A question that I hear from many of my clients at the start of therapy is: “Is it healing from sexual abuse really possible? I mean really be free?” These individuals want to hope for healing, but they have lived with the pain of their abuse for so long, they are more than a bit empty in the storehouse of hope.
These individuals come from all walks of life, and do not fit any “abuse victim,” stereotype. In fact, chances are that this victim is you, your friend, your sibling, or your neighbor.
Some of these men and women have been successful in their lives; others have struggled for decades. Regardless, many are walking through life without the hope for healing, or even a place to process through their abuse with others who can grasp their pain and struggles.
As a therapist who works with this issue, I believe in and have seen that healing is possible. It usually comes in stages, and through bringing light to things that have been hidden just underneath the surface of the soul, often masked by day-to-day living (dysfunctional or not!).
To get you started, let’s address some things that survivors of sexual abuse often wish they had been told sooner:
- You SHOULD NOT have been violated. It wasn’t your “lot” in life. It is not the way things were “supposed” to happen. You did not provoke your abuse. It wasn’t your fault.
- Your identity is not based in your abuse.
- You have a legitimate right to feel what you feel!
- Some of the “issues” in your life today are probably influenced by your abuse.
Many abuse victims have been told that they were to blame for their abuse, or that it was just their fate. This complicates the issue of the abuse, causing victims to struggle with doubt and confusion about the why/how of the violation. Abuse is NEVER okay. Does it happen? Too often. But is it ever acceptable/ tolerable? No. This means that we call abuse what it is—abuse—and we serve and love those injured by abuse by affirming that they did not choose or deserve it.
Because sexual abuse violates the core of a person, invading the most personal physical, emotional, and spiritual spaces, many abuse victims have a difficult time knowing themselves independently from their abuse. The sad reality is that many people spend years struggling to know the truth about their identity and value. The good news is that despite this, it is never too late to discover and uncover what IS good and true about yourself, completely separate from the abuse that happened!
Many times, abuse victims have been told that they are wrong for what they feel, that their emotions are too extreme, or that they should just “get over it” and move on. If only it were so easy. Abuse victims benefit from talking about their abuse and actually “feeling it through.” Emotional pain can lessen, but certainly not through invalidation or denial of legitimate pain.
I would love to tell you that abuse is a stand-alone, isolated event that has no impact on your current thoughts, feelings, actions, or decisions. Unfortunately, I have not seen this to be true. We are impacted by our past experiences (chosen or not) and often act out of thoughts and feelings that we learned in other stages of our lives. This is not a prescription for doom, but it does mean that it is important to gain insight about the ways that abuse may have shaped your ways of thinking and acting.
There are, of course, many more issues related to sexual abuse. They are not easily summarized or easily worked through. But for those who can muster up just enough courage to begin the journey, and then with just enough support to stay on the path, I have seen that there IS a way forward. In spite of any kind of abuse, there is reason to hope, and steps that you can take towards healing from sexual abuse!
Abigail Foard, MA, LPC is a therapist in the NW Metro Atlanta area who offers ongoing 12 week groups for survivors of sexual abuse. Her goal is to provide a safe and structured environment for individuals struggling with the impact of abuse to explore their abuse and have an opportunity to heal from it. She is passionate about freedom for these individuals and deeply respects the courage it takes to engage with life in the aftermath of often-traumatizing abuse.
Groups are between 3-6 individuals, and gender-based, and meet at various times during the week, both daytime and evening. For more information, and to find out when the next group is starting, contact Abigail Foard by phone (404.788.1072), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or visit the website www.radiallight.com