“Dealing with suffering is like handling a poisonous snake. We have to learn about the snake, and we have to grow stronger and more stable in order to handle it without hurting ourselves. At the end of this process, we will be ready to confront the snake. If we never confront it, one day it will surprise us and we will suffer extremely from the snake bite. The pain we carry in the deep levels of our consciousness is similar. When it grows big and confronts us, there’s nothing we can do if we haven’t practised becoming strong and stable. We should only invite our suffering up when we are ready. Then, when it comes we can handle it. To transform our suffering, we don’t struggle with it or try to get rid of it. We simply bathe in it, in light of our awareness, transforming and healing it as we do. “ Thich Nhat Hanh
We are never rid of our history, nor do we need to be. Whatever we’ve experienced in our lives can be useful in helping us navigate what’s to come. The challenge is to be willing to turn toward that which is difficult and learn how to relate rather than react to it.
Our unwanted and self-destructive habits often were formed as children to help us survive. Often survivorsdon’t even know what they’re running from because it has been suppressed, buried for decades under the struggle to be someone other than who they are. Fear in all the forms it takes – resistance, anger, sadness, anxiety, shame, avoidance, lack of boundaries, extremes – all stem from a mind that has been programmed to function on auto-pilot.
The possibility exists of relating differently to what’s already here by understanding that there’s nothing to get rid of and everything to accept. When we come to know the taste, texture, temperature, shape, sound, and movement of difficult thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations in the body that we have been avoiding, they are no longer lurking shadows constantly threatening to overwhelm us. They become felt and known for what they are – conditioned thinking, reactive emotionality, and intense physical sensations, all of which are transient. When we observe and hold them in awareness without judgement, we gain perspective.
A transcendent impulse lives in all of us that is constantly attempting to move us in the direction of health, harmony and connection. As with any healing journey, each time we pick up a thread and give voice to the pain of our losses and the truth of our experience in the presence of understanding and compassion, we gain back our power.
The Conditions That Foster Sexual Abuse
• There is a lack of affection, warmth and cuddles from the primary care giver.
• The child is not allowed to explore outside family boundaries e.g. religious and authoritarian families.
• In the Mother’s absence the Father uses the child for sex to meet his needs.
• Members in the family stick together to keep the secret.
• The child is manipulated and the situation exploits the vulnerability of the child. The perpetrator knows when to get away with it.
• The abuse is consistent.
• There is no space for the child to internalise there is no one there for them. The child goes into self-survival.
• The child has to be strong and show no fear.
• The child is forced to devise some way of coping particularly if the abuse is regular and unyielding.
• The child with no validation is a ‘sitting duck’ for the perpetrator (the family have no outlet of validation they question their own reality and own sense of justice).
• The child is made to feel as though it is making things up or is confused.
• The child takes on another role, that of the sexual role.
• Sarcasm is used to control and manipulate the child.
• The child hides and escapes into a fantasy world or hides in cupboards.
• In incestual relationships between father/daughter, the daughter takes the place of the wife and therefore acts as a counterbalance to the functional strain within the system. The Mother is usually ill equipped, disconnected and uncomfortable with motherhood and subservient to the father.
• Despite the enmeshment in the family system, emotional and physical deprivation seem to dominate, producing children who are often starved of appropriate affection.
• Two types of family have been identified where incest occurs (a) the chaotic family which is characterized by low socio-economic dynamics, brushes with the law over drugs, alcohol, and unstable relationships. Sexual abuse is generational and the children are left to raise themselves. (b) the normal family – appears normal from the outside, well-functioning and balanced, stable and well educated. Underneath the surface both the caregivers are emotionally unstable, needy for attention and affection, estranged from each other using work and social schedule to avoid interaction with each other. The mother looks to the children for emotional support and if she is not sexually engaged with the husband he will look to the children for it.
• Incest is a pattern passed down through generations from an interpersonal and intra-psychic level. The primary aspects being denial, shame and disassociation patterns. The shame is too painful to feel so there is a choice for the family to disbelieve their own reality and live in a distorted reality by denying their own feelings.
The Perpetrator Profile.
• Suffers from emotional immaturity, low self-esteem, an inability to see harm in their actions and a lack of knowledge to control their impulses.
