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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Fear of Inheriting Abusive Behavior

Q. My father sexually abused my half sister when she was a child. It becomes even more sickening to say he was a minister. I feel uncomfortable around young girls because I don't want people to even think I'm capable of such a terrible act. My wife and I have discussed this exhaustively. Is this type of sexual behavior hereditary? What do I do to lessen my fears or live with them?

A. There is no scientific evidence, to my knowledge, that the behaviors you describe are hereditary. And there is surely no need to torment yourself with the fear that you will act abusively around young girls. It is probably true that those who have been abused (physically or sexually) are at greater risk for becoming abusive--but this would not seem applicable to you. (Even among those who have been abused, only about 10-20% will become abusers).

Naturally, all of us have the potential for acting in anti-social ways--but nothing is written in stone, or in our DNA, for that matter. I think it might be helpful for you to discuss some of your feelings and fears with a counselor or therapist. And even though (from what you say), you were not directly abused, you may be interested in the books, Beginning to Heal: A First Book for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis; and Beyond Survival: A Writing Journey for Healing Sexual Abuse, by Maureen Brady. I hope you are able to get on with your life.

Other Resources:

August 2001

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