Child abuse - Survivors
This section includes information and support for:
If you are an adult who was abused as a child it is possible that you may have never spoken to anyone about this. Many adults keep this a secret well into their adult life and many find that the effect upon them has had devastating consequences not only throughout their childhood but also in their adult life. You may find that you have enormous difficulty in maintaining loving and trusting relationships, you may have low sense of worth and low self esteem, you may suffer from sexual difficulties and depression. In order to try and block out the abuse and to cope you may be drinking heavily, taking drugs, self harming, suffering from eating disorders and may feel suicidal.
It is important to share the way you are feeling with someone you can trust, someone who will be there for you to listen and give you support. Talking about what has happened to you can make an enormous difference and can feel like a great weight being lifted from you.
You may have been abused by a member of your family and that if you have disclosed the abuse that your family members have closed ranks and may have accused you of making it up. It can be easier to blame the survivor than face the fact that someone within the family has abused you. This can make you feel even more isolated and alone.
You may be feeling guilty as this is a very common feeling for survivors to have. You may feel guilty or bad because you didn't say no or do anything to stop the abuse. You did what you had to do to survive and get through it. Some children are looking for love and affection, not to be abused. Nobody asks to be abused. The guilt, badness and shame is always on the head of the abuser - don't take it onto your shoulders.
Many survivors experience nightmares and you may find it helps to write down the nightmare. This helps to get the feelings out instead of keeping them inside you. Many survivors find that writing about their abuse is therapeutic and some survivors may express their feelings through poetry, art, letters, and you may find that talking through what happened through counselling does lead to a reduction in nightmares and flashbacks. Tell yourself that it is only a nightmare, nobody can hurt you now, you are safe, the past cannot hurt you now.
You may feel a general feeling of being unsafe in the world and that everyone out there is going to hurt you. In relation to the abuse and how they think about the abuse it is common for a survivor to be stuck in thinking with their 'child head'. Try and recognise this and when you have feelings of being unsafe, frightened try and tell yourself that you are just thinking with your 'child head' and need to think with your 'adult head' now. As an adult you recognise you are safe, your house is locked, nobody can get in, there are good people in the world and not just people who hurt others, there are people in the world who you can trust, not everyone out there will betray your trust etc. Recognise that what happened was a long time ago and in order to move on you need to start thinking with your 'adult head'.
Flashbacks are common for survivors to experience and these can be triggered off by anything which may remind you of the abuse. When you have a flashback it can seem so real that you actually can feel you are back in the past and the abuse is actually taking place. It is important to remind yourself that you are now an adult and not a child and nobody is hurting you now, you are safe, try and take slow deep breadths and this will help you to feel less anxious and panicky. To bring yourself back into the present there are things which help like stamping your feet on the ground, clapping your hands, look at the room you are in, listen to the sounds you can hear, remind yourself that you are an adult and safe.
Anger is another very common feeling and that anger may have been inside you for a long time. It will help to find a safe way of expressing that anger.
Some people find it helps to write a letter to the person who abused them, saying exactly how they felt about what happened to them and how the abuse has affected their life - you do not have to send the letter (unless you want to and some survivors do and finds this helps) - you can either keep it in a drawer and take it out and read it when you find that anger is building up inside you until you are ready to get rid of that anger and throw the letter away - which means you are no longer holding on to the anger but ready to let it go and not let it affect you for the rest of your life.
Other people may find that pummelling pillows can help get out their anger, ripping up paper, taking up self defence, keep fit, dancing, and talking - letting the anger out is important. You don't need to turn the anger onto yourself - you have done nothing wrong - you need to start taking care of yourself - a person who has been abused needs all the love and support in the world.
You may find it very difficult to trust and that is understandable because your trust has been betrayed. However, if you are to move on with your life you need to learn to trust again. Yes, be cautious but you need to take the risk of trusting again - yes you may get hurt but you are an adult now and you can deal with that - but you may not get hurt - you may find yourself a loving and caring relationship - if you don't open yourself up to trust you will never find that.
You may find that you have difficulty in sexual relationships because this can remind you of the abuse. Talk to your partner, if there is something which makes you feel uncomfortable talk about that, you may need to stop for a while, it may help you for your partner to remind you where you are, you are in the present, you are safe. There are psychosexual counsellors who are especially trained in helping people who have difficulty in sexual relationships and you can learn to build up trust again.
