Healing is not only about surviving after experiencing a traumatic event such as child sexual abuse, but about opening up to the possibility of thriving and reclaiming joy. Each journey to healing is unique, but every person looking to recover from childhood sexual abuse faces a difficult path. It is difficult, but not impossible.
It’s never too late to start recovering from childhood sexual abuse.
No matter how long ago your abuse occurred, it is within your power to start healing and avoid future victimization. If you are an adult dealing with the effects of childhood sexual abuse, please remember that you are not responsible for the abuse and that you are not alone. You can overcome the effects the abuse may have on your life.
Consider Speaking With a Professional: Sooner is Better
According to research, critical brain structures grow and crucial connections happen during the first 3 years of a child’s life. Neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to “rewire” itself, is an ongoing power of the mind. This being said, the scars and long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse are never fully healed. If you are an adult survivor of sexual abuse, your developing brain structures, and the chemicals they produce, were negatively impacted and fundamentally changed the course of your development. Children who are victims of sexual abuse are experiencing these negative brain changes every day.
So many long-term conditions, stem from alterations of brain structures and chemistry. Learning where they come from can give you a new perspective on abuse and new ideas of how best to cope. Early awareness and prevention are still the best courses of action, as is sharing your own experiences with a supportive community.
The good news is that there are always ways to change how you perceive yourself, how you remember and cope with events of your past, and therapies, behavioral changes you can make to help you better manage conditions in the future. If you are a parent whose child is the victim of sexual abuse, know that the earlier you can intervene and get them help, the less severe the effects of their trauma are likely to be.
Every recovery process is a different path. If you feel lost or have difficulty addressing your past trauma, a trained professional can be a welcomed guide to healing. Survivors sometimes shy away from seeking help, as they fear it makes them appear more helpless. However, professional guidance is an invaluable support system for directing your healing towards a brighter, freer and stronger future. Remember that the healing process is fluid. Everyone has bad days. Don’t interpret flashbacks, bad days, or silent spells as “setbacks.” It’s all part of the process.
Therapy for Sexual Abuse
A compassionate therapist who understands trauma, especially sexual trauma, and its effects will often be able to help those who have experienced sexual abuse. Research has consistently shown that the relationship between the therapist and the person in treatment is the most significant predictor of recovery. The following therapeutic approaches have proven especially effective:
- Exposure therapy often works well when the sexual abuse results in a specific fear. For instance, a child sexual abuse victim who is afraid to go into the room where the abuse took place or who fears women who wear clothing similar to those worn by an abuser may benefit from such an approach.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) uses subtle eye movements to help “rewire” the brain and change the way the survivor processes the abuse.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help survivors abandon maladaptive approaches. A man who was abused as a child, for instance, might be so afraid of intimacy that he avoids romantic relationships. CBT can help him uncover the automatic thoughts that cause him to avoid intimacy, enabling him to steadily work toward healthy relationships and behaviors.
To find a local sexual violence service provider, click here.