Posted by Jennifer Han on .
1.The psychology of children coping with sexual abuse
2.Adolescents who commit suicide
3.Self-inflicted pain as a response to grief/abuse
Throughout the years, many young women have always struggled for freedom to deal with the problems they have. Such difficulties, including sexual assault, self-harm, suicide, and even depression, are nothing more than obstacles, which women must have to face. Thus, it is possible that women are more vulnerable to these issues than men, especially both pre-adolescent and teenaged girls. This can also lead women to usually develop depression or simply commit suicide. It can also be more likely for women to become victims of sexual assault. Chris Abani, a Nigerian author, has composed a novella Becoming Abigail (2006), which is a story about a young girl named Abigail, who struggles with her own life from past to present, in which the setting takes place from the country of Nigeria to London, England. From her mother’s funeral to the sexual offenses made by her relatives, including her cousin Peter, Abigail also tries to deal with the difficulty regarding her own identity. It can be concluded that Abani accurately portrays a typical response to sexual abuse through Abigail’s character and even gives a clear portrayal of a suicidal rape victim. Abigail ultimately commits suicide as a response to the unsuccessful struggle with her experience of abuse.
Abigail’s response to sexual abuse is accurately portrayed by Abani because she reacts to Peter’s attempt of rape by developing post-traumatic stress disorder, which is likely in most rape victims. According to the text from "Impact of Sexual Abuse on Children: A Review and Synthesis of Recent Empirical Studies" (1993) written by Kathleen A. Kendall-Tackett, Linda M. Williams, and David Finkelhor, it is indicated that, “[f]ears, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)… and poor self-esteem occurred most frequently among a long list of symptoms noted, but no one symptom characterized a majority of sexually abused children” (Kendall-Tackett et al 164). Abigail can be a perfect example of a child who is sexually abused that might have more than one psychological problem. Abani writes: “She tried to retreat under the bedclothes... She scuttled back but he grabbed her and pushed his weight onto her. She fought him. Shouting. The sound caught deep in her throat. Calling for Mary” (Abani 88). Abigail’s actions of attempting to fight back, running away, going under the coverings of a bed, and screaming for Mary to help her are her attempts of coping with sexual abuse. Abigail should have reported Peter’s rape, but there is no way she can escape, since she is trapped. Abani emphasizes that Abigail “close[s] her eyes and [brings] her knee up and all the fight [goes] out of him. Peter squeal[s] and fall[s] off” (Abani 88). Pushing her knee up against Peter while he tries to violate her until he falls off the bed is another example of how Abigail reacts defensively. Abigail’s attempt of self-defense also causes Peter to try to “slap [Abigail], but she [catches] his hand and bit[es] deep, drawing blood” (Abani 88). Again, Abigail’s other actions can be exemplified as her defensive reactions: she attempts to protect herself against Peter by attacking him, but to no use. Abani writes that, “Abigail [is] standing on the bed, eyes wild, the makeup she [has] been too excited to take off, smudged” (Abani 88). This passage shows that Abigail is afflicted with low self-esteem: she is ashamed of herself regarding her appearance and decides to get rid of the makeup off her face until it is smeared. It is likely that the makeup on Abigail’s face is a metaphorical image of her self-esteem. Abani vividly portrays the scene where Abigail “give[s] into her trembling and crumple[s] into the bed, sobbing” (Abani 89). It is evident that shaking, collapsing on the bed, and crying are Abigail’s actions not only associated with fear and her low self-esteem, but also related to PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Rape is considered a stressor, since Abigail’s symptoms of PTSD indicate that she is scared and concerned about her own security, attempts to stay away from Peter, and is unable to control her negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, and fear. As a result of sexual assault, Abigail loses her ability to take care of herself and decides to let go of herself, instead. Eventually, this traumatic event causes Abigail to feel isolated and worthless to the point where she takes her own life.
