Survivors of Incest Anonymous 

We Define Incest Very Broadly


for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse

SIA WSC Literature Committee Roundtable Discussion:

  • 03 Feb 2013
  • 4:00 PM - 6:30 PM
  • To Participate: Dial 1-218-936-4700; then press 673296

SIA WSC Literature Committee

Roundtable Discussion:

Co-dependency & the Incest Survivor; Issues with Setting Safe Boundaries, Why Boundaries are Important & How to go About Setting Them

(A Part of Chapter 1 “Of Victimage & Protection; The Many Traits & Coping Mechanisms Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivors in Hope Heals: The SIA Gold Book)


To create text for the SIA Big Book, Hope Heals

The SIA WSC Literature Committee & Big Book Subcommittee is seeking your assistance in making our dream of an SIA Big Book come to life. To help with the creation of this text, we are conducting a series of discussions by experienced SIA members about various chapters in the book. You may listen in and participate in these discussions. Each discussion will be 2 ½  hours in length and non-speaker panel members are encouraged to participate during the last portion of the meeting. Additionally, all SIA members are encouraged to share their experience, strength and hope in written form with the committee.*


Roundtable Particulars:

Date: Sunday, 2/03/13


4:00 P.M. – 6:30 P.M. Eastern Time

1:00- 3:30 P.M. Pacific Time

To Participate: Dial 1-218-936-4700; then press 673296

* If you’d like to participate in a future WSC SIA Roundtable Discussion as a Speaker Panel Member, feel free to contact Becky ( John+ (

Topic Background & Questions Panelists Will Address

Co-dependency & the Incest Survivor; Issues with Setting Safe Boundaries, Why Boundaries are Important & How to go About Setting Them

Co-dependency is an issue virtually all survivors of childhood sexual abuse struggle with. In families where abuse occurs, enmeshment is common place. Children are not allowed to exist as autonomous beings. Rather, they are situated by parental behaviors as no more than extensions of caregivers. Children of abuse are not allowed to “own” their bodies, thoughts and emotional responses. Frequently, they are taught to care take of their elders and fulfill the role of spouse for dysfunctional adults. Often survivor children attempt to fix the parent so the adult does not abuse the child or so they can feel significant. The thinking goes, if mama and papa are happy, abuse seems less likely to occur. Many times, fixing behaviors also provide survivor children with feelings of significance and being valued. Moreover, to maintain the illusion of family, and avoid experiencing feelings of abandonment, children develop inner critical voices to push their emotions and thoughts aside.  This is a highly useful defense mechanism, for to express the understandable emotions that stem from abuse is to risk punishment, ridicule, denial and minimization from caregivers. Thus, childhood sexual abuse victims tend to develop vast pools of inner shame, grief, anger, terror, depression and abandonment. Co-dependent coping mechanisms become part and parcel of the survivor’s life. These mechanisms include denial, low self-esteem, compliance, control, and avoidance behaviors. Interestingly, these patterns of co-dependent response occur not only with those in the survivor’s outside world, but also color relationships between the adult and child parts of the survivor’s psyche. Running through internal and external co-dependent responses are twin threads of trauma and hypervigilence. Initially, panic often ensues when survivors start standing up for themselves, expressing their feelings or needs, and creating boundaries. This panic is understandable, for as children of abuse we were forced to fold, submit and let go of who we were. Over time though, survivors heal. As we learn to increasingly nourish the beautiful beings that we are, co-dependent responses begin to drop away and a stronger sense of self and purpose emerges. This is why becoming aware of co-dependent responses, and the underlying repressed emotions they cover up, is an essential aspect of healing from the wounds of childhood sexual abuse.  

*For a Complete Description of Codependent Categories of Coping, See the End of this Piece


·          Why working with codependency issues is an important part of childhood sexual abuse survivor recovery processes

·          Nature of codependency: it’s causes and types

·          How codependency affects family denial processes

·          How codependency behaviors can trigger PTSD responses & how to work with them

·          How to create healthy, non-codependent responses with self and others

·          Codependency as it relates to internal relationships between various adult and child parts


Questions for Consideration

·         Codependency occurs as a result of boundary violations. As a childhood sexual abuse survivor, in what ways were your physical, emotional/mental, spiritual, relational and sexual boundaries violated?

·         How did merging with the wishes, needs and demands of others make surviving in an abusive family easier for you while you remained under the family’s influence?

·         How did the development of codependent survivor tendencies such as forfeiting needs, rights, preferences and boundaries affect your ability to engage in healthy, mutually affirming adult relationships with your self and others?

·         How does codependency contribute to family environments where abuse can occur and continue to occur after it has been pointed out to caregivers?

·         In what ways have emotional relationship PTSD triggers affected your ability to set healthy boundaries and how have you learned to work with these challenges?

·         What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced and some of the solutions you employ and why while doing internal codependency work with various adult and/or child parts?

·         What are a couple of the Codependent Coping Behaviors that have created difficulties for you and how have you come to let go of those methods of response?


