As discussed in an earlier article, most of us need the help of a trained therapist when dealing with traumatic life events, and sexual abuse definitely comes into this category. Sexual abuse, particularly of children, is a violent attack on the self, and unfortunately abusers are general skilled at controlling their victims.
This article is designed to help the victims; perpetrators of sexual abuse also need help but that is not the focus of this article.
The first step is to reach the understanding of how the abuse occurred in the first place. This involves understanding how you were vulnerable to the abuser. This will be discussed in this article.
The second stage for most victims is to forgive themselves and to recognise that they were the innocent party, their abuser the guilty one. Part of this stage involves seeing the perpetrator in a different light. This can take some time.
The third stage in healing from abuse, (to be elaborated later), is to feel confident to discuss what occurred with friends and family, aware that some people may take a considerable time to understand. Some victims decide to confront their abuser and even report the abuse to the police.
If you are setting out to heal yourself, the first step is to reflect on the first occasion when the abuse occurred. Do you remember what your abuser said to you, and how you responded? Most victims of sexual abuse believe they played a willing part in the abuse and can convince themselves they were responsible. This may be because they were looking for love, acceptance or approval and these may have been missing in the home. Most abusers know how to persuade their victim that this is a shared and mutual experience: “This is our secret”. Your abuser does not need to be a lot older; many teenage males, possibly unsure of their own sexuality, may seek to abuse females they know.
Everyone I have worked with in counselling who has suffered sexual abuse feels a degree of shame. Shame is a very destructive emotion which can make you believe you are a bad person. If you feel shame, you are not alone. Once you have accepted that you were an innocent victim, the shameful feelings will lessen. A good therapist will help you to address shameful feelings. There are also some very good books written on the subject. Keeping a shame journal, in which you explore how you came to feel ashamed and noticing the feelings of shame, will keep you focussed.
As you address shameful feelings, you will begin to like yourself more. You can help yourself by positive affirmations: ‘I was innocent’, ‘I did nothing wrong’, ‘I am a good person’. This can seem strange at first, but over time you will notice that you feel different about yourself.
Once you have started to see yourself as the innocent party, the situation will become clearer and you will be on the path to real healing. Remember that this is a tough journey – you already know that, or you would have dealt with it before now. Remember too, that it is well worth doing; you will feel much better about yourself and your life.
In the next two articles, I will discuss the second and third stages in healing from abuse.
Amanda Stuart is the author of ‘The Longest Journey; Finding the True Self’. She has been counselling singles, couples and families for fourteen years. She has worked with many victims of sexual abuse and came to understand that most victims experience similar emotions as a result of the abuse, in particular feelings of shame.