Preparing to Heal from Sexual AbuseApr 19th, 2010 | By Christina Enevoldsen | Category: All Posts, Articles
by Christina Enevoldsen
Does time heals all wounds? I’ve heard many survivors of abuse try to soothe themselves by saying, “Soon, this will pass.” It does take time to heal—and lots of it. But time alone won’t repair the soul mutilation of abuse anymore than it will repair the destruction caused by an earthquake. Sexual abuse ravages the depths of your being and to be restored, you’ll need to face each wounded area. Healing takes great quantities of perseverance, courage, strength and yes, time.
Recognizing the Abuse
The first step in beginning to heal from any kind of abuse is to recognize and acknowledge that it happened to you, and that it matters. It’s very common to remember an unwanted sexual encounter, yet not recognize it as sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is when someone with less power is tricked, trapped, coerced, or bribed into any type of sexual experience. Power imbalance may result from the perpetrator’s age, size, position, experience, or authority and includes kissing, fondling, being forced to touch the abuser’s genitals, anal, oral or vaginal sex, and non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism or sexual comments.
Though you may not label it as such, the effects are no less present. The attempt to deny the seriousness doesn’t limit the effects. Just the opposite is true. You may have low self-esteem as a result of your abuse and might not think it matters that you were hurt, but your life is important and you are worth the time and effort it takes to overcome this.
Gaining the Proper Perspective
While it’s common to see the abuse as less serious than it is, it’s also common to see the abuse as bigger than it is. The abuse leaves you feeling powerless. Often, that feeling carries into the healing process. The powerlessness causes you to think of yourself as less capable and weaker than you are. The effects of abuse can seem engulfing, yet you are stronger than the abuse or its effects. Your survival proves that. You’ve lived through the worst of it and the same strength that preserved your life will help you build a new one.
Facing the Effects and Envisioning a Better Future
It’s important to see how sexual abuse has affected your life. Go through the symptom checklist Possible Indicators of Sexual Abuse. Don’t get overwhelmed. Instead, recognize the symptoms of victimization for what they are. Once you recognize how much the abuse has affected you, you can see how much you have to gain by the healing process.
Sometimes it’s hard to visualize a life not consumed with abuse, but try to imagine yourself doing something that you weren’t able to do before.
Facing the Pain
The pain of abuse can be agonizing and incapacitating. Sometimes, it overtakes you and it’s impossible to think about anything else. At those times, pain seems like the enemy. You may try to avoid it through masking or stuffing. Pain won’t kill you, but failing to deal with the pain can limit or shorten your life.
Pain is a vital tool in healing and will only be eliminated as your wounds heal. It’s meant to be a signal to help you find the specific areas that need your protection, nurturing and attention. If you cooperate with your pain instead of fighting it, it will be your ally.
When you recognize a feeling emerging, try to identify when it started. Understanding the origin of the event or memory can help you process and work through the feeling.
Even if you don’t know why you feel the way you do, it’s still important to express your emotions. Masking or stuffing feelings won’t make them go away, only expressing them will.
Be careful not to judge your feelings. Feelings are neither good nor bad. They are helpful indicators of what you believe about your experience. You will likely experience anger and hatred and many other powerful emotions during this time. The more comfortable you become in allowing the feelings to surface, the easier your healing will be.
Gathering Your Resources
A support system is vital to your healing. Friends and family members, support groups and/or a therapist can fill this need. You can’t do this alone. You suffered alone for long enough and you need others around you to heal. Choose people who will take the time to listen without judgment and who help you feel safe.
Professionals who are familiar with sexual abuse issues not only provide support by listening but also by educating you on the process, though many survivors heal without professional counseling. If you choose not to seek therapy or can’t afford it, you will need to learn everything you can about the subject. Doing so will prepare you for the journey by telling you what to expect and by affirming your thoughts and feelings. Here is a list of recommended reading. Even if you hire a therapist, you are responsible for educating yourself and for your own healing. Nobody can do it for you.
Taking the Plunge
You may be tempted to put your healing on hold while waiting for your abuser to apologize or your family to believe you. Unfortunately, those things may never happen. Isn’t it time for you to be in control of your own life? Don’t allow someone else to determine when your healing journey begins. Others may not choose to do what’s best for you, but you can.
Christina Enevoldsen is cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Christina’s passions are writing and speaking about her own journey of healing from abuse and inspiring people toward wholeness. She and her husband live in Los Angeles and share three children and four grandchildren.
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