Ben Oofana

Healing From Childhood Sexual Trauma

Past generations usually chose to cover up or deny the existence of childhood sexual abuse. This policy of silence and the resulting ignorance of the devastating consequences of childhood sexual exploitation created an environment that allowed the abuse to proliferate.

Childhood sexual trauma can have a profoundly devastating effect upon an individual. Some people appear to be relatively asymptomatic while others can be incapacitated to varying degrees.

Sexual trauma can interrupt many of the normal developmental processes of childhood. Sexually abused children often exhibit emotional or behavioral characteristics that indicate distress. Children may fail to thrive as a result of the trauma. Children are affected in many different ways by sexual trauma. Some experience learning disabilities that interfere with their ability to concentrate, learn or remember. Others act out or become aggressive. Some children may experience depression, feel a sense of helplessness or tend to isolate from others.

The suffering continues throughout oneís life. Many adults who were sexually abused as children experience depression, anxiety and in some instances an overwhelming sense of panic. They may also be prone to nightmares and flashbacks. Many suffer from gastrointestinal disturbances, chronic bladder and yeast infections.

There are many contributing factors that determine the extent of the negative impact of childhood sexual trauma. Children are more likely to suffer to a greater extent if the perpetrator is a close relative such as a father as opposed to a neighbor. Children who were sexually abused during earlier stages of development have fewer resources which would allow them to cope and may suffer more adverse consequences. Sexual abuse may occur as a single incident or it may have continued over a number of months or years. Sexual violation can also range from inappropriate comments to penetration. The wounds incurred from as a result of childhood sexual trauma are often compounded by other forms of stress or trauma.

Other influences may help to lessen sexual traumaís destructive impact. Adults who are believing, caring and respectful in response to a childís disclosure of sexual abuse can help to mitigate the negative impact of the trauma. Children who come from loving and supportive families are more likely to have internalized other resources that would better enable them to cope.

Memories and emotions associated with sexual trauma are stored within the body. We may feel tense and irritable as the feelings and memories begin to surface. Many cope by pushing the feelings back down inside of themselves.

Traumatic memories often become distorted and that may serve to protect us from even more disturbing memories. Itís common for our minds to combine separate events so that it appears as if they took place during a single incident. Our minds can sometimes block out all awareness of the traumatic experience at the time of the abuse and that may be necessary to help us to survive. But that can make it difficult to recover the memories and emotions later in life as we begin to heal.

Some people experience full and vivid recall of what happened, while others may only be able to access fragments of memory. Feelings and memories usually become more accessible as one move further along in their healing process. Memories may first appear as fleeting images or flashbacks. Many doubt the validity of these memories as they begin to surface. Survivors may even question their own sanity in some instances.

Flashbacks are often experienced as vivid reproductions of the original trauma and the intensely overwhelming emotions associated with these experiences. Flashbacks tend to have uncontrollable, freighting and intrusive qualities about them. They are often triggered by sensations or situations that act as a reminder of the initial trauma. A person in the midst of a flashback can feel as if they are reliving the trauma all over again.

The shame associated with sexual trauma may cause some children to make up stories to hide their wounds or to protect their familyís secret. Children often feel that they are somehow responsible for what happened. They may feel that they are inherently bad, defective or abnormal. That may also be accompanied by an underlying sense of worthlessness. These feelings are often incorporated into their self image. They sometimes try so hard to be good to compensate for these feelings, but that only reinforces their deep underlying shame.

Children who receive adequate love and nurturance internalize a sense of love, trust and safety. That helps to create an underlying sense of well being. This foundation supports them as they go forward in their lives.

Sexually abused children find themselves at the mercy of destructive forces beyond their control. They receive a whole different message that tells them that the world is not a safe place. Their inability to stop the abuse may cause them to feel they are not capable of protecting themselves, and that they cannot direct or control their own lives.

Self awareness is first experienced through our bodies. The pain resulting from sexual trauma can make it very difficult for children to be present within their own bodies. Being aware of and connected to the body can become so unbearable that many children are forced to shut down or disconnect. That may result in a sense of alienation from the body.

Many survivors of sexual trauma experience a sense of disgust for their bodies. That may also be accompanied by feelings of self hatred. That can lead them to overeat, deprive the body of food or abuse alcohol and other drugs or engage in acts of self-mutilation.

Survivors can encourage the healing process by working to develop a greater body consciousness. Bodies need adequate rest and nutrition. Appropriate physical contact with others helps us to feel safe in our bodies and our world. It can also help us to access our natural sense of pleasure associated with the body.

