Is healing even possible? For so long you have carried this huge secret. You feel like there is a heavy weight on your shoulders. A Shadow that surrounds you. You’ve never told anyone or maybe your family knows but you were told not to tell anyone outside of your immediate family. Being touched makes you feel nauseous.
You’re constantly asking your self why…:
- …do I cringe when my partner touches me?
- …am I still haunted by dreams of their touch? Their words?
- …do I freeze and begin to drift away, losing time and memory?
- …can’t I focus?
- … do I suddenly feel hot all over and my heart begins to beat rapidly and a voice inside yells for me to “get out!”
- …am I afraid?
Why Childhood Sexual Abuse Continues To Impact You As An Adult
Childhood sexual abuse unfortunately is common and effects people from all backgrounds and cultures-no exceptions. As a child you learned to dissociate (described by survivors as disconnecting from their bodies) as a means of coping with the physical, emotional, and physical pain you experienced. Now as an adult you notice this still happens from time to time and you feel confused as to why it’s happening and you want to “control” it.
You may have never told anyone because you feared you wouldn’t be believed. Maybe you thought you deserved it or you believed that this person chose you because you were “special”. For many survivors their bodies betray them, becoming sexually aroused during the sexual violation. The result is confusion about the role you played. Remember it’s not your fault. You were a child and you did not do anything to warrant an adult sexualizing you. You have conflicting feelings about what special means or you feared the repercussions of telling. Once the abuse stopped you thought you were free. “Hey, it’s in the past. What’s done is done, I’m safe and thats all that matters”.
Yet you still feel haunted by your abuser. Maybe it’s the smell of that one fragrance or the sounds of certain music of a particular song. The sight of a person who looks just a little too much like that person, or physical touch by anyone, which sends shocks throughout your whole body. These situations are enough to send you in a spiral to which you have difficulty recovering from. A spiral of flashing images in your mind. Jumbled or fleeting thoughts, none of which you can hold on to and discern. A spiral or absence of any thought or feeling-you’re just here. You may even feel like you’re floating and now you’re just there watching your body interact but you have no control over the movements, you feel disconnected.
The Stress Response System: Fight-Flight-Freeze
These are all common symptoms of the traumatic experience of sexual abuse you experienced as a child, that stem from an overactive Stress Response System. Your body learned how to keep you safe and alive by activating these amazing skills (fight-flight-freeze). The problem is that you’re sensitized to them, meaning anything that resembles that past trauma causes your Stress Response System to kick in and you enter a trauma response. This is used to keep you safe because all your brain senses is the threat. It cuts off all action to the cortex, the part that does the positive self talk, in the moment so you’re acting on instinct. The flight-fight-freeze response is good when you’re in a dangerous situation but can cause you significant distress when they are triggered by any stimuli that resembles those traumatic experiences (but in reality you’re not in danger). These experiences make you feel a loss of control. You may describe it or yourself as feeling“crazy” (by the way you are not crazy you are a survivor).
The good news is that there is help. Healing is not confined to time. No matter how young or old you are, you can heal and recover from the wounds of sexual abuse and trauma.
Healing is about helping you to speak your truth. To begin to find your voice and learn how to use it. Healing will help you have some control over these self protective adaptations by exploring those triggers and learning to attune to yourself and listen to your gut. It’s not about making you talk and talk and talk about your trauma, repeatedly telling your story (it can be a piece but that’s really not the focus). The talking is the releasing of the fear, self loathing, and pain. You can learn to feel empowered. As you continue on the path of healing you can explore those patterns which get you caught up, that spiral which was discussed earlier. As you recover you can learn to integrate all parts of self and not splinter. You can learn to love, feel connected, and trust in yourself and others.
3 Tips To Begin The Process Of Healing:
- Find a way to let it out. Journaling to express your inner most thoughts and feelings. Explore everything that is inside of you without fear of being judged or exploited. Work with a therapist to begin to speak your truth in a safe, contained, and protective space. Therapy can help you learn to better manage your stress which often triggers intense feelings that may leave you feeling out of control . Find connection with peer support groups with other survivors. This will help you feel less alone and more hopeful that you can have a better, happier and more fulfilled life
- Practice grounding techniques. These are perfect for helping you discern and get out of the spiral of flashbacks. Flashbacks are intense memories that make a person feel like the abuse is happening in real time. Literally your past and present merge into one in those moments. Triggered by associations of past abuse (smells, sight, touch, etc) yourfight-flight-freeze response are triggered and only after you have engaged in certain behavior and the flashback is over do you realize what happened. Many people experience embarrassment and shame over having lost control. Grounding techniques will help you remain in the present. By physically having you focus your attention on one thing (usually your breathing or feeling your feet on the ground) you can draw your attention away from the flashback and into the present.
- Meditating, daily affirmations, and/or Praying. I put these all together because they are all kind of similar to mindfulness practice which help you remain in the present. They are often ritualized and repetitive which will help learn to be attuned to your body sensations, your thoughts, and your feelings. They also help you feel more connected and more open to things outside yourself. It increases awareness and acceptance, which helps you learn to love and trust yourself.
The pain of sexual abuse is real and can be a life long issue, if you try to stuff it down and ignore it. Healing and recovery are truly possible and it can happen for you.