Are You a Magnet For Abuse?
The effects of physical, sexual, or emotional are long-lasting and often devastating. Once abused, we are inclined to repeat our experiences. If you were sexually abused as a child, it’s not uncommon to be abused again as a teenager or adult. I often work with clients who were abused as children and then marry abusive people. We unconsciously seek out situations that mirror back to us our original wound, so we can turn our attention to it and heal it.
Being honest with ourselves and facing our fears is the first step toward breaking the abuse cycle:
Healing from Abuse
How can you heal from abuse? How can you put your life back together? With truth. Your anguish can become so great that you hide from the truth, just as you tried to hide from your abusers. But acknowledging what happened and releasing yourself from the pain is how you can set yourself free.Let’s look at the truth about abuse and see what can be done to heal the scars that are much harder to see. Let’s look at the truth about abuse and see what can be done to heal the scars that are much harder to see.
Prevalence of Sexual Abuse
“I wanted to find real love. But it was a far-fetched dream because of all the dream-smashing going on around me. I couldn’t even love myself.” – Mary J. Blige
When we look at the number of children who are abused, it is astonishing. When you are the victim of abuse, it seems like you are so alone. Unfortunately, there are millions of others just like you, struggling with the same emotions and experiences. The following stark statistics show us the prevalence of sexual abuse in our country:
- More than 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys are abused sexually before the age of 18.
- About 39 million people in the United States are survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
- About 30-40% of victims are abused by someone in their family, and another 50% are abused by a family friend or acquaintance.
- Only 10% are abused by strangers.
- More than 20% of all children are abused before they reach age 8.
- Around 80% of children who suffer abuse deny it. Around 75% accidentally disclose, and of those, 20% later recant out of fear. Very few (0.5%) falsely accuse.
- Approximately 30% of victims never tell anyone of their experiences.
(Statistics compiled by the Darkness to Light organization)
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I find that last statistic especially disturbing. Many suffer in silence and never get the help they need. Shame, guilt, embarrassment – whatever the reason, they never tell another living soul about their abuse. It becomes a secret that burdens them long after the abuse has physically ended. In a way, it never ends. We will discuss healing from abuse later, but rest assured that there is a path out of the darkness. It begins with acknowledging what has happened.
Incest can be defined as any sexual act or relationship between close family members. Legal definitions regarding what constitutes incest vary between states, countries, and cultures. Generally, though, legal systems have categorized sexual acts between family members related by blood, marriage, or adoption—family members between whom marriage would be considered illegal—as incestuous.
While the most commonly acknowledged type of incest dictates a two-person, victim-perpetrator relationship, incest also occurs in a number of other ways, including group sex, sex rings, child pornography and prostitution, and other forms of sex trade organized or encouraged by close relatives. According to www.rainn.org, the most common types of incest involve the abuse of a child or adolescent by an older family member (i.e. a parent, sibling, uncle, aunt, or grandparent).
Incest is Sexual Abuse
Incest is a serious form of sexual abuse that affects our emotional wellness, our emotional health. This abuse, especially since it is often perpetrated by a close relative whom we have been taught to trust, confuses our understanding of what constitutes appropriate boundaries and hinders our ability to set our own. Often, too, victims feel unsupported by other family members, who fear that reporting—or even acknowledging—a known incestuous relationship will destroy their family. As a result, victims feel pressure to keep quiet and hide the truth about their abuse, continuing instead to suffer, for “the good of the family,” at the hands of supposed loved ones. As a result of the mind body connection, these psychological distortions affect our physiology, changing our cellular memories and distorting our energy centers—our chakras. Victims of incest often suffer from a distorted second chakra, causing a range of related physical difficulties. These include everything from urinary problems, chronic lower back pain, and ovarian cancer to multiple types of sexual dysfunction.
Truth heals, and in order to restore emotional health and relieve the physical and emotional pain that incest creates, it is essential to first become aware of our pain and subsequently reorder and restructure our energy fields. Holistic healing can help restore balance to damaged energy systems, allowing us to fully restore our emotional wellness.