Sexually abused children have very limited resources that would enable them to cope with what is happening to them. They generally have very little comprehension of what is taking place and they may have no one to turn to for support or protection. Their pleas for help may be denied or ignored. In some instances they may be blamed for the abuse or threatened with further harm. Many have no other recourse except to push it all down inside of themselves.

Survivors of childhood sexual trauma often disconnect from their feelings. The pain and confusion they internalize interferes with their own natural protective mechanisms. As a result they are more likely to misread or completely miss cues from others that would alert them to potential dangers. Their deep emotional wounds can also create a vulnerability that makes them even more susceptible to further acts of physical or sexual violence.

Children who are being sexually abused are used to gratify the perverse needs of others. These children are not in control of their own bodies, their internal state of mind or their lives. Their feelings and needs are totally disregarded, so they grow up with the sense that their feelings and needs do not count.

These individuals have difficulty developing a sense of healthy limits. They may not be able to separate their own needs from the needs of others, so they grow up having a very poor or no sense of boundaries.

Abusive parents can be so inconsistent in the care of their children and there is often a very ambiguous quality to their behavior. Children of abusive parents may have very little sense of safety and security. These children are often left in a chronic state of anxiety and hyper vigilance. Many of their internal resources are consumed by the need to protect from further assault and survive from one day to the next. These defensives become so deeply ingrained in the personality. The defenses then comprise so much of who they are. They may never have the opportunity to address their own needs or feelings or to develop the basic life skills that are needed to function in this world.

An abused childís healthy needs for love, nurturance, affection and attention may never be met. Some children learn to engage sexually in an attempt to meet these basic needs. They sometimes grow up confusing sex with love. Some continue to behave in a seductive manner in an attempt to meet their basic needs or to gain favors. They may also become promiscuous or indiscriminant in their choice of sexual partners.

Many children experience pain and numbness at the time of the abuse. Some do experience sensations of arousal and orgasm. Itís natural to experience sensations of arousal when one is sexually stimulated. But many of these individuals experience shame over being sexually aroused and they often come to associate feelings of fear, pain and guilt with pleasure.

Sexually abused children are often violated by the very people who are entrusted to care for and protect them. Thatís why it can be so difficult for those who were sexually violated to trust or really open up in intimate relationships.

Survivors of childhood sexual trauma may never develop the personal skills that enable them to function in social settings or develop intimate relationships. They may find it difficult to relate to others. Many have a tendency to hold others at a distance as they feel more comfortable with superficial relationships. Intimacy can feel suffocating, scary, invasive, threatening and confusing.

Internal representations of love and intimacy become distorted as a result of childhood sexual trauma. Love and intimacy are closely associated with the trauma that we could not escape from in childhood. Intimacy puts us in touch with all the pain, vulnerability and other feelings that we are trying to avoid. Painful feelings and memories are often projected onto our partner so that we come to associate them with the abuser.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are not always easy to live with. They can be very moody, are often uncomfortable with normal and healthy expressions of intimacy and they have a tendency to withdraw. Their partners are often left wondering "Öwhat did I do wrong?"

Tremendous patience and understanding are required from partners of those who were sexually abused. The love and support of a committed partner can help to create a safe space where the abused partner can gradually feel safe with intimacy.

Open communication can help to minimize the hurt, frustration and feelings of rejection. It helps the partners of those who were sexually abused to not feel responsible for their reactions and to not take matters so personally.

Healing takes place as we allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable to those whom we chose to be close to. We do that by learning to share our feelings, communicate our needs and to help others understand what weíre going through. This helps us to gradually increase our tolerance for intimacy. Opening in this way can invoke anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings. We can soften the unpleasant feelings as we remember to breathe into them.

Survivors of childhood sexual trauma may have difficulty functioning sexually. For many survivors, sexuality has become associated with a very negative and humiliating experience. The body and sexual pleasure is seen as dirty and disgusting.

Sexual activity can trigger flashbacks in which one experiences the emergence of old traumatic memories. It can also evoke feelings of pain, fear, betrayal, guilt, shame, revulsion, and helplessness. Aversion to sexuality may cause some to completely shut down. Others go numb or experience very little pleasure or satisfaction through sexual interaction. Some are able to interact sexually if they maintain a certain distance, as they are reminded of the initial trauma if the relationship gets too close.