Abani’s portrayal of a rape victim can be considered accurate, judging by Abigail’s inability to support herself after being raped, which leads her to commit suicide. According to Robin E. Connors’ book Self-Injury: Psychotherapy with People Who Engage in Self-inflicted Violence (2000), “failure to care for self” is explained as an “inadequate ability to provide self-care or protect self… Examples include excessive risk-taking… [and] not getting necessary medical care, and poor nutrition” (Connors 13). It is relevant for Abani to believe that Abigail suffers alone in the cold environment. Also, Abani writes: “Filth. Hunger. And drinking from the plate of rancid water. Bent forward like a dog. Arms behind her back. Kneeling. Into the mud. And the food. Tossed out leftovers. And the cold. And the numbing of limbs that was an even deeper cold” (Abani 91). Apparently, Abigail is treated in the same way as an animal, instead of being treated right as a human. Also, it is sensible that “rotting food” and dirty water, which is also unsuitable to drink, are good examples of lack of good or proper nutrition provided to Abigail (Abani 91). Kneeling in the mud is considered unusual for humans. Therefore, it is sensible that Abigail is unable to nurse herself back to good health. It is also abnormal for humans to drink dirty water and eat unsanitary food, in a similar way Abigail does. Accordingly, Abigail has self-inflicted pain when she cannot feed herself food to eat or quench her thirst. In other words, it is also reasonable that this leads Abigail to suffer her own pain through malnutrition. According to Abani, there must be “Tossed out leftovers. And the cold. And the numbing of limbs that [is] a deeper cold” (Abani 91). It is evident that the terms “filth” and “hunger” describe Abigail’s problems and show how she fails to survive for her self-care. This is her guilt from the incident of sexual assault. Abani attempts to portray Abigail’s response to abuse by demonstrating these two physical forms as psychological problems. Abani believes that Abigail can be seen as dirty, since she maintains such poor health and lacks medical care. To reiterate, it is unusual for Abigail to stay unclean without even acquiring good health. It is also unsanitary for humans to eat garbage, instead of properly prepared food; therefore, this demonstrates how Abigail is being mistreated. Also, the leftovers of food are cold, meaning that Abigail fails to maintain not only poor nutrition, but also lack of warmth. Abani writes: “By the tenth day she no longer cared. Couldn’t tell the difference” (Abani 92). This excerpt demonstrates how Abigail, under the effect of psychological abuse, gives up on herself. Abani also asserts that her thoughts are fundamentally broken. The “numbing limbs” are a good example of how she does not get medical care. As a result, she risks her own life too much in the cold environment, instead of living inside a warm home, which is also uncommon. Abigail inflicts harm to herself not only because she is unsuccessful of taking care of herself as a reaction to abuse, but because she also tries to punish herself as a way of purification. Basically, Abigail tries to purify herself of the abuse. It is also likely that Abigail has feelings of hopelessness, since she has no family or friends to support her, nowhere to live, and no control over her own life.
Abigail also self-harms as a response to sexual abuse by trying in a counter-intuitive effort to alleviate her emotional pain. As stated in the text from “Cleansing the Soul by Hurting the Flesh: The Guilt-Reducing Effect of Pain” (2011) by Brock Bastian, Jolanda Jetten, and Fabio Fasoli, research indicates that:
Pain purifies. History is replete with examples of ritualized or self-inflicted pain aimed at achieving purification. Some people feel that they can achieve reparation for their sins by simply experiencing pain; this may be why seeking self-punishment is a basic response to feelings of guilt (Bastian et al 334).
Abigail feels that she deserves her emotional pain after the initial abuse. Abani writes, “without hands, [Abigail] bit[es] at the itches from blood vessels dying in the cold. From the intimacy of dirt. Bending. Rooting. Biting. Her shame [is] complete” (Abani 91). Biting herself to alleviate the “itches” from the cold blood vessels is another way of how Abigail tries to punish herself through pain. In other words, Abigail attempts to harm herself as a response to grievance without even using her hands. It is also notable that, although biting one’s own blood vessels that “die” in the cold leads to more irritation, Abigail believes that this action may relieve herself to her self-inflicted guilt. Abani asserts that Abigail’s shame relates to her self-punishment because she has nothing to work towards herself. He also notes that Abigail uses not only her teeth for self-biting, but also her nose to alleviate her pain through self-injury: “she rooted around her skin with her nose. Feeling for the brandings, for the limits of herself. And then the urge came, and she held it away... Until she let go, she couldn’t feel the warmth wash down the frozen limits of her skin” (Abani 91). Abigail harms herself because she cannot deal with the emotional pain. Thus, it is sensible to conclude that Abigail would rather feel physical pain because she does not want emotional pain. The “brandings” are defined to be marks of disgrace, which are associated with the pain Abigail is experiencing through her self-punishment. The “warmth” that Abigail is also unable to feel is the purification she is trying to get to achieve through self-injury. However, it is unusually impossible for Abigail to keep herself warm by simply itching her cold skin. The way of letting go of the pain causes Abigail to attempt to either punish or purify herself through harm. Since Abigail is unsuccessful in providing self-care, she decides to inflict self-injury as a way of self-purification and shame. Abani believes that Abigail attempts to ease the pain by castigating herself through self-injury in response to sexual abuse.
Abigail commits suicide because she is unable to cope with the sexual and physical abuse she has endured. An article entitled "Suicide among Female Adolescents: Characteristics and Comparison with Males in the Age Group 13 to 22 Years" (1995) by Mauri J Marttunen, Markus M. Henriksson, Hillevi M. Aro, Martti E. Heikkinen, Erkki T. Isometsä, and Jouko K. Lönnqvist reveals that “[t]he results suggest that young females who commit suicide may have suffered from more severe psychopathology... Substance abuse seems to be a major factor also in female suicides” (Martthunen et al 1297). Before her death, Abigail is clearly struggling with the pain of being abused and it is revealed in the text that she has thought long and hard about suicide, since she has no other effective options of coping with her pain. Abani writes the closing line in his novella: “As she blew smoke into night and the river, she knew, this decision was hard” (Abani 119). As stated in this excerpt, Abigail has turned to drugs to try to cope with the trauma of being abused, just before she commits suicide. This is an accurate portrayal of the typical response to female sexual abuse since Abigail exhibits the same symptoms as mentioned in Martthunen’s text. The act of smoking cigarettes is considered substance abuse and it causes Abigail to think that there are no other options. In other words, Abigail is meant to smoke the cigarettes too much in a wrong way. Abani write: “She looked down at the river, then at the cigarette. A tug sounded its foghorn and the wind picked up with a sign, she flicked the stub at the darkness and followed it” (Abani 121). It is difficult for Abigail to decide whether or not she should live, due to her experiences with abuse, but it is likely for her to believe that she is planning to jump off the river to commit suicide. Thus, Abigail is a good example of female adolescents who suffer from psychopathology, or mental illness. Smoking cigarettes is a way that Abigail tries to deal with her mental illness before taking her own life. It is probable that smoking cigarettes actually worsens Abigail’s mental health and causes her brain to deteriorate, or degenerate. Thus, the cigarettes also cause Abigail to think that she chooses to die by her own hand rather than living her own life. The ending in Abani’s novella indicates that cigarettes are a distraction, but they do not solve anything. Therefore, Abigail commits suicide as a result of her failure to deal with psychological problems while coping with sexual abuse and inflicting pain on herself.
In conclusion, Abani accurately portrays a typical young woman’s response to sexual abuse through Abigail’s character and even gives a clear portrayal of a suicidal rape victim. Abigail commits suicide as a response to the unsuccessful struggle with her experience of abuse. In response to Peter’s sexual assault, Abigail copes with sexual abuse by developing symptoms of PTSD, as well as developing fear and low self-esteem. Since Abigail has no support for herself since she is a minor, she plans to punish herself as a way of purification. In the ending of Abani’s novella, Abigail continues to smoke cigarettes until she decides to commit suicide. It concludes that Abani accurately created a realistic rape victim character since Abigail exhibits the psychological after-effects of being raped. Therefore, Abigail is a perfect example of a suicidal woman who struggles with sexual assaults, self-harm, and smoking cigarettes that affect her mind.