If you are a survivor it means you have strength. Always see yourself as asurvivor and not a victim. Believe in yourself that you have the strength and ability to move forward with your life. You want to get to a stage where the past does not effect your everyday life. As a child who was abused you had no choice what happened to you and were controlled by others. As an adult you do have a choice and can choose which path you take - a path towards negativity, destroying yourself as a person, continually blaming yourself and putting yourself down - or you can choose a path towards healing and recovery - learning to like and love yourself, praise yourself, value yourself, take the blame and guilt off your shoulders, start to be positive, start to achieve what you want to achieve in life, move towards happiness, love, fulfilment. The choice is yours.
You need a lot of support around you. When you have periods when you get very depressed and feel unsafe in the world do something to make yourself feel good, pamper yourself, look after yourself, do something which makes you feel happy. Some people find it helps to have a 'safe box' where they keep anything which makes them feel good and safe - it could be pictures and photos of people they love, photos of places where they went on holiday, pictures which conjure up relaxing and peaceful images (e.g. beaches, countryside, forests, dolphins, waterfalls etc.), it could be a piece of material like velvet which feels good to touch, seashells, pebbles - something which feels good to hold. Cuddling up with a blanket around you and a cuddly toy can often help - do whatever helps you in your recovery and helps you to heal.
You may have a low self esteem and this is not surprising - you may think how can you be worth anything if someone can abuse you. Remember you are worth just as much as anyone else, you are not bad, or worthless. You are a unique and special person who deserves to be loved and cared for. You have to learn to love yourself first. There are ways you can increase your self esteem (see separate pages on this) and counselling will help with this also. Be determined that the past abuse will not destroy the rest of your life - you deserve better than that. Be patient with yourself, healing and recovery can take time but believe in yourself that you have the strength to get there.
It is so common for a survivor to say 'I hate myself, the abuse was my fault, Ididn't do anything to stop it,' - if you ever say that to yourself that is the child part in you thinking as a child would think - STOP - think with your adult head what would you say to a friend who disclosed they had been abused and they thought they were bad and that it was their fault? As an adult would you not say 'no, itwasn't your fault, it was the abusers fault, there was nothing you could do to stopit' - if you would say that to a friend then try and befriend yourself - talk toyourself as you would talk to a friend because then you are talking with your adult head. You can be kind and caring to a friend - be kind and caring to yourself! If it wasn't your friend's fault when they were abused - how on earth can it have been your fault when you were abused? Next time you run yourself down - STOP - and talk to yourself as you would a friend!
Many survivors find it difficult to care for themselves as an adult and if this is difficult for you then it may help to try and focus on the child inside you. Think of the little girl or boy inside you - he/she has done nothing wrong, all the child wants is to be held, to be nurtured, to be cared for, to be loved. When you repeatedly put yourself down, tell yourself you are useless, worthless, a failure, bad……think of the little child inside you who is listening to that, think how they must be feeling. You may have been in a situation where your parent continually put you down and made you feel worthless but are you not doing the same to yourself? Next time you start to run yourself down, stop, think about the child inside you - start to love that child - to say nice positive things, - start to care for the child within you and give it all the love and feelings of safety and reassurance and encouragement that perhaps you never had but longed for. You have the chance now to care for the child within you and that will then help you to care for your adult self.
Get as much support and help for yourself as you can in your healing and recovery and don't feel that you have to cope alone.
Listed below are some helplines and agencies which can help you and also some websites which give excellent information and support for survivors. Some also include chat rooms and forums where you can speak with other survivors.
(remember do not divulge real name, address, phone number etc. if you go into chat rooms on websites).
Many websites contain excellent support and information for survivors, however, they can also invoke feelings of sadness. It may be best to access sites when you know you will be able to talk to someone or see someone afterwards, for a hug or just to hear a friendly supportive voice. When you feel sad please take care of yourself, cuddle up with a hot drink and blanket or a cuddly toy, take a relaxing bath, watch your favourite film, listen to relaxing music, look at photos and picture which make you feel safe, and make you smile - do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself.
Useful websites for all survivors of abuse
Some sites also have information and support specifically for male survivors
The Courage To Heal: A Guide
To Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen
Bass and Laura Davis - Publishers Vermilion: ISBN 0091884209
New Shoes: Stepping out of the Shadow of Sex Abuse and Living Your Dreams by Rebecca Mitchell: Includes practical steps for change and breaking negative behaviour patterns.