The need for resolution of emotional wounds causes many to compulsively reenact their traumatic past. What usually happens here is that these patterns become more deeply entrenched. Some individuals have a tendency to sexualize relationships. These individuals may derive a sense of personal value or worth through their sexuality. They may also feel that sexuality offers the only means of meeting their needs for security, approval or nurturance. Seductiveness may also give them a sense of power over others. Some also reenact their victimization by working as strippers or prostitutes.

Survivors of sexual trauma can sometimes feel as if all they are good for is sex, and they often find themselves being used sexually in their relationships. Some of these individuals have very little comprehension of boundaries and have a tendency to acquiesce to the needs and demands of others. The problem here is that one can not heal if they are continually having sex against their will.

It takes time to recognize our own needs and develop appropriate boundaries. The first step involves getting in touch with our feelings. We need to be able to say no if we do not feel like having sex. We also need to learn to distinguish between sexual and emotional intimacy.

Food often becomes a substitute for love and nurturance. Many survivors of sexual abuse gain weight as a means of protecting themselves from unwanted attention or sexual advances. Anorexia and bulimia are another attempt to control oneís reality, as starvation diets help to maintain a childlike body by prevent the development of hips and breasts.

Survivors of childhood abuse often act out by the time they reach adolescence. Adolescent tendencies to act out are often a cry for help, but parents often fail to recognize their childrenís signals of distress. The child may be labeled as a problem. That only reinforces their perception that they are no good. Many of these children grow up to fulfill these expectations. They frequently abuse alcohol and other drugs. In some instances, they may go as far as engaging in acts of self mutilation, which is often the expression of their own rage directed back at themselves

Men tend to experience greater difficulty with feelings of vulnerability and are less likely to admit to being sexually abused. Men can feel greater discomfort seeing themselves as victims, because of our societyís expectations that they should be strong. Men who were sexually abused often experience a sense of fear and confusion around their sexual orientation, especially if they experienced any pleasure while the abuse took place. They may fear that others will perceive of them as being gay.

Men are more likely to reenact their own childhood sexual trauma by abusing other children. Women do sexually abuse children, but to a lesser extent. Women tend to internalize the pain of their own sexual trauma. Childhood sexual trauma will often affect the way a mother relates to her own children. It may interfere with the development of certain parenting skills. She may, for instance, experience an inability to nurture, love or feel close to her own children.

Most perpetrators were themselves sexually abused as children. Perpetrators typically take advantage of a childís trust, vulnerability and loving nature. They frequently use coercion by threatening to harm or kill the child or some member of their family to prevent them from revealing their secret.

Sexually abused children are deprived of their innocence. The resulting would is carried within them throughout their lives. Anger and rage are natural responses to being sexually violated. Survivors didnít have the opportunity to experience or express their true feelings at the time the abuse took place, because it could have jeopardized their survival.

Unexpressed anger and rage often becomes misdirected. Survivors often feel a sense of revulsion and hatred toward the parts of self that are hurt and wounded. The unexpressed anger turned towards ourselves feeds the negative feelings that cause us to engage in self-destructive behaviors. It also perpetuates our sense of victimization. Thatís why itís so important to connect with the underlying rage and direct it appropriately back at the perpetrator.

People often say things like "ÖThat all happened in the past ÖWhy canít you just let that go?" It would be really nice if those who have suffered these traumas could just forget and move on with their lives. It doesnít work like that. People who have not gone through these experiences cannot understand that these wounds never just go away and that survivors continue to suffer the effects of the trauma throughout their lives.

Children cannot process sexual trauma. The pain and fear are too overwhelming. Theyíre forced to disconnect from the traumatic feelings and memories in order to survive the trauma. Shutting out feelings and memories causes us to disconnect from our body. It then feels as if we have disconnected from reality. Parts of us numb out and we feel a sense of deadness.

People dissociate or leave their bodies when their experience becomes intolerable. They tend to disappear into fantasy when they are faced with painful realities that they are powerless to change. It takes consistent daily effort to pull ourselves back into our bodies so that we can really be present to our feelings and experiences.

Childhood sexual abuse was not acknowledged for many generations. Children were often told that the abuse never really occurred; that they imagined it, that they were just having a bad dream or that they were lying and then the matter was quickly dropped. Childrenís feelings and experiences were often denied and that can make it difficult for them to trust their own perceptions.

Abused children are often blamed by the perpetrator or their families and made to feel that they are somehow responsible for the abuse perpetrated upon them. Perpetrators sometimes try to pass on the shame in an attempt to absolve themselves of responsibility. Children are often told that they are bad, that they wanted it or that they were being seductive.

