Why Was I Afraid of Healing From Sexual Abuse?

Oct 20th, 2011 | By | Category: All Posts, Steps Toward Healing

by Penny Smith

I had admitted to myself that I had been abused. I reached the point that I was tired of the way I was living. I wanted something more. I knew I had to deal with the effects of abuse if I ever wanted anything to change. I wanted to heal….so, why then was the process of healing so scary and hard to begin?

It’s like I had been a slave or imprisoned my whole life, and then I was offered the chance to be free. Freedom is what I had dreamed of, longed for, but never really thought would happen. Slavery is depressing, demeaning and kept me from realizing my true potential. So why wouldn’t I jump at the chance to leave it?

It is all I had ever known. To leave it would mean to enter the unknown, to be dependent on myself for the quality of my life, to explore my potential. In order to be free, or to heal, I would have to leave my old patterns of thinking, habits and people who kept me shackled in the chains of my abuse and its effects.

Yes, my first instinct was to go running towards freedom, but then I looked at all the coping mechanisms I’d used to make my life bearable, to survive what I’d had no control over. These were what I perceived myself to be and I was afraid to leave them behind. I felt a sense of control over my life because I had learned to cope.

Yes, my first instinct was to go running towards freedom, but then I looked at all the coping mechanisms I’d used to make my life bearable, to survive what I’d had no control over. These were what I perceived myself to be and I was afraid to leave them behind. I felt a sense of control over my life because I had learned to cope.

That’s all I was doing—coping. I wasn’t dealing with the effects. I wasn’t getting to the bottom of how I felt and why I felt that way. I wasn’t dealing with anything—I was simply shoving it under the rug—coping.

The problem with that was, the more I shoved under the rug, the lumpier my life became. Since I was afraid to leave my cell it became more and more uncomfortable as issue after issue popped up in my life.

Finally, I realized that I couldn’t live that way any longer. I had to strike out on my healing journey. It was a relief to make that decision, but also scary. I thought that by beginning to deal with the affects of abuse, I would give up who I was. That in leaving the comforts of my coping mechanisms, I would somehow lose myself.

It was difficult to leave the familiar and set off in to the unknown. It was frightening to not know where the journey would take me or who I would become. In reality, I wasn’t losing my identity, I was finding out who I truly am. I had become a product of my abuse and the skills that I had honed to survive it. I was about to find out that under all those layers and layers of lies, there was so much more to me than I’d ever dreamed.

Not long after I had plunged myself in to the process of recovery, I remember finding out first-hand just how difficult it is to leave those old patterns of thinking and responding behind. I had a “friend” who seemed to only call me when she needed something. She called me one day and wanted me to do something for her on very short notice. It would be a huge inconvenience to me and it was not something I felt comfortable doing. I was so used to saying ‘yes’, so trained to do whatever was asked of me, that I told her I would. As soon as I got off the phone, I felt horrible about it.

I began to try and process my feelings. I realized that the inability to say ‘no’ was an aftereffect of my abuse. I had been trained to think that I wasn’t allowed to say ‘no.’ Right then I decided that I was no longer going to be a doormat. I was just as important as anyone else. I called my “friend” back and told her that I couldn’t do what she wanted me to. I’ve never heard from her again.

To some people it may seem simple, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was the most amazing feeling to finally stand up for myself. It was empowering to realize that I didn’t have to do everything that was asked of me. That I have rights too and that it does not make me a bad person to say ‘no.’ That is when I took control of my life back from my abusers.

By leaving the slavery, the cage, the prison cell where my abuse had kept me, I wasn’t giving up anything (at least not anything that was good for me). I was actually giving myself a chance to find out who I truly am.

At times it feels like I go backward more than forward, but when I look back, I can see that I’ve made progress. I’m amazed that I was ever afraid to leave that bondage. I marvel at who I have become. I am not who “they” told me I was…I am so much more and so are you.

Does this resonate with you? Please join in by leaving your thoughts and feelings about this topic and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments.

