There often seems to be a kind of double injustice that sexual abuse survivors have to overcome in their journey towards healing. The first is the original experience itself which can leave them confused, shamed, hurt, angry and fearful, wondering if anything will ever be the same again. The second, is what happens afterwards and the many ways that sexual (or other forms of abuse) can create a perfect storm of difficulties with relationships, inability to trust, and a life of fear and anxiety, as they struggle to understand and make sense of their experience.
Too many people get trapped in the memories of the past which then continue to rob them of their future. If the perpetrator didn’t get convicted or if other people- family or friends, believe them and disbelieve the survivor, then it is all the worse to cope with. Of course, we can’t change the past, – but we do want to change how the past affects the present and the future. The main thing to keep in mind here is the importance of determination. If it means allowing an inner rage to fuel your determination not to let the abuser “win again” by ruining your life, then use anger. I know not everyone will agree with this, but we do need that sense of determination to get through it all. This can be a struggle because many abuse survivors have lost their confidence and carry a deep anxiety and worthlessness.
Remind yourself daily, that feelings can lie! Just because you feel worthless, dirty or terrified, doesn’t mean you are a bad person. Find different ways to remind yourself of the things you are good at. Practise good boundaries, by learning particular statements you can use when really stressed or upset that confirm your worth. Every time you say “No” when someone else tries to manipulate you, or control you in some way, is another little step forward setting good boundaries. You are worth standing up for yourself- but again it takes determination.
Many survivors talk about how long their journey has been. Don’t lose hope. The good thing is long before you have developed acceptance about what happened, let go of the hurt, and learned to appreciate your own good points, you will be experiencing all manner of benefits along the way. Many people talk of the joy they have felt when they develop a close and trusting friendship- despite having a lot of personal work to do still. Or, they mention the pride they have felt when they faced down someone who had triggered their anxieties, despite inside being terrified and feeling the inner scream. Do take time to savour the little successes along the way.
Spend time doing things that make you feel good. So many people report that abuse robbed them of all their good feelings. Appreciate things as diverse as growing a beautiful flower, becoming fit, preparing an amazing meal, or making a gift for a special person. Others mention they have learned to enjoy aromatic oils, a good book, helping out at the SPCA or many more things. When you think about it, there are many opportunities. One of the best of all are being around children. The sound of a child’s laugh or the delight they have in a new discovery is a privilege to share and is healing in itself. The key point here is to take a few moments in every enjoyable experience to savour and appreciate it. This is because every time you notice a good experience, you are strengthening the brain pathways that “code” that experience- and this has an accumulative effect of weakening the anxiety pathway over time.
There are many more things that really help in recovery. I so respect those who are on this journey- it is often a lonely one, but the courage shown by so many survivors in their own determination to become all they can be, is itself well worth praising. Next week, this post will give some more ideas gleaned from the experience of other survivors who have found ways to improve their experiences in life and to claim the best of what they can be back from their abuser. If you have ideas, do add a comment, and hopefully, we can add them to another post.