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How To Overcome Sexual Abuse

Question:

I was sexually abused @ the age of 8-10. physically, emotionally, and verbally for 9 yrs. i am now 30 yrs with a husband 4 kids and a great life but i can not over come my past I still have flashbacks, anger, hate, and feel revengeful. how can I bring myself out of my fearful past it has taken a toll on my present life. I feel out of control, and unworthy!

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Answer:

This is a great question, and one that I’m sure that many, many readers out there will relate to. I invite readers to add their comments to mine, because I am not terribly qualified to speak as an expert on this topic, and would appreciate some help from people who have been there, survived and even hopefully thrived after having been abused.

Though you’ve not provided much detail on your life, you do talk about the ways that having been abused as a girl have affected you as an adult woman. I think your multiple feelings can be grouped into two basic themes, the first being anger (e.g., "anger, hate and feel revengeful"), and the second being low self-confidence (e.g., "out of control and unworthy"). You are also dealing with flashbacks, which are at least an indication that you consider the abuse to be unfinished business, and might also be a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder or something similar to that depending on how intense they are. Even though things are really good for you these days, your past abuse is constantly fresh on your mind. You’re angry it occurred, but also feeling like damaged goods.

As I turned your message over in my mind, it started to remind me of an essay Dr. Dombeck recently wrote about the long term effects of bullying. He suggests that similar outcomes as you’ve experienced are common among adults who were systematically bullied as children, but also provides what I think is a helpful way of thinking about why those particular feelings come about. What the bully is communicating through forceful acts of bullying is the idea that the victim’s needs don’t matter, and that the victim is inferior by nature. These messages get internalized by victims who start to believe that they are true.

I think this bullying process may have happened to you, only with the added whammy that profoundly misogynistic parts of our culture have made a fetish out of virginity and look upon sexually abused or raped women as damaged goods, or sluts who were "asking for it". These misogynist messages get internalized too and make it that much harder to feel good about yourself in the aftermath of sexual abuse. Perhaps one casualty of your having been sexually abused is that you’ve partially lost the ability to think about what has happened to you from your own perspective. Instead, you tend to view and value yourself from the perspective of your abuser (e.g., something to be used) and end up feel unworthy and powerless.

Thankfully, this perspective difficulty you might have developed is only partial. As an adult, you’ve been around the block enough to know that you didn’t do anything to deserve having been abused. You get it that you were taken advantage of and quite rightly you are angry about it. Your revenge feelings probably are fueled by this anger, but the other side of this coin is that since revenge is probably impractical and or morally wrong (two wrongs do not make a right), you might end up feeling that much more helpless (to take revenge) too.

This way of thinking about what has occurred suggests that you’ve been disempowered, and have been taught a set of beliefs about yourself by your abuser and culture that, though wrong, are being accepted by you in an uncritical fashion and thus are causing you to feel unworthy. The solution would appear to be finding ways to empower yourself, which means in more concrete language, finding ways to examine and reject beliefs about yourself that you’ve internalized which happen to be false but which you’ve believed anyway. The more of these ideