Moving Forward After Learning About Childhood Sexual Assault
The #metoo movement has brought forward survivors’ stories and the media outlets are paying attention. From Harry Weinstein to Jeffrey Epstein, we hear about stories of sexual assault frequently. Our own community of Wilmington, NC has been dealing with two high profile and devastating cases highlighted in the news regarding about sexual assault by teachers. Childhood sexual abuse is never easy to hear about or learn about. It’s a difficult subject that no one wants to bring up. However, for the safety of our community, families, and children we must begin taking the steps to learn to heal from this trauma and work to prevent it.
Below we outline normal and outside the spectrum of normal reactions to trauma. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms outside the spectrum of normal or the symptoms are long lasting, it is time to seek professional help. Early intervention with therapy or some of helping professional can prevent the development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Normal Reactions to Trauma:
- Increase in sleeping difficulties, including increase in nightmares
- Low mood
- Numbness- feeling detached from our thoughts, emotions, and memories
- Feeling like it didn’t happen to you or someone you love
- Feeling like you’re in a cloud or a fog
Outside the spectrum of Normal Trauma Reactions:
- Anger outbursts
- Intense and recurring flashbacks
- Difficulty remaining calm even after a return to safety
- Avoidance of emotions
- Persistent fatigue
Take Care of Yourself
It is important to honor and reflect upon your own reaction as an adult and the role that you serve to the child who has experienced sexual assault. You maybe a caregiver, a friend, an acquaintance, or perhaps just hearing about the event without a personal connection to the survivors. Each relationship will come with its own challenges.
Limit Your Exposure to News Coverage
Childhood sexual abuse is mentioned in the national media and local media almost daily. We are then reminded of the news when we get on social media to relax after a long day. It becomes a topic that friends and family are discussing with you. The constant connection to information that is difficult to handle increases your stress. It can feel like there is no break from it and it becomes overwhelming. Take time away from the television and your phone on purpose. Check into the news stories and read what you need to for a limited amount of time to be informed. Then turn it off! Try to refrain from reading comments that are emotionally charged in response to these stories. Additionally, set some boundaries around the time that you spend researching the news story. The evening is a poor time to consume upsetting information and it will affect your sleep.
As a caregiver, it’s our jobs to protect and keep the children in our lives safe. Childhood sexual abuse is a difficult reminder than we cannot protect those children from everything and that perpetrators are often people we know. In the case of local news, we trusted the teachers and the adults who watch our children at school during the day. It is normal to experience guilt.
Normal thoughts following a traumatic event are:
- Why didn’t I notice something was going on?
- I could’ve done something.
- I should’ve been able to know something was wrong.
We easily play the blame game and assign ourselves false superhero powers. Unfortunately, no matter how vigilant caregivers are, sexual abuse still happens. Shift yourself to introducing kindness and forgiveness in your thought process.
Try telling yourself:
- If I knew what was going on, I would have said something.
- There is no way I could have prevent this because I didn’t know what was going on.
- I’m human and therefore cannot be all place all the time to protect my children.
- I want to do my best for my children and that means forgiving myself.
Grieving Lost Safety and Honor Your Fear
It is so easy to believe the world we have created is safe and we trust the people around us. We work hard to make sure the children around us are loved and cared for. The bubble of safety is popped when an event like sexual abuse happens. Trauma can affect one’s beliefs about the future via loss of hope, limited expectations about life, and fear about life. It can leave you feeling absolutely lost and questioning everyone around you. You may become paranoid about the adults in your child’s life and question whether they are also capable of sexual abuse.
This is normal and natural.
Your life has been turned upside down. It will take some time to reestablish your sense of safety again. Take the time to talk to a loved one or trusted friend about the sadness and confusion you feel. Recognize that everything you’re feeling is expected and you will find a time where you feel safe again.
Engage in Self-Care Activities after Trauma
Now is the time to ramp up your wellness activities. It will improve your psychological and physiological wellness.
- Seek out places of peace- real or imagined- and visit them often. For example, watching the sunrise over the ocean and help restore a sense of peace and belonging.
- Take time to exercise and engage in meditation or yoga.
- Dial in your nutrition and allow nutrient dense foods to aid in your healing process.
- Make time for sleep! You will likely need additional sleep to allow your mind time to process the trauma and restore emotional stability.
- Talk to people who have been through the same thing or are experiencing it with you. Social support is incredibly effective for helping us make sense of a terrifying event.
Childhood sexual abuse is devastating and terrifying. This is not an easy thing to deal with. Please take the time to reach out for support. Often, if you have experienced childhood sexual abuse this can bring up your own unresolved feelings and experiences. Our trusted therapists get it. They help people deal with overcoming the scary and upsetting things in their lives. Therapy can become a deeply meaningful experience that will help you find some sort of peace and stability again. Reach out, we’re here to help. Get started now.