The Ultimate Secret
“He was very brutal against me. And when I did not agree to have sex, then the kids would suffer. We knew he would kick us or be bad to us.” These are the words that Elizabeth Fritzl spoke in her first interview after being freed from the basement that was her home and her prison for 24 years.
The Fritzl case brought worldwide attention to the issue of incest early in 2008 when it was discovered that Austrian Josef Fritzl had been raping his daughter for decades. In this most extreme of cases, Elizabeth had seven children by her father. It is believed that the abuse started when Elizabeth was 11. When she was 15, she ran away and went into hiding. Unfortunately, and tragically, she was returned by the police to her parents. At age 18, she was lured into the basement, drugged, and handcuffed. For the next 24 years, she endured rape, physical abuse, and emotional abuse at the hands of her father only a staircase away from the rest of the household – from her mother and three of her seven children whom her father had chosen to live with him.
This case made headlines all over the world. What kind of monster would lock his daughter up for 24 years? What kind of monster would keep babies in a cellar, having them grow up in semi-darkness. (One child, Stefan, was so tall, he had to stoop in order to walk or stand; he still cannot walk properly.) What kind of monster would rape his own daughter?
This last question is the one at the heart of all incest: who would do this to their own child, or to a sibling or relative? Incest, which is defined in different ways by different people, usually refers to sexual contact between family members. As our family structure changes, the definition has grown to include step-family members as well.
While we may think that incest is such an abomination that it couldn’t possibly happen so frequently, it is actually a hidden crime that occurs all across our country. Race, religion, economic or social status—none of these make a difference. Incest does not discriminate.
- Around 4.5% of women report that they have had an incestuous experience with either a father or stepfather.
- About 4.9% of women report an incestuous experience with an uncle.
- Approximately 66% of all prostitutes who admit they were sexually abused acknowledge it was by their father, step-father or foster father.
- Some 68% of all incest incidents take place in the victim’s home.
- Eldest or only daughters are most likely to be victimized.
A study done in the 1970s found several similarities within families where incest has taken place; the most common was estrangement between mother and daughter.
This was true in my family. My mother hated her role, and I believed she hated me as well. This passage from my book, Truth Heals: What You Hide Can Hurt You, may help shed some light on why incest is a family problem, not just one between the abuser and the victim:
Everything about sex and pregnancy disgusted her. It was distasteful, obscene, and stirred memories of illicit touching from her own childhood. She viewed pregnancy as even dirtier if the progeny turned out to be female. Girls were the source of all evil and seduced men into sin[;] this belief was central to my mother’s view of reality.
My mother ignored what was happening as my father abused me. Objectively, I am able now to see her as a product of her own upbringing, but as a child, this seemed like an even larger betrayal than what my father was doing to me. Having been betrayed by both parents is a devastating experience for any child.
The effects of incest can last a lifetime. They include:
- Eating disorders
- Low self-esteem
- Depression and anxiety
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Difficulty maintaining healthy relationships
- Sexual dysfunction (including promiscuity or fear of sex)
- Dissociative disorders
These effects can be present even if the victim does not remember the abuse. This is especially common if the victim is very young and dissociates or separates from the abuse. Their bodies stay, but their minds flee to safer places. While this is a survival reaction, dissociation can have severe consequences later in life. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, the victim may even develop alternate personalities to deal with the pain.
Incest is such a terrible crime because it is perpetrated by the very people who are supposed to take care of us and keep us from harm. It can be very difficult to recover from this, but it is possible. You can lead a healthy happy life even after incest. I frequently work with incest victims in my Truth Heals workshops. Hands-on healing can do much to clear the residue of sexual abuse from the body and the surrounding field, freeing the individual to begin the healing process. Energy healing works best in conjunction with other modalities like acupuncture, massage and talk therapy.
Rape and Violence
Rape is defined as sexual intercourse forced on a person without consent. The legal definition can expand to include forced oral sex or other sexual acts, but this varies between states, countries, and cultures. Rape can be heterosexual or homosexual, and while usually enacted by men, cases have also been reported with women as the perpetrators.
