The #Me Too Movement opened the door for voices of sexual abuse victims to be heard. If you’re a victim of sexual abuse, it’s very important to speak out.
Scars Of Sexual Abuse Can Last A Lifetime
Sexual abuse is a terrible violation and betrayal. You had no control. Couldn’t say “no.” You were in a scary situation. Robbed of your voice and power.
One of the worst scars is distrust. Not knowing who, if anyone, you can trust. Especially not knowing who wants to take something from you.
It could be anyone.
Sometimes you even feel that if you’re going to get love at all, or anything you need, you’re forced to give people what they want. That feels awful.
A repeated violation.
So, you either stay away from relationships. Or, limit them. You are, of course, wary. Not being able to trust love, friends, or people affects your happiness.
Underneath, is one of the worst scars you must live with. Poor self-esteem. Or, if you’ve managed to have some successes, your confidence might still be shaky.
You live with doubt, fear, and various psychological symptoms:
Episodes of depression, anxiety, hypervigilance about people and situations, obsessional worry about catastrophe, eating disorders, or panic attacks.
Any of these are signs that the scars of sexual abuse live on.
Plus, if you’ve had to protect yourself with one of the most common aftereffects of trauma – dissociation – you aren’t able to be fully present in your life.
Dissociation is one form of trying to forget. But, your symptoms say you haven’t.
Where and how do you begin to heal? And, what does the #Me Too Movement tell you?
You don’t have to suffer in silence. In fact, to begin to heal, you can’t.
Speaking Out & The #Me Too Movement
If you’ve lived in fear that you won’t be heard (or weren’t), the #Me Too Movement has shown – there are people to take you seriously.
Look at how things are changing. Abusers are being brought to task. Stopped. You have a large group of supporters. Other victims have spoken out.
You can too.
If you thought no one would believe you, the #Me Too Movement proves that’s not the case. You can be believed. And, you can find even more therapeutic help to heal.
The aftereffects of sexual abuse thread through your entire life. If you’ve suffered any form of sexual abuse, you know. This can’t be ignored or taken lightly.
Don’t try to forget your pain or your past. You don’t have to suffer in silence.
The #Me Too Movement opened the door for you. Now is the time to come out of the shroud of secrecy you’ve lived in.
Speaking out is the beginning of healing.
Whether you were threatened, coerced into silence, ashamed of what happened, or terrified to tell, there are people who will listen. Find them.
We can’t let the Jeffrey Epstein’s, Harvey Weinstein’s, or anyone else who preys on girls, women, or boys, get away with their abuse of power.
And, now they aren’t.
Your voice is your power. You can use it. Take the example of all those who’ve come forward already. Let them be your courage. Lean on their strength.
Let your voice be heard.
That might be scary, but once you do, you’ll feel stronger. And, you don’t have to do it alone.
There are experts in treating sexual abuse. And, hotlines if you need a place to begin. Kind ears are somewhere in your life. Maybe a good friend, a partner.
Keeping your abuse a secret is a problem.
The Problem With Secrets
It’s important not to live with your secret any longer.
Living with a secret affects your whole life. You aren’t free. Trying to forget, or living partly disconnected in order to “just go on,” doesn’t work.
It robs you of too much.
Sometimes it robs you of love. Of freedom to be safely intimate.
And, what happened to you doesn’t go away. Even if a part of you lives shut down, trying to soldier on.
This is what people need to understand.
What happened to you is there inside you every moment of every day of your life. If you haven’t had the right kind of help.
And, the secret of abuse eats away at you. Because you, like most sexual abuse victims, likely live with shame.
As if it must have been your fault. It wasn’t and it’s not.
Cultural stereotypes, of course, don’t help. They reinforce your doubt about whether you did something “wrong.”
It doesn’t matter how you were dressed. If you were drinking. Whether you went to someone’s house or hotel meeting room about a job.
And, certainly, if you were abused as a child, you had nothing to do with it either.
