This is for you, the person who is currently surviving sexual abuse being perpetrated against you, at this moment. I know you are feeling afraid to disclose, fear that others will blame, shame and/or judge you, and feeling all alone in your pain.
The sexual abuse of a child, has sadly, been a problem in this world since the beginning of time. Adults or even teens who look at a child and see SEX or VICTIM as opposed to a PERSON, someone who is deserving of love and safety, has caused a great deal of harm to the individual (survivor).
Child sexual abuse is a major, yet, under discussed problem that many people like you have had to cope or are currently trying to cope with. The effects of this particular type of trauma reaches out like tentacles and touches all aspects of ones life. With the shelter in place order caused by Covid-19 pandemic many people like you no longer have the escape of school or friends, as a temporary respite, but rather your stuck inside with your abuser.
Surviving the Trauma of Sexual Abuse
When you are currently surviving the trauma of sexual abuse every day life is wrapped up in surviving. As we experience something traumatic our body’s go into self protection mode, by activating the stress response system. The stress response system is a host of networks or connections between our brains and the rest of our body’s, which serve to act in some way or another. Typically when we experience a threat then we feel a surge of adrenaline that courses through our body’s as we prepare to either fight or flee from the threat.
We also look to the people around us (social referencing) for more information about what the threat is or how to act. When we are younger we typically look to our caregivers or the adults in our lives for help. All of these things happen rapidly and often automatically. It takes time before it comes to our awareness (top parts of our brains). This is a normal response that happens when we feel threatened. We all have a stress response system designed to keep us safe.
But this system can be overworked. When we experience repeated traumas, traumas and/or stressors that are out of our window to manage them, then our baseline shifts. This is called a sensitized stress response system and essentially this means our systems are really sensitive to perceived threats in our environments. Something that may be a small stressor for one person may be perceived as a threat for another, due to ones past experiences with threats/traumas. The resulting response by each individual is often very different. The person without a sensitized system may be able to tell themselves that they are feeling stressed and may think of some solutions to alleviate this stress, without becoming overwhelmed. On the other hand, the person with the sensitized stress response system may respond to the same stress by feeling overwhelmed and shutting down or lashing out at someone else. Some might even feel stuck or frozen in place by this same stressor, unable to act in any way.
As someone who is currently living with the perpetrator of sexual abuse towards you, you’re living in a traumatic environment. You are faced with the threat of your abuser, daily, and thus your stress response system is constantly on high alert.
Living On High Alert In Order To Survive
A stress response system that is constantly on high alert is a survival adaptation. This means that you are especially attuned to your environment and the people in that environment. You don’t just stay on guard in your home but you are on guard outside your home. When you’re out with friends, family, or even at school. You might even notice that when you are around certain people or a certain type of person you feel more anxious. That’s your stress response system working and alerting you that the person might not be a safe individual.
Your Sensitized Stress Response System Is Tired
A sensitized stress response system is an exhausted system. Your stress response system is working hard to protect you by constantly scanning your environment for threats and doing an internalized checkin about how to respond. This often means that you respond more easily to certain stimuli in your environment leading you to feeling more tired or drained by says end. Yet since you are living in the environment with your perpetrator you also do not feel safe enough to feel a state of calm, so even when you do finally fall asleep, your sleep is not restful (or you are plagued by nightmares).
Also when experiencing a trauma, such as child sexual abuse, not only is your stress response system being activated and changed but so does your attachment (relational) system become changed. Perpetrators manipulate the children they abuse and this manipulation often leads to feeling like you cannot trust others. When the perpetrator is a parent/caregiver or someone else close to you then your relational template (beliefs about people in the world) is also skewed so that you believe that people are not good and are out to hurt you.
A survivor of child sexual abuse if constantly on guard. Fear is a constant and self protection is top priority, even if you are not consciously aware of that’s what is going on when you act.
4 Tips to Stop Child Sexual Abuse From Continuing
As a survivor of sexual abuse you are most likely well aware of the cues in your environment for when the abuse will begin. You know what to do to protect yourself in the moment, when it’s happening, but I don’t want you to just continue to survive it. I want it to stop happening altogether. Here are 4 things you should do to stop sexual abuse from continuing to happen to you:
1. Eliminate (Limit) Contact: This is where I will get on my high horse and really encourage you to disclose the abuse. This way, hopefully, the abuser gets out of your life and no longer has access to you (thus stopping the sexual abuse).
2. Get Help: Professional help by a therapist is the best option. Someone who has knowledge around helping survivors of child sexual abuse. This will also be a place where you can process your feelings and learn a variety of tools that will help you with emotional regulation, trust, and safety in your body and also with others, and boundaries.
3. Connect: Reach out to a safe adult in your life who you trust. We are all wired for connection (as well as safety). Bonding and connecting to another helps us feel not only feel love but it helps us feel safe. By focusing on building a positive and healthy relationship with another you will start to see yourself different, hopefully more positively. You may also be able to use this as the foundation to overcome your fear and disclose the abuse (which will hopefully put an end to it).
4. Remember the abuse is not your fault: I know you may feel a lot of guilt and maybe even shame around the sexual abuse, particularly if it has been going on for some time. No matter how long the abuse has been going on, it’s not your fault and you did not want/enjoy it. Remember abusers prey on a persons natural desire to connect with someone else and will use their bodies against them as well. These master manipulators will use all the tools at their disposal to continue having access to you so they can continue to hurt you. That is not your fault!
Being sexually abused as a child or even a teen often has long lasting effects, especially if the abuse has continued for a long period of time. But this is why it’s so important for the abuse to stop. This is why disclosing is so important, especially if the authorities get involved. Stopping the abuser from having access is the up most importance, in order for you to begin healing. So please consider reaching out, even during this pandemic to someone you trust and feel safe with (a teacher, family friend, maybe even the police or CPS directly). I know it can be frightening but as the saying goes you cannot heal while in the same environment that caused you trauma in the first place.
If you are a survivor of asexual abuse (currently being abused or if the abuse has all ready stopped) and you are looking to start on your healing journey through therapy then schedule your first appointment today.