In part 1 sexual abuse, myths and long term effects. Part 2 will talk about the healing process and what that means for you. At the core of sexual abuse is the loss of trust-trust in your fellow human, trust in your caregivers who were suppose to protect you, trust in yourself and trust in your body. Survivors often remain stuck in the past, with intense body sensations when triggers arise, they feel overwhelmed and a loss of control with regards to their feelings. For treatment of issues around complex trauma, the key is to feel more in control as you move through different emotions, rather than constantly feeling powerless and hijacked by them.
Culturally there are accepted feelings for most African-Americans to have. Being angry and happy are ok but expressing sadness and worry can often be a little tougher as we have a built narrative around our ability to persevere and survive in the face off all that our ancestors and even our grandparents and parents have faced. When we talk about feeling sad, lonely, confused, lost, overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, etc we may often get judged by well meaning loved ones who have also suffered but may not know how express their feelings, freely.
In a way we have been conditioned to be numb and disconnected from the emotions that don’t seem as powerful as anger. This is unfortunate!
How can you heal?
Healing involves being able to identify and express a wide range of feelings safely. I like to call this being responsive and not reactive. An example of this is having someone yell at you. Most people have one of these two reactions-they may yell back or they may clam up and not say anything. After the heat has died down the person may think about the encounter and what starts floating around their head is all the different ways that the situation could have been different (“I should’ve said this”). Being responsive in that moment would require you to take a beat and ground yourself. You stay calm as you think through what to say. This time your more likely to walk away not saying anything or your able to calmly tell the person you don’t like the way they are talking to you. You may ask them to stop.
I use this example of yelling because most of us have a visceral reaction when someone yells at us. It literally feels like we are being attacked and our sense of safety is threatened so the body becomes flooded with stress hormones. Most of the time when someone is yelling it’s because they are out of control-there’s a difference between talking seriously and sternly versus yelling. This is the perfect time to practice grounding skills.
One of the most important steps in the healing process is to get you reconnected with your bodily sensations. To take note of when your relaxed and when your not relaxed. What is your posture like? Is your heart beating slow or fast? Do you feel hot, cold, or warm? What’s happening in your belly? Etc. this is why I recommend yoga for my clients. There’s so many teachers and styles-the best part is that you can even find them on YouTube and try them out at home.
In looking for a good yoga teacher, just like a therapist it’s all about relationship. How does the person make you feel when your doing yoga? Are they directive from their mat or do they walk around helping you with your posture? What would/does that feel like to have a male yoga instructor even touch you? How about a female yoga instructor? The best part about doing yoga, even if your not really into mindfulness or if your mind is constantly on the go, is that you have to focus your attention on one thing. Usually it’s on breathing, but other times its the way different parts of your body stretch. Both are great ways to have you slow down and stay in the present moment. Being attuned to your self is a powerful experience. I highly recommend yoga.
The next part is to take notice when your body shifts. So if your feeling relaxed what happens when there is a shift and your not relaxed? How do you know your not relaxed? Yoga can do this too but massage is awesome for this. Touch is so essential for us humans. Think about when we get a big hug from our loved ones, or when we embrace a child who is crying. Even if your not a big hugger (I’m raising my hand on this one) sometimes a hug when your feeling stressed, sad, confused and overwhelmed can really release the tension in our bodies. Even though tough is good and therapeutic, it can be incredibly triggering, especially for those with complex trauma history. So before going to someone else I recommend you learning some self massage tips and then when your ready finding a trauma sensitive massage therapist. Just like a trauma sensitive Yoga teacher or Occupational Therapist, they are rare and a wonderful asset, but they are out there.
Remember you don’t have to suffer alone and in silence. You can have relief, find fulfillment, experience joy and hope.