Open Secret: Cognitive Disclosures that Worsen the Effects of Child Sexual Abuse

In this episode of Open Secret, Dr. Ashwini talks about Cognitive Disclosures.

When you look at the world through spectacles which have many scratches on the lens, everything will look distorted and unclear, even if the other side is in fact beautiful. Over generalised thinking refers to the pattern when a person thinks that what has to happen will happen, no matter how or what we consider about it. This is akin to believing in fate – no one can stop what has to happen. This type of thinking can become dangerous when there are abused children involved. If the adults around them think of the abuse as a happening that cannot be prevented, then the children’s welfare will never be considered.

Usually, people think that childhood sexual abuse happens at the hands of unknown persons but the truth is that most cases of abuse involve close acquaintances and even family members. Over generalisation can impede the detection and prevention of child sexual abuse. Parents may also assume that an active child will reveal any abuse that is happening, but children tend to get very disturbed in such situations and are unable to figure out how to communicate what’s happening to them. Also, if the parents are non-responsive to complaints of abuse or behaviour that is disturbing their children, then the children will stop sharing them any more.

Another term to understand is ‘Personalisation’. This thought pattern makes people assume that no matter what happens, they are the reason for it. This may include a family member’s behaviour, any one else’s actions, etc. If such a child is abused, they may end up thinking that it is happening because of their own fault and that something is wrong with them. This feeling is worsened when the child does try to speak up about the abuse and an adult responds that the abuser is a nice person and would never do such a thing. The trauma of the child is then intensified further.
‘Mind Reading’ is another pattern of thought to understand. This mindset makes the family of a female child who has been abused to think about the feelings and reactions of the rest of the family, of the neighbours, of the police, etc. and not prioritise the trauma and healing of the child herself. This often encourages them to take drastic steps that do not take into account the mental and emotional needs of the abuse survivor.

The reporting and prevention of abuse is also complicated by what is called ‘Black and White Thinking’. This involves acting on set ideas and leads to victim-blaming, blaming of the female person for all ills, assuming that teachers have the responsibility to teach children about abuse, being rigid about only mothers teaching children, etc.

‘Label Cognitive Disclosures’ refers to parents assigning labels to their children which block them from acknowledging or noticing any abuse that may be happening to their child. This involves them announcing that their child is ‘very brave’, ‘very clever’, etc. and creating an impression that their child will never face any abuse because of these characteristics. This also involves negative labeling, like calling a child a headache or a burden, or fat, dark, etc. which affects their perception of themselves. Labeling a child is unacceptable and should be stopped.

Listen in for more….

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