The Healing Journey

The Healing Journey

If you are under the age of 18

Well done that you are looking for help. It can really help if you talk to someone – you can call Childline on 08000 55555 at any time about anything that bothers you. Remember a problem shared is a problem halved. Try talking to someone in your family you can trust, another adult you can trust, one of your friends or maybe a teacher. And remember you can call Childline on 08000 55555 anytime about anything that bothers you.

Will the call cost any money? No. Phoning Childline is a free call to a toll-free number from any landline.The call won’t cost any money on the phone bill and you can call Childline from any phone – at home or anywhere else, even a public phone.

Just pick up the phone and dial 08000 55555.

Can I call any time? Yes, Childline is here for you 24 hours a day, every day.

What if I am not the one being abused, but I know it is happening to someone in my family? Phone Childline – Childline will help you to assist the person who is being abused, and will counsel you too.

What if the person being abused isn’t in my family? Encourage the person who is being abused, or someone in their family to call Childline. And call Childline yourself to report the abuse. Remember, it is your legal obligation to report any abuse that you know about. Help Childline break the cycle of abuse in your community and in South Africa.

Don’t wait – Act now.

For more information go to http://lifelinewc.org.za/counselling/  (This website is primarily for helping adult survivors.)

If you are under the age of 18, please call Childline on 08000 55555 immediately for help.

If you are over the age of 18

Well done for looking for help, it is definitely the right thing to do.

What you are doing is very brave and no matter what the nature of the abuse was that you have experienced or are still experiencing and no matter when this abuse took place, it has an effect on you. What you are going through is a result of trauma and happens to basically all people who have been abused. You do not deserve to go through trauma, no person deserves to go through trauma, but sadly many of us do.

Sexual abuse is one of the few crimes that brings more shame to the victim than to the offender. It takes away a person’s trust and self-respect, and usually silences the victim so that help is difficult to find. The wounds and struggles that follow are often as difficult to deal with as the original abuse. Many victims feel alone, confused, depressed, and sometimes as if they are going crazy.

I am so sorry that you are going through this.

You were affected by the abuse whether it happened once or many times since the damage is incurred immediately. If you have kept this horrible secret from people, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You felt you had to keep the secret. You felt alienated. Regardless of who abused you, how often, or what the nature of the abuse was, know that it should NOT have happened. We know your pain. We want you to believe that abusers choose to abuse and it is their crime, you are not to blame and you are not alone. Many survivors suffer with many of the same feelings and consequences as you do.

The process of recovery is filled with hope and help – you will have to take our word for it if you can’t accept that now. Some of what follows will be difficult to accept. But the pain of understanding and healing is far less than the pain of denial and despair.

And if any one of us can recover, then so can you.

Whenever someone experiences trauma, she or he will go through several different stages. The ones listed here are most typical, but there may be others too. A person will spend varying amounts of time in any one stage (it can be years). Some stages may be skipped altogether; many people recycle back and forth in random and varied order through them. Trauma challenges our beliefs and attitudes about personal safety, trust in ourselves and others, our sense of power or helplessness in the world, and our self-esteem. These responses to the trauma are a normal reaction occurring in normal people who have been through a terrifying situation over which they had no control.

These stages are divided here into two columns. The first column refers to people (both women and men), who have experienced abuse between the ages of 0 to about 18. Most of these people come forward for help as adults so they are normally refered to as adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The second column refers to everyone else (both women and men), in other words people who have experienced abuse as adults. Often people who have or are experiencing abuse as adults also experienced abuse in childhood. This is not uncommon.

WARNING THIS MAY BE TRIGGERING!

Adult Survivors of Rape and Sexual Abuse

RAPE TRAUMA SYNDROME:

Read more…

 

RECOVERING FROM TRAUMA:

Whenever someone experiences trauma, she or he will go through several different stages. The five listed here are most typical, but there may be others too. A person will spend varying amounts of time in any one stage (it can be years). Some stages may be skipped altogether; many people recycle back and forth in random and varied order through them.

SHOCK:

Shock and disbelief are the first responses to trauma. One cannot grasp the enormity of the event, or may feel immobilized or numb. One may become extremely disoriented, making it difficult to keep track of or perform normal daily activities. This stage of shock may last from a few hours to several weeks. People tend to express this in three different ways or a combination of these ways including:

  •    Expressed– This is when the survivor is openly emotional. He or she may appear agitated or hysterical, he or she may suffer from crying spells or anxiety attacks.
  •    Controlled– This is when the survivor appears to be without emotion and acts as if “nothing happened” and “everything is fine.” This appearance of calm may be shock.
  •    Shocked Disbelief– This is when the survivor reacts with a strong sense of disorientation. He or she may have difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or doing everyday tasks. He or she may also have poor recall of the assault.

