SEXUAL ABUSE – becoming whole again
Those of us, who have not experienced it, often shy away from talking about it. Those of us who have, often find it equally challenging to discuss it.
Sexual abuse is one of those traumatic experiences that affect most if not all aspects of a person’s life. Time does not ‘heal’ it, and although some of the symptoms might lessen in their intensity as time goes by, the underlying trauma will continue to affect the person in some way for as long as it is not dealt with.
The complexity of the trauma caused by sexual abuse is related to the fact that all three aspects of a person are affected – the body, the mind, and the higher (soul) aspect of the person – the ‘human triangle’ .
Any trauma, any experience, in fact, is registered on that triple level. For a person to fully recover each of those levels needs to be addressed separately. Each of them requires a different ‘language of approach’ – the mind needs to understand why it happened; the body needs to release the paralysing fear held deep on the cellular level, the shame and sense of self-blame; the higher-self needs to be able to incorporate all the above and gain a deeper perspective.
The techniques used to address each of the parts of the triangle need to reflect that complexity.
This is why approaches based on just talking about the abuse are not fully effective – they apply to the level of the mind only, leaving the other two crucial aspects of the human triangle undealt with….
Years of experience working with sexual abuse cases have allowed me to notice certain recurring patterns. One such pattern shows that a person who had been abused, and who did not deal with the abuse will … continue to abuse – that abuse might go in two opposite directions – it can be directed inwardly (in which case the person will sabotage their own life, especially when it comes to all the positive aspects of it), or outwardly – the person will go on abusing others.
The undealt-with residue of sexual abuse triggers a number of common symptoms. A person might experience any combination of them: starting from the tendency to get really low or even depressed at times, often accompanied by a history of self-sabotaging behaviour, often linked to excessive drinking and/or drug abuse, all of which might become especially pronounced in teenage years and early adulthood. There might also be a tendency to be promiscuous without the ability to control it. The relationship with one’s physical body is always an issue – the person might feel let down by it, betrayed by it or simply feel that it is dirty, unworthy. As a result, they might end up undermining it in one way or another, feeling ashamed of it, or viewing it as un-pure.
Being intimate, even in a loving relationship scenario, can also pose problems. In extreme cases, where the subconscious mind during or as a result of the abuse registered a strong message of ‘I don’t deserve better than this’/’I got what I deserved’ the person might have a tendency to undermine everything that is positive and loving in their lives. That tendency might be stronger than their conscious will and often becomes a source of additional distress, since the person is not able to control it.
There might also be a tendency to compare the trauma experienced to the trauma of others and feel that the depth of the pain felt is undue.
Finally, the list of symptoms would not be complete without mentioning that the person’s relationship with those who were meant to protect them, most of the time meaning their parents or other close relatives might suffer as a result as well. The person might feel let down by the fact that they did not protect them or that the family’s reaction to the news of the abuse was not one of love and support as one would expect.
As mentioned above, any combination of the above symptoms is possible.
Does that mean that sexual abuse should define us for the rest of our lives and that it is impossible to become whole again having experienced it? No! No event, no matter how traumatic, was ever designed to define us. When the person is ready to fully release the experience all the symptoms disappear at once the moment the abuse is dealt with on all the three levels, including the depression (in fact, this is the easiest depression to treat, one where instantaneous positive results can be seen). The best news is that all that can be achieved, in most cases, in a single session, without the need for a lengthy therapy.
A question I am often asked is – Is it possible for a person to have experienced abuse and not be consciously aware of it? Yes. It does happen quite a lot. A person might contact me to deal with their depression or their self-sabotaging behaviour. Then, as we start working the realisation might come as to what the source if the issue is (naturally, this is not to say that every depression or self-sabotaging behaviour must have sexual abuse as their trigger).
How does it happen then that a person might not remember such an experience?
The best answer to that is that a person might not remember it consciously, although there is often a level of deeper awareness of ‘something’. It is almost as if we knew but we wished we did not. There are also people who might have blocked it off almost completely or who remember it vividly. Everything depends on what happened to the conscious awareness at the moment of trauma.
In certain circumstances, it is possible for our conscious awareness to temporarily leave the body, especially in cases where the physical or emotional pain becomes too much for a person to bear. In such cases, the person might not have a conscious recollection of the traumatic events. The side effects of the trauma stored in the subconscious mind remain there to haunt them, though, despite the lack of conscious recollection.
It is also possible for the conscious awareness to remain in the body during the traumatic experience(s), but then to suppress that memory in such a way that from being within the reach of conscious awareness it moves to the deep realms of the subconscious mind – again, a self-preservation method.
However the trauma of sexual abuse has been registered or suppressed, it will continue to have a very profound effect on the mind and body of the person who experienced it until all traces of it have been removed.
What about the healing process then – well, it is a beautiful journey of the person becoming whole again. It leads to the deep realisation that the abuse was never meant to define who we are and where our lives can lead us. It is so reassuring to know that it is possible to feel whole, pure, worthy and loved – to move on from surviving into thriving!