Related Posts:
Overcoming Sexual Abuse: My Healing or My Marriage?
Is Overcoming Sexual Abuse Really Possible?
My Healing Journey: Stumbling and Getting Back Up
Forget About It?
My Support System is Led By Me

Penny Smith is a frequent contributor to Overcoming Sexual Abuse, especially through her heartfelt poetry. Penny uses her creativity in many areas including cake decorating, sketching and floral arrangements. She balances her recovery with being a busy wife and mother of three precious children.

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  1. Penny,
    Thank you so much for talking about your journey. Leaving the familiar behind is terrifying. For me, it wasn’t only at the beginning of the healing process that I experienced this, but every time I’m faced with the opportunity to move forward. The more I change and grow, the more I’m convinced it’s worth it, but there’s always a moment of insecurity about what those changes will mean. Thank you for sharing, my friend!

  2. It’s ironic that I’m reading this after a therapy session I had this morning. We talked about the same thing. I told her how I had still felt this obligation to say yes to people (even my abuser) even though I really wanted to say no. I was so wrapped up in worrying about everyone else’s feelings that I totally ignored my own. Having that victim mentality we are conditioned to do whatever it is someone asks us to. We have no built in concept that we are allowed to stand up for ourselves! We do have a choice to say no and by saying no to someone we are not saying “I don’t love you” we are saying “I can’t do this for you right now.” Thank you for sharing this Penny!

  3. Penny,

    Thank you for sharing your story. It reminded me of the first time I said “No” and how scary it was. When I said Yes to healing, I never realized how much I would learn to say NO to. Thanks for the reminder, because I don’t ever want to forget how far I have come and your story is a great reminder. I never heard of coping skills until I started healing but I am sure glad I did, because I love who I have become and I’m so glad I accept me, without the lies and false beliefs I grabbed ahold of along the way.

    Awesome blog, Patty

  4. Penny, Great. That’s so true. I’ve caught myself doing that so many times since I’ve started healing. I’ll say “Yes….wait. No. I’m sorry I can’t do that for you.” The part of me that was trained from childhood to say yes to anything will answer before I even have a chance to think, but I’m getting much better at catching myself when I do that. It really helped to learn that I can change my mind. Even if I already said yes, or use to be ok with being treated a certain way, that doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind. I can say no anytime I want to.

  5. Christina,
    Thank you for encouraging me to write this. It is terrifying to leave the familiar but you’re right, so worth it! At least now when I’m faced with change I can look back and see that the change usually leads to better things. That helps it to not be so scary. <3

  6. Ruth,
    I so hear you when it comes to worrying about everyone’s else’s feelings and neglecting our own. I always felt like it was my job to keep everyone happy, no matter how I felt. It feels so good to realize that I matter to and that I am allowed to take my own feelings in to consideration. Take care.

  7. Patty,
    That was honestly one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I was so worried that she wouldn’t be my friend anymore and then I realized that she wasn’t much of a friend to begin with. She was just someone else that was taking advantage of me–a user. It is empowering to realize that we have a voice now.

  8. Jennifer,
    Yes, we can say ‘no’ whenever we want. That was a fascinating concept for me. It’s still really hard to do sometimes, especially when it’s someone I really care about, but I’m learning to do what’s right for me. We are worth it. :)

  9. Penny Dear,
    This was my discussion with my therapist just this week. Am I afraid to heal?
    Am I standing in my own way? Do I think I deserve to heal?
    Thank you for sharing. I just said my first “no” to a persistent
    Acquaintance too, and it felt great. I’m praying to take a few steps
    Forward before I get scared and go back one. Maybe after
    a while I can just go forward. Your insight inspires me.
    Lots of hugs and gratitude, Rachel

  10. Rachel,
    Sounds like you are already taking steps forward. Asking yourself those questions, caring enough about yourself to say ‘no’…those are positive moves in the right direction. I, too, hope to someday only move forward. Thanx for sharing!