Children do not have the same resources as adults. They are completely dependent upon the adults entrusted to care for them, and that can leave them extremely vulnerable. Children may not understand that others act independently of them and that their motivations are often less than pure. Thatís why they often feel responsible for what has happened to them

Itís important for survivors to realize that the perpetrator is always responsible for their actions. In most instances, thereís little if anything a child could have done to protect them self. They had no power to stop the abuse. Thatís why itís so important for survivors to come to a place of acceptance, and know they did the best they could to under the circumstances.

Many of our families will continue to enact the same patterns and they may never change. We have to find a way to set boundaries if we chose to continue to interact with them.

We begin to establish healthy boundaries by asserting ourselves and our needs. That helps us to move out of the state of victimization. Confronting those who have abused us can be a very important step in that process.

Confrontation provides us an opportunity to bring our feelings out into the open while holding the perpetrator accountable for their actions. It can feel as if weíre opening up an infected wound, which can provide a tremendous sense of relief. We can take the shame we have held within for so long and hand it right back to the perpetrator.

Confrontation can be very intimidating. We may feel that we are in some way being disloyal to our family. There are also risks involved. Some survivors are still dependent upon their families for support and confrontation will jeopardize that. We need to assess if we can handle the consequences. It may also be to our benefit to discuss the matter with friends and family members who are supportive of us so that we have someone there to back us up. We do have responsibility to confront the perpetrator if other children are still at risk.

Most of us would like to have the support and understanding of our families, but thatís not necessarily something we can count on. Our family may not even believe our account of what happened.

Itís important to remember that we are doing this for our self. We should not expect to gain the love and support that we did not get as children, or expect any significant changes on the part of the perpetrator.

More and more survivors are finding justice by taking the perpetrators to court. Filing a law suit offers the survivor the opportunity to confront the abuser in a public forum and to hold them socially accountable for their actions. It increases public awareness of the occurrence of sexual abuse and it effects upon the survivor. It warns others about the actions of the perpetrator and may prevent them from abusing other children. It may also cause them to suffer embarrassment and create financial repercussions for the harm they have inflicted.

Legal proceedings can be a lengthy, frustrating and expensive process that exacts a high toll upon all those involved. Survivors need to assess if they feel itís really worth the effort for them and determine what they hope to get out of it and if their goals are realistic.

Perpetrators have also organized a backlash movement to avoid taking responsibility or suffering the consequences of their actions. Survivors face the possibility of being re-victimized through legal proceedings. "Expert witnesses" whose intent is to discredit survivors of sexual abuse, are often called to testify. Survivors may be subjected to attacks upon their character and credibility and forced to give detailed accounts of specific incidents of abuse.

Winning in court can give us a tremendous sense of empowerment. It reinforces the fact that there are consequences for oneís actions. The validation we gain through a court victory can help to give us a sense of closure so that we can move on with our lives.

Psycho-therapy serves as the first model of a healthy relationship for many survivors. Psychotherapy can offer survivors a model of a healing, nurturing relationship through which one can find a basis to experience trust. Expressing ourselves to someone who can truly listen and validate our feelings and experience, show compassion, and offer consistent support, encouragement and understanding provides us with a safe place to experience the painful memories and emotions so they can heal.

A therapist's understanding and support can help us to come to the place where we gradually begin to trust ourselves. Psycho-therapy gives us the opportunity to explore and define our history and understand its effects upon our lives. Within the therapeutic setting, we can experience and work through our self doubts. It provides us with an opportunity to rework the trauma so that the damaged parts of ourselves can be integrated into our greater selves.

Support groups can provide a valuable supplement to psychotherapy. These groups create a context that allows survivors of sexual abuse to meet and interact with other individuals who are faced with similar issues. Many survivors of sexual abuse find it easier to share their personal experience with others who have gone through similar abuse. Talking about our abuse within the context of the group helps to diminish the underlying shame. It breaks the pattern of silence, secrecy and isolation that maintains the unhealthy family dynamics.

Survivors experience the compassion, understanding and acceptance of other survivors as they share their story and that can help them to come to a place of greater self acceptance. Validation of our feelings allows us to work through the difficult emotions, which enables us to process our experience. Groups provide a supportive environment that facilitates the development of trust, from which emerges the capacity to bond with others. It is through our identification with other survivors that we begin to communicate our thoughts and feelings, and share emotions based on common personal experience. Objectively viewing the experience of others provides us with a healthier perspective on ourselves and the suffering we have lived through.

