Category Archives: Healing from Sexual Trauma

Articles about help for and healing from sexual trauma, child sexual abuse, and rape.

Why Talking About Sexual Trauma Heals

Sexual trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it looks like rape or sexual abuse. Sometimes it looks like infidelity, a sexual affair, or an emotional affair. Whatever it looks like, many of the feelings are similar and the impact it has on a person’s sexuality or a couples’ sexual relationship can be similar as well. While being raped or sexually abused and being cheated on are not the same, what is the same is the fact that in both cases you feel like a victim and in both cases the feelings of victimization must be processed  – that is, the sexual trauma, violation, infidelity, needs to be talked about and the questions that have been left hanging about the traumatic event need to be asked and worked through.

Whether a victim of something sex related, a violent crime, or a witness of something traumatic, my clients have many questions related to the traumatic event.

Unfortunately, many of their questions cannot be completely answered. However, what I have often found to be more important, clarifying, and healing is just being able to ask the questions out loud in a safe environment with someone who is willing to listen and normalize the thoughts and feelings associated with the questions. It’s also figuring out or processing  why they feel an answer is needed or what that answer would provide them. Sometimes this is just enough to help victims of sexual abuse, rape, or betrayal to start moving past the trauma.

People who were victims of sexual trauma or something devastating often keep the trauma inside and never want to talk about the rape, sexual abuse, or crime for fear that talking about it will make it worse. While talking about things isn’t always the cure-all and sometimes it does feels worse at first, ultimately if you learn effective tools to cope with the difficult feelings that come up when talking about and processing the rape, sexual abuse, or crime, it becomes smaller, less scary, less a part of us, and more a part of something that no longer defines us. People feel lighter, can move on to being more vulnerable and find more satisfaction in their relationships. When we hold horrible things inside of us like a secret, it starts to define us and get bigger. Getting it out is what makes it less scary. It’s like watching a scary film, the more you watch the same movie, the less scary it is right? This can be incredibly empowering. I have seen it and the bottom line is … talking can be healing.

The Shame of Sexual Abuse

Unfortunately, shame and sexual abuse go together. Shame goes to the core and can result in feelings of being broken or less than. I rarely see a client who has been sexually abused or raped who doesn’t feel some sense of personal shame for what happened. Whether they believe they could have prevented the sexual abuse or rape or not, there is still a deep sense that they are not as good as “everyone else“ that is, …those who have not experienced sexual abuse or rape. I think shame from sexual abuse or rape is reinforced by a number of factors.

First, our culture’s discomfort with talking about sex reinforces sexual abuse and rape victims’ keeping their assault a secret. In the US, media capitalizes on sex yet so much of our culture views it as a taboo that should not be talked about as adults, let alone with children. This makes sex and sexuality incredibly confusing for people, especially sexual victims. Not processing or talking about things makes them more mysterious and confusing. With sexual abuse or rape, keeping the abuse or rape a secret ultimately makes the victim feel smaller and disempowered and makes the crime and victimization seem bigger and scarier. Resulting in them feeling less likely to move past it. Talking about thoughts and feelings associated with sexual victimization and understanding that the thoughts and feelings are typical or normal are keys to moving past the shame of sexual abuse and rape.

The second factor that I think often reinforces shame associated with sexual abuse or rape, and is likely perpetuated by our secretive approach to the topic of sex, is the plethora of misinformation people have about sex, sexual abuse, and sexual satisfaction. False beliefs about what it means to be a victim/survivor of sexual abuse reinforces victims’ thoughts or feelings that they brought it on themselves or that there is something innately wrong with themselves that resulted in the abuse, attack, rape.

The other main factor that I think often reinforces shame associated with sexual abuse is the false belief that victims of child sexual abuse are likely to become abusers themselves. This is incorrect information that is likely created by the very perpetrators of sexual abuse and rape who are looking for sympathy and more lenient jail sentences. Statistically speaking this theory is what is shameful. Sure it is correct that some perpetrators were victims themselves. However, the mass majority of abusers are men and the mass majority of victims are women. You do the math. If you or someone you know is struggling with their shame of being sexually abused or raped, I encourage you to find a safe way to start processing it or encourage them to find a safe way to start processing it. Here are two books I recommend my clients read when we are working through shame and towards having healthy intimate sexual relationships:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Courage-Heal-Workbook-Survivors/dp/0060964375
http://www.amazon.com/The-Sexual-Healing-Journey-Survivors/dp/0062130730/ref=pd_sim_b_6

Now go have sex.