DENIAL:

During this phase the individual resumes what appears to be his or her “normal” life but inside is suffering from considerable turmoil. In this phase there are various coping techniques:

  •    Minimization– Pretends that “everything is fine” or that “it could have been worse.”
  •    Suppression– Refuses to discuss, acts as if it did not happen.
  •    Flight– Tries to escape the pain (moving, changing jobs, changing appearance, changing relationships, etc.).

One may disregard the event or minimize the emotional impact. Some may dismiss their emotions, including anxiety and fear. Denial can be a useful psychological strategy, as it allows people the time to get through a crisis and reestablish structure in their lives. Denial can last from days to years.

IMPACT:

During this stage the denial lifts. One can begin to focus on the reality and the negative consequences of the trauma. Sometimes symptoms of Rape Trauma Syndrome may surface and intensify.

Stages of recovery:

REMEMBRANCE AND MOURNING

This is the stage during which one grieves the loss experienced in the trauma. Anger, grief, and a sense of helplessness are almost always present at this stage.This stage can include:

  •    Dramatization- Cannot stop talking about the assault and it is what dominates their life and identity.
  •    Explanation- Analyzes what happened- what the individual did, what the rapist was thinking/feeling.

RECONNECTION AND RESOLUTION

During this stage one begins to regain a sense of control and responsibility. This stage is one of acceptance of suffering in our lives and the lives of others. It is a time during which one searches for meaning in the trauma.

During this phase the assault is no longer the central focus of the individual’s life. While he or she may recognize that he or she will never forget the assault; the pain and negative outcomes lessen over time. Often the individual will begin to accept the rape as part of his or her life and chooses to move on.

HELPFUL HINTS DURING RECOVERY

  •    Let others help! It is important to find the right people to talk to. Having a supportive listener available can be very helpful.
  •    Take care of yourself! It is also important that you care for yourself by eating a good diet, sleeping regularly, exercising, and avoiding alcohol and drugs.
  •    Help others! Doing small tangible things such as giving blood, visiting an elderly person, putting flowers on the table or greeting someone with a hug all has a double bonus, it is good for them and also makes you feel good
  •    Give yourself some time each day to process the events!
  •    Talk about your feelings!
  •    Structure your environment!
  •    Stay connected with friends and family!
  •    If you need extra help and support ask for it! Ask your family, cell group, church, neighbours, friends and your counsellor for help. YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS ON YOUR OWN.
  •    Remember you are reacting normally to an abnormal event!

Here is one survivors thoughts on healing and denial:

   The hardest thing for me to realize in working through the effects of rape after so many years was that time does not “heal all wounds”. Time made matters worse because I believed time should have made things better, and it hadn’t. So, as a consequence, I believed I was “sicker” than others. I believed my turmoil to be caused by a sickness inside of me, not a result of what was done TO me. Facing down the demon of rape was the last thing I wanted to attempt. It seemed much more logical and safe…and comfortable to just let it pass without acknowledging ‘it’ at all. So, I pretended it never happened…

read more…

“The pain is temporary, but denial and its consequences are forever.” When we tire of the consequences, and become willing to work diligently on the sexual abuse issues, we are then on the way to living our lives as survivors rather than victims.

We know and believe in our hearts that we were innocent victims. We know that we didn’t control the abuse. We don’t have to convince anyone else of our innocence. We truly love ourself; we believe ourself and we treat ourself with respect. We are not powerless anymore. Recovery is possible. We can bloom where we’re planted. What has happened is one part of our lives, only one part!

Recovery is a process; eventually we will settle in acceptance. Until then, we must remember that patience is something that we give ourselves today, and that this too shall pass.

As always, take what you like and leave the rest.

Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

CHECKLIST:

  • Child sexual abuse is such a traumatic violation, that its victims often forget that it occurred. But the emotional scars live on, confusing in their seeming meaninglessness.
  • Ongoing problems with relationships, sex, trust, touch, addictions, paralyzing depression, and guilt can, when the cause is unknown, feel crazy and out of control.
  • This checklist can be used to help adult survivors identify themselves and know that there are real reasons for their unrelenting difficulties. That in fact, these problems are actually desperate attempts to cope with the impossible pain.
  • Fear of being alone in the dark, fear of sleeping alone, nightmares or night terrors (especially of pursuit, threat or entrapment)
  • Swallowing and gagging sensitivity, repugnance to water on the face when bathing or swimming (suffocation feelings)
  • Alienation from body, not at home in own body, failure to heed signals of body, failure to take care of body, poor body image, manipulating body size to avoid sexual attention
  • Gastrointestinal problems, GYN disorders (including spontaneous vaginal infections), headaches, arthritis or joint pain
  • Wearing a lot of clothing even in summer, baggy clothing, failure to remove clothing even when appropriate to do so (while swimming, bathing, sleeping), extreme requirement for privacy when using the bathroom
  • Eating disorders, drug/ alcohol abuse (or total abstinence), other addictions, compulsive behaviors
  • Skin carving, self abuse (physical pain is manageable), self-destructive
  • Phobias
  • Need to be invisible, perfect or perfectly bad
  • Suicidal thoughts, attempts, obsessions (including passive suicide)
  • Depression (sometimes paralyzing), seemingly baseless crying
  • Anger issues, inability to recognize own or expressed anger, fear of actual or imagined rage, constant anger, intense hostility toward entire gender or ethnic group of the perpetrator
  • Splitting (depersonalization), going into shock, shutdown in a crisis or stressful situation, always in a crisis, psychic numbing, physical pain or numbness associated with a particular memory or emotion (e.g. anger) or situation (e.g. sex)
  • Rigid control of thought process, humorlessness or extreme solemnity
  • Childhood hiding, hanging on or cowering in corners (security seeking behaviors), adult nervousness over being watched or surprised, feeling watched, startle response
  • Trust issues, inability to trust (trust is not safe), too total trust, trusting indiscriminately
  • High risk taking (“daring the fates”), inability to take risks
  • Boundary issues, control, power, territorial issues, fear of losing control, obsessive/compulsive behaviors (attempting to control things that don’t matter just to control something), power/sex confusion
  • Guilt/shame/low self esteem/feeling worthless/high appreciation of small favors by others
  • Pattern of being a victim (victimizing oneself after being victimized by others), especially sexually, no sense of own power or right to set limits or say “no”, patterns of relationships with much older persons (onset in adolescence)
  • Feeling demand to “produce to be loved”, instinctively knowing and doing whatever the other person needs or wants, relationships mean big trade-off’s (“love” was taken, not given)
  • Abandonment issues
  • Blocking out some period of early years (especially 1 – 12) or a specific person or event or place
  • Feeling of carrying an awful secret, urge to tell/fear of it being revealed, certainty no one will listen, being generally secretive, feeling “marked” (the scarlet letter)
  • Feeling crazy, feeling different, feeling oneself to be unreal and everyone else to be real or vice versa, creating fantasy worlds, relationships or identities (especially for women: imagining/wishing self to be male i.e. not a victim)
  • Denial, no awareness at all, repression of memories, pretending, minimizing (it wasn’t that bad), having dreams or memories (maybe it’s my imagination – these are actually flashbacks, which is how recall begins), strong, deep, “inappropriate” negative reactions to a person, place or event, sensory flashes (a light, a place, a physical feeling), without any sense of their meaning, remembering surroundings but not the actual event. Memory may start with the least threatening event or perpetrator. Actual details of abuse may never be fully remembered, however, much recovery is possible without complete recall. Your inner guide will release memories at the pace you can handle
  • Sexual issues, sex feels dirty, aversion to being touched, especially in GYN exams, strong aversion to (or need for) particular sex acts, feeling betrayed by one’s body, trouble integrating sexuality and emotionality, confusion or overlapping of affection/sex/dominance/aggression/violence, having to pursue power in sexual arena, which is actually sexual acting out (self abuse, manipulation), abuse of others, compulsively “seductive” or compulsively asexual, must be aggressor or cannot be, impersonal “promiscuous” sex with strangers concurrent with inability to have sex in intimate relationships (conflict between sex and caring), prostitute, stripper, sex symbol, porn actress, sexual “acting out” to meet anger or revenge needs, sexaholism or sexual addiction, avoidance of sex, shutdown, crying after orgasm, all pursuit feels like violation, sexualizing of all meaningful relationships, erotic response to abuse or anger, sexual fantasies of dominance/real rape (results in guilt and confusion). Note: Homosexuality is not an after-effect
  • Pattern of ambivalent or intensely conflictual relationships (in true intimacy, issues are more likely to surface, in problem relationships the focus can be shifted from real issues of abuse). Note: Partners of survivors often suffer consequences of post-incest syndrome, especially sex and relationship issues
  • Avoidance of mirrors (connected with invisibility, shame/ self esteem issues, distrust of perceived body image)
  • Desire to change one’s name to dissociate from the perpetrator or to take control through self labeling
  • Limited tolerance for happiness, active withdrawal from and reluctance to trust happiness
  • Aversion to noise making including during sex, crying, laughing, or other body functions, verbal hyper-vigilance (careful monitoring of one’s words), quiet voiced especially when needing to be heard
  • Stealing (adults), stealing and fire-starting (children)
  • Multiple personality

