Sexual abuse is a deeply shameful and traumatic experience. If you’ve experienced sexual trauma, you might feel you are alone. However, according to the crime survey in England and Wales, 7.5% of people aged 18 to 74 experience sexual abuse before 16.
Although the impact of sexual abuse is varied, some Christians who have this encounter feel there is no need for therapy or therapeutic support. This decision is sometimes due to how society views sexual abuse. Additionally, the view in the Christian community also adds an extra element of caution for the Christian woman.
In some parts of society, women get blamed for sexual abuse. Questions such as what were you wearing? Why did you go there? Why didn’t you and many other questions place the blame for abuse on the victim?
Furthermore, in the Christian community, forgiveness is taught as the path to healing. Many encourage victims to pardon the abuser and move on. This narrative seems to suggest that recovery only requires forgiveness. Many women desiring healing and a connection with Christ chose this path.
The fallout is that when the pain persists, many believe themselves to be less holy or not good enough when the forgiveness releases the abuser but not them.
I usually hear people’s statements to support why they refuse to get help.
1. They have forgiven the people who hurt them
2. They can’t remember the details of the abuse
Forgiveness is an essential component of healing, not for the abuser but for the victim. The truth is some abusers aren’t sorry they hurt you, and so many don’t feel the need for forgiveness. Some will never acknowledge the pain they cause because they will have to take responsibility for their wrong and try to fix the problem. That is too much humility and giving up. Despite causing significant harm to women and children many refuse to accept responsibility and change.
The second point of not remembering specifics doesn’t negate that the incident still impacts your body. The body remembers even when our brain protects us from specific memories. The body still carries the pain even though the hippocampus can’t put together where, why and when of the trauma.
Lack of perfect recall doesn’t negate the abuse and the healing necessary to help free you from the pain.
The results of sexual abuse are wide and varied. For example, persons who experience sexual abuse also experience anxiety, depression, PTSD. Some use drugs and alcohol as a coping strategy, and some struggle with other issues such as self-harm and eating disorder.
Many persons who experience sexual abuse also struggle with suicidal thoughts, and many others stay trapped in shame, fear and guilt their whole lives.
While you might not be struggling with any of the above, here are some ways sexual abuse will be impacting you, but you may not know that’s what it is.
Many women who experience sexual abuse fear touching. The fear is present, whether it’s the intimate touch from a significant other or the casual touch of a friend.
In romantic relationships, this is notably problematic as sometimes shame prevents women from sharing their stories with their partners. Therefore, this secret is held and hinders the conversation around the fear of touch and why.
Healing helps to free the individual from the shackles of shame and gives them the tools to share their stories in safe settings with safe people.
Healing also enables you to understand and know yourself better. It gives you the ability to articulate your needs in a way that will help you create safety in your relationships.
It is not uncommon for women who experience sexual trauma to fear touch, but you can get to the place where you can discern between safe and unsafe touch and lead a fulfilling life.
Your relationships will benefit greatly from your ability to articulate your needs. You might feel mortified at the possibility of sharing your story; that’s ok. Shame and sexual abuse seem to go together. However, vulnerability is the antidote for shame. When you learn to talk about your story in a safe space, it gives you the courage and ability to share it with the people who matter most to you.
Sexual abuse affects every relationship, from parenting, friendships, and romantic relationships. It can impact how we parent our children. Sometimes the risk of harm to children is overmanaged and other times not assessed at all, placing children in vulnerable positions that also hurt them and send the trauma to another generation.
Because of fear of processing their pain, some women cannot hear the pain from their children. Therefore, when stories of sexual harm are shared, some will dismiss the pain and their silence and inability to address the issue and put boundaries around their children invites them to ignore the pain.
Trust is damaged when sexual abuse occurs, and therefore, this disrupts a lot of relationships. Trust for God is also involved and leads to surface relationships because of the early damage of sexual abuse.
Many also don’t trust themselves and struggle with seeing themselves as worthy or good enough. These negative thoughts impact how you interact with others and use your gifts and talents.
One of the most ignored impacts of sexual abuse is the physical health issues that come from repressing or ignoring the trauma of sexual abuse.
Whether or not there is conscious memory of the trauma, the emotional memory of the abuse records in the brain, nervous system, and vagus nerves. The communication between the brain and the body happens without our permission or consent. It takes milliseconds for the body to respond to a trigger and acts in habitual ways that we developed.
The relationship between triggers and automatic response is not a cognitive one. Meaning persons do not decide to respond. Whether conscious or aware, stimuli send us in our fight, flight or freeze response.
Healing enables the individual to awake to this process and teaches coping mechanisms to help manage triggers and create space between stimuli and automatic response.
Everyone responds to triggers differently, and therefore what works for others may not work for you—however, everyone who experiences sexual abuse has one thing in common: pain. The pain might manifest itself in different ways, but it needs healing, nonetheless.