Child sexual abuse is a heinous crime and occurs more frequently than most people think. In the United States, every nine minutes a child is sexually abused. Most of the abusers are either family members or well-known to the victims. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse suffer from a range of mental health issues as adults. Depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, dissociative patterns, repression, denial, sexual problems, substance or alcohol abuse, and relationship problems are some of the mental health issues linked with childhood sexual abuse and assault. In this piece, I have put together a collection of guidance and resources for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to support them in their journey of healing.
The Path of Healing For the Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuses
If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, you are most likely fighting a silent and invisible battle throughout your life. You probably never talked about it and thought you would be successful in putting it behind you. Or you might have tried to minimize the experiences and blocked all the memories associated with those experiences. Yet, as an adult, you are most likely struggling with mood swings, depression, or anxiety.
If you have been harmed by a family member or someone you trusted, you must be carrying a deep sense of pain and scar within you all along. How and to what extent your experiences of childhood assaults or abuses are dominating your present life cannot be predicted. Trauma affects our brains in different ways leading to different manifestations. It is different for each individual and depends on a variety of other factors like the length and severity of your experience. Nevertheless, every survivor carries a scar and fights with an invisible enemy for the rest of their lives unless they are very intentional about healing.
Similar to trauma responses, when it comes to healing, there is no single definite answer or one size fits all approach. There are many paths and most survivors adopt a combination of them to feel better. The path of healing could be different depending on one’s social, psychological, and circumstantial condition.
But it starts with your intention and affirmation. In whichever situation and stage of your life you are at, always believe that you can heal. Healing starts with the simple affirmation ‘I can heal.’
Healing is a process. It does not happen overnight. It is a journey. You have a very important role in your healing journey, and that is your active participation. The journey begins with you choosing to heal.
Healing is also a choice. Unless we choose to heal ourselves, we would never heal. Make a conscious choice to heal yourself from your past trauma and negative memories. The process of healing is not easy, there could be many setbacks and roadblocks.
Find the Right Therapist
If your depression, anxiety, PTSD, self-esteem, or relationship issues are interfering with your daily life, seeking professional, psychological therapy or counseling is the best option.
But many women can’t access treatment or therapy. Psychological well-being or mental health is not valued in many societies. They can have different social, financial, and personal reasons for not being able to consult a professional therapist. If going for in-person counseling or therapy does not work for you, you can look for online counseling options.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms and your access to treatments, you may choose alternative therapies or other means for combating your symptoms. However, the alternative therapies mentioned in this post are not meant to be used as a substitute for counseling or psychotherapy. They can often give very good results when used along with psychotherapy.
But, if you do not have access to treatment or therapy, you still have the right to heal. And you can heal. Healing may appear to be difficult but is possible. We will focus on different avenues that you can choose to feel better.
Be surrounded by the Right Type of People.
Having meaningful, positive relationships could have a tremendously positive effect on our personality and well-being. Likewise, negative and toxic people may totally destroy your healing process and general well-being.
We all have toxic people in our lives. They could be your parents, siblings, partners, or friends. Many times they are the self-proclaimed well-wishers who try to control your life. They make your journey more difficult by reminding you of things that you are struggling to forget, or making you unhappy in some way or another.
It is not worthwhile to accommodate people in your life who are making your healing process more difficult. That said, I know sometimes you may have no choices in terms of who you want to keep in touch with, especially if they are family. Nevertheless, try to develop a friends circle that makes you feel comfortable and accomplished and allows you to feel good about yourself. You can also connect with like-minded people in different communities or forums.
Be firm and strong when you are dealing with controlling and judgmental people who are trying to belittle you. Let them know firmly when you do not agree with them. Be it your parent or best friend, try to adopt a silent but meaningful way to show them their limits. Just because you are vulnerable, hurt, or depressed does not mean that they have the right to control your life.
Join a support group or community for survivors, to help negate the effect of judgmental people. These are a few useful online resources where you can interact with a community of like-minded people.
List of survivors’ support groups
- Survivors of Incest Anonymous (SIA) has a worldwide directory of SIA, self-help, support groups, and meetings. The only requirement for their membership is that ‘you were sexually abused as a child and you want to recover’.
- In isurvive you get books, articles, crisis hotlines, and links to other useful resources. They also have a peer support forum where members share and receive encouragement as they seek their own recovery and healing.
- Survivor Manual also has books, on the recovery process, and narratives of survivors who are healing. They also offer 30 day online healing course for the survivors.
- YesICAN is a leading global provider of online information for childhood sexual abuses. YesICAN Community and facilitated chat where the survivors can speak with other survivors and can also get council and support from a trained facilitator
- Stop It Now has a toll-free and confidential Helpline (1.888.PREVENT), email and chat services, an interactive Online Help Center (OHC) and Ask Now! advice column to help provide guidance on questions about child sexual abuse.
- ASCA (Adult Survivor of Childhood Abuses) is an international self-help support group program designed specifically for adult survivors of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse. The ASCA program offers:
- Community-based self-help support groups
- Provider-based self-help support groups
- Web-based self-help support groups
- Survivor to Thriver workbooks
Yoga and Meditation For The Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuses
Yoga is an ancient Indian form of exercise where mind and body are integrated and harmonized through controlled breathing, postures, and meditation. A combination of simple postures, breathing techniques, and mindfulness can strengthen and heal both mind and body.
Yoga is one of the commonest forms of complementary and alternative medicine therapies today.
Studies showed that practicing Yoga and meditation help reduce chronic stress response, depression, anxiety, control, and calm your mind and thoughts.
Researches on Yoga and Meditation
Here are some of the researches on the benefits of Yoga and meditation on our mind and body. A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that a breathing-based meditation technique known as “Sudarshan Kriya yoga” helped reduce major depressive symptoms in those who had an inadequate response to antidepressant medicines.
In March 2017 findings published a new report showing that people with Major Depressive Disorder experienced a significant reduction in their depressive symptoms after participating in yoga and deep breathing.
A Harvard study suggested that yoga and meditation relieve anxiety and modulate the stress response. Another study on young adults with mild depression found that biweekly yoga classes resulted in improved mood and reduced anxiety and fatigue.
How to Start?
Now that you are aware of the many benefits of yoga, you are probably thinking of making yoga and meditation a part of your healing process.
If you are a complete beginner, joining a yoga class is recommended but not an absolute requirement. It’s fine if you have never done yoga before and can not go to a yoga class right away. There are excellent instructor lead videos and free courses are available online to help you learn and practice Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.
DoYoga has a 28 day Free Yoga program for beginners, as well as a lot of other videos and guided instructions on meditation for healing. They have loads of different free programs to address the requirement of students of different levels.
Yoga For Healing & Meditation – 30 Days of Yoga and Meditate for Beginners – 30 Tips, Tricks, and Tools are two guided video series, available on YouTube.
The Art of Living has a Get a FREE Meditation for Beginners E-Course and some very good resources on Yoga Poses, Breathing Practices, Everyday Tips to Deal With Stress and Anxiety.
If you have any other health condition which might interfere with your ability to perform the yoga posture, always talk to your doctor before you start doing Yoga. It is also recommended to start Yoga under the guidance of a certified instructor.
Hobby and Creativity For Healing the Survivors of Childhood Sexual abuses
Have you ever wondered, when was the last time you did something for the first time? Or how great it would be to learn piano or to make a decorative art piece?
You may be thinking, how on earth these are related to your healing or your day-to-day battle with fighting with the toxic memories!
Well, research has proven that having some hobbies, creativity or any outdoor activity boosts our moods and relieves symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Hobbies can have the following benefits on one’s personality and mood-
- Give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment
- Give you more control over your life and choices
- Improve focus, attention, and concentration
- Improve social and community connection
- Provide creative freedom helping you to distract from compulsive negative thoughts and emotions.