• A personality that is authoritarian and likes to have power over others or who is in a place of power such as teachers, doctors, baby-sitters, neighbours, parents, peers, siblings, relatives and clergy.
• Pleasant Mr. or Mrs. Nice Guy.
• Almost always know to the family e.g. father, stepfather, uncle, friend.
• Usually have been abused themselves, but not always.
The Psychological Effects of Sexual Abuse on Children.
• Power and helplessness – children feel they have no control over what happens to their lives and their bodies and so come to believe they have no choice.
• Deep set fear – Fear of the offender and the next penetration. Fear the secret they have been sworn to by the attacker may leak out someday and consequences could be dire.
• The losses involved with childhood sexual abuse are considerable such as childhood, innocence, trust, safety, security, peace of mind, sisters, Dad or uncles and often Mum. Sacred sanctity of self is lost, voice is lost.
• Guilt, Shame and Responsibility – Major feelings of shame for what they are doing and since the perpetrator has usually told them it’s their fault they suffer from deep guilt at supposedly being responsible for something they don’t understand. Usually this guilt overshadows and burdens the child’s natural ability to experience life in the moment/unencumbered by responsibility. The perpetrator often lays the responsibility of silence on the child threatening that if they tell, the family will be destroyed. The child only understands itself as the fragmented self.
• Isolation – The act of sexual abuse makes children feel different to their peers who don’t feel burdened by abuse. This mere fact separates the child naturally not only from their peers but also from their family siblings and extended family for fear of judgment.
• Betrayal – because children are dependent on adults for security and nurturing, when they are sexually abused by the very caregiver that should be the one they can love and trust, they feel deeply betrayed. There are four levels of betrayal (1) the abuse itself and the perpetrator (2) non-response by the non-offending parent for lack of protection from the attacker (3) non-response by professionals such as teachers, doctors, police etc. (4) betrayal of the self when the child denies herself and her reality as a coping mechanism.
• Anger – This is one of the most noticeable feelings. The child is angry at everyone who failed to protect them. This anger is frequently extended as a projection onto others who trigger the feeling experienced in the abuse.
• Deep sadness – Sadness and seriousness is often displayed day to day, as the feelings of grief and loss are profound in them.
• Nightmares – A very common symptom are flashbacks and nightmares as the child’s psyche tries to come to terms with the abuse.
Long-Term Emotional and Psychological Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Adults
• Emotionally isolated.
• Carrying a secret.
• Don’t feel normal and apart from others.
• Feel like you don’t belong.
• Physical toxicity and contamination. Feeling of carrying the toxicity of the sexual abuse in the body e.g. dirty, sticky, dark shame.
• Self-blame, guilt and shame.
• Hatred towards the abuser.
• Trust has been betrayed therefore difficult in trusting self and others.
• Put others needs before your own.
• Anger at the self, against God, and the care giver for lack of protection.
• Substance abuse.
• Over eating.
• Relationship issues.
• No fear.
• Fear and anxiety.
• Being on guard against possible reoccurring abuse.
• No sense of boundaries, because the boundary has been invaded. Difficulty saying no.
• Eating disorders (bulimia and anorexia)
• Addiction (drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, sex, shopping, internet, exercise, work)
• Sexual difficulties – such as difficulty become aroused and feeling sensation, sex feels like an obligation, sexual thoughts and images that are disturbing, inability to achieve orgasm, erection problems or ejaculatory difficulty, feeling dissociated when having sex, detachment or emotional distance while having sex, being afraid of sex or avoiding sex, guilt, fear, anger, disgust or other negative feelings when being touched, vaginal pain)
• Flashbacks – from pap smears, sex, child birth, sounds and smells associated with the abuse.
• Workaholic – over exercising, strong will, strong drive, high achiever.
• Traumatic amnesia – unable to talk about the abuse.
• Experience the trauma frozen in time.
• Feeling powerless.
• Power and control issues. Feeling of being in danger if not in complete control.
• Unable to express true thoughts and feelings. Keeping them hidden.
• Fear of intimacy.
• Physical body is experienced as a source of pain rather than pleasure.
• See sex as a form of control rather than an expression of love, so withdraw from it.
• Use sex to get power and affection.