A male survivor of childhood or adult abuse will experience the same feelings as a female survivor. In addition he may experience feelings around his sexuality and his 'manliness' which can often make it even more difficult for the survivor to open up to someone else and get the help and support he needs.
A male survivor may have feelings of weakness, he may feel as a male he should have prevented the abuse from happening. When fear takes over a person can freeze and if the person doesn't actively resist the abuse they should not see co-operation as consent to be abused, in reality anyone who is abused has to do whatever they need to do to survive. Nobody asks to be abused.
A male survivor may have feelings of guilt because he may have got an erection and may have ejaculated. This does not mean the person enjoyed the experience and is simply an automatic response from the body when it is stimulated in certain areas so in no way should the survivor ever take the blame on his shoulders - the feelings of guilt, shame and blame should be on the head of the abuser - never the survivor's.
A male survivor may have confusion around his sexuality believing that if another man has had sex with him it may mean he is gay. In reality both heterosexual and gay men get abused and it does not mean a heterosexual man becomes gay if he is abused by another man.
A male survivor should not see asking for help as a sign of weakness - recognising when you are not coping and need some support and help is a sign of strength and a sign that you value yourself enough to take care of yourself.
Here are agencies who you can turn to for support and information and counsellors who will help you to work through this. It is important you get your feelings out and not hold onto them in order that you can move forward and not let the abuse impact on your everyday life.
Agencies which provide support and information specifically for male survivors
Victims No Longer (second edition):
The Classic Guide For Men Recovering from
Sexual Child Abuse by
Mike Lew - Publishers Perennial Currents: ISBN 006053026X
If your partner has recently disclosed to you that they were abused you may well be in a state of shock, disbelief, confusion and not knowing what to do, how to help, what to say etc.
You may also be experiencing an enormous amount of anger against the person who abused your loved one. There may be anger also towards your partner that maybe you felt they should have told you sooner.
At this time your partner will also be feeling very unsure of themselves, unsure how you will react, unsure whether you will believe them (when perhaps others haven't), unsure whether you will blame them, unsure whether it will change the way you see them, change your love for them, change the relationship you have together).
It is important to recognise that your partner has put in you an enormous amount of trust by telling you about they have been abused which is a very difficult thing to do.
A survivor has to be ready to disclose abuse in their own time - do not take this personally and be upset that they may not have told you sooner - survivors cope with life in many cases by blocking off and denying the abuse - that is how they get through each day, how they get on with their lives - by admitting the abuse to another person they are having to face the reality of the abuse and sometimes that can be very difficult for a survivor to do.
Recognise and accept that you cannot take away your partner's pain, you cannot make it all better, you cannot force them to get help, and never force them to divulge details of the abuse to you unless they choose to. Many survivors find it easier to talk about the abuse to someone not known to them like a helpline, counsellor, trusted friend - again do not take this personally - your partner needs to talk about this openly with someone and may not be able to do that with someone they are close to and love - they may hold back for fear of upsetting their partner and may find it difficult to talk about explicit details for fear of it affecting their relationship with you.
When a survivor is abused all control is taken from them. It is natural that you may feel you want to take control now of the situation to help them, get them to see a counsellor, get them to talk, etc. However, that is the worse thing you can do. You must let the survivor work through this in their own time and in their own way. They need to be ready to get help and to work through what has happened to them. They need to stay in control.
Disclosing abuse to a partner can effect a survivor in many ways - they may pull back from intimacy, they may pull back from affection or they may want more intimacy and/or more affection. Again don't take it personally if your partner has times when they don't want to be touched and cannot cope with intimacy. Always reassure your partner they are safe and you are there for them.
Useful websites for Partners of Survivors
What you can do is to be there for your partner if they want to talk, if they want affection, if they want intimacy. It may help to reassure your partner -
Try to keep doing things together you enjoy doing, try not to let the past abuse dominate your lives. A walk in the park or getting out in the countryside can be a therapeutic thing to do together - to remind you both that there is beauty and good things in the world - be at one with nature.
Survivors can and do heal from the abuse they suffered in their past and will need a lot of caring, patience, support, love from their partners while on their journey to recovery.
If you are a partner of a survivor you may well need support and someone to talk to for yourself. Many of the agencies/helplines and websites listed above also offer support, information and help for partners so make full use of these.
Allies In Healing: When The Person You Love was Sexually
Abused As a Child by Laura Davies - Publishers Harper Collins:
See also: Child abuse