Your Journey Towards Healing
The effects of sexual violence can be difficult to overcome and the healing journey may seem to be a long one. There are many paths to healing; any action that leads you toward greater health, expanded self-awareness, and increased self-respect is beneficial in beginning or in sustaining the healing process. There are many ways to heal from sexual violence. There is no right way. Healing is not a tidy, step-by-step process. Although there are particular aspects that have been identified from the experiences of many survivors, the stages of healing my not always occur in the same way or in the same order for each survivor. Generally, if a survivor is going to recover well from the impact of the rape or abuse, they must let themselves remember the rape or abuse and feel whatever they are feeling inside. The best way to get rid of a feeling is to FEEL IT FULLY. When a survivor starts remembering and feeling they will also start suffering from symptoms, but these usually improve gradually over time. It often helps a survivor to have counselling if they are experiencing symptoms that upset them. Healing can involve:
Making a decision to heal. Taking that first step and making an active commitment to yourself that you would like to make change in your life. Deep healing happens only when you choose it and are willing to change. This often means finding a support group and/or a sexual abuse counsellor to start working with.
Facing the crisis of beginning to realise the impact of the abuse/assault on your life. Beginning to deal with memories and sometimes long-suppressed feelings can throw your life into turmoil. This is a time when emotional pain is intense, the old coping mechanisms are no longer intact, and it may be difficult to function at your usual level. Remember, this stage won’t last forever.
Remembering more details or remembering feelings associated with the abuse/assault. Some survivors suppress some or all memory of what was done to them. Those who do not forget the actual incidents may forget how they felt at the time or may not fully realise how much the experience has affected them. Remembering is the process of getting back both memory and feeling, and understanding the impact abuse has had on your life.
Working through the desire to deny or minimise the abuse/assault and to believe and accept that it really happened. Survivors often doubt their own perceptions. Accepting that the abuse really happened, and that it really hurt you, is a vital part of the healing process.
Breaking the silence and telling about the abuse/assault. Most survivors kept the abuse a secret. Telling a safe person about your history is a powerful healing force that can dispel the shame that often accompanies sexual abuse.
Healing the shame and coming to understand that it wasn’t your fault. People, especially children, often believe that the abuse was their fault. Survivors must learn to place the blame where it belongs – directly on the shoulders of the abusers.
Re-educating yourself regarding certain life skills that you might not have as a result of the abuse. Many survivors do not have certain healthy life skills, especially if they were abused as children. If you especially admire a quality in someone else and wish you had that quality, now is your time to learn it. This normally includes healthy boundaries of your own, respecting other peoples boundaries, assertiveness, self-esteem, healthy relationships, etc.
Learning to trust yourself and your perceptions and judgements. Having compassion and gentleness with yourself, becoming aware of your own needs, getting to know yourself and what you like and love or don’t like and hate. Many survivors have lost touch with their own innocence and vulnerability. Yet within each of us is a person who was deeply hurt and needs healing. That person might be a child if abuse happened as a child. Getting in touch with the person (or child) you once were can help you develop compassion for yourself.
Grieving the loss that resulted from the abuse/assault (of innocence, of trust, of a sense of security, etc). Most survivors haven’t acknowledged or grieved for all their losses. Grieving is a way to honor your pain, let go, and move more fully into your current life.
Getting in touch with your feelings including your anger about what happened. Anger is a powerful and liberating force that provides the energy needed to move through grief, pain and despair. Directing your anger squarely at your abuser and at those who didn’t protect you or who invalidated your pain by not believing you is pivotal to healing.
Disclosures and truth-telling. Talking about your abuse and its effects with family members or the abuser (if it is someone you know who abused you) can be empowering and transformative, but it is not right for everyone. Before taking this step, it is essential that you prepare carefully and wait until you have a strong foundation of healing and support.
Forgiveness of the abuser is NOT an essential part of the healing process. But it is essential that you forgive yourself. Often once a person has gotten in touch with their feelings and felt them fully, it becomes possible to forgive those who did not help us, who did not believe us or the abuser. It is essential to remember that forgiveness is not an act that does anything for the person you are forgiving, forgiveness is an act you do for yourself – so you can let go of the feelings and move past them.
Developing a sense of spirituality. Having the support of a spiritual connection can be a real asset in the healing process. Spirituality is a uniquely personal experience. Often a person must first find many answers to questions before they can believe in a loving higher power. This is good and if you are seeking answers, you will find answers that make sense to you eventually. The answers that work for you, might not be the answers that work for another person. Do not give up your search for the answers that work for you.
Resolution. Achieving a sense of peace and contentment, while still allowing you to cycle through previous stages if necessary with less pain and with greater self-awareness. As you move through these stages again and again, you will achieve more and more integration. Your feelings and perspectives will start to stabilise. While you won’t erase your history, it will truly become your history, something that occurred in your past. You will make deep and lasting changes in your life. Having gained awareness, compassion, and power through healing, you will have the opportunity to work toward a better work and be enthusiastic about living your life.
Things to do on the Healing Journey
Healing from the effects of sexual trauma IS possible, and you may want to explore many different healing practices along your journey. Seeking the help of a specially trained sexual abuse counsellor is one of many ways to heal from the effects of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault. Counselling can help you to manage the impact the trauma has in your life.
There are other ways to heal that can be useful as well. You may want to try:
- Learning and practicing good self care (exercising, eating well, getting enough sleep, and doing things that are fun or pleasurable)
- Reading books about sexual abuse and healing
- Listening to DVD’s that address certain issues (ask a sexual abuse counsellor for suggestions)
- Attending a support group
- Being creative. Painting, sculpting or other creative pursuits can be ways of working through and expressing emotions and of gaining insight and self-awareness
- Seeking the support of caring friends or family members
- Doing the self-awareness and skill development exercises in any of the various work books and self-help publications written for survivors (ask a sexual abuse counsellor for suggestions)
- Writing in a journal (this can be a great outlet for emotions and can increase self-awareness and understanding)
- Learning or developing life skills in areas that may have been impacted (i.e. boundaries, communication, assertiveness, effective parenting)
- Attending short workshops on topics that interest you (Boundaries, Understanding Feelings)
- Give yourself permission to do nothing- there may be times when the healthiest thing you can do is nothing- put the healing on hold and lay low. Time outs can be just as legitimate as active steps
- Developing and following a regular spiritual practice (reading, meditation, daily prayer, etc.)
- In times of emotional crisis or upset, ask for help. Call the centre’s 24 hour crisis line (083 484 9409) or look your phone book for a crisis line in your area.
You are encouraged to do what works best for you. Remember you are in charge of your own healing process.
Emotions on the Healing Journey
There are many symptoms or behaviors that appear during the healing journey including:
- Continuing anxiety
- Severe mood swings
- Sense of helplessness
- Persistent fear or phobia
- Difficulty sleeping (nightmares, insomnia, etc.)
- Eating difficulties (nausea, vomiting, compulsive eating, etc.)
- Withdrawal from friends, family, activities
- Reluctance to leave the house and/or go places
- Sexual problems
- Difficulty concentrating
These do not last forever, be patient with yourself and remember THE BEST WAY TO GET RID OF A FEELING IS TO FEEL IT FULLY.
Remember walking this road with a counsellor is better than walking this road alone.
Call Reinette on 083 484 9409 or 021 852 5620 (South Africa).