By Phil Goldstein
Looking back on who I was as a boy and an adolescent, I think it’s safe to say I didn’t do many traditionally “manly” or “masculine” things. I didn’t play a sport, except for two years of Little League and a short-lived attempt at cross country running. I wasn’t in the Boy Scouts. I didn’t know how to pitch a tent, make a fire, use a knife, shoot a gun, tie a rope. I didn’t have a girlfriend. I didn’t even get my driver’s license until just before I left home for college.
Instead, I did a lot of things that society largely coded — and to a significant degree, still does — as effeminate. I wrote poetry. I acted in plays and musicals. I loved reading and art. I wasn’t gay, but, if you were a product of the culture of the late 1990s and early 2000s, even in a relatively liberal part of suburban New York, one could be forgiven for thinking so. Even my mom asked me if I was gay, when I was a sophomore in college.
I don’t know if I was the way I was because my older brother had sexually abused me,or in spite of it. I like to think that it’s the latter, but it’s difficult to tell when you are abused during such a formative time in your life as a child and a person. My older brother molested me from the time I 10 to 12 and a half, a fact I kept hidden from every single other person on the planet until I was 30 years old.
Set aside the fact that according to statistics from CHILD USA, the average age of disclosure of CSA is 52 years old. Set aside the academic literature that details how shame, confusion, fear, and a lack of emotional vocabulary inhibits many survivors of child sexual abuse from telling others about the abuse — if they ever do. Growing up when and I how I grew up, in the 1990s and early 2000s, it would have been monumentally humiliating to admit to anyone that my older brother abused me. If I had told a friend, the friend might have told another friend, and then it would spread like wildfire. Even if I had told a trusted adult — a teacher, guidance counselor, parent of a friend, rabbi, etc. — the odds are that, at some point the news would have leaked out to my peers.
What middle school boy is going to willingly admit such a shameful thing, and subject themselves to the humiliation that would likely follow? To have it be known that my older brother made me perform oral sex on him and that he performed oral sex on me would have been the most mortifying thing imaginable. What girl is going to want to go out with such a boy? How is that boy going to ever be able to go into a locker room at school and not have every other boy stare, gawk, harass or worse? The social stigma around abuse — that it would mark me as “not a real man”— were just some of the factors that inhibited me from saying anything to anyone. So, I didn’t.
As I grew older, after the abuse stopped, I pretended like it had never happened. I wanted to will it away, out of existence. But the insidious effects of abuse kept surfacing in embarrassing and harmful ways, even if I didn’t recognize them. Most significantly, in my 20s, I started experiencing erectile dysfunction. It was profoundly embarrassing, and let to the dissolution of a relationship and the end to several dating endeavors. But I never connected the ED to the abuse, at least not consciously.
I grew more desperate to figure out a way to address the ED. I started taking Viagra. Then Cialis. None of it seemed to work. Then, when I started dating the woman who would later become my wife, the ED issue reared its head again. I tried, at first, to downplay my history of ED because I was afraid that we’d break up if I told the truth (a lie that would come to haunt me). Eventually, she persuaded me to seek out a therapist to try and resolve the issue.
The intake form for that first therapist asked whether I had ever been the victim of neglect or physical, emotional or sexual abuse. I checked yes next to sexual abuse because I didn’t want to lie and then have it come up later in the sessions. I assumed I’d get in trouble — which shows how little I knew about therapy.
I brought up what happened in my first session, and the therapist thanked me for trusting her with that information, but I said I didn’t want to talk about it, because that’s not why I was there.
A few months later, when she left her practice, she told me that, in her experience, someone who has been sexually abused as a child is bound to have that ripple out into all facets of their life, including their intimate relationships. She urged me to start widening the circle of people who knew.
Shortly thereafter, I started seeing a new therapist who specializes in helping those who have experienced trauma, who I am still working with today. I gained more courage to tell others, including my then-girlfriend, my friends, family members and my parents (who, thankfully, believed me but expressed no interest or ability into delving into how and why this happened in our family).
In therapy, I unpacked what had happened to me. I sketched in the details of a childhood I had kept deliberately hazy, to avoid confronting the painful truth of what had happened to me. And I realized that I had not done anything wrong — before, during, or after the abuse. I had been betrayed by someone who I trusted, someone older and stronger than I was. I was afraid and scared of what was happening, so I disassociated during the abuse. Most significantly, I was a just boy and should have been doing things that boys from 10 to 12 normally do. I was robbed of my innocence and of discovering sex and my changing body my own.
I decided to go public about the abuse because I didn’t want to live with the shame of what had happened — to continue thinking, believing and acting as it was something I should be ashamed of — and I didn’t want others to, either. And I started writing poems, dozens of them, about the abuse, which eventually became a book.
Speaking out about the abuse, being public about it, and talking about it in interviews and podcasts, is something I have been proud to do. I do it because I hope it will help others. People close to me in my life have told me that they think speaking out is courageous, something for which I probably don’t give myself enough credit for.
To me, being a “real man” means being vulnerable. It means not shying away from difficult truths about your past and who you are as a person. It means dealing with messy, complicated emotions. It means going to therapy if that is what is right for you (I highly recommend it!). It means standing your ground, calling out abuse and abusers, and not caving to the demands of those who would prefer to sweep abuse under the rug at the expense of the emotional wellbeing of survivors.
There are a lot of things that our society still ascribes to masculinity. I hope, over time, that image of masculinity changes to reflect the aforementioned qualities. It’s starting to. And the more it happens, the more that abuse survivors, and men in particular, will have the room to heal.
By Elizabeth Shane
Look up. Two simple words that were once said to me and resonated. I never realised until
recently, that I have spent nearly my whole life looking down. Looking down through shame,
through fear, through self-loathing and feeling too vulnerable for people to look into my eyes
and heart in case they see the darkness I felt.
I am the youngest of five children, three from my dad’s first wife, who he divorced.
Due to her severe mental health problems and child neglect, the three children were placed in
foster care from a young age and tragically their mother committed suicide. My dad took
custody of them and moved in with him when he married my mother. She hated them from
day one. From the time I was born, I entered a world not only full of hatred, but also physical,
emotional, and sexual abuse. From a young age I had no idea my dad had started sexually
abusing my siblings and at that time, he had also began abusing me. I was never completely
sure until a few years ago when I began to get flashbacks and memories of the abuse after he
died. I was filled with such conflicting emotions from the grief of having lost my dad, but
also loving and hating him at the same time.
When I was three or four my half-brother began to sexually abuse me as well, up until
the age of about nine or ten. I don’t know how but I knew it wasn’t safe to show any emotion
or tears in front of my parents. Both were cold, detached, emotionless and extremely critical,
angry, people, especially my mother. She suffered from severe post-natal depression after I
was born and seemed to vanish from existence in my world, except when she was physically
and emotionally abusive towards me. I was petrified of both parents and could feel the anger
and hatred aimed towards me from my mother, just for being born. Even though I feared my
dad especially as I didn’t feel safe around him, I was desperate for him to love me and would
do my best to make him smile and win his approval. I never gave up hope even into
adulthood and would be rewarded in snippets, with memories of him reading me to me which
was the only positive memory I can recall between us.
When I started school, I looked down even more. Feeling different from the other kids
I thought they would see the abuse in my eyes if I looked up. I became a complete loner and
would walk around the playground on my own thinking I was a rebel by swearing out loud. I
became a target for other children to bully me for being different; they didn’t like how I
looked and was often beaten up. I never had the kind of relationship where it felt safe to tell
my parents anything as I knew they would blame me so I could never tell them what was
going on at school. I went from being bullied at school to going home and being sexually
abused by my half-brother. The highlight of my childhood was food with all my fond
memories relating to places I visited and what I had eaten.
I never spoke of my sexual abuse until I started secondary school and had watched a
TV programme where they had spoken about abuse and realised things that had happened to
me were not supposed to. I only told the basics to a few close friends but at the time it was
like reciting lines, I felt so detached from what I was saying. They didn’t know the emotional
shame behind how I felt. I never could tell them some of the sexual abuse felt enjoyable, that
I craved the attention from my half-brother and what I thought at the time was love, which I
was so desperate for. I could never share that I felt special and important at times from what
happened. The shame from this felt bigger than the actual abuse and knew this was something
I felt too humiliated to speak about, which also made me feel like an evil bad person that
would be punished.
Around the age of ten, my half-brother moved out. My whole world dropped, I had
lost the only person who had even noticed me in the house and now had nothing. I started to
experience a lot of suicidal thoughts and kept praying for my life to end and not be kept alive
into adulthood. I had the beginning of an incredibly conflicting relationship with God
thinking he was testing me with all these horrible things I was experiencing and that I failed
by not listening.
The abuse continued at the hands of other men. My uncle molested me when I was
eleven and the age of fourteen, this happened again with the boss at my first ever job,
molesting me on a regular basis. I began to wonder if I had a big neon sign on my head
saying I’m available to be abused. I had to endure this for the whole time I worked there
without saying anything to my parents yet again, as I still thought they would blame me and
was too ashamed to mention anything personal to them. I silenced myself even more, pushing
down everything I was feeling most of the time. When feelings did come out, they were
extremely self-sabotaging and full of anger and hatred towards me and the world. When I
turned eighteen my dad was arrested on suspicion of rape against my half siblings, but they
pulled out and never went through with pressing formal charges. At that time, I hoped the
police would question me too as I had decided I needed to tell them what happened but didn’t
think they would believe me, so bottled out once my dad got released. I continued to look
I never realised the impact of my abuse until I was married. I took all the anger that I
was too scared to display as a child from all the controlling, bullying behaviour shown
against me and acted the same way but to the extreme. I had no idea at the time I was
suffering with complex PTSD and a form of OCD. After 9 years together, we tried to have
children through IVF which resulted in a failed miscarriage. I was beyond devastated and
blamed my body and myself for the miscarriage. Fast forward several months and we decided
to adopt a child. Nowadays, getting a new job probably would have been less stressful and
cheaper! Going through the adoption process kicked off my PTSD to the extreme, after
reading the social workers interpretation of my life where she said I had suffered trauma. Did
I? I had no idea I did; I thought this was just my life and the only one I knew. Well, the rage
came again overnight. I thought I would explode; I just knew I had to confront my parents
and tell them. Well, that conversation went down well! Not! My dad called me a liar and my
mother couldn’t understand why I didn’t tell them and why did I move back home if they
were such awful parents? We were still going through the adoption process at this point and
had to hide it from the social workers as they would have stopped us from going any further.
By the time we adopted our son, it was two years from applying and having to hide all my
PTSD symptoms from them.
