by Dawn Scott Jones
Sexual abuse is one of the most devastating traumas a person can experience. A survivor’s life is scarred in ways that go beyond our comprehension. Once abuse is over and the survivor is out of danger, she is left with the devastating aftermath abuse.
Perhaps you’ve seen it.
You’re in a relationship with a woman who has been wounded by sexual assault. You want to help her, but you’re not sure how.
When sexual abuse happens, it shatters trust and the ability to trust. It destroys feelings of security. Because the abuse is usually done at the hands of someone older or more powerful and against the child’s will, she is left stripped of her boundaries—feeling powerless, vulnerable and fearful. She’s been intimidated—her self-confidence, decimated. And since a child is too young to place responsibility where it belongs—on the abuser—she blames and belittles herself.
Regardless of the form of abuse suffered, whether a single experience or a lengthy season, the woman experiences a wounding invasion—a molestation of her mind and soul.
Well in adulthood, survivors struggle with:
• Shame and guilt
• A sense of worthlessness and damaged self-esteem
• Fear, anxiety, and panic attacks
• Sleep disturbances and eating disorders
• Impaired memory and flashbacks
• Fear of trust and intimacy
• Depression and suicidal thoughts
These plaguing symptoms persist because most survivors try to ignore the abuse committed against them and repress their emotions. Confused and bewildered, survivors often are unequipped to interpret or process the intensity of emotion that’s present: pain, rage, fear, panic, guilt, shame or pleasure. Emotional circuitry is overloaded.
Rather than process the trauma, many abuse victims shut down their feelings and go emotionally numb to mentally survive. Tragically, they grow-up disconnected from their feelings, unable to experience the full spectrum of emotions.
As one survivor put it;
“I’m afraid that if I start to cry I’ll never be able to stop or if I start to “feel” I’ll fall into a black hole and never find my way out.”
Learning to feel, however, is the beginning of healing.
When the dam breaks and emotions are allowed to come, survivors are faced with a decision to walk the healing journey or find other suppressive, unhealthy methods of coping with emotional upheaval.
If healing is chosen, the process of wholeness will include stages of healing such as:
1. Denying the truth
2. Deciding to heal
3. Surviving crisis
5. Choosing to tell
6. Releasing responsibility
7. Finding the inner child
8. Grieving loss
9. Expressing anger
11. Resolving the conflict
Choosing to heal is excruciating at times, but the journey is life-giving.
If you’re a survivor, take the hand of Jesus and trust him as you walk into the light. Remind yourself that you are safe now, and you can start to feel.
If you support a survivor, help her recognize and feel the damage that was done to her. Encourage her to be honest about the pain of her sexual abuse, and to choose wholeness. Her healing is possible, and with your love and help she can explore the depths of her wounds and begin recovery.
To read more, please read Dawn's book, When a Woman You Love Was Abused. Thank you, Dawn, for sharing your wisdom with us. We are truly blessed and encouraged by you and your work.