THE EFFECTS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE:

Any sexual contact, covert or overt, between a child and a trusted individual, damage the child, whether these contacts included suggestive remarks, pornography, fondling, acts of sexual aggression or torture. These need to be dealt with assertively. These contacts scar virtually all facets of victims’ lives since we are left with little or no self-esteem. At least one out of five boys and one out of three girls will be abused before they reach the age of eighteen. The child’s emotional growth will be arrested at the age of the first attack, and the victim will probably not begin to recover until adulthood, if ever.

Boys, as well as girls, can be victims of incest. Anyone can be an abuser, especially if the perpetrator is perceived by the child to be in authority, including father, grandfather, mother, brother, uncle, friend of the family, aunt, teacher or another child – the list is endless.

Some of the social maladjustments arising from incest are alcoholism, drug addiction, self-injury, prostitution, promiscuity and sexual dysfunction. Eating or sleeping disorders, migraines, back or stomach pains are just a few of the physical consequences that we may suffer. Food, sex, alcohol and/or drugs deaden painful memories of the abuse and obscure reality temporarily. If we perceive obesity to be unattractive, and if we believe we were abused because we were attractive, we may overeat in a misguided attempt to defend ourselves from further sexual assault.

“I felt like throwing up” is a common response among victims, and bulimia is a way of acting out that feeling. Anorexia can be another form of self-punishment, eventually leading to the ultimate self-victimization, suicide.

A number of emotional problems may emerge from the abuse, including inability to trust, perfectionism, phobias, avoidance of both intimacy and emotional bonding. The denial system that insured our survival as children now prevents us from enjoying unencumbered adulthoods. We don’t trust our own perceptions; we were forced to become an expert in disbelieving our own senses. We tried to convince ourselves that we overreacted and that nothing really terrible happened: “My daddy would never REALLY hurt me”. When reality is too painful for children’s minds, we learn to fictionalize. It is extremely painful to give up the fantasy family since children see themselves either in reflected glory or disgraced shadows. Therefore, we sometimes make excuses for the abuser: “He was drunk at the time. She had it rough as a child.” We take responsibility for the assault(s): “I was too attractive, too sexy.” The abuser probably reinforced our own nagging guilt and questions we had concerning our own innocence. Essentially, we defend the perpetrator by minimizing, rationalizing and taking on the blame. If we continue to use these coping mechanisms as adults, we are set up to be abused in current relationships. In Survivors of Incest Anonymous, we can learn to accept the fact that we were abused rather than loved by the abuser. We can learn to seek out only healthy, loving relationships. We have been accustomed to accepting only crumbs, believing that we do not deserve anything better.

We may have parenting problems, always second-guessing decisions, which is another result of distrusting our own perceptions. We may: avoid parenting altogether, try to be a perfect parent or repeat the abuse. The worst possible consequence is when we perpetuate the abuse onto the next generation.

Another repercussion of incest is that we often regard authority figures with anxiety. Passivity is comfortable because it is familiar, and we may accept familiar misery rather than risk unfamiliar change. An experiment in learned helplessness was conducted in which dogs were forced to endure painful electric shocks without means of escape. A second group of dogs were compelled to endure shocks and quickly escaped when it was possible. When the first group was shocked again, with escape now possible, they did not leave. They had been conditioned to endure pain. This experiment explains why so many of us are sexually abused as adults by therapists, spouses, counselors, doctors or bosses. We are accustomed to losing battles and to feeling powerless. We may not believe we can win. Assertion is a difficult concept for incest victims.

Our inability to trust affects our sexual relationships, too. Women who have been abused by men will often say, “I don’t trust any men, they only want sex.” Boys abused by women may feel that all women are threatening. Abused boys may feel compelled to believe they MUST BE homosexual. The assaults have sometimes been associated with emotional or physical pleasure, and this fact reinforces the suspicion that we must be homosexual: “Both my uncle and a male teacher were attracted to me, and it feels good, I liked it, so I must be gay.” In defense of the abuser, we may say, “I must be gay, and my abuser sensed it, that’s all.”

Another result of the confliction of messages of incest is that many of us confuse sex with affection and love. Many women will say, “The only time my father ever gave me any attention was in bed. I was special to him then. I felt loved.” Since she desperately needs validation, this woman may become promiscuous. She needs to know that a promiscuous child is often the result, but never the cause of incest. She believes if someone has sex with her, then that partner automatically loves her. She has confused sex and love.