I struggled from day one to be a mother and not to feel like I was evil. I became
paranoid being around him, I would get flashbacks cleaning him and would get such intrusive
dark thoughts, I began self-harming. I knew I needed to try and deal with my trauma; it was
affecting my life with our son and was so scared of abusing him I went to the police. I knew I
had to speak my truth and finally reported my half-brother after thirty-four years. The police
believed me and did their best to try and get my half-brother arrested but as he lived abroad it
was impossible to extradite him due to the statute of limitations expiring. But he knows I
looked up and spoke the truth.
During the whole process I have been in counselling and still am. At the time, my
previous counsellor suggested I needed an outlet for my anger rather than smashing plates
and said how about joining a choir! I said no way, I had no desire to sing in front of people, I
didn’t even sing in the shower! She nagged me until I finally went and joined one. And it was
the start of a continuous positive life changing journey. For the first time I felt like I could
look up and have a voice and kept going back each week. When they had their first concert, I
sang with two other ladies. I knew next time I wanted to shine on my own and do a solo! My
choir teacher at the time also suggested I should have vocal lessons (not quite sure what she
was hinting at)! But I did, and that’s when I met my amazing inspirational singing and drama
teachers who have got me to where I am today.
I keep persevering on my journey to find myself despite suffering from extreme
anxiety, PTSD and OCD around lots of things. After twelve years of being in an office job, I
finally said that’s it. I handed my resignation in January 2020 to explore what else is out there
for me and how I can contribute positively to help other people. I had no idea I would enter in
a global pandemic with the coronavirus which affected me like it has for so many others.
My mental health nose-dived from day one of lockdown, after spending months at
home, I felt so lost. I had no direction, I had no confidence again, nothing to offer anyone and
my mental health struggled so much. After reaching my lowest point last year I had the
opportunity to go on a short family holiday to the coast. I have never felt such a connection to
the sea as I did at that point. I gave all my emotional pain to the power of the ocean. What
came back was clarity. Not only was I meant to survive the storm but walk through it with
my head held high, with acceptance and recognition of my own inner strength.
Through the support of my drama teacher, she encouraged me to discover my life
through the power of writing and gave me a safe space to explore my emotions. I began using
it as a tool to process some of my painful thoughts and feelings through poems. Poetry has
been one of my mechanisms of helping me cope with some of my emotional scars left from
childhood sexual abuse and to find my voice again. It is quite terrifying and scary to open my
heart so publicly with my poems as I’d never imagined sharing these, but it feels the right
time to do this.
Since then, my confidence started to grow. My proudest moment came when I selfpublished my poems, Silhouette of a Songbird, written about my journey through abuse, to help support others who have experienced similar trauma. I hope by sharing my journey, it gives help to others to know they are not alone. To this day, I have continued to look up.
*We have added ‘Silhouette of a Songbird’ to our Resources https://isurvive.org/helpful-resources/books-you-may-find-helpful/
Author: The Recovery Village Editorial Team
There are numerous books and blogs about how to raise a child, but the reality is, every child and family is different. There is no definitive model for how to raise a well-adjusted adult, especially for children who do not have the opportunity to develop in a healthy environment.
According to the American Society of the Positive Care of Children, 4.1 million child maltreatment referral reports were received in 2016. The Society indicates that approximately 75 percent of children are neglected, 18 percent are physically abused and 8.6 percent are sexually abused. The early exposure to trauma can influence the development of a child neurologically, cognitively and psychiatrically.
Children who experience trauma are at a higher risk of developing mental health disorders, including:
In one study, researchers found that approximately 80 percent of people who were 21 years old and had been abused as children met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychological disorder.
To understand how childhood trauma can cause various mental health and substance use disorders, it is important first to recognize what childhood trauma can include. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, individual trauma can result from an event, series of events or a set of circumstances that are experienced by someone as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening. Childhood traumas often have lasting adverse effects on a person’s functioning, as well as their mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual well-being.
Childhood trauma can include:
Many people may experience some trauma during their childhood, but what are the circumstances that cause some adults to develop mental health and substance use disorders while others do not? Some factors, known as risk factors, that can determine whether a child may develop PTSD include:
In addition to the development of PTSD, adolescents who have experienced trauma in childhood and have PTSD are 59 percent more likely to develop a substance use disorder. Someone who has experienced childhood trauma may use substances to self-medicate or numb the symptoms of a mental health disorder like PTSD.
About the Author: TheRecoveryVillage.com aims to educate the public with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and often medically reviewed. We also regularly conduct continuing education webinars for healthcare professionals and publish related news and research on behavioral health topics.
By December Rose
Do you ever lie awake at night staring at the ceiling? Wondering why your life hasn’t turned out the way you dreamed? Why everything you get yourself involved with has to just get complicated? Do you ever just find yourself sad and distant in environments where you should be happy, and routinely letting the monster in your head run wild?
I’m grateful that five-year-old me dared to dream, and kept a hopeful heart even when she was sickened with grief and torment watching her mom succumb to depression and destruction. Learning to change her baby sister’s diaper while hearing her mom wail in agony because of life’s misfortunes, five-year-old me was getting groomed to put everyone’s needs before hers; to be a people pleaser seeking approval and validation, and worst of all, believe she wasn’t enough to keep her mother happy. She walked on eggshells to be on her best behaviour to avoid reprimanding beatings, but her best could never be enough. How could it ever be, when a parent-child love can’t transcend depression of an unwell mother who had lived through domestic violence as a child?