• Women culturally carry the guilt and powerlessness. Women are blamed and considered responsible for men’s wellbeing.
• Parenting problems such as fear of not being a good parent or being over-protective.
• Dissociation from feeling – as the child experienced the sexual abuse they mentally and emotionally disconnected. The mind dissociates from the body to a safe heaven. The child experiences their mind/spiritual body leaving physical body. Either hiding inside of the body or hovering just above. There is no sense of feeling.
• Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome – recurrent distressing dreams, psychological distress to exposure of events similar to the abuse, sleep problems, avoidance activities, panic attacks.
• Other people’s needs come before yours.
• Stunted spiritual development. Trouble trusting any Godly force.
• Behaving as though everything is fine, while keeping your true thoughts and feelings hidden, even from yourself.
• Becoming emotionally hijacked under even minimal stress.
• The need to isolate and insulate and create strong protective boundaries.
• Personality disorder.
Long-Term Physical Symptoms of Childhood Sexual Abuse On Adults
• Painful periods.
• Reoccurring night mares.
• Problems in sexual relationships.
• Problems with the digestive system.
• Vaginal or pelvic pain.
• Low back pain.
• Chest pressure.
• Erection problems.
• Chronic physical complaints.
Stages of Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse.
The Decision To Heal – Deep healing happens only when one chooses it and is willing to change.
The Emergence Stage – Dealing with the memories and suppressed feelings. This is only a stage and will not last forever.
Remembering – This stage is the process of getting back both memory and feeling.
Believing It Happened – Most adult survivors often doubt their perceptions. Coming to believe that the abuse happened and that it hurt, is a vital part of the healing process.
Breaking The Silence – Telling another human being about what happened is a powerful healing force that can dispel the shame of being a victim.
Understanding That It Wasn’t Your Fault – Placing the blame where it belongs. Directly on the shoulders of the abusers.
Making Contact With The Child Within – Getting in touch with the child within can help one feel compassion for self, anger at the abuser and greater intimacy with others.
Trusting Oneself – Learning to trust one’s own perception, feelings, and intuition forms a new basis for action in the world.
Grieving – Grieving is a way to acknowledge pain, let go, and move into the present.
Anger– Anger is a powerful and liberating force. Directing rage at the abuser and at those who didn’t protect the victim, is pivotal in healing.
Forgiveness – Some may want to forgive the abuser but it is not essential for the healing process to take place without this.
The Process Of Change – During the healing process a range of emotions can be brought up to be felt and healed. It is important to be kind and take care of yourself during this process.
Disclosures And Confrontations – Directly confronting the abuser or one’s family is not for every survivor but it can be helpful for healing and closure.
Resolution And Moving On – As one moves through the stages, a point of integration is reached. Feelings and perspectives will stabilize. While history will not be erased, deep and lasting changes would have happened. Having gained awareness, compassion and power through healing.
Overcoming and Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse
• You might be throw into a crisis which brings up memories of the abuse. The ridicule, disbelief and even blame you have had to face is often overwhelming and results in the decision to repress or bury the experience and its memories. The memories might come in bits and pieces and might not make sense to you. As you struggle with the memories you may doubt the abuse happened and worry that you are going crazy. Your mind is letting in the information bit by bit so that you do not become overwhelmed.
• You may experience a crisis when you start to feel the emotional pain connected to the abuse and find yourself crying without knowing why or be afraid to be alone. This crisis stage is easier to understand if you know what is happening. One of the ways you can do this is to see a Counsellor/Psychotherapist/Psychiatrist or to call a Sexual Assault hotline to assist you in processing your emotions.
• Finding a therapist that you resonate with and trust is of key importance here. Give yourself time to build up trust with the therapist who must offer a space where you feel safe to process at your own pace.
• You CAN recover from sexual abuse. The human psyche has profound self-healing powers. Some of the benefits of healing will result in you being able to trust more. To experience and express your feelings more openly and authentically. To have a renewed interest in sex. To discover your true self.
• Believe that you will in time be able to foster trust, dependency and intimacy. This will include healthy boundaries.
• When you decide to deal with the abuse, you will enter a stage of some tough emotional work. Grief and anger will be the central emotions of this emotional upheaval but there will also be relief too.
