What is Sexual Abuse? Remembering and Believing

This week Teri and Tamara have helped us understand what Sexual Abuse is and how to begin to heal.  Healing from wounds can happen at various times and at different rates for many people.  The most important part is knowing what you are healing from.  Healing from Sexual Abuse takes time, the desire to want to heal, hope, patience, and the ability to ask for help.  Sexual Abuse creates deep wounds that are often ignored, masked, or buried.  But they will be there until they are addressed and properly healed.

Breaking the Silence:

Many adult survivors kept the abuse a secret during childhood.  Telling another human being about what happened to you is a powerful healing force that can dispel the shame of being a victim.  Most counselors are trained in helping heal with sexual abuse, so counseling is a good place to start.  Understand that your journey of healing will include learning how to “get the words out”.  If you are ready to tell close friends or family members, choose the ones you expect to be supportive.    As you choose who to tell, make your choices wisely by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Does this person care for and respect me?
  • Does this person have my well-being in mind?
  • Is it someone I have talked about my feelings with before?
  • Do I trust this person?
  • Do I feel safe with this person?

When you tell, make sure that it is an optimal time with few distractions and plenty of time to discuss what you want.  Also, let the person know how you want him or her to respond.  Let them know if you do not want questions right then, or if you are not interested in a lot of advice at the time.  A good friend will listen to and respect your wishes.  Lastly, if you want your revelation to be kept confidential, you need to tell them.  This is your healing journey, you get to choose with whom to include in your travel.

Remembering Abuse:

Many survivors of sexual abuse suppress all memories of what happened to them as children.  This is a natural defense mechanism, or survival skill.  Sometimes the abuse happened at such a young age, the child cannot put the feelings or events into words.  Even if there are some memories of the actual incident, often survivors forget how they felt at the time.  Sometimes, the memory is in flashes of sights, or sounds, or smells, or sensations; especially if the abuse was not painful or traumatic at the time.  Remembering is the process of getting back both memory and feeling together.

It is important for the survivor to remember so they can acknowledge the event and heal.  It is natural to be hesitant and self-protective in the remembering process. That is why it is imperative that you proceed with this phase with the help of a trained professional.   Survivors need all the pieces of the puzzle so they can see the whole picture.  Then, as an adult, they can see the abuse for what it is, and how it could not have been their fault.

Believing it happened:

Survivors often doubt their own perceptions.  Not wanting to believe that you may have been sexually abused is understandable.  It can take a long time for a survivor to say for sure that they know they were sexually abused.  After all, it can be a painful experience acknowledging that a trusted adult or another child hurt you in this way.   But just because it is hard to believe or you do not want to believe, does not mean it did not happen.

Even if you do not have a conscious memory of the abuse, you may have body memories, or implicit memories.  Your body may have memories and respond in ways that you may not understand.  You may cringe at the smell of alcohol on someone’s breath because your abuser was drunk when he abused you.  Body memories are very reliable and common among trauma victims and should be used as further evidence that you can trust your memories.

Coming to believe that the abuse really happened and really hurt you is a vital part of the healing process.  Believe in yourself, in your memories, so you can give yourself a chance to heal.  You deserve to heal.

All therapists at Imagine Hope Counseling Group have training and experience counseling survivors of sexual abuse.  If you are reading this and feel you are ready to begin recovering from your experience, please call to set up an appointment.   Keep reading this week as Natalie and Joleen share more information about continued stages of healing.

Written by guest author Alexa Griffith, LMHC, LCAC, NCC, RPT