Going home day after day from school well into my late teens was going home to the same chaotic, name-calling, hoarded, nightmare environment I wished I could just wake up from. Seeing your parent (someone you love who’s supposed to love and protect you) suffer, and realizing that you’re on your own to fend for yourself, be your own cheerleader, and be your parent’s emotional, mental, and physical outlet, is overwhelming to say the least, especially when there’s no one you can talk to who can help. Even when there were people that could help, I was too afraid word would travel back home and make an already toxic situation even worse. When the anguish officially began tanking my health and entire life (being in and out of abusive and manipulative romantic relationships that triggered anorexia, self-destructive habits and thoughts), I started seeing a therapist.
Having a healthy space to vent to someone completely objective of the situation helped give me clarity, answers that I longed for, and a path to recovery. I got to a place where I started to feel okay. That despite everything, my future didn’t have to be a reflection of my past; but deep within me nothing had truly healed. A friend once told me “a plant can’t ever bloom to its fullest and most beautiful potential in bad soil”. My soil was poison.
At twenty-two, I was sexually assaulted on what was supposed to be a friendly date. I couldn’t bring the news home because no matter what “it was my fault”. Things had been my fault since I was five. Why would now be any different? I became angry, bitter, frustrated that maybe I had become so broken that I would never be able to harvest healthy relationships in any capacity, and that happiness wasn’t on the horizon for me.
I’ve often heard that the first step towards healing is recognizing there is a problem, and that you need help. When your parent recognizes there is a problem, but chooses not to do something about it, forgiveness wouldn’t seem like the obvious choice. However, I finally realized, forgiveness wasn’t for my parent. It was a gift from me to me, to set myself free from the bondage of a dark past. The horrors remain in the shadows, and creep up all the time. The insecurities are hard to squash, but with situational perspective, context of suffering, and determination, it can be kept at bay.
Since being able to physically remove myself from the place I had long called “home”, I have finally started to make peace with the past, and work at creating the life five-year old me never stopped dreaming of; writing, singing and sharing a piece of my heart with every listener, one song at a time.
By Marie McCarthy
There are many parallels amongst trauma survivors. Whether the trauma is sexual assault or domestic violence, which often includes sexual assault, certain aspects, such as, shame and self-hatred permeate the survivor’s experience.
I’m a survivor of multiple violent sexual assaults from the ages of 4 to 13. My perpetrators were strangers and a gang of teens. I’m 54 years old now and I’m thriving as a healthy adult, an author and a psychotherapist who specializes in trauma recovery. My memories were repressed until my early forties when they surfaced as drop-to-the-floor, fight-for-my-life, flashbacks!
During my healing from trauma journey, I became aware of hidden shame that caused a devastating self-hatred because my child-self blamed herself for being repeatedly raped.
Little Marie, my child-self, believed if I keep getting hurt by someone, it must have something to do with me. I must be defective. I must be causing this or bad things wouldn’t keep happening to me. Can you relate to this flow of self-destructive thinking? Can you see how this thinking exacts a sentence of pain and a self-imposed prison that a victim of interpersonal trauma does not deserve?
Did you know shame is the belief that something is wrong with you or that you’re defective in some way? If I’m defective then it must have been my fault and if it was my fault, then I hate me! That self-hatred festered and spread like a cancer within me for 40 some years.
I had to get to my self-hatred with the help of therapy and other healing modalities in order to know it was there, and once I looked at it, I realized that I wasn’t to blame. The men who chose to commit a crime and rape me were to blame! No behavior on my part made my child-self deserve to be raped. They saw vulnerability and they chose to take advantage of my vulnerability and act out their own deep wounds. SUCH COWARDS!!
Perpetrators like domestic abusers and rapists look for someone they know they can overpower and hurt. It’s not what you were wearing or a word you uttered or the way you set down your plate on the counter. It’s about how the abuser was feeling inside themselves from their own deep wounds, along with your vulnerability in their presence at that moment. It wasn’t your fault and it wasn’t mine. It wasn’t that we were defective or deserved it. However, what we did choose was to survive by whatever means we needed in order to get through those horrific moments and LIVE.
I say “thank you” for doing what you needed to do in order to survive. I forgive us for mistakenly believing we were at fault, for hating ourselves, and for living in shame. May you and your strength to live be blessed with healing peace.
By Aaron Anderson
My Girlfriend Was Raped. What I Wish I Would Have Said to Her.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Improving Communication, Healing, and Intimacy
Imagine you are forced upon your stomach and someone is forcing you to do things you never ever wanted to do.
Your power, your will, your autonomy completely stripped from you. If you were powerless to prevent someone from exerting their will upon you, how would you feel? Knowing that the only power you have in this situation is the control of your thoughts, yet your thoughts are scattered and oscillate from moments of the quiet serenity of the smell of your mom’s homemade biscuits and the person who is violently forcing pain upon in spite of your pleas for mercy.
Unfortunately, for far too many women in America, this is a reality.
Sexual assault is a scourge in our society, and as men we have to take a more proactive stance to help those who suffer in this silent hell find peace and healing. It is not the responsibility of the victim of sexual assault to make their partner feel comfortable about their past assault. It is the responsibility of the man to be mindful and engaged in the life of his loved one to help them feel comfortable with sharing their feelings of this living nightmare. There are right ways and wrong ways to talk to your girlfriend about their past sexual assault.