• Take your time and process the emotions as they come up. With ongoing work the abuse and abuser will no longer be the center of your life.
• Foster a network of support around you. Family, friends, counsellors who understand and who are there to walk with you on your journey of understanding and healing.
• Understand that the blame for the abuse falls squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator. If it happened in the family system and no accountability was taken then the blame lies solely with them. It is important for you to come to an understanding that in no way did you deserve this.
• It is a smart and resourceful child who figures out how to survive abuse. It’s a child who taught herself how to use her mind to cope with experiences, words and pain over which she had no control. Her/His repeated lifesaving reactions to the abuse habituated neural pathways in the brain at that time but often aren’t life sustaining later in life. This strong, deeply entrenched mind must be met with a steady, kind and non-judgmental platform that will afford her/him the possibility of freedom and suffering. Acknowledge that you did the best that you could have done to survive the circumstance and that as a child you were not in control of the situation.
• Acknowledge that you have the right to feel anger and grief and to express it.
• Acknowledge that you have the right to have positive feelings towards the offender.
• Acknowledge that you are an important and intelligent person. You have courage, determination and resilience.
• Understand that you are not alone. One in five women have been sexually abused and one in three men. Your feelings and reactions are experienced by others who have been in your shoes.
• Understand that the specific difficulties you are having in adult life are due to the coping skills you developed as a survivor. You are not crazy.
• No two people are the same and therefore everyone’s response to the abuse will vary considerably. Take this healing journey at the pace that you need to.
• Nurture yourself by doing things that you enjoy this will give you a sense of what it feels like to be appreciated. By acknowledging your feelings and emotions you will develop a positive sense of self which will assist you in taking back the control and responsibility for your life.
• Become aware of your thoughts and beliefs. Pay attention to them. This includes your self-talk (what you tell yourself) and the interpretation of what a situation means. Your thoughts and beliefs might be positive, negative or neutral. They might be rational, based on reason or facts, or irrational, based on false ideas.
• Challenge negative or inaccurate thinking. Your initial thoughts might not be the only possible way to view a situation — so test the accuracy of your thoughts. Ask yourself whether your view is consistent with facts and logic or whether other explanations for the situation might be plausible. Be aware that it can be hard to recognize inaccuracies in thinking. Long-held thoughts and beliefs can feel normal and factual, even though many are just opinions or perceptions.
• Pay attention to thought patterns that erode self-esteem such as. (a) all or nothing thinking, which sees things as either all good or all bad (b) mental filtering where you see only negatives and dwell on them, which distorts your view of the person or situation. (c) rejecting your achievements and positive experiences by saying they don’t count. (d) jumping to negative conclusions when there is little or no evidence to support it. (e) confusing feeling and beliefs for facts. (f) negative self-talk where you undervalue yourself, put yourself down or use self-deprecating humor. (g) Re-label upsetting thoughts. You don’t need to react negatively to negative thoughts. Instead, think of negative thoughts as signals to try new, healthy patterns. Ask yourself, “What can I think and do to make this less stressful?”
• Foster ‘hope’ – As Emily Dickinson so beautifully put. “Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” Sometimes hope is the thing with wings that has to crawl at first to become a butterfly but it speaks of the miraculous metamorphosis that is possible in each of us. Hope over-estimates the positive and becomes a selffulfilling prophecy because it tends to produce action in the direction of realizing it. Hope stimulates us to bring energy and commitment to situations that in turn tip the scales in the direction we want to It can offer us a head start and concrete pathways and options for change.
• Getting back in touch with your “I Am”. This is that part of you which contains the ‘real authentic you’ the essence of which is unconditional love. This part of the self is untouched by the abuse. It is the highest level of human consciousness that lives in you. It contains the resources of strength, courage, love, joy, and determination and it assists us to rise above our pain and bring back hope, healing and growth. The presence of the “I am/higher consciousness” helps us to integrate all experiences so we do not need to deny or repress them. It is a place of unlimited nourishing and healing. When you face crises with the ‘I am’ present it has a consciousness awakening effect free from the ego. It is carried by the breath. Connecting to your “I AM” can be done through the following:
– Meditation – Spending time every day for 10 mins or more to focus sitting quietly and observing the inhalation and exhalation of your breath. Observe your thoughts as they come and go without getting caught up in them. Focus on taking the breath into the belly just below the navel. When your mind has wandered off in your thoughts, bring it back and focus it on the breath again. Over a period of time spending time in meditation will result in a deeper connection to who you really are and a knowing of this part of yourself.
– Resourcing the “I am” – Choose a quality that you need right now e.g. strength, courage, love, hope, joy, etc. Choose something or someone that really embodies the quality. Visualize them in your mind’s eye and breathe in this quality from them for a few minutes. Breathe it into every cell of your body. Breathe it into that part of you that really feels it needs this. Now choose a colour that symbolises this quality and again breathe it into your body for a few minutes. Make the gesture of this quality with your arms. What would it look like? Choose a sound or a word for this quality and say it out loud for 3 – 4 times. Now draw this quality using some crayons or paints. Draw or paint it on a big piece of paper. Put it up on your wall and do this exercise every day for at least two weeks.
– Grounding and Being Present in Your Body – This exercise will help you stay present in the moment to deal with life rather than trying to escape from it. Stamp your feet and clap your hands as you say out loud. “I am here, I am safe, I am ________ (your name). Do this for at least 5 – 6 times. Notice when you are not present in your body and in that moment you can bring yourself back in by saying to yourself ‘I am here, I am safe, I am _____ (your name).
– Spend time in nature and really connect to her. Nature is always in a state of ‘being’.
– Building up your ‘Self-Esteem’.
– Find things that you enjoy doing and do them.
– Get to know what things you value and believe in and start living from this place.
– Join a support group where you can share with others. Here you will have a chance to express your feelings and frustrations and to learn from what other survivors have to say.
– Finding that one person that you can trust who you can talk to when you need it.
– What are your strengths? Focus on cultivating these.
– Treat yourself with kindness and encouragement.
– Forgive yourself as often as possible for the mistakes that you make in life. Everyone makes mistakes — and mistakes aren’t permanent reflections on you as a person. They’re isolated moments in time. Tell yourself, “I made a mistake, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.”
– Focus on the positive. Think about the good parts of your life. Remind yourself of things that have gone well recently. Consider the skills you’ve used to cope with challenging situations.
– Start a gratitude journal or box and start to write down one thing every day that you are grateful for.
– Encourage yourself. Give yourself credit for making positive changes.
– Start an exercise routine. Beginning a workout routine will help you feel better physically, which, in turn, can also enhance your self-perception and self-confidence.
– Set small, achievable goals. Break your goal down into smaller parts and focus on each separately. No matter how small the goal, the act of completing it will boost your self-confidence and you will be better prepared to tackle larger goals.
– Do volunteer work. This may seem irrelevant, but the simple act of helping others can boost your self-confidence. Others will be grateful that you are generously donating your time and skills, leading people to view you in a more positive light. This can boost your self-image and any negative thoughts you had about yourself will slowly improve.
– Face your fears. Sometimes, just jumping in is the best way to overcome a fear. Most of the time our fears are based on unfounded interpretations
– Don’t be afraid of failure. With each failure, you will become stronger, learn and increase your chances of future success.
– Take care of your appearance. When you look your best you feel better.
– Write down your accomplishments. List everything you have done that you feel proud of.
– Read and watch inspiring books and film.
– Take up a self-defense class.
– Seek your life passion. The process of having a goal will give you a life purpose.
– Let go of people who drain you and who do not have your best interests at heart.
– Create strong boundaries, and know what you will and will not tolerated. Don’t allow others to manipulate or take advantage of you.
– Slow down and simplify. An over-scheduled and complicated life will only cause you stress and being over-whelmed.
– Be honest with yourself and others.
– Practice gratitude.
Becoming a Parent to Your Inner Child – To help build trust with your inner child it is important to learn how to be a good parent to your inner child; perhaps being the parent that you never had growing up.
Steps to Assist You in Earning the Trust of Your Inner Child
(a) Make a list of the things that you can do now that you could not do as a child and so them.
(b) List the things you can do now to protect and comfort the child that was never done for your in your child and do them.
(c) Be honest with your inner child in your parenting role.
(d) It is necessary to have an honest dialogue and work through things using your parent-child relationship.
(e) It is necessary to have discipline for the inner child to live by. These are a set of rules to live by such as: its ok to feel what you feel, its ok to want what you want, its ok to see and hear what you see and hear, its ok to have lots of fun and play, its essential to tell the truth at all times, it is important to know your limits and delay gratification sometimes , its crucial to develop a balanced sense of responsibility, its ok to make mistakes, other people’s feelings, needs and wants are to be respected and valued, its ok to have problems.
(f) Be kind to the child within, nurture and take care of her. Allow her to play and rest and to become more aware of her body state and body needs.
Mindfulness and Suffering
– We must touch the seeds of childhood suffering from an adult state of mindfulness and awareness, making it safe for that child to come out from behind closed doors. Mindfulness offers the possibility of relating differently to what’s already here by understanding that there’s nothing to get rid of and everything to accept. The steps that we take are not only to heal ourselves but we somehow connect to all wounded children, those of our ancestors and descendants and everyone else in the world. Because once we cultivate the seeds of mindful healing in ourselves, the energy of these seeds extends into all that we connect with, in a quantum leap through time and space for our cellular memories to everyone else’s. We are patient and realize that we are on an adventure to end a cycle of suffering that may have persisted over generations. We are healing and transforming ingrained patterns transmitted to us from our ancestors that have built up over time and amplified the fears and suffering of the wounded inner child.
– Mindfulness is about relating differently to our unwanted thoughts, feelings and physical sensation. To do that, we must find a way to turn toward what we fear so that we no longer need to dissociate, replace thoughts and feelings, or distract ourselves in order to function. By paying purposeful attention in a particular way, we can learn how to skilfully remain present to internal and external experiences and wisely determine how best to take care of ourselves. By simply slowing down to notice what’s here, we can begin to better self-regulate our emotions. Learning to stay gives us a foothold into understanding what fuels our disordered thinking and behaviours.
– By being mindful of our breath and body we develop an inner listening so that we know how to best to take care of ourselves. This self-knowing through ‘being’ contributes to a growing sense of self-trust and personal safety. We become open to meeting the experience without judgment rather than closing down against it, and that allows for the possibility of choice to arise.
Embracing your own sexual recovery by:
– Create a new meaning for sex. Define sex as something different than what you experienced in sex abuse and learn conditions for healthy sexuality.
– Learn how to recognize and comfortably handle automatic reactions that can come up during intimate touch.
– Stop negative sexual behaviours that block sexual recovery such as avoiding intimate contact or engaging in compulsive or dangerous sexual practises.
– If you have a partner work on the healing together. Your partner needs to become educated about sexual healing. Actively engage in experiential exercises. It is through safe positive human contact that we are healed.
– Address any sexual desires, fantasies or functioning problems directly.
Taking care of the physical body. A healthy body gives us the strength to deal with our emotional challenges better than an unhealthy body does.
– A healthy diet with lots of fresh food and very little or no processed foods that have chemicals and preservatives.
– Drinking plenty of water.
– Ample sleep.
– Waking and sleeping and at the same time.
– Regular exercise.
– Time spent in nature especially the ocean which is very good to keep the life force healthy.
– Abstain from or cut down on caffeine, alcohol or drugs. Your body is under a lot of pressure already and this just taxes it further.
– Regular massage to relieve stress and help you relax.
– Hot baths with Epsom salts and aromatherapy oils, for relaxation and de-stressing.
– Listening to uplifting music.
– Dance, art, and painting.
– Hugging pets and friends.
– Stop watching the news and exposing yourself to fear and violence. What you put into your body affects it and the same goes for what you feed your mind with.
– Meditation – regular meditation even if it is 10 minutes a day will help to calm the mind and bring it back into equilibrium.
– Seeing a naturopath/homeopath/acupuncturist – A good naturopath has the knowledge of great herbs that assist in healing the emotions naturally and bringing the body back into balance while diffusing any states of stress.
– Finding Forgiveness – Eventually we can come to an understanding that the abuser must have lived in ignorance and deprivation without support or guidance. To cause suffering in another person causes so much suffering in that person. The over-whelming power of ignorance drove him or her to do wrong. If one can understand just a little bit, then anger, shame and outrage can transform into droplets of compassion. When forgiveness and understanding are present, suffering decreases.