08/07/2015 8:22 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Deciding To Heal From Child Sexual Abuse, Part I


Child sexual abuse can affect every aspect of your life but it may be difficult to say exactly how it may have damaged you: perhaps it caused your lack of self-confidence, your issues with trust and boundaries, challenges when it comes to intimate relationships, your sexuality and/or your difficulties with parenting.

The following may sound familiar to you but do not necessarily indicate that you have been sexually abused if you do not already know this for a fact: survivors often feel ashamed and "dirty", "marked out" or different from others, and that if people get to know them, they will leave. They have trouble taking care of and identifying their own needs, often putting others first.

They tend to compartmentalise their feelings, and/or do not know how to express their emotions in a healthy fashion. They find it difficult to accept their bodies and frequently push themselves emotionally and physically, have addictions to alcohol and/or drugs, are bulimic or anorexic, and find it hard to create and maintain healthy relationships, often getting close to people who are inappropriate or emotionally unavailable. Survivors may also be uncomfortable around children and/or are confused about crossing the line between good and bad touch.

"The decision to heal should come from within, not forced on you by your partner or a family member, urging you to 'move on'."

The decision to heal should come from within, not forced on you by your partner or a family member, urging you to "move on". There are various stages to the healing process, but they may not all apply to you.

The first stage is your commitment to heal and with it, the understanding that this is an active choice by you and that you have agency, that is, you are capable of acting independently and you can make your own decisions. But this journey can also open up Pandora's box, leading to the second "crisis" stage, where you feel that you may be losing control, as suppressed memories and feelings come to the surface, throwing you and your loved ones into turmoil. The emotional pain will be intense and it may be difficult to cope with your normal, daily activities. Do not be afraid to ask for help from your family and friends at this point. It is important to acknowledge that the abuse did indeed happen; you should not minimise it by saying that it was "only a touch". You may find it hard to believe that you were not at fault. It may help visualising yourself at the age when the abuse happened, or perhaps look around you and find another child who is your age when the abuse occurred: you were no Lolita. A 10-year-old cannot seduce a fully grown adult. And it is always the responsibility of the adult to behave well with a child and protect him/her.

The second stage may be when you decide to tell someone close -- breaking the silence is powerful and an important part of healing, if you have the strength for this. You may decide to tell your family or perhaps your decision is not to tell. It is up to you.

The third stage is the grieving and anger process: grieving is necessary to honour your pain and loss, before you can be ready to move forward. Anger itself, whilst usually frowned upon, can be liberating and healing, if channelled the right way. Look out for my next two posts on these two stages.

I will also be writing on the issue of forgiveness, and how to choose a counsellor.

Healing is possible. Give yourself that chance.

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