Here is a common example of an ineffective approach…
What NOT to say to your girlfriend about being a victim of this heinous crime
“I had had enough! I had been dating my girlfriend for three months now, and every time I attempted to do something with her sexually she would pull away and have an excuse as to why we could not be intimate. That night something snapped inside and me, and I screamed at her, “What is wrong with you? Why won’t you let me touch you?!” She immediately began sobbing and told me to leave. I left dumbfounded and angry. The next day we met and she told me that the reason that she has problems with sexual intimacy is that five years ago she was raped by a former boyfriend. That really floored me. I was not expecting that at all. We broke up soon after this, and all I could think about was I wish I would have handled that situation differently.”
That story comes from a client I that I used to work with. He was devastated because a relationship he was really invested in ended because of his insensitivity. This is a prime example of the classic male handicap: looking for the seen and concocting solutions rather than listening and seeking the unseen. Yes, I know that there is no way he could’ve read his girlfriend’s mind to know of her past sexual assault, but in this day and age guys have to be aware of the epidemic of rape and sexual assault that pervades this planet. One in five women in the United States will experience sexual assault at some point in their lives. Any male looking to find a life mate to care for in a committed relationship has to be aware of this fact because one in five is an astronomical number. It means that of every five women that you know, at least one of them have been sexually assaulted. So that means that there are more victims of sexual assault in America than there are Beyoncé fans! Fellas, that should be a wakeup call to all of us, and it speaks to the fact that it is imperative that men are aware of the signs that show that your girlfriend might have been sexually assaulted so that you can prevent the disaster that happened to the man at the beginning of this article. There is no definitive list of signs that someone has been sexually assaulted because everyone processes trauma in different ways; however, there are a few signs that manifest often in victims of sexual assault.
Three Signs That Your Girlfriend Might Have Been Sexually Assaulted
Women who have been sexually assaulted regularly show a strong aversion toward sexual intimacy with partners. If you have been in a relationship with someone and they avoid sexual contact, you might try to address it in a polite way to see what is causing that. It could be anything from being taught that sex is dirty to having been sexually assaulted. Communication leads to understanding, and understanding leads to intimacy. Most people think that intimacy means sexual intercourse. That assumption is far from the truth. The prerequisite to intercourse is communication and a sense of safety.
SOLUTION: Gentlemen, before you try to be intimate with your girlfriend, focus on communicating with her in a way that fosters open discourse and understanding. Ask gentle questions like:
The important thing is to use “I” statements and to not make it seem like it’s her fault, because it absolutely isn’t.
If your girlfriend has a problem letting people get close to her or has a problem trusting people, this could also be a sign of being sexually assaulted in the past. Clearly, this type of trauma has a devastating effect on the psyche and can turn the most trusting individual into someone who cannot believe a word anyone tells them. There is a saying that goes “The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.” Keep in mind that the victims of sexual assault were innocent and often trusted someone they felt close to. That creates a deep emotional chasm that is hard to cross.
SOLUTION: If your significant other shows signs of mistrust such as always questioning you or not believing the things you tell them, you should talk to her about it. Try asking questions like:
Women who have experienced this type of trauma usually have a problem trusting men from that point on. If your girl is always complaining about how bad men are, you should take note. You could one day in a normal everyday conversation talk about how you understand why women don’t trust guys because of infidelity, sexual assault, etc. Let it be an organic conversation though; you don’t want to force this.
SOLUTION: For example, maybe you two are watching a movie or TV show with a rape scene or a guy being violent toward a woman, and you say something like:
Remember, a victim of sexual assault is very apprehensive about talking about their past trauma so make sure you are cultivating a relationship built on respect, trust, and love so that your partner will feel secure to talk to you openly about their assault and their life in general.
Sexual assault affects the human brain in deep and profound ways. As a boyfriend, you should strive to build an environment where your girlfriend feels protected so that she can openly share with you and so that you can say things that will spurn her on toward healing so that your relationship can continue to flourish rather than fizzle out. What you say to your girlfriend who has been sexually assaulted can make or break your relationship.
What is the difference between a good boyfriend and a true gentleman (the type of man that every woman pines for)? A good boyfriend shows care and concern for his mate; a true gentleman is an advocate for his lover. He does not seek to avenge the wrong done to his lover. He does not dismiss her thoughts or pain. Rather, he partners with her to be a champion for her to help her heal from the despicable crime of sexual assault.
Gentlemen, I challenge you to be emotional gladiators for your girlfriends and show them that you are there to help them heal so that we can normalize conversations about sexual assault and the victims have an output to step out of the dark into the light.
About the author: Aaron resides in Virginia Beach, VA with his wife and two sons. He is an Army Veteran who specialized in Human Resources and continued his education to obtain a master’s degree in Professional Counseling. Currently, he is working to help break the cycle of violence by counseling juvenile sex offenders and at-risk youth.
Some surprising ways I have healed from childhood sexual abuse
You’ve made that first difficult, brave but significant step and told someone about the sexual abuse or rape you have endured. Perhaps you have progressed further and received some therapy. At this point I hope you have come further than you could have ever imagined from those dark hours, days and even years that have consumed more time than you thought possible. Think about that for a moment. No matter where you are in your journey, you have moved forward. You are no longer hiding this dark secret, you have let it go by telling someone. There is a real freedom in that.
Speaking and talking through our experiences helps us to make sense of our feelings. I find speaking to others and sharing my worries a truly empowering experience and I get a lot of solace from it. It hasn’t always been that way though. Keeping silent for six years whilst my stepfather was abusing me took its toll on my verbal communication. When I am particularly stressed or under pressure, I still go into shut down, my powers of communication recede dramatically and I can become insular and silent again, a child once again locked in with my own private dementors.