When the abuse is physically violent, perhaps even painful, we may confuse sex with control and power. A typical comment might be, “When I have sex with someone, I feel like s/he is controlling my body. I feel that as I respond to her/him, s/he is manipulating me, and I am a puppet all over again.” We may shut off all sexual feelings and retreat from all sexual contact: we fear everyone that will use and abuse us.

Changing self-destructive patterns is a slow process, but with a support group or counsellor we can learn that it is possible. It takes tremendous strength for us to put ourselves in a position to examine and feel this pain. We need incredible courage and reliable professional help. Survivors of Incest Anonymous, a 12-step self-help recovery program is an available resource for adult survivors. A statement read at the end of each SIA meeting reminds us: “The pain is temporary, but denial and its consequences are forever.” When we tire of the consequences, and become willing to work diligently on the incest issues, we are then on the way to living our lives as survivors rather than victims.

STAGES OF REACTION TO TRAUMA:

Whenever someone experiences trauma, she or he will go through several different stages. The five listed here are most typical, but there may be others too. A person will spend varying amounts of time in any one stage (it can be years). Some stages may be skipped altogether; many people recycle back and forth in random and varied order through them.

DENIAL:

In order for a child to survive abuse, she or he must accept the blame. Children cannot comprehend the idea that the people responsible for their very survival are sick and incapable of taking proper care of them. Incest victims often used denial systems that sound like any of these: “My situation wasn’t that bad”, “He only did it once”, “He never penetrated me”, “I already dealt with it”, “I already forgave”, “He was sick”, “He’s dead now”, “It happened a long time ago”. The 20 Questions of SIA can help us with denial.

Denial systems helped us survive as children, but they became ropes that hung us as adults. Denial continues our feelings of isolation because we are incapable of trusting ourselves or anyone else. If we shut off feelings of pain and anger, we shut off all our feelings including joy, love, compassion, etc. It is imperative not to stay stuck in denial because one can’t get over a loss if one refuses to acknowledge its reality. If a sexual abuse survivor is going to recover well from the impact of the sexual abuse, s/he must let her/himself remember the incident(s) and feel whatever s/he is feeling inside.

ANGER:

When we recognize our pain, anger naturally follows. Anger is healthy and as appropriate response to pain. The sense of unfairness, irretrievable opportunities, loss of innocence, feelings of being exploited, realizing that he got away with it, questions like, “Why should I be hurting still?” are all common responses and they make us feel angry. We need to find healthy and appropriate targets for our anger. Some beat on inanimate objects, some do physical activities, some write uncensored letters or plan confrontations (then burn it), some cry, some talk, some scream (into a pillow or blanket). By doing these things, we’re proving to ourselves that we can control our anger; anger isn’t controlling us. By allowing ourselves anger, we avenge our pain.

BARGAINING:

When looking at the abuse, we can feel very desperate. We may make pleas that sound like any of these: “God help me now and I’ll be a better person”, “God if you give me children, I’ll be a really good parent”, “I’ll work through the incest, but don’t ever let me be raped!”, “If you get me out of this, I’ll never be promiscuous again”. Pleas and promises are common ways of trying to escape the complex problems of incest.

DEPRESSION:

The denial, anger, and bargaining have not removed the horrible reality of incest. The deep sense of loss is still there. There is a tremendous mourning process. We need to mourn the fantasy family, our innocence, lost time, our habit of avoiding intimacy, and emotional closeness, isolation, re-victimization; the list seems overwhelming, because it seems endless. The magnitude of the recovery process itself is incredibly depressing.

ACCEPTANCE:

Acceptance says that incest is not a handicap; it’s an inconvenience, a temporary setback. We will not minimize or rationalize the trauma and pain incurred by us as victims, but we know that we can come through this tragedy without irrevocable emotional damage. We may even be stronger at the conclusion of this problem.

We know and believe in our hearts that we were innocent victims. We know that we didn’t control the abuse. We don’t have to convince anyone else of our innocence. We truly love the child inside us; we believe her and we treat her with respect. Inside, we have merged both parent and child. We are not powerless anymore. Recovery is possible. We can bloom where we’re planted. Incest is one part of our lives, only one part!

Recovery is a process; eventually we will settle in acceptance. Until then, we must remember that patience is something that we give ourselves today, and that this too shall pass.

As always, take what you like and leave the rest.

Now that you know more about what you are going through, we suggest that you find someone to help you through this.

Rape Crisis Helderberg can be contacted on:

help@crisiscentre.org.za and Reinette on 083 484 9409 (24-hour crisis line)

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