It is an essential part of the healing process for sexual abuse survivors to confront their past and speak about their struggles with someone they trust. Unfortunately, there are many survivors out there who keep their trauma pent up because they find it difficult to share what they’ve been through with anyone, even close friends and family – and understandably so.
Not only do we live in a society in which sex is taboo and sexual abuse even more so, but there are numerous internal factors, or “demons,” that discourage survivors from opening up.
Below are descriptions of some barriers that often make survivors reluctant or afraid to talk about abuse.
Repression and Denial
Many sexual abuse survivors go through a state of self-doubt before they’re able to accept what happened to them. This is exacerbated when the perpetrator of the abuse is a family member or other close acquaintance, as is often the case. When confronted with the notion that they were sexually abused by someone they loved, needed, or otherwise trusted, survivors may ask themselves, “Did I just make it up? Did it really happen?” Societal repression (“Don’t think or talk about it”) adds to this traumatic repression. As a result, the trauma is pushed further below consciousness.
Guilt and Shame
Almost every survivor of sexual abuse at one point thinks, “It was my fault” – and there can be multiple reasons for this. A survivor may feel guilt because it gives them a sense of control over what occurred (“It was my fault this happened”). He or she may also feel guilt because it helps explain the unexplainable (“This person I trusted abused me because of something I did wrong”). It certainly doesn’t help when other people question the survivor (“But he’s such a nice guy!”), essentially pushing the blame onto him or her.
Along with guilt comes shame. By blaming him or herself, a sexual abuse survivor develops a sense of low self-worth and profound humiliation, and directs anger inwardly for “letting the abuse happen.” Naturally, the survivor does not talk about the abuse, the source of his or her shame, and this silence reinforces the sense of isolation.
Self-Compassion Is Key
It is important for survivors to realize that they are just as human as anyone else and that they don’t and never did deserve abuse. One way they can do this is by treating themselves and talking to themselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion they would show a good friend or a beloved child. Exercising self-compassion can help make a survivor feel less isolated and alienated from others, allowing him or her to open up and begin the healing process.
Here are some general guidelines on how to practice self-compassion:
- Replace self-criticism with self-kindness
- Give yourself words of comfort you would want to hear from a friend in a time of need
- Develop a nurturing inner voice to counteract the cold, bullying inner voice
- Develop an appreciation for your positive attributes and don’t be afraid to feel pride in your accomplishments
- Practice accountability versus self-blame, self-correction versus self-criticism
If you are a sexual abuse survivor or know someone who has suffered sexual abuse, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the compassionate sexual abuse attorneys at Wilshire Law Firm for help. We can help you get justice and find peace.