Several studies have proven that engaging with a hobby can improve your mental wellbeing, creativity can improve mood., team sports are associated with reduced depression, stress, and anxiety, knitting combats depression and chronic pain, etc.
Hobbies, if pursued seriously, can also become a source of side income for many, giving you financial freedom. Many people monetize their hobbies for some income. You can earn by blogging, writing, photography, painting, or arts.
Which hobby to choose?
What are you genuinely passionate about? Is there anything you always wanted to learn but somehow could never manage? Some people choose to pursue something as an adult, that they are already passionate about. But, others find pursuing a new hobby more interesting and stimulating.
Some groups activities are great for increasing your social connections and building a circle of friends. But, there are many great hobbies, which you can perform on your own, like painting or sewing. They could be equally worthwhile to learn and pursue and provides a great sense of pleasure and achievement.
Reading to Relax and Heal
Do you enjoy reading? With the widespread popularity of the internet, social media, and Netflix, reading habits are on the decline among all age groups. But, research suggests that reading could be really beneficial for our brain.
You do not necessarily have to be a habitual and avid reader to enjoy the benefits of reading. It is never too late to develop a reading habit. If you are someone who is trying to read a book for the first time- set small goals, like finishing a chapter.
How reading can help you?
Reading can help to heal chronic and complex trauma, insecurity, or other disorders. Research showed that reading helps to improve our memory, increase our empathy, and re-wire our brains to recover from old patterns of compulsive thoughts.
Reading increase our attention span, establish a stronger connection with life, and increases our awareness of our individual issues.
Here is a list of the books on the healing process of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuses. Some of these books are written with the objective of helping survivors heal, whereas some of these are personal narratives. If you find any particular story or book is acting as a trigger for you, please skip that part of the book completely.
Some recommended readings
- Why me? Help for victims of child sexual abuse, Lynn Daugherty, 2007
Answers questions about child sexual abuse and abusers share stories from other victims and provide step-by-step guidance to those seeking recovery from childhood trauma.
- Children of trauma: Rediscovering your discarded self, Jane Middelton-Moz, 1989
This book will serve as the map to guide you and help you rediscover your discarded self. It helps us come face-to-face with emotional fears that may be the result of traumatic childhoods.
- Secret scars: A guide for survivors of child sexual abuse, Cynthia Crosson Tower, 1989
In this book, Tower relates actual stories, examining the feelings and fears that are common to survivors.
- The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Dan B. Allender,
Sexual abuse not only destroys trust, relationships, and dreams, it also causes grief, stress, and feelings of guilt and shame. The Wounded Heart offers a tender, compassionate window into the psychological effects of abuse and the theological foundations for healing.
This is an inspiring self-help book for all women healing from the effects of child sexual abuse. It includes checklists, writing and art projects, and activities that guide the survivor through the healing process.
- Healing Steps: A Gentle Path to Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Sharyn Higdon Jones, 2010
It’s a step-by-step guide to healing from the deep pain of early sexual abuse.
Discover The Happiness in Helping others
Try to restore a greater purpose in life by helping those who are in need. Serving the disabled, conflict survivors, orphans, homeless or refugees could be an extremely gratifying and fulfilling experience.
Volunteering may help you to establish a great connection with your own life and with other people. Some opportunities can totally change your perspective about human suffering. For example, whenever I work with vulnerable people, I forget about all the problems I have in my life.
It helps to shift our attention from our life to those around us. It also teaches us to embrace the fact that life is not perfect for anybody. volunteering could be really helpful to forget about your own pain, trauma, and stress.
For those who struggle to make new friends, volunteering could be an ideal way to meet like-minded people. Volunteering could also give you a sense of accomplishment and make you more confident.
Last but not the least, accept what you can not change in yourself and in your life. Try to release blame, shame, and guilt. Develop your own strategy of dealing with recurring memories, strong emotions, and negative thoughts. Feel and appreciate yourself as you achieve any milestone in your journey of healing.