As a survivor of sexual abuse, you need to know that what happened to you isn’t your entire identity. You are the ultimate author of your life. And although sexual abuse is a part of your story, many more chapters will be written about who you are and the life you can live as you move forward.
According to the CDC, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience sexual abuse in their lifetime. Survivors must understand that they aren’t alone on their journey to healing. There is no perfect timeline to healing that survivors should follow because every individual is different.
Below are four suggestions for survivors of sexual abuse to explore on their way to a healthy and happy life after abuse.
Start a meditation practice.
Sitting in silence can feel awkward at first. But with the help of many different apps, you can find guided meditations that can help.
You can find meditations for different mental health categories, such as anxiety and depression.
Guided meditation is a great way to begin your own practice because you can focus your attention on the words of the person leading the meditation rather than struggling to quiet your thoughts without a specific focus point.
Learning to slow down and focus on your breath and the voice in a guided meditation can strengthen your self-awareness.
And when you feel anxious feelings rising, you can take what you learned and begin to guide yourself back to slow, deep breaths and settle back into the present moment without spiraling into a complete panic attack.
Find an outlet for self-expression.
A racing mind continuously scanning the environment for possible threats is a challenging way to live. You can work on finding ways to slow down and be present by creating an expressive outlet.
Begin to notice what you’re feeling and keep those emotions separate from who you are. Feelings of confusion, anger, guilt, and shame are common in survivors. All feelings are valid, and you need to take the time to work through those feelings.
Rather than saying, “I am angry,” and taking on the identity of anger, reframe it by saying, “I feel angry.” The subtle difference will help you recognize the feeling and then release it rather than letting it occupy space as part of your personality indefinitely.
Purchasing a new notebook or a sketchbook to express your feelings as they arise during the day can help with the healing process. Journaling is a great way to release emotions you may have suppressed over time.
Whether painting, singing, acting, or playing an instrument, involvement in the arts can positively impact your wellbeing. It can move you in a direction that feels like an authentic way to begin the healing process.
Manage trauma triggers.
Survivors of sexual abuse have experienced a highly traumatic event. And as such, they can experience the symptoms of PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. The amygdala, located at the brain’s base, becomes overactive to keep the survivor safe and out of harm’s way. Although it sounds like this is helpful, symptoms can cause people to enter the fight, flight, faint, or freeze reactions, making daily life more anxiety-ridden.
One way to help keep these instinctual reactions from appearing frequently is to understand possible triggers and manage the frequency of interacting with triggering events. Although every individual has different triggers, here are a few ways to help:
Take a break from the news or social media.
Avoid using drugs and alcohol to cope.
Don’t be afraid to seek help from professionals.
Consider working with a therapist.
Sometimes the best way to heal is to talk to a trained professional. Sharing your thoughts and feelings in a safe space without judgment, guilt, or shame can be just the environment you need to understand how the trauma of sexual abuse is affecting you.
A therapist can guide you through the process and give you the tools to become more aware of:
Triggers that most affect you
Beneficial expressive outlets and homework to practice with them
Behaviors that are trauma responses and how to remove them from your life
When you’re ready, we’re here for you!