Having counselling was a lot like pulling teeth at the beginning, but gradually with the encouragement of my counsellor and a lot of hard work from me, I started to realise the benefits of talking things through. The process has helped me to check in with myself and recognise when I am feeling negative emotions and be aware of them. Counselling has also taught me a lot about acceptance.
Acceptance is another powerful emotional tool in our box. When I recognise myself going through the motions of shutting down, edging back from society, friends, my husband and even my children, I try to practise acceptance. The faster I can accept that I am not feeling quite right, that my emotions and negativity are beginning to dominate my everyday life, I consciously tell myself that I am not feeling 100% right now; I consciously acknowledge that I cannot be fighting fit every day, and I accept that this feeling does exist, that it is real. It sounds trivial, the idea of acceptance, but when I can acknowledge and truly accept my negative feelings, they seem to swim away until after a few days, I have bounced back and I feel as if the world is a far nicer place once again.
For more clarity on the art of acceptance, Windy Dryden’s ’10 Steps to Positive Living’ *1 explores this in greater detail.
As well as receiving counselling with Family Matters UK, I have tried other methods of healing with various degrees of success. I am a great reader and there are many useful books out there that can help us to heal and deal with our experiences. I will list the books I have found the most helpful at the end of this blog. Exercise, yoga, meditation, eating healthily, spending time with friends and loved ones all have important roles to play in our emotional wellbeing. I would like to talk about the more surprising methods that have worked for me.
Some people are very uncomfortable with crying, especially the British. I know, because I am a Brit. I am also a crier. I don’t care, I am a crier and you know what they say, its better out than in. I recently had an unexpected experience in a Yoga class (another fantastic tool in my recovery box). I was doing some routine chest stretches when suddenly my head started to swim and I felt an overwhelming tide of emotion overcome me. Halfway through my class, I can honestly say, I cried and cried, and cried some more, loudly and without pause, I cried with a force that surprised me, and certainly surprised the rest of the class. And you know what, I was a little embarrassed and miffed as to why that exercise had caused such a dramatic reaction A few members of the class were clearly a bit uncomfortable with my public display of grief, but I was also amazed at the positive responses I also received. One of the class members approached me in the coming weeks to tell me how empowering she had found my crying. Others confided how they found their own tears difficult to access ad they would love to be able to release in that way.
I have always feel much, much better after a good cry, it’s a significant release, and after reading Judith Oriole’s article in Psychology Today, I understand why. She sites Biochemist and “tear expert” Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis who through his research has discovered that our emotional tears contain stress hormones which get extracted when we cry, which “shed these hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress”. This would explain why, after a good cry, we feel calmer and more peaceful as “Typically, after crying, our breathing, and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state.”
That’s why crying for me is always courageous, authentic and strong.
Recognising our traumas in our bodies
Over a period, I have become much more aware of the stress that sexual abuse or rape leaves behind in the memories of our bodies. We often apply body memory to sports practises but times of intense stress also leave a memory print in our bodies. Body memory is a hypothesis that the body itself can store memories, as opposed to only the brain. Our bodies react to stress in various ways – perhaps by our hearts beating faster, holding our breath, swallowing down air, holding tension in our stomachs, amongst other things. Many experts believe this stays in your body as trapped energy.
I have found connecting to my body through yoga and breathing techniques has made me far more aware of where my body holds stress and anxiety. Using this knowledge in alternative therapies has allowed me to release a lot of anxiety from my tummy, an area where I have held butterflies and tensions for many years.
An interesting article by Side Effects Public Media explores the effects of childhood trauma and how it shapes the brain and examines the benefits of yoga to help release these emotions and reshape the brains pathways.
One of my most surprisingly successful and enduring alternative therapies has been EFT, or Emotional Freedom Techniques.
EFT is a relatively new discovery but draws from traditional practices of acupressure. It is often referred to as “psychological acupressure”. The technique works by releasing blockages within the energy system which are the source of emotional intensity and discomfort. These blockages in our energy system, in addition to challenging us emotionally, often lead to limiting beliefs and behaviours and an inability to live life harmoniously. It is now widely accepted that emotional disharmony is a key factor in physical symptoms and dis-ease and for this reason these techniques are being extensively used on physical issues, including chronic illness with often astounding results. As such these techniques are being accepted more and more in medical and psychiatric circles as well as in the range of psychotherapies and healing disciplines. The Energy Centre
My own experiences with EFT began 12 years ago when I was living in Muswelll Hill, North London. when I happened upon a therapist that practiced EFT in Crouch End. I was originally searching for hypnotherapy, but the information I was reading about EFT was compelling and I wanted to know more. I was also desperate for a fix to my emotional pain , preferably a quick and painless one (aren’t we all?!) and the article I was reading seem to tick all of those required boxes. I was suffering with acute panic and anxiety whenever I was required to be intimate with my boyfriend and my fear was destroying the relationship. Something had to be done and fast. Simply tap the body in certain areas and relieve emotionally crippling symptoms. Tick, tick, tick. Cynical but desperate, desperation won and I found myself in another therapy room.
My therapist asked me to think about the issue that was bothering me. I felt the familiar wave of shame, self-disgust, guilt, wash over me. She told me to find my ‘Sore Spot’ or the Neurolymphatic point and press down in circular movements whilst focusing on these negative emotions. She then tapped me on different points or meridians on my face and body. Then she instructed me to repeat over and over the following. ‘Even though I have this anxiety with intimacy, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.” This was repeated three times.
