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How to Begin Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse as an Adult

How to Begin Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse as an Adult

It's possible to heal. It's possible to heal.

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More and more adults are finding, not only that they were sexually abused as children, but that they still suffer from the aftereffects of such abuse. Sometimes children repress memories of abuse and do not remember them until adulthood; some adults remember clearly what happened to them, have tried to put it behind them and couldn't, or remembered and felt hopelessly overwhelmed and didn't know how to begin healing, and still others remembered the abuse but chose to discount the profound effect it has had on their lives, only to find that their happiness and success are blocked by the aftereffects of abuse. These are only a few of the reasons why adults may be seeking healing from events that occurred in childhood, many years after the fact. Here are a few pointers for beginning the process of healing.

Things You’ll Need:

    Things You'll Need
  • Emotional support, such as a trained and licensed psychotherapist, or a very good support group
  • Relative safety Online resources for information, or a good library or bookstore
  • Time 
  • Couurage 
  • Patience to wait out the process 
  • A journal (optional but highly recommended)
Step 1
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. People who have been victimized often have such low self esteem as a result of their abuse that they don't think it matters that they were hurt. Also, if one's memories of abuse have been repressed, it's very difficult to recognize the symptoms of victimization for what they are.
Some, but by no means all, after-effects or symptoms of childhood sexual abuse are:

trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping,
discomfort with children of the same age the victim was at the time of abuse,
panic and/or anxiety disorders,
sexual promiscuity,
sexual acting out,
sexual problems or uninterest in sex,
discomfort with people of the same gender as the abuser,
unexplained physical pain such as pelvic or anal pain,
multiple surgeries performed on the reproductive organs,
lack of memory of being a child or large missing blocks of one's childhood,
a hunch or intuition that one was sexually abused as a child,
a pervasive feeling of powerlessness,
suicide attempts or strong suicidal wishes and/or ideations, depression,
self-mutilating behavior(s),
repeated victimization such as rape, assault or domestic violence,
unexplained physical or emotional numbness,
lack of trust,
and many more.

If you can identify with one or more of these after-effects, you may have been sexually abused.
If you have not found a therapist or support group already, now is the time. A therapist can help you work through your emotional pain, the aftereffects of the abuse, and life problems as a result of the abuse, and a support group can do much the same.

There are a number of 12-step groups for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, as well as more professionally-run groups associated with hospitals and mental health clinics. See the resource section below for a few useful references. A good therapist can be as easy to find as your local Yellow Pages. There are even counselors who offer their services online.

It is crucial that you get some kind of help; you've had to bear this burden alone for long enough. Therapy isn't fun, but it does offer eventual relief from your emotional pain and life problems.
One of the best healing techniques that a victim can do to begin healing from childhood sexual abuse is to write in a journal. There are many different ways to do this, and a combination of several can be the most effective.

One way is just to write about your thoughts and feelings, especially the uncomfortable ones that you have trouble quieting.

Another way is to write a letter, or series of letters, to the abuser--not to be mailed, but to give yourself a chance to speak out and acknowledge your feelings about the abuse and the abuser.

Another way is to open the journal, set a timer for 20 minutes or a half hour, and write as quickly as possible until the timer goes off. Sometimes unnoticed thoughts and feelings will come out that way.

Yet another way is to write a question to yourself as a child with your dominant hand, i.e., if you are right-handed, use your right hand, and then switch the pen to the other hand, and write your answer as you would have as a child. Often using the non-dominant hand to write causes hidden thoughts and feelings to come out.
Healing from childhood sexual abuse can take a long time and be very difficult, but it is worth every minute and can be very rewarding, not only to the individual who suffered the abuse, but for the loved ones surrounding that individual. It's hard sometimes to see oneself as worthy of "going to all that trouble," but as a human being on this planet, you are.

These few steps are only the beginning, but should set you well on the path to healing and eventual recovery.


Tips & Warnings

  • Read all you can about the subject of sexual child abuse. It will help you realize that you are not the only one, and that you were not to blame for the abuse.
  • A few good books to begin with are: The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, Victims No Longer by Mike Lew, Conspiracy of Silence by Sandra Butler, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware by Alice Miller, The Obsidian Mirror by Louise White, and many more. Check the bibliographies of any book on this subject that you read for more suggestions.
  • Learn to limit unwanted touching. If you go to a group where people feel free to hug you or touch you without your consent, make it clear that you are not comfortable with this kind of thing. One way to do this is to cross your left arm across your chest and offer your right to shake hands, and say, "I'm not comfortable with hugging right now, but I don't mind shaking hands with you," if shaking hands is okay for you.
  • Sexual Abuse can happen to both girls AND boys; support groups are generally sensitive to this, and it is possible to find men-only or women-only groups. Don't give up till you find the right group or therapist for you.
  • If your therapist or support group tries to focus mainly on your forgiveness of the perpetrator of the abuse, find a new therapist or group. Forgiveness is important, but some things are unforgiveable, and using "forgiveness" as a shortcut to healing doesn't work. Let genuine forgiveness come--or not--in its own time.
  • Do not confront your abuser if you feel that there may be physical danger involved. Confrontation should ONLY be done if both you and your therapist agree that it will benefit your treatment. It can be cathartic, but it can also be catastrophic.
  • There is huge controversy surrounding the whole subject of sexual child abuse, repressed memories, the book, The Courage to Heal, and forgiveness. Try not to get too wrapped up in the arguments and discussion at the expense of healing and recovery; take what works for you and discard the rest. Don't let anybody, no matter how well-meaning, make your mind up for you.
  • If you are an alcoholic or a substance abuser, it's best to plan to work on giving up your addiction as part of the healing process, as it's nearly impossible to recover from emotional trauma while actively using.


       Sexual Abuse Survivors in Recovery Anonymous

       Incest Survivors Anonymous


Response Content -->Very well written. I've worked with abuse victims for decades, and the result of abuse is a remnant of a person, with a broken spirit,an inability to trust, poor self image, and a feeling of guilt and (as you say) powerlessness. The person tries ANY way to feel better (or even feel)including self mutilation and substance abuse. Therapy is a long, uncomfortable experience, but the only thing that I know that works. It's hard to write a factual, but sensitive article on such a horrendous topic. But, you've done well. 5*****
on 11/28/2008 <!-- Article Comment - Response Content -->great article we need more like this

on 6/28/2008 <!-- Article Comment - Response Content -->I really loved this article.So well written.Very helpful and honest

writetruth said

on 6/25/2008 <!-- Article Comment - Response Content -->This is all so important and so well written. Great job!! 5 Stars ~!~

Froggy1980 said

 help other people with such a suject is very inspiring! Thanx 4 sharing with others!! TTYL.
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