Survivors learn to care for themselves within the context of a support group. Distortions in thinking and negative self images are confronted in such a way that distinguishes them from fact, and are replaced with views of self that are nurturing and self accepting. We begin to trace and understand the origins of our negative self images and beliefs. We grow out of a space of learned helplessness as we begin to feel assurance in our individual capability as a result of the group's support and encouragement. We are encouraged to take action to affect constructive change in our lives. Additional emphasis is placed on the development of skills, such as our ability to assert ourselves, negotiate, exchange feedback, and resolve conflict, that lead us to discover and utilize our survival strengths.

Therapy is an essential component of healing for survivors of childhood sexual trauma. Many of the survivors that Iíve worked with have done extensive work in therapy. Some have made considerable progress, yet the repercussions of past sexual trauma still pervade every aspect of their lives. Many still experience periods of painfully debilitating emotion in which they cannot function. The trauma never just goes away and many of these individuals continue to suffer throughout the course of their lives. Conventional therapeutic modalities will not change that.

Children often experience overwhelming emotional reactions to sexual trauma. Trauma can interfere with the normal and healthy development of the brain. Trauma can also induce powerful biochemical responses in the brain. The brain becomes habituated to these same biochemical responses. The body-mind is set to maintain a state of vigilance to protect from further assault. These responses are further reinforced whenever something occurs that triggers the memories and emotions associated with the sexual trauma.

Many of survivors are so imbued with the intrusively charged energy and emotion of sexual trauma. It so permeates them that it becomes part of the fabric of self. Survivors can feel like theyíre always on edge. That doesnít allow the real authentic self of the individual to emerge.

Symptoms vary from one individual to the next, but many of the survivors I encounter are still anxious, depressed and disconnected from their bodies. They may also suffer nightmares, flashbacks and other psychological symptoms related to post traumatic stress disorder. Many were also struggling with addictions. Physical symptoms vary from one individual to the next, but I often hear complaints of frequent yeast and bladder infections. Others suffer from gastrointestinal disturbances, abdominal, pelvic, bowel or back pain. Some suffer from various autoimmune disorders where the body attacks itself. Others are diagnosed as having chronic fatigue, but whatís happening is that the organs and systems of the body just start shutting down as a result of the trauma.

Many of survivors also experienced difficulty in their intimate relationships. They may be fearful and suspicious of their partners and their motivations or they may have difficulty functioning sexually. Others have shut down sexually and completely avoid any kind of intimacy.

Survivors of childhood sexual trauma often contain volumes of highly charged emotion that theyíve held within themselves for many years. The chakras and layers of the aura have often failed to develop, or they may be severely disfigured. This is indicative of the fact that one hasnít developed the foundation that would provide functional stability. Many of these individuals have difficulty containing their emotions and they often find themselves feeling overwhelmed.

Indigenous healers from around the world allowed various beings to work through them to facilitate healing that would not otherwise be possible. These same kinds of beings work through me during the healing sessions. These beings facilitate healing by softening and diffusing the highly charged emotions so that they can be digested. They go on to construct a foundation that provides greater stability. That makes it possible for the survivor to digest and integrate their experiences and emotions.

Traumatic experiences are often hardwired into the body-mind. A process of reformatting takes place within the body-mind during the healing sessions. That dismantles the triggers that repeatedly generate the same kinds of painful emotions and cause one to be so reactive to situations. Parts of the self containing traumatic memories and emotions that had split off will gradually emerge and reintegrate. Clientsí energy level increases and they begin to thrive as they gain access to new resources and develop capabilities that allow them to become more fully functional and express their true nature.

It can be very painful as the memories and emotions associated sexual trauma begin to surface and it can feel overwhelming at times. Clients usually do go through some difficult periods. These periods will gradually decrease in frequency. The healing sessions have the effect of gradually taking the edge off of things, so that clients can begin to relax and feel more normal. They gradually become more comfortable and present in their bodies and many of the related health concerns are alleviated during the course of the work. They also feel greater comfort in their interactions with others and that makes it possible for them to experience a greater depth of intimacy in their relationships.

Clients become more solidly rooted in their core self. The emotional states associated with past traumatic experiences lose their power as they take on a more transparent quality. Clients experience an inner strength and stability that allows them to be present with the feelings even though they may feel uncomfortable at times. That allows them to remain in a more neutral space as they gain access to the feelings and memories. Clients gradually gain a whole new perspective as they step out of the victim identity and move into a greater sense of wholeness.

©Copyright 2007 Ben Oofana. All Rights Reserved.  This content may be copied in full, with copyright, contact, creation and information intact, without specific permission.
 

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