Do the emotional “scars” of sexual abuse ever really heal? Are some of them so deep that a person does not even know they are there? Violation of sexual boundaries between adults and children is so uncomfortable even to think about that we try to pretend it doesn’t exist.
More and more people recovering from addictions and compulsive behavior are beginning to uncover evidence of childhood sexual abuse. Experiencing these memories can be devastating.
Sexual abuse, like other emotional and physical abuse in childhood, can be healed — and can be safely brought to awareness for healing. As the survivor of sexual abuse reaches the time when she/he is ready to face the past, s/he begins to uncover some of the following concerns, fears, feelings:
- Maybe I am making it up. I am not even sure it happened.
- I suspect it happened —I don’t remember —I just have
a physical reaction each time I think or hear about sexual abuse.
- It wasn’t all that bad.
- I can’t stop crying — will I ever get over this?
- I feel like I am bad/dirty. I am so ashamed.
- I want to hide/kill myself. I am mad enough to kill them.
- I can’t believe s/he would do a thing that bad.
- I feel like everyone knows I am no good.
- I hate him/her.
- I know s/he couldn’t help it; s/he was hurt, too.
- Why didn’t my mother/father protect me?
- I do not want to remember.
- I have never told anyone before.
As the survivor begins to be able to say these things to a trusted person , s/he needs to hear that trusted person saying:
- I’m sorry it happened.
- I believe you.
- It is very important to be able to tell now.
- If I had been there I would have made him/her stop.
- Even if you enjoyed part of it, you are not wrong or bad.
- You have a right to be angry.
- He/she should not have done what they did to you.
- I am sorry no one believed you.
- I am sorry you did not have a grownup to talk to
about what happened.
- Knowing this makes me care more about you, not less.
- It is OK not to remember everything. You forgot in order
to protect yourself. The memories will only come back
as you grow strong enough to handle them. Take your time.
- It’s OK to cry for as long as you need to.
- You really were not big/strong enough to make him/her stop.
Go out and look at a little child, or picture yourself as a child. See how little and vulnerable you were. You couldn’t help it. It is not your fault. It is not your job to protect the person who did this to you.
You need to know you are not alone in your experience. An estimated 34 million women in the United States have been victims of some type of childhood sexual abuse. The figures are less certain for men.
You have taken a first important step by getting your concerns into the open with someone you trust to care for you. You are laying the groundwork for a whole new future for yourself and for those you love.