Sexual abuse changes us and depending on when the abuse occurred some of those changes happen very early on in the developmental process. For example, when a preadolescent girl is sexually abused the idea of self/identity, and worth begins to take form most likely in a negative way. At a young age we are very dependent on the adults in our life to shape our sense of self/identity, our sense of worth, and our ability to trust and feel safe in the environment around us. When that dependence and trust is met with abuse there is great potential for psychological, interpersonal/relational, and medical harm to be done. At a young age, we develop coping mechanisms that assist us in navigating the world around us. When we have good attachments with the adults in our life, and we live in a safe environment it is likely that we will develop healthy coping mechanisms. However, when we lack safety and our sense of self and worth are negatively altered it is likely that we will develop unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drug use, self-harm (in many forms), promiscuity, and other self-destructive behaviors.
Psychologically women survivors of CSA have higher rates of:
post-traumatic stress disorder
and psychosexual dysfunction.
Women survivors of CSA experience higher rates of interpersonal/relational problems such as:
and are at higher risk for revictimization.
Medically women survivors of CSA are at a higher risk for:
drug abuse (most prevalent)
and a high lifetime number of sexual partners
As a counselor, my desire is to help survivors of sexual abuse work through the plethora of emotions, self-destructive behaviors, negative thought processes, and relationship difficulties that wreak havoc long after the abuse. Typically, I have clients start out with individual counseling exclusively until they are ready to incorporate group counseling. The combination of individual and group counseling provides individual support as well as a network of support with women that have had similar experiences, a sisterhood if you will. The goal is not to live a pain-free life, but rather a life free from denial, guilt, and shame.
Life truly is a journey and sometimes the roads we travel are bumpy, unpaved, full of potholes and steep cliffs. However, we can choose scenic routes that provide opportunities for us to pull over and enjoy the view. Those are what I call moments of healing in the journey; moments when we stop to stretch, get some fresh air and enjoy the view or get a new perspective. Sometimes it is necessary for us to pull over and change direction or reevaluate the path we are traveling. One of the most humbling experiences for me as a counselor, is when someone invites me to be a part of their journey no matter how short the trip. Take some time today to pull over, stretch, get some fresh air, look at your map and take in the view. Are you where you want to be? Are you headed in the right direction? Are you living a life free from denial, shame, and guilt? If not, I encourage you to pull over and reroute, head down the scenic route, the healing route.