  11. I can so relate to this. I am at the stage of wondering why I started this (healing). last week I joined a survivors group – I’ve been thinking about this for a while and thought this would be an important step. It wasn’t too traumatic, its a very small group, but I came away totally drained – in my therapy session later on I could barely function – and it has taken me all week to recover – just in time to go again next week.
    Change is something I know I don’t cope with well, I hate the uncertainty. Learning about emotions I have stuffed down for so long – its exhausting. I have got used to the huge waves of grief – I can do that – but the anger – thats a whole different ball game. And admitting to that in front of a group is totally different to doing it one to one.
    I am able to recognise that I am ambivalent about this process because I am so afraid of emotion, of change, of getting to know who I really am. Scared of finding that I truly am nothing, clinging to the hope of being worth something. To discover some self-esteem is proving terribly painful, expressing anger seems pointless – the people I am angry with are dead and gone – so whats the point? I guess my identity is so predicated on being worthless/placid that if I let go those things the “who am I” is like staring into a black hole.
    In the last year I have broken off contact with people who have not behaved like true friends. I have nothing to spare, now, for emotional vampires. This is easily the hardest thing I have ever done. But I cannot stop now – I have gone through too much already – and so have my friends and family. So, I keep taking one step at a time, one after the other – hoping I can get through to somewhere more pleasant.

  12. YES. My whole life I have felt brainwashed. I have said yes to everything, even when my whole body was crying and screaming at me. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about, actually. My new thoughts have opened up a miraculous new life. I can feel the love and see the messages that now encourage me on my newfound path of healthy living. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and story.

  13. Libby,
    I definitely understand the exhaustion you’re talking about. I think we all go through times when it just seems like too much. Once thing leads to another and another. Then, emotion after emotion comes to the surface as we deal with things. Sometimes it’s all I can do to put one foot in front of the other and it feels like I’m going nowhere. What keeps me going in times like those is the knowledge that I have nothing to go back to…I know I wasn’t truly living before, and the hope that one day things will be better. Eventually, a break comes, I have a moment to breathe and I can see that I have made progress.

    I think the point in us being angry at those that abused us (even if they are dead) is that it is not only a release of all that pent up emotion but it is our right. It’s like we’re admitting that it was wrong what was done to us and saying that we are worth being angry over. We were taught we had no rights, but we do. We are allowed to be as angry as we want for as long as we want over how we were treated.

    I like that term ’emotional vampires.’ That’s exactly what those so-called friends are. They take and take and have nothing to give. We don’t have to allow those people in to our lives when all that we’re dealing with is draining enough. It makes all the difference in the world to have supportive people around you.

    I wish you all the best on your journey. I trust you will soon see just how very much you are worth and how brave you are to choose to pursue healing.

  14. Deirdre,
    It is a wonderful new life isn’t it? Even through all the difficult times, I’m enjoying getting to know who I really am. I’m so thankful that I found my voice and finally learned to stand up for myself. I’m also thankful to have others, like you, to share this journey with.