To say that EFT had a profound effect on me is an understatement. Twelve years later, I still pinch myself a little. Two very profound things happened to me after my first session. The intense memories of the sexual abuse no longer had any emotion attached to them. I could (and still do) watch the scene of myself in the bed with my stepfather and it’s like a video is being played, I simply don’t feel anything. Also, the very next morning, I woke up and without any prior conscious warning, I decided that the relationship that I was in was no longer fulfilling me. After a morning of frank and honest discussions about our happiness together, we both agreed that we were not happy together anymore and after five years together we parted ways. I do not know if this is some huge coincidence but something in that session centred me and changed my energy quite profoundly. I knew completely and absolutely that it was time to move on. Only shortly after I became romantic with the man who is now my husband and the father of my two boys.
I am not completely free of the pain that I suffered as a child, the abuse has shaped my life and who I am as a person. It does not define me though and there are many other facets to me than the abuse. I try to remember how far I have come, the many journeys of self-discovery I have taken and doubtlessly always will. I love and accept myself for who I am and the experiences I have had. I can only write about my experiences and what works for me. Others will have had very different journeys to find their inner peace. Whatever your journey is just remember to accept, love and be kind, the rest will follow when you are ready.
If you have experienced sexual abuse or rape, then there are people who can help you.
UK: Family Matters UK offer support services for male and female survivors of rape and sexual abuse
By Joleene Gonzalez
Author: Trisha Miller
Even long after emotional or physical abuse has ended, the effects will remain. A single bout of abuse can change a person’s mental state forever. However, redetermining the course of your life, who you are as a person, and how to maintain healthy relationships is a gift that every person deserves to receive. Still, the most “emotionally strong” individual cannot always see the ways that abuse can and will affect their life. We are not our abuse and we do not have to live as such.
Subtle Signs of Abuse
Emotional or physical abuse can affect children in a myriad of ways. Something subdued like reclusiveness or unwillingness to participate in social activities can become present. On the other hand, it very well may manifest itself is a much louder way, such as severe mood swings, anxiety, depression, anger etc.
All of these signs can grow into much larger mental health problems down the line. As an example, a child may grow into a teen who hurts themselves in order to try to work through their pain. Another common example is experimentation with drugs in order to numb the pain they may feel each day.
Unfortunately, we are not all equipped with the mental tools we need at birth. There is not a switch that can be turned on to make things right and good. No amount of love and caring or drugs and pain can heal these types of wounds. We must mentally condition ourselves regularly to properly process abuse. The brain is a muscle and it must be worked out in order to make connections we may not have seen previously.
Someone who suffered from an abusive relationship often feels that they have a weight on their shoulders or a dark past following them everywhere they go. Keeping something like that inside is never a choice that leads to happiness and fulfillment. Of course, no one should be forced to tell their story before they are ready, but constantly pushing down the symptoms of abuse is just not a way to live.
Those who seek professional help often feel a release of responsibility from their abuse. They are no longer attached to an event that does not define their character or the course of their life. Someone who has been defined by their abuse their entire life now has the delightful opportunity to decide what kind of person they would like to be and pursue that to their full capability.
Sadly, those who feel that they do not need help may not be able to experience life to its fullest extent. Those who truly live a happy and fulfilled life are able to make sound decisions for themselves and their loved ones. They maintain long, happy, and balanced relationships. They are able to proactively handle stress, anxiety, and sadness. And they are endowed with confidence and self-worth. If you feel that as a direct result of your abuse you are not able to achieve these things, then you can benefit from professional help.
If you or someone you know was a victim of abuse, it is never too late to seek professional help. Having the satisfaction of knowing your life is entirely your own and that you are not controlled by your abuse, is beautifully priceless. Although it may be difficult, showing someone the way towards mental health by asking them to get help is a step in the right direction. Show someone you care by surrounding them with love and support. This is the best possible way to ensure their safety and happiness.
Author: Juliusz Wodzianski (LLB PGDip MSC MBACP)
One of the things that doctors and others involved with well-being tell us is that we need to take care of ourselves. We should eat nutritious food, be well hydrated, take exercise, be mindful, take time to relax and have nurturing relationships.
All of that is good advice, but are we all able to do those things? What is the effect of stress and depression on our ability to take care of ourselves, what is the effect of having low self-esteem?
One of the things that I have noticed in my therapeutic work with abuse survivors is that clients often have low self-esteem. This low self-esteem can often manifest in different ways:
‘Being a victim’, is understandable having regard to the patterns established in early life, where silence and acceptance is often the only coping mechanism. Being abused whether physically, sexually, emotionally or mentally leads to psychological scars which can take time to heal. An abusive relationship in later life may appear to be the only relationship that an abuse survivor may feel that he or she deserves.
The positive message though is that the scars can heal, and abuse survivors can overcome the historical issues which continue to play out in their lives. The process of healing can take some time as building a relationship involving trust with a therapist is a delicate act for an abuse survivor. This requires a skilled and empathic counsellor or psychotherapist that can work with whatever an abuse survivor may bring into the therapy room. The transformation for abuse survivors who engage in counselling and psychotherapy can be remarkable. However, this is a process that cannot be rushed as the work can only proceed at the pace that is right for the client. Opening too much trauma before the client has the ability to cope with it might be counter-productive.
There are many approaches to talking therapy based on different theoretical frameworks. The one thing that is common across the board is that they are all based on the element of dialogue, primarily moving from the client. One comment that is made by a number of commentators, and where there is some level of agreement, is that it is the relationship between the therapist and the client that heals. Different therapeutic models may have a different understanding as to how their methods bring about healing, but it is perhaps not necessary to understand exactly how the process brings about healing as long as it does.
