If you’re a survivor of sexual abuse, you’re not alone. An estimated one in every six women will experience sexual abuse in some form during the course of her life. No matter what your age or circumstances might be, though, you can heal from the trauma, and enjoy a normal life.
This might seem like an insurmountable goal, but others have done it, and you can too. “Healing is possible, emotional healing and sexual healing,” explains Staci Haines, a sexual abuse survivor, psychotherapist, and author.
“I tell survivors: You survived. You’re more powerful than what happened to you. Victimization is a terrible thing. Surviving it is very hard. But now that you’re an adult, you have the capacity to recover, to build the life—and the sex life—you choose.”
Granted, it’s not an easy process. It will take time and therapy. You’ll devote much of your time and energy to taking the steps necessary to move past your trauma, but you can do it.
Many have done so before you by following a few simple but effective steps.
1. Seek Justice
Obviously, putting the perpetrator behind bars will not make everything better. But it will help you take the first steps toward healing as well as prevent him or her from harming anyone else.
You should alert the local authorities first, and provide a statement and evidence, if possible. Then contact an attorney who will handle the legal aspects on your behalf.
A trusted sexual abuse attorney can tackle many of the most challenging procedures to obtain justice, and that will allow you to step back and minimize how much you’ll have to relive the event. Find an attorney in your area that will listen to you, believe in your case, and fight for you to earn the justice and potential compensation you deserve to complete your healing process.
2. Embrace Your Feelings
Meanwhile, you’ll likely be overcome by emotion. You might not know how to feel, but the most important thing is to avoid experiencing shame.
You are allowed to feel angry, sad, afraid, or whatever other emotions might surface. Letting those feelings run their course will help you come to terms with them so you can proceed with healing.
“Everyone has a right to feel, claim, and process their experience in their own way,” Dr. Laura McGuire, sex therapist and educator shared with Cosmopolitan. “Whatever your different reactions are, however they fluctuate, all of that is genuinely OK,” she continues, because there is no correct way to react to these difficult experiences.
3. Talk to Someone
There is no shame in talking to someone about sexual abuse. If you were sick with strep throat, you would see a doctor for antibiotics.
The same principle applies here, except you visit a mental health professional, and, unfortunately, the problem can’t be fixed by a single course of antibiotics. Talking about trauma is one of the best ways to overcome it.
Most likely, you won’t know how to sort through your emotions, attitudes toward sex, and other responses to the event. A trained therapist who specializes treating sexual abuse victims can help you come to terms with what happened to you, make sense of your emotions, and guide you past it.
Most important, your therapist will help you overcome any feelings of shame or guilt you might have developed. You’ll be able to identify the difference between helpful emotions and those that bring you down and prevent healing.
4. Find People You Trust
It’s not uncommon for people who suffer sexual trauma to have trust issues afterwards. In many cases, the perpetrator of the abuse was someone who should have loved and cared for you, which makes it difficult to trust loved ones in the future.
However, finding someone you trust is essential to returning your life to normal. You will interact with people all your life. There’s no escaping connection; you may shy away from it because you’re afraid of getting hurt again, or you can accept that wonderful, loving people who would never intentionally hurt you will also turn up, and you may enjoy all that comes with that.
It’s okay if trust does not come right away. You will learn to identify positive forces in your life and toxic relationships to remove and avoid. Those who stick with you, even when you’re at your lowest, are those you can usually trust.
5. Decide Not to Look Back
There may be periods during your therapy sessions when you’ll have to look back in order to move past the trauma. For the most part, however, you should face forward, and search for all the future might offer.
Laura Landgraf, sexual abuse survivor, author, and activist, offered this advice in a HuffPost piece: “Acknowledge your history—but do not let it define you. Believe you are strong enough. You are. You survived. You are stronger than you think.”
This is the best advice for overcoming the trauma of your past. You can heal and survive, and keeping an eye on the bright horizon will get you there eventually.