Rape is a violent crime, and though the violence is perpetrated through various forms of sex, rape is not about sex—it is about an exertion of power. The powerlessness rape victims consequently experience affects their emotional health—their spiritual health—creating feelings of disempowerment, shame, humiliation, and guilt. Perpetrators can also harm their victims physically, changing cellular memory, inflicting bruises and cuts, and in the most violent cases, causing death.
Various forms of rape exist. Gang rape is an act of rape whereby multiple perpetrators force sexual acts on a victim. Date rape generally occurs between two people who are dating or know each other and is defined as a forced sexual act whereby the perpetrator uses sedation, drugs, or pressure to override the victim’s lack of consent. Marital rape involves forced sexual acts on a husband or wife by his/her partner when the victim refuses consent. Statutory rape involves consensual or non-consensual sexual acts between an adult (perpetrator) and a minor (victim).
Statistics from indicate that 25% of girls and 17% of boys are sexually assaulted by the age of 18, and that female survivors abused during childhood are at much greater risk than their peers for developing eating disorders (18% compared with 6%) and abusing illegal drugs (30% compared with 13%), and are three times more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders.
These statistics indicate distortion in the energy centers—the first and second chakras, specifically—of rape victims. Truth heals, and in order for victims to regain their spiritual health and relieve the physical and emotional pain that rape causes, victims must first become aware of the pain and subsequently restructure distorted energy fields. Holistic healing can restore balance to damaged energy systems, allowing full restoration of emotional wellness.
Sexual Abuse and the Church
I grew up in a Catholic household and attended Catholic school. I had a deep love for the saints, and especially for Mother Mary. My father must have confessed his “sins” to the priest, because one day before I was ten years old the priest caught me alone, told me I was a terrible temptress, and pushed me to my knees as he raised his cassock so he could “straighten me out.”
Part of what makes incest such a terrible crime is that it involves the betrayal of a child by a trusted family member, someone who is supposed to provide care, support, and love. This is central to the issue of sexual abuse and the Catholic Church. It has recently come to light that some priests – men whom many people ironically call “Father” – had violated their sacred trust and harmed scores of children.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice was commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to complete a detailed survey of the scope of the abuse that took place from 1950 to 2002, when numerous cases of abuse were made public. Here are some of their findings:
- Some 110,000 priests served during this time frame, and 4450 were accused of abuse
- There were 11,000 allegations in total
- About 6700 were substantiated
- Around 1000 were unsubstantiated
- About 3300 were not investigated because the priest in question was deceased
- Approximately 78% of victims were ages 11-17
- Some 16% were ages 8-10
- About 6% were 7 or younger
What enraged people all over the world (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) was that much of this abuse was covered up in the hopes that the Church could avoid scandal. In an especially egregious example, Archbishop Law of the massive Boston Diocese admitted in court papers that he had given Rev. John Geoghan a coveted position in an affluent parish, which incidentally made him vicar of a parochial school. The problem? At least seven allegations of sexual abuse had already been made against Geoghan. These were known to Bishop Law, and yet he sent Geoghan to a parish school setting, thus endangering more children. As this came to light, there were no less than 86 victims of abuse by Geoghan alone.
The abuse of power, the hypocrisy, and the apparent lack of concern over the welfare of children shocked and angered people around the world, Catholics in particular. Millions of people take comfort in their religion and in the Church, and the scandal took away their faith in the people who were supposed to guide them. Meanwhile, the children lived their lives with this burden of shame, embarrassment, and secrets.
Tom Koldeway was a victim of abuse at the hands of Harold Robert White, a former priest in a small Colorado town. Koldeway was nine when the abuse took place, and he kept his secret for decades. When he finally told, he found out that White had also abused his brother and sister. Koldeway filed suit against the Archdiocese of Denver because they had known of allegations of White’s sexual abuse, yet they kept moving him from parish to parish to avoid complaints. It is believed that the Church knew as early as 1961 that White abused children, and yet he was not defrocked until 1993. Tom Koldeway said of his successful lawsuit:
I get the most satisfaction out of the settlement being able to reveal the church conspiracy in this matter. I feel fulfillment through this. I feel justification. I have no regrets.