Sexual abuse is terrifying on many levels. And, because you were afraid, maybe you couldn’t fight back. You couldn’t say no.
If you couldn’t protect yourself or were too scared to say no, that isn’t your fault.
But, you might second guess yourself all the time. Wondering what you did or might have done differently. That’s part of what bothers you so much.
And, that’s why you live with shame.
Shame Eats Away At You
Your shame isn’t warranted, but you don’t know that yet. You might ask yourself: “Why couldn’t I stop it?” Or, “Did I do something to cause it?”
And, that’s why a part of you has to hide and keep it all a secret. Plus, you’re still scared. Understandably. You’ve been hurt. Your trust has been betrayed.
That makes you unsure if there is anyone to count on.
If you open up, will they just want to control you and take something more from you that you don’t want to give?
So, you stay quiet. Keep trying to forget how terrible you feel about yourself.
But, it all comes back. In memories or flashbacks. Or the way it affects your life.
What can you do? Try to remember:
Sexual abuse isn’t about sex. Or anything you did wrong. It’s about power. You were vulnerable and you were used. And, that feels awful.
And, maybe hiding might seem like the only way to have some control.
Yet, the reality is: if you tell yourself there’s something to be ashamed of, then the abuser still has some power.
If you have to keep your secret, either out of shame or fear, that gives the predator power and control too. At least in your mind.
The abuser already took too much. Yes, you’re scared. But, it’s time to take back your life. It’s never too late to begin.
Taking Back Your Power
If you’ve been sexually abused, as a child, young adult, or adult, you’ve lived in fear and shame long enough. You’ve tried to forget. It doesn’t really work.
It’s time to take back your power. But, how?
Having a voice you couldn’t have then helps. Speak out. Tell someone. Find a person who will listen. Your voice is your power.
You were robbed of your power when you were sexually abused. You don’t have to let anyone have power over you now. Even your fear.
You don’t have to let the past control your life, happiness, or self-esteem.
You were put in a compromised situation where you couldn’t say “No.”
Now, you can say “No” to:
- The power that shame and fear still have over you.
- Allowing the shame to force you into secrecy.
- The predator that hurt you.
That predator doesn’t have to hurt you any longer by forcing you to live with the aftermath of your abuse. With your voice, you can begin to get free.
And, you can get help. You can leave behind your shame and fear.
Yes, it’s easier said than done. But, you’ve already tried to “forget.” There are other kinds of help.
And, with the right kind of help, the scars of sexual abuse don’t have to last a lifetime. Even if you’ve kept the secret or lived with the effects of abuse for a long time.
But, what kind of help do you need?
Getting The Help You Need
The most important ingredient in getting the right help is a safe place to talk.
That’s a part of speaking out, but it’s so much more. First, it’s building trust. Knowing that your therapist understands. Knowing you will be heard.
Trust takes time. You need to go at your own pace. And, it’s important to be with a therapist that can and will be open to any feeling you have.
Look for a psychotherapist that specializes in therapy with sexual abuse survivors. Someone who deeply understands the effects on you.
A therapist that takes all of you, your experiences and history into account.
There are some common effects of sexual abuse, but you are you. And, the intricate threads of the ways you’ve been affected are unique to you.
What you need is someone who has the knowledge and experience to take that deeper look. That means a psychoanalytic or psychodynamic approach.
When you have this kind of therapy:
You will work out your fear and distrust. Overcome shame and self-doubt. Build your self-esteem and confidence. Improve your openness in all relationships.
And, you can find a love you can open your heart to. Even if you haven’t found it before. Or you can deepen the love and intimacy you already have.
Your voice can be heard in the deepest way in the right kind of therapy. Once trust is built, you will have a place for all your secrets.
You can heal and take back your voice.
I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a Los Angeles based psychoanalyst and psychologist. I’ve worked with survivors of sexual abuse for over 35 years. Whether you’ve carried your secret for years or your abuse is more recent, you can get help.