When you experience sexual abuse, a large part of you shuts down just to survive (self preservation). In order to survive, you develop another identity; one that can withstand the abuse. One that is scared, hurt and betrayed by those she once felt safe around. One that is constantly afraid, with nowhere to go. The real you, needs to be kept safe, so you hide her away behind a protective wall, not knowing when or if she’ll ever see the light of day again.
The abused identity now takes over; if she’s going to get by in this world, she’ll need to forget about safety, security, nurturing or trust. She’ll need to keep her guard up, to protect herself. She’ll need to forget that her needs matter, that her body is not private and is available to anyone, that her emotions can be expressed; that’s she’s important and that she’s loved. She’ll need to remember that she can’t trust anyone, even when they say they can be. She now runs on auto-pilot trying to remain strong and ‘ok’ to the outside world. She learns that the people she thought would protect her the most, will be the ones that will betray and violate her in the cruellest ways. She will learn that any love shown, is intrusive, violating and abusive. She will learn that anyone who tries to show her affection will want to take advantage of her. She will learn that if she wants to feel loved, that she will also feel disgusting and dirty. So she runs away from it and anyone who tries to show her.
It will be hard for her to distinguish between people who genuinely love her and people who want to abuse her. The world is no longer a safe place to be. While she shows a brave face to the world, the real girl inside is kept safely hidden, locked away, with no chance of letting her out. Inside is where she remains, along with her strong desire to be loved, held and nutured. She’s desperate to be held and hear that she is loved, that she is so worthy. But there’s just too much to risk by letting her seep out. Whatever ounce of ‘her’ is left, is untouched; no-one can hurt her there. She’s safe and as she grows older, she will go to great lengths to keep her hidden and protected.
As she grows older, the identity that she developed to survive the abuse now becomes the ‘real identity’ and she will go to great lengths to keep all her fears and her pain suppressed. She will lash out at anyone who tries to get close. She will avoid affection or desperately seek it out in ways she’s only ever known. Her relationships will resemble the same patterns of mistrust, betrayal and abuse that she was taught. All she wants is to be loved; good bad or otherwise, she’ll do anything to get it.
To the outside world it’s hard to understand why victims of sexual abuse take such drastic measures to protect themselves, both physically and emotionally. But hopefully as you read this, you may begin to understand why so many, may never fully recover. Why many are far too afraid to risk letting out that part of them that they have kept hidden for so long and why many forget who they really are. Why so many victims, like myself, take years and years of hard work to discover who they really are, who they can trust and what love really is.
Trust is one of the main issues here. Particularly when the abuse happened within the family, as it did with me. Your family is your first foundation of trust and when that is destroyed, you’re left believing and experiencing first hand that people cannot be trusted. This is a very real and legitimate issue; one that might explain why so many victims never fully trust anyone.
As constantly terrified as I was, it’s taken me over 20 years to be brave enough, to fall down many times and have the courage to get back up again, to personally risk everything to reveal parts of me and to very slowly let my guard down to discover who I really am and be ok with letting other people see it. It’s been a massive undertaking and one which many times I had no idea whether I could do it or wanted to keep going.
But I know that it is possible to fully recover and heal from childhood sexual abuse. I know that you can eventually learn what real love feels like, what it looks like and how to trust people. I know that it’s possible to be able to face the world, completely exposed and be ok with the real you.
But it is an incredibly long and painful road to walk; one that I would never have been able to walk, without some amazing people in my life and an incredibly patient and amazing husband.
Victims of sexual abuse need a lot of support. They need safe environments to unravel and deal with their pain. They need someone or a range of people and services to understand their fears and give them the space, compassion and understanding to feel safe enough begin to let their true identity out.
Life is one of the best FREE resources. They are available 24/7 Phone 13 1114