  15. Thank you! x

  16. Penny – THANK YOU. That makes sense – after a very volatile few days.
    It is reassuring to hear that you still have days when its hard to move; my husband is struggling with me when I am in this state.
    The second week of my group was much better – and I was quite energised by what we did there. This spilled over into my individual therapy session – and I think I made quite a significant break through. But then, later in the week, we (husband and me) went to our joint session (with a psychologist/psychosexual therapist), which we go to alternate weeks. Most of that session was good but, and it feels like a big BUT, she was not happy that I had joined a group. She thinks I may be doing too much.
    Its weird – in my childhood I lacked a protector, and in my early adulthood too. My husband is a good man – and I feel safe with him. But I have all these other “protectors” – therapists and counsellors, as well. Mostly I feel good with them – even when I am being challenged – I am safe. But after this one I felt bad. Here I am trying to heal, I am pushing myself to get out of my comfort zone – her sessions in particualr are extremely scary for me.
    I made a conscious choice about this group, feeling that now I needed some peer support. But this one therapist is not happy. And I feel like she has rained on my parade. I can understand some of where she is coming from – but I also have this feeling that there is an element of professional jealousy there too – I am “her” client. But she wants me to chose – having said that she might consider a break in our joint work if I want to stay with this group.
    This is the crux, isn’t it? I have waited a long time to get to this place. I have waited a long time to “wake up” to my needing to heal, and I have waited a long time to get to see this therapist – who is also coming up to retirement. I have worked so hard and struggled so much to even be prepared to contemplate seeing a tehrapist let alone joining a group. I have coped with the stuff that has been thrown up, and I have made huge efforts to change. And I am still standing! I haven’t folded up into a heap (close run thingssome weeks though) and I haven’t totally lost the plot either. If I lived in the USA I would probably be having therapy 3 times a week. But in the UK we seem to be think once a week is enough. Its not enough for me, is how I think/feel.
    The exhaustion HAS to be worth it, although I must balance this against the need to be able to function. So now, to feel I am being backed into a corner, to conform to someone else’s belief about what I should be doing, just does not sit right. Actually it feels manipulative, bordering on abusive.
    hen I have spoken to the two other therapists about this they have both encouraged me to make my own decision. They have been supportive – although they too are cautious about me taking care of myself – but I guess at the end of the day I feel they trust me to make the best decision for myself.
    So what choice can I make? If I chose to do what I believe I need/want – then I run the risk of screwing up our joint therapy. And that is a significant loss, potentially. If I give up on my group – I can do it another time. BUT I feel the group adds to what I am already doing – AND will improve my coping skills generally.
    SO what am I going to do? Well, I am going to continue with the group – if it becomes to much I have the option to stop – and re-join at a later date. And the problem therapist? Well, I am going to tell her how I feel about what she said. And toss the ball back at her’ trust works both ways – she has got to trust ME. So there!
    Actually I am angry. I am mad as hell. Finally! :)))

  17. Libby,
    After reading your comment, I want to jump up and shout! I love this the most, “SO what am I going to do? Well, I am going to continue with the group – if it becomes to much I have the option to stop – and re-join at a later date. And the problem therapist? Well, I am going to tell her how I feel about what she said. And toss the ball back at her’ trust works both ways – she has got to trust ME. So there!” You GO girl!!!! And hooray for feeling angry!

  18. Libby,
    I, too, took a long time to get to the point that I was ready to do whatever I needed to to heal. I’m so glad that you are doing what YOU feel is right and what YOU need to heal. So many times others think they know what’s best for us but in the end we are the ones who know what we need. Good for you for getting angry, standing up for yourself and making strides towards healing.

  19. Hi Penny
    Thank you for your post and your responses. I can totally relate to having some reluctance to heal. Who wants to dredge up those painful emotions or relive those awful memories? I have been on the road to healing for some time now, ever since my children were born and are now 12 and 13. I have made significant strides, but then I become complacent and think I’m all better. I then pretend everything is alright until some crisis creeps up that I have difficulty dealing with and I have no idea why I am reacting or feeling the way that I do. I was recently reminded that I suffer from Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder, no doubt a residual effect from my childhood sexual abuse by my father.

    Not growing up in a safe environment and having the person who is supposed to take care of you betray your love, makes it very difficult for me to trust anyone in my life, especially those of the opposite sex. This has affected me in many streams of my life including my work and personal life. After a long string of failed relationships and a failed marriage to the father of my children, I finally had the fortune of finding someone who understands me and continues to help me in my recovery. However, even though I logically know he is completely devoted to the children and I, there is still that irrational part of me that does not trust, feels unsafe, and has a fear of abandonment. My ASAD is so severe that recently when my husband and I moved to another town and my husband stayed behind in the city to sell our house for a couple of months, I experienced frequent shortness of breath, began to feel more tired and unmotivated as the days went on, and felt like I was spiraling into a depression. My only saving grace was when my children came home from school and I didn’t feel so alone. At first I didn’t know what was going on, wondering “what the hell was wrong with me”. Then when I was reminded of my ASAD and started researching the symptoms, it confirmed to me that I wasn’t crazy and that my feelings were legitimate. Being able to define the problem and putting a name to it, allowed me to deal with it.

    I also realize that I have to continue to deal with the demons of my past and try to heal from them, not get complacent. I need to continue to peel back the layers and discover who I really am. Ignoring the symptoms or pretending that everything is all right has only taken me further away from my path of healing. I may never heal completely, but by continuing to educate myself about the affects of abuse, and learning healthy ways to cope, I know that I will be moving in the right direction. Social media like this blog also help and I thank you all for sharing your stories. We are not alone and together we can overcome. Knowledge is power.

  20. Hello Miranda, Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. How well I remember fighting the memories and trying to push the emotions away. I so wanted to go on as if nothing had happened. I didn’t want any of it to be true…but denying it did not make my abuse or any of its’ affects any less real. I’ve only been actively working on healing for a couple years now and I think the ‘honeymoon’ stage has ended for me. After the initial difficulty of accepting that the abuse was real and starting on my journey, I was so excited. I seemed to be making alot of breakthroughs and changes and felt like I was really overcoming by leaps and bounds. Here lately though it has been all slow going, hard work and I question sometimes whether I did the right thing by trying to heal. When I think about it logically, I know that I couldn’t have continued the way I was. I was a mess. I was so full of pain and unresolved issues and secrets. I was depressed and always waiting for something horrible to happen. I was alive….but I wasn’t living.

    I, too, have a very difficult time trusting men. One of my abusers was my grandpa, someone I should’ve been able to trust. As a result, I find it very hard to have a solid, trusting relationship. I can relate to your feelings of mistrust and insecurity. Many days my children are all that keep me going. I know I must keep fighting, I must keep going, not only for me, but for my children. I want to be the best mom I can possibly be for them and give them a better start in life than I had.

    Thank you for the reminder that “we are not alone and together we can overcome.”

  21. I’m literally just trying to get started with this but not really sure where to even start allowing for a change. This helped to read though, nice to know I’m not going mad and it’s a “normal” problem. Hopefully I will allow myself to make a change soon and start moving forwards.

  22. Jane,

    I think just being open to change, realizing that a lot of the way we think is a result of our abuse, is a huge step. For me, healing is an ongoing process. Be kind to yourself and know that you are certainly not alone.

  23. Thank you for saying what so many of us don’t even know that we don’t know how to say.

  24. Lisa,

    Thank you for reading and for your comment.

  25. Thanks Penny, luckily I do realise that the way that I think and feel is largely due to the past, but unfortunately that just makes things harder because I don’t feel like I can change things. I know I’m supposed to be in control of how I feel and what I chose to do, but I feel so powerless and sometimes paralysed by my own stupid brain. I’ve read so many things saying don’t let people get you down and don’t let them win- but what if the only person fighting me and hurting me now is me? How do I win against my own brain- it’s smarter than me and definitely a lot stronger. But I will keep trying, it helps to know I’m not alone :) thanks.. L. X

  26. Jane,

    When we’ve had a certain thought pattern for a long period of time, perhaps even grown up that way, it is very difficult to change them. Just because we recognize they’re wrong, doesn’t mean that we can just choose to no longer believe them and it will instantly happen. For me, it’s been a long process and it’s still ongoing. Things still pop up in my thoughts that I recognize are a direct result of the abuse. I know they’re wrong but knowing that and changing them are two very different things. Just as those faulty thought patterns were instilled in me over the period of many years, it has taken me years to recognize and deal with them. I, too, am my own worst enemy when it comes to dealing with my thoughts. I had my self-esteem pummeled for so many years during my childhood that even now, in my 30’s, I am working at rebuilding it. I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t be discouraged. You are certainly not alone and healing doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey and just the fact that you’ve recognized these thoughts and where they stem from is a step in the right direction. Be gentle with yourself and know that you are worthy of a full and happy life.

    Thank you for your comment. :)

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