Medication along with psychotherapy has been shown to be successful in dealing with depression.
Gloria: I don't know if this is allowed, but I have grandparents who think that I should just forget it and a father who thinks what happened is my fault.
Niki Delson: Well, your father is wrong, and telling you to forget it is not useful. It is useful to find a way to package the memory and have it exist as a memory of a very bad experience, and not have the memory be in the driver's seat of your life.
Bob M: One last audience question Niki because I know you have to leave: There are some adults who "think" they may have been abused, but aren't sure. Maybe they have dissociated the memory or don't have a clear memory of the incident(s). How do they deal with that?
Niki Delson: I worry about people, who have no clear memory, "thinking" they have been abused. It is a dangerous road to walk down, because sometimes one can look for an explanation for an unhappy life, and molestation may not be at the root. I deal with what people bring into the therapy office. I ask them to define what their "life is not" and help them look for how they would like their life to be and what is stopping them from achieving fulfillment in life. Defining yourself as a victim, and having that as an identity, does not lead to fulfillment.
Bob M: Thank you, Niki, for being here tonight. We appreciate it. I also want to thank the audience for coming.
Niki Delson: Thank you. I hope everyone found it informative. Good night.
Bob M: Thanks to everyone for being here. Good night.
Disclaimer: We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.
Gluck, S. (2009, February 1). Survivors of Sexual Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, November 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/transcripts/survivors-of-sexual-abuse