People often think of counselling and psychotherapy as a system by which a client lies on a couch with the therapist silently sitting behind him or her or to the side whilst the client talks about their dreams. Whilst that is one approach, it is not the only one. This type of work is the process of psychoanalytic analysis where a client may well see the therapist two or three times a week for many years.
At the other end of the scale, patients referred to a counsellor by their GPs are more likely to be seen within an Improved Access to Psychological Therapies set up, where the number of sessions will be limited to a number, quite typically six, spaced at weekly intervals. Cognitive behavioural therapy is popular within the NHS framework, possibly because its practitioners have carried out the most research.
There is also person centred counselling (where the sessions are effectively led by the client), psychodynamic counselling (where behaviour is looked at from the perspective of the type of relationship that the client had with their parents or guardians and significant other persons when very young), transpersonal counselling (the unexplained or soul dimension being key), existential therapy (considering the meaning of life and our place in it) and so on. To confuse matters even more there are also therapies that involve some level of body work such as emotional freedom technique (where acupressure points are tapped) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (replicating rapid eye movement in sleep where memories are stored in the correct area of the brain) which has been shown to be effective in a number of clients presenting with post-traumatic stress disorder.
My own training has been on an integrative basis incorporating a number of different theoretical perspectives and which therefore gives me a greater number of tools with which I can work with. My only concern, and which should be at the core of all therapeutic work, is how can I help this client before me right now.
I personally have not known counselling and psychotherapy to be unhelpful to any client that I have worked with. As with all things however, it is very important to work within the framework of what the client is ready to explore. Rushing in and opening up traumatic episodes at a very early stage may not be the best way to engage in the counselling process.
One of the key areas of distinction between counselling and psychotherapy is that the former is often seen as short term work (for example, six sessions) whereas psychotherapy is often considered to be longer term work. It is sometimes considered that counselling is very helpful at dealing with immediate issues, whereas psychotherapy enables the client and the counsellor to engage at greater depth and encourage understanding of why the client responds to certain things in the way that he or she does.
My own view is that the client is in charge of him or herself, and is the best person to judge what they may need. The counsellor and psychotherapist is, in some ways, a facilitator along a journey.
Talk therapy can be immensely helpful to abuse survivors. The key to successful therapy stems from the relationship between the client and the therapist, and it is therefore of tremendous importance that the client finds a therapist that he or she can trust. It is also very important to check that the therapist is professionally trained and a member of a recognised professional body, and has experience of having worked with abuse survivors. In the UK, the two largest professional bodies are the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, both of which maintain a register of current members. The most comprehensive directory for therapists in the UK is the Counselling Directory (which only lists professionally qualified therapists).
Juliusz Wodzianski LLB PGDip MSc MBACP is a practising counsellor and psychotherapist based in Finchley and Uxbridge, London. Juliusz can be contact via the links below:
Tel: 07973 269356
The views expressed in this article are those of Juliusz Wodzianski alone.
Author: Trey Dyer
The link between child abuse and future adult drug abuse is strong. More than 66 percent of those in treatment for substance use disorders report abuse during their childhood — including physical, mental and sexual abuse or neglect — according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect found childhood abuse rates as high as 84 percent among those in treatment for substance abuse.
United States child protection services receive approximately 3 million reports involving 5.5 million children each year. Of those 3 million cases, nearly 30 percent involve child abuse. In those cases:
These types of abuse can lead to lasting trauma. About two-thirds of child abuse cases go unreported.
Survivors of child abuse often develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the trauma they faced as children. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after an individual experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. Those who develop the disorder may experience fear, stress or anxiety about their safety as a result of the trauma even when there is no threat to them. About 5 percent of adolescents develop PTSD; however, more than 21 percent of foster care alumni develop PTSD.
Researchers at Hofstra University compared three groups of foster care children and found that approximately 60 percent of those who were sexually abused were diagnosed with PTSD, and 42 percent of those who were physically abused developed the disorder.
PTSD is also inextricably linked to substance abuse. Those who suffer from PTSD may turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication to cope with the emotions brought on by the disorder.
Surveys by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Chestnut Health Systems found that more than 70 percent of adolescents receiving treatment for substance abuse reported a history of trauma exposure. Multiple studies, including one from Harvard Medical School, found that up to 59 percent of adolescents with PTSD develop a substance use disorder during their lifetime.
Women are particularly at risk of developing co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorders. In a study involving nearly 200 adolescents with substance use disorders, 45.3 percent of female adolescents developed PTSD during their lifetime, compared to 24.3 percent of male adolescents.
Multiple studies show that 25 to 76 percent of teens with substance use disorders started using drugs or alcohol following trauma exposure and 14 to 59 percent started using at the onset of PTSD.
Support for survivors of child abuse is pivotal to preventing them from developing substance use disorders and PTSD. These individuals face trauma and often have no guardian or trusted adult for support, making the emotional damage even more devastating.
If your child survived a traumatic experience and is showing signs such as anger, sleep problems or a change in school performance, you may need to get help from a mental health professional who treats children with PTSD.
About the Author: Trey Dyer is a writer for DrugRehab.com and advocate for people with substance use disorders. Trey is passionate about helping people with mental health and substance use disorders reach the treatment they need to get healthy. When Trey is not writing, he can be found fly fishing, traveling and smoking BBQ.
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