The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse can be pervasive. It can permeate everything from your sense of self, your work life, your parenting, your sexuality, your ability to be emotionally intimate with another human being. For those just beginning to deal with these effects, the journey towards healing can seem overwhelming. However, many people have made the decision to heal themselves.
If this is where you are, I encourage you to work with a therapist who understands this journey and all its forms.
If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, you have learned not to trust, your right to say no was violated and your sense of control in the world was taken from you. I will honor your feelings as your go through this process.
You may be feeling a range of effects from the abuse. If any of these effects describe where you are now, please know that help is available to you. This list is not a diagnostic tool and is not intended to serve as a way to determine whether or not you were sexually abused. Physical and emotional abuse can also lead to many of the symptoms listed here:
- Do you feel that you’re bad, dirty or ashamed?
- Do you feel powerless, like a victim?
- Do you feel different from other people?
- Do you feel there’s something wrong with you deep down inside? That if people really knew you, they’d leave?
- Do you ever feel self-destructive or suicidal?
- Do you hate yourself?
- Do you have a hard time nurturing and taking care of yourself? Can you enjoy feeling good?
- Do you find it is hard to trust your intuitions?
- Do you feel unable to protect yourself in dangerous situations? Have you experienced repeated victimizations (rape, assault, battery) as an adult?
- Do you have a sense of your own interests, talents and goals?
- Do you have trouble feeling motivated?
- Are you afraid to succeed?
- Can you accomplish things you set out to do?
- Do you feel you have to be perfect?
- Do you use work or achievements to compensate for inadequate feelings in other parts of your life?
- Do you tend to get involved with people who are inappropriate or unavailable?
- Do you expect people to leave you?
- Do you panic when people get too close?
- Do you often feel taken advantage of?
- Do you find you’re able to get close to friends, but can’t seem to make things work with a partner?
If you recognize your problems in this list, but are unsure whether or not you were sexually abused, don’t feel you must label yourself as a sexual abuse survivor. Instead, concentrate on taking care of yourself. Trust that over time, your experiences will become clear.
In therapy, we will work on developing the kind of inner strength that leads to healing. There are effects which are common to those who have experienced sexual abuse. They include:
FeelingsOften, survivors learn that they cannot express or rely on feelings. The feelings you expressed may have been disregarded or ignored. Adults around you may have had out of control feelings. You got the message that feelings were to be avoided. You may have learned to block out physical and emotional pain because it was too devastating or because you didn’t want anyone to see you cry.
Your BodyIf you were sexually abused, you learned that the world is not a safe place. You experienced pain, betrayal and conflicting sensations. As a result, you may not feel present in your body at times, have a hard time loving and accepting your body, have physical illnesses that are connected to the abuse, use alcohol, drugs or food in a way that concerns you or intentionally hurt yourself.
IntimacyBecause you were unable to develop the building blocks of intimacy when you were a child – giving and receiving love, trusting and being trustworthy – you struggle with relationships. You grew up with confusing messages about the relationship between love, sex and intimacy.
SexualityChildren who have been abused, often leave their bodies during the abuse. You numbed yourself or disappeared. You disconnected from sexual feelings. Sex becomes linked to pain, disgust and humiliation.
Children and ParentingIf you were abused, your family did not protect you. You have dysfunctional role models. Actively facing your abuse and beginning to heal from it is the only way to ensure that you do not repeat the same kind of parenting you had as a child.
(Source: The Courage to Heal, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis)
If you have decided to take the step to begin to heal, be gentle with yourself and seek support and help. It is out there for you.