*Codependency & Boundaries: Additional Questions For Growth & Consideration

1)   Why are incest survivors vulnerable to codependency?

2)   What are some of the traits of codependency?

3)   Why does codependency make it difficult for one to concentrate on their recovery?

4)   What are boundaries?

5)   What is the connection between co-dependency and boundaries?

6)   How does the incest survivor start to establish boundaries?

7)   How does establishing boundaries lessen our codependency on other people, places and things?

8)   What do we sacrifice by being codependent?

9)   Are there any gains from being codependent?

10)  What are setting boundaries so important to recovery?

11)  What is the first step in establishing boundaries?

12)  How do I deal with people who do not like my boundaries?

Join Us In March for Our Next Gold Book Roundtable!

Sunday, March 3:   Working with Triggers & Emotional Relationship PTSD Issues: How to Become Your Best Friend When Panic and Dissociation Confuse and Overwhelm

Categories of Codependent Coping Behaviors for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Denial Coping Behaviors

  • Difficulty identifying emotional responses
  • Denial or minimizing emotional responses
  • Casting oneself as entirely unselfish and only concerned about other’s  well-being
  • Lacking compassion for others’ needs
  • Turning self-judgments and self-criticisms into judgments and criticisms about others
  • Believing that no-else is needed for support of oneself and subsequent isolation
  • Covering up grief, shame, terror, abandonment, anger and depression via pretending that everything’s alright/expressing and using emotions other than what one is feeling to hide those feelings
  • Not voicing understandable anger or complaints directly
  • Attraction to emotionally unavoidable people that mirror our abusers.

Low Self Esteem Coping Behaviors

  • Decision-making challenges
  • Harsh self criticism of one’s thoughts, feelings, words and actions
  • An inability to receive compliments, praise or expressions of esteem from others
  • An inability to see self-approval as more important than approval by others
  • Viewing oneself as undeserving of love and support by others
  • Constant need for receiving positive reinforcement by others
  • Difficulty owning mistakes and intense self-shaming when mistakes are made
  • Telling lies to be accepted by others because approval by others is so important
  • Needs and desires cannot be expressed to others
  • Seeing oneself as superior to others in spite of profound feelings of low self-esteem
  • An inability to provide safety for oneself and a subsequent over reliance on others to provide safety
  • Initiating, following through and completing courses of action in timely fashions is difficult
  • Deciding upon goals, giving oneself a breaking and deciding how to take care of oneself in supportive healthy ways is difficult.

Compliance Coping Behaviors

  • Change is frightening because it stirs up challenging survivor emotions
  • Due to unmet childhood needs for support from dysfunctional caregivers there is a tendency to stay in harmful relationships and situations and have difficulty extricating oneself from them; Fears of abandonment, shaming or being hurt in other ways prevents the expression of emotional truth and acting in healthy, self-affirming fashions
  • Other’s interests and needs are prioritized over my interests and needs
  • Due to a hyper-vigilant need to control against future abuse the feelings of others are constantly and intently monitored and there is a tendency to make their feelings my feelings
  • Expression of differences of emotion, opinion, belief from others is frightening because it stirs up memories of abuse pain and is triggering
  • Sex often replaces mutual intimacy, support, acceptance and compassion with others
  • When making choices reaction, stirred by hypervigilence, replaces thoughtful consideration of consequences and outcomes

Control Coping Behaviors

  • Believing others are incapable of self-care;

  • Frequently trying to persuade other how to act, feel and think;
  • Care-taking others by offering advice when none is solicited;
  • Becoming hostile or angry when offers of help are not accepted;
  • Using gifts and favors to create relationships and obligation from others;
  • Using sex to create connection, control others or push away feelings stemming from abuse;
  • Blaming, scape-goating, anger, authority, rage, helplessness, abandonment and shaming are used to control or manipulate situations and others;
  • Placing one’s needs ahead of others to avoid challenging survivor feelings;
  • Using false agreement to manipulate outcomes;
  • Overly rigid responses, including an unwillingness to discuss conflicts, compromise in any way or find common ground.

Avoidance Coping Behaviors

  • Acting in ways that encourage shaming, rejection, anger, minimizing or terrorizing by others
  • Harsh judgments of other; judge harshly what others think, say, or do
  • I avoid emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a means of maintaining distance
  • Using “ism” responses to justify to prevent emotional intimacy with others
  • Avoiding conflict and expression of needs via the use of triangulation or other indirect communication behaviors
  • Fatalism and refusing to seek support or utilize program or other modality healing tools
  • Avoiding vulnerability via suppression of feelings, thoughts or helpful actions
  • After inviting others to be close, pushing them away and not subsequently honestly owning our survivor reactions
  • Refusing to consider that it is possible to receive nurture, compassion and support from others
  • Expressing emotions is viewed as a weakness
  • Expressing appreciation is avoided in order to create distance or avoid closeness with others.


© 2007 Survivors of Incest Anonymous
All rights reserved.  Permission to reprint granted only in writing.

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