According to (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) RAINN's national statistics, 1 out of every 6 American women have been sexually abused and 1 out of 33 American men are also sexual abuse victims. The effects of rape on victims include them being more likely to suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, abuse alcohol and drugs and to experience suicidal thoughts. It causes low self-esteem, future relationship issues and distrust. When a person is sexually abused at a young age, the effects seem to be more profound since a part of the abused child, in a desperate attempt to cope with the trauma, shuts down and stops growing. While the child continues to grow with chronological age, their inner child is still at the maturity level of when he or she was victimized. This explains why sexual abuse victims often make immature life decisions as an adult if they have never reached closure/healing from the abuse.
Sexual abuse is highly prevalent in our society and national statistics report that 60% of victims don't even report the crime to police. The victim often suffers in silence and is too afraid to tell. As a mental health therapist, I am always amazed at how many of my clients have endured sexual abuse and the fact that many of them have never told anyone else. They have often held this secret in for years and suffered alone due to feelings of shame, fear, and distrust. They often present in therapy with multiple failed relationships, promiscuity issues due to feeling like sex is the only way for someone to love them, and intense emotions that they can no longer hold back. They often have a fortress of walls built up that we have to knock down in order for them to fully heal and learn to trust others/let them in.
Victims need to get the painful feelings of hurt, betrayal, anger, fear and guilt out so that they can begin the healing process and move forward. It empowers abuse victims when they are able to tell their story, take back control over their lives and stop blaming themselves. Sexual abuse is NEVER the victim's fault. As Anita Wooldridge points out in "Eight Days In Darkness", when she discusses her own painful sexual abuse healing process, victims need to commit to healing so that the perpetrator no longer has control over them. Wooldridge states, "He took eight days from me, he won't get anymore!"
Here are ten ways for you to heal from sexual abuse/trauma and become free from the pain and suffering that continue to hold you captive:
1. The first step is to get a physical examination by a doctor if the abuse was recent. (Go to an ER or police station if it is after-hours). This is to collect evidence against the abuser with a rape kit and to medically clear you of any physical trauma due to the abuse.
2. Seek professional help with a therapist that has experience in treating abuse victims/survivors. The therapist can then make a referral to a psychiatrist if it is deemed necessary to start you on medication to help with anxiety, depression, insomnia and so on. Anita was referred for medication and a low dosage of an antidepressant on top of Xanax only used if needed is enough to keep her stabilized and functioning at an optimal level.
3. Write your experience down in detail to get out all of the raw emotions that you felt during and after your abuse. Anita did this right after she was rescued and she claims that it was an integral part of her healing process.
4. Write a letter to your abuser (NO, you don't ever have to give this to him or her.) The letter should contain all that you wish you could have told your abuser and explain how the abuse has affected your life. Don't hold back here! This is your time to get it all out. Then, bring your letter to your therapist to go over what all came out.
5. This step is the hardest as it requires you to commit to forgiving your abuser, yourself or maybe even people that didn't protect you or believe you regarding the abuse. It could even be God that you need to forgive in order to heal. This step is imperative as you won't ever be able to let go of the anger, pain, fear and guilt until you truly forgive. Forgiveness here does not mean that you ever have to be friends with your abuser or that it was okay what he or she did to you. It does mean that you choose to be free from these intense emotions by letting it go.
6. The old saying goes, "You can forgive but you'll never forget." Forgiveness does not mean that you won't ever still have difficult days or nightmares of the trauma you faced. Yet, if a painful memory does surface, you can remind yourself that you have chosen to heal/forgive and then use a coping skill such as using your support system to talk to, visualize that you are in a safe/calm place now, divert the negative thoughts by doing something enjoyable (a hobby), talk yourself through it by reminding yourself that you are in control and that you just need to calm down and relax, etc. Over time, you will start to feel stonger with each day that you were able to fight the negative thoughts/images off. Then, a memory will no longer evoke such pain/suffering for you. You will learn to be free from these demons like Anita has done in her own process.
7. You must find a physical outlet to release all of the pent up anger/frustration that sexual abuse causes victims. It could be walking, lifting weights, Yoga, kickboxing, swimming and so on. You have to find which outlet works best for you. A self-defense class also could help empower you. It will help you to trust your instincts, feel safe and protect yourself against further abuse in the future.
8. Don't rush yourself in your healing process. Everyone is unique in the time that it takes them to heal. Don't listen to the people that tell you to just forget about it. It's not that easy. But, do keep going forward with working on the process and time will help as well.
9. Self- help books that pertain to healing from sexual abuse could help if you are a reader. You could also benefit from joining a sexual abuse support group and hearing that you are not alone in your pain. (Dial 800-656-HOPE to get information on local support groups.) Or, there are several national organizations, such as RAINN, that have websites online that can provide you with various support centers in your area. Check them out! Also, Anita's faith in God and her church family helped her to heal/forgive. Finding your spiritality could help you as well.
10. Stop dwelling on the abuse and negativity! It will swallow you up and cause you a lifetime of depression and pain. You are pushing the people closest to you that want to help away and choosing self-defeating behaviors over positive ones. You don't deserve this! You deserve to be treated well by others and to be loved. Take the leap of faith and decide to get help now. It's never too late. Surround yourself by positive influences, fight off the negative thought patterns by counteracting them with positive ones and become an advocate like Anita did to speak out against sexual abuse. The healing process can be scary/intimidatingin the beginning, but you will never regret it in the end! I promise that the end result is worth it all! Just ask Anita.
Best of luck!
Angela Roegner, LCSW