When a father sexually abuses his daughter, her road to recovery will be a long and difficult process. A woman who has been through this ordeal may display one or more warning signs including: distorted body image, chronic dissociation, chronic depression, self-abuse and boundary confusion.
Distorted Body Image
A woman who is a survivor of father-daughter incest may have an unrealistic view of her body size -- believing that she is much smaller or larger than is true. Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, may be present. She may try to pretend to be much younger, such as when a middle-aged woman wears mostly clothing with cartoon figures on it or, by contrast, when a young woman tries to appear older by wearing baggy or very conservative clothing.
Childhood victims of father-daughter incest tend to separate from reality as a way of coping. When under stress, she may look like she is "not really there." Her eyes may be unfocused and she may not recall a discussion in progress. Body posture may become overly limp or rigid, and she may be uncharacteristically passive.
A survivor of incest may hurt herself, most commonly by cutting or burning herself, or ripping out her hair. Triggers may include overwhelming sadness, or by contrast, emotional numbness. Frequent and hidden burns, cuts or hair loss are signs that a woman may be engaging in self-injurious behaviors.
A woman whose father has sexually abused her may be extremely overprotective around her own children. She may not let them out of her sight, may see harm in situations where no harm objectively exists, or she may be overly rigid in their discipline, having unrealistic expectations. By contrast, she may also have little or no healthy boundaries with her children, leaving them alone with strangers, dressing them in inappropriately provocative clothing or treating them like adults. Because of distorted boundaries between her and her father, a survivor of incest may be unaware of what constitutes good boundaries with her own children.
Depression/Post Traumatic-Stress Disorder
Women survivors of paternal incest may suffer from bouts of depression, expressing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Depression due to sexual incest persists despite medication therapy. Women who have survived this type of trauma may startle easily, distrust others, see the worst in every situation and may have difficulty with new experiences.
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- "Soul-Expressions-Abuse-Recovery: Sexual Abuse Signs and Facts"; Herdmann, B; 2007
- "Encyclopedia of Relationships Across the Lifespan"; Turner, J. 1996
- "International Encyclopedia of Sexuality"; Francoeur, R.; 2004
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.