Victims of Church sexual abuse experience after-effects typical of other sexual abuse victims, including:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Guilt and shame
- Acting out in school or social situations
- Sleep disorders
- Drug and alcohol addictions
- Eating disorders
- Re-victimization (victims of sexual abuse are more likely to be victims of rape or other abuse later on)
The side effects can be short-term (defined as within two years of the abuse occurrence) or long-term (affecting children far into adulthood). Also, like victims of incest, victims of clergy abuse feel great shame and live in secrecy. If victims decide to disclose, it takes an average of 18 years for them to come forward.
Pope Benedict has led the Catholic Church’s efforts to redress the wrongs perpetrated by these priests. He met with a group of victims and gave them the opportunity to discuss their experiences and their feelings. Bernie McDaid, who was among the victims at the meeting, said, “I told him that he has a cancer growing in his ministry and needs to do something about it.”
And, at last, it appears that something is being done. Pope Benedict traveled to Washington, DC to deliver a Mass dedicated to the victims of clergy abuse. Mr. McDaid said of the service:
I don’t go to Mass, but today I went with my mother, and his sermon there and his apology about the sexual abuse blew me away, and I had tears in my eyes that I wasn’t ready to have. It was an incredible moment for me.
The acknowledgement of their pain has helped many on their way to healing. The Church has adopted a zero tolerance policy in regards to abusive clergymen, so we can hope that if abuse does occur, it is not kept hidden.
Physical and Emotional Abuse
Physical abuse is just as damaging to young bodies and souls, and sadly, just as prevalent. The following figures are from the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information:
- Child Protective Services agencies all over the United States receive about 50,000 calls reporting suspected child abuse and/or neglect each week.
- Some 896,000 children were found to be victims of abuse or neglect.
- About four children die each day as a result of abuse or neglect.
- Around 41% of children who die from child abuse are under one year of age; 75% are under four.
- Approximately 33% of abuse victims will go on to abuse their own children.
This last statistic is why getting help is so important. Revisiting your own abuse on your children is the most terrible consequence of childhood abuse. We may not have been able to prevent our own experiences, but we can take steps to ensure that we do not perpetuate it.
Another form of abuse, and one that we don’t often hear of, is emotional abuse. It is very difficult to define, and it often goes underreported. In general, however, emotional abuse involves rejection, degradation, intimidation, or threatening, exploiting, withholding love and support, and isolating the victim from others. Emotional abuse is present with other forms of abuse as well. And as it can occur on its own, it is the most prevalent type of abuse. Despite this, there is not a lot of research into this area. Many victims are never identified nor do they seek help. Of the 896,000 cases of childhood physical abuse, it is reported that only 7% were victims of emotional abuse. Of course, it is more likely that 100% were victims of emotional abuse, and 7% experienced no other form of abuse in conjunction. Despite the lack of solid statistics, we can be certain that this terrible crime is far more common than we would like to believe.
Domestic Violence and Battered Wife Syndrome
“Domestic violence causes far more pain that the visible marks of bruises and scars. It is devastating to be abused by someone that you love and think loves you in return.” –Diane Feinstein
The number of incidents of domestic violence is staggering. It is estimated that physical violence occurs in about four to six million relationships each year in the U. S. A full quarter of American women will experience abuse in their lifetimes. Worldwide, at least one-third of women have been beaten, raped, or abused, and the perpetrator is often a member of her own family.
Domestic violence affects families from affluent communities and those from poor ones, the educated and non-educated, varying ethnicities, and those who are heterosexual and homosexual. In short, this is a problem that affects families just like yours. Chances are great that you know someone who has been abused by a spouse, partner, boyfriend, or girlfriend, or that you yourself have known this violence. Actress Christina Applegate – beautiful, talented, and wealthy – shows us that no one is immune from domestic abuse. She was in an abusive relationship for three years.
“I felt I couldn’t trust people, and [my boyfriend] came into my life and said all the things that someone in my position needed to hear: ‘You can trust me. I’m the only one who’s on your side.’ A lot of brainwashing. His control over me was his main focus. That’s how it started . . . From there it got darker and darker, his desire for control became harder for him, ‘till finally it was violence, frightening and all very dramatic. I’d like people to realize that anybody can get themselves into that kind of situation. I hate it when people say, ‘Oh, she was weak, that’s how it happened.’ It has nothing to do with that.”
Domestic violence, or spousal abuse, used to be regarded as a private family matter. Victims were afraid to speak out. They were afraid of reprisals from the abusers; they had nowhere else to go; they knew they had no legal recourse. Even now, with changes in laws and perception, domestic violence remains the most underreported crime in the United States. According to the National Violence Against Women (NVAW) survey conducted in 2000, only about 20% of rapes, 25% of physical assaults, and 50% of stalking incidents by spouses, partners, or boy/girlfriends are reported to the police. The main reason for not reporting, according to the survey, was that the victim believed that the police would not or could not help them.
People who suffer from domestic violence experience a host of negative side effects, including:
- Depression and anxiety
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Eating disorders
- Self-injury and/or self-neglect
- Sexual dysfunction
- Sleep problems
- Emotional numbness
- Panic attacks
- Inability to respond to needs of children
- Guilt, shame, and fear
- Higher risk of miscarriages and stillborn deliveries
This is in addition, of course, to the physical effects, which include bruises, cuts, broken bones, and internal injuries. And, according to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, more than three women are murdered by their partners every day in this country.
Another frightening statistic is that murder is the leading cause of death among pregnant women, and the perpetrator is almost always the woman’s husband or boyfriend. Men are also affected by domestic violence, but much less is reported about such instances. We do not have concrete figures because men are much more reluctant to report abuse. Studies, though, indicate that many men are victims of domestic violence and I have worked with many men who have confided to me their experiences of it.
One of the reasons why domestic violence is so devastating is that it affects the entire family. When there are children involved, they are also victims. Even when they are not physically harmed, they are damaged by the abuse. This is referred to as “secondary domestic violence,” which is extremely detrimental to children’s development. When one parent is being abused, she/he is typically not able to give her/his children the help and support they need. The children, then, are left to handle the emotions and pain on their own. An abusive parent tends to be much less affectionate, available, and supportive than parents in non-abusive households. Also, studies suggest that parents who are abused are more punitive and aggressive towards their children. Not only do children witness abuse, but they have no one to help them. Other effects include:
- Shame, guilt, and embarrassment
- Conflicting feelings towards parents; confusion
- Fear, anger, and helplessness
- Withdrawal from social or school activities
- Attention seeking
- Acting out
- Difficulty in forming healthy relationships
- Stomach or headaches
- Poor hygiene
- Inability to concentrate
- Probability of being a victim again or of becoming an abuser
Victims of secondary domestic violence suffer as much as the primary victims. Singer Christina Aguilera witnessed the abuse of her mother as she was growing up. Aguilera’s father routinely beat her mother. They moved around a lot, as her father was a member of the military. Christina says that when they moved to a new place, her mother “would find out the phone number of the nearest shelter and keep it on a scrap of paper in her back pocket.”
In a song on her album, Stripped, Christina sings:
Every time my father’s fist would put her in her place/Hearing all the yelling I would cry up in my room/Hoping it would be over soon.
Christina’s journey to healing started with speaking out about what happened to her as a child and as a victim of domestic violence. She lends her name, her money, and her support to promoting awareness of this issue. She also donated $200,000 to a Pittsburgh women’s shelter, saying:
Shelters are so important. I’ve seen that in my life firsthand, and I always thought that if I was ever in a position to make a difference, I wanted to do something to help. And for me, this is just the beginning. It’s important to get the word out about domestic violence and its effects.
Many people who have not experienced domestic violence wonder why people stay in these abusive relationships. Why not just leave? In addition to the reasons we’ve briefly discussed – fear of reprisal, financial worries, and children – many women suffer from battered women’s syndrome. The definition of a battered woman is that she experiences at least two cycles of abuse. Leading domestic violence expert Dr. Lenore E. Walker describes the cycle as having a tension-building stage, an acute battering incident, and finally, a period of respite. It is often due to these periods of respite that women stay; they are positively reinforced by them. They may be coerced into believing the abuse will not recur, or that it was their fault in the first place.
There are four characteristics of battered women’s syndrome:
- The woman believes she is at fault
- She is afraid for her life or those of her children
- She does not place blame on the abuser
- She believes the abuser is both “omnipresent” and “omniscient”
The American Psychological Association classifies battered women’s syndrome as a subgroup of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Women can recover from situations like this and get out of unsafe relationships. It is vitally important for the health and safety of entire families to get out to a safe place and turn to local services for help in recovery. Be assured that you can recover, you can save your children from a similar fate, and you can go on to live a happy and healthy life. I have.
The Chain of Abuse
It is important for victims of any type of abuse to break away and to acknowledge what has happened. If they do nothing, then they run the risk of perpetuating the cycle of abuse. How does this work? It can take shape as episodic chain of abuse or generational chain of abuse. Episodic means that the cycle of abuse occurs between at least two members of a family. The cycle, if not actively broken, will continue, putting everyone in the family at risk for physical, mental, and emotional harm.
The generational cycle of abuse is when abusive or victim behavior is passed on from one generation to the next. For instance, if a child sees his parent berate and abuse the other parent, he may grow up to do the same to his partner, or he may grow up to become involved in relationships in which he is berated or abused. We usually think of abused people solely as women, but remember that men can be emotionally and physically abused in adult relationships, as well. And they learn this behavior as children. They learn that this is the norm or this is what they deserve. FindCounseling.com, a resource for victims of abuse, captures the essence of the chain of abuse with this passage from their website:
Child abuse is like a virus – it attacks the host organism and alters it physically. It self-replicates. “Infection” creates a downward spiral through generations, each victim more likely to infect more and more victims. Children who survive abuse to adulthood in turn are more likely to abuse their own children who, if they survive, grow up more likely to abuse their own children, who . . .
According to a National Institute of Justice report, “childhood abuse increase[s] the odds of future delinquency and adult criminality overall by 40 percent,” and current reporting tells us that about 40% of sexual abusers were abused themselves. (From working with thousands of people, I believe that statistic is closer to 90%) This is not meant to excuse cruel treatment of children; it is just a statistic to show the danger of this chain of abuse if help is not sought.
Dr. Alice Miller, author of Prisoners of Childhood: The Drama of the Gifted Child and For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child Rearing and the Roots of Violence, says that abuse victims often have an “unconscious compulsion to repeat” their abuse.
[This compulsion] will continue until an adult survivor of child abuse consciously relives his or her traumas. An intellectual understanding – that hitting or belittling a child is wrong, for example – may not be enough to prevent abuse, simply because the drive to repeat occurs on an unconscious level. Survivors are compelled to replay abusive scenes from their own childhood in an unconscious effort to regain the power they once lost to their own parents.
Breaking the abuse cycle can be difficult, but it is very important. You do not want your children to endure abuse as you did. I doubt my own father “wanted” to hurt me; it was a type of behavior he had experienced and for which he had never received help. Parents generally want better for their children, and it is possible to give it to them.
The first step is to be aware of your actions; you may not even know how your behavior is affecting your children. Do you yell at them excessively? Do you really care how they feel? Are you emotionally invested in them? Do you use physical punishment to enforce rules? Do you get out of control? If your children are confused or scared of you, then you are perpetuating the cycle of abuse. It is time to seek help so you don’t turn your past into your children’s future.
Healing from Abuse
How do you heal from abuse? How do you put your body, heart, and soul back together? First, you need to be out of the situation that has hurt you. It is not possible to heal when you are still being harmed, whether physically, emotionally, or sexually. For instance, if you are in a relationship in which your partner is abusing you, you will not be able to move on if the conditions remain the same. Nor is it possible for children to recover when they regularly see their father beating their mother or their mother berating their father. Leaving a relationship is difficult; perhaps more difficult, in many ways, than staying. But it is essential to your well-being.
Likewise, if you are an adult survivor of child abuse, you need to be in the right mental space to confront your past. You need to look at what happened and process it in a healthy way. This does not mean, however, that you need to relive any traumatic incidents; the residue of the trauma can be cleared from you with the help of a practitioner without recalling any trauma. Many times, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and physical ailments get in the way, and you may need to deal with these immediate problems and get help to get them under control before you confront the deeper issues that caused these problems. Once you are in the right frame of mind, then your journey can begin.
I strongly recommend availing yourself of professional help when you are dealing with issues of abuse. It has been shown that recidivism is greatly reduced when abusers seek therapy and those who were abused do not as often become abusers. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or counseling, can help you discuss what happened to you as well as process it. Your medical care provider can refer you to therapists in your area, or you can find qualified counselors through abuse intervention programs both in your area and online. When looking for a therapist, make sure he or she is licensed and experienced in the area of abuse. Make sure you feel comfortable with the counselor; it won’t help you recover if you are not willing to share your emotions and experiences with your therapist. If you don’t feel at ease or if you feel that your therapist is not engaged and interested in you, that is a perfectly acceptable reason to choose someone else. This is too important to settle for less than what is best for you.
Children who are recovering from abuse often benefit from therapies that are not based on talk. For instance, they respond to art, music, and play therapy because they often do not have the words to express their pain, or are still too scared to tell anyone. Art, music, and play therapies allow them to process their feelings in a way that feels safer. Tamara Herl, a board-certified art therapist, works with children who have been abused. She says:
I think the greatest value of art therapy with children who have been abused or neglected is that it provides an opportunity to give voice to their pain. The images they create provide tangible proof of progress that has been made and this can be especially helpful on days when children feel discouraged about their progress. Visual art seems to come readily to many children and adults who have been abused or neglected.
When your body has been abused, so has your soul and your spirit. As you address the physical effects of abuse, do not neglect your emotions. In conjunction with traditional therapies, you may find that complementary forms of energy healing are right for you. These techniques will help your body and mind restore essential and needed balance. Abuse causes imbalances in your chakras, which result in spiritual and bodily discord. As with a therapist, look into the qualifications and methods of any practitioner of energy healing. The internet is a valuable resource, and you can find information on potential energy healers. If possible, attend one of my public events and work with me in person.
Seeking professional help is a courageous step in healing the wounds of abuse. To complement your choice of therapies, there are various things you can do on your own to facilitate healing. Journal writing, in particular, has been shown in study after study to improve the psychological well-being of the writer.
A study done at Carnegie Mellon University showed that students who wrote about anxiety concerning an upcoming exam were much less likely to show signs of depression than those who did not write. More to the point for abuse survivors, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that writing about past trauma could alleviate physical sufferings (such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis). Patients who wrote about their experiences for at least 20 minutes for three consecutive days showed great improvement in their conditions. It is also advantageous for your mind and soul. While writing about traumatic events can be painful initially, it provides long-term benefits. It can even help people with repressed memories learn more about themselves and their abuse, an important aspect of healing.
Your path to recovery may also include the use of visualization, guided imagery, exercise, art, meditation, yoga, and massage. These can help you relax and get your mind and body more receptive to healing, and they will complement the work you are doing in therapy.
When you are struggling to recover from abuse, the important thing to remember is that you are not alone. You may have been isolated and ashamed while going through the experience of abuse, but you are no longer alone. There are millions of others, and there are scores of resources available to you. You may find support groups or a group therapy setting helpful. And because of the internet, you can find online forums, message boards, chat rooms, and blogs that are devoted to discussing abuse and to helping you recover. When you cannot sleep at 3 a.m. and are thinking of the past, you can go online and talk with others who are feeling the same way. This can be immensely helpful, and you can also feel good about helping other people along in their journey.
Dr. Herbert Ward, a specialist in anxiety and mood disorders, has said of abuse, “Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.” Child abuse, rape, domestic violence – all of these have the potential to cast a shadow over your whole life. You must believe, however, that you can find the way out of the darkness. It is possible to heal from abuse. Find the help you need; confront and acknowledge your past in order to move beyond it. Each tiny step is so important, and one day, you will realize how far you have come.
If you are currently in an abusive situation, or if you know someone who is, please get help immediately. Your body’s safety is at stake, and your spirit is in danger. You deserve to live a life free of fear and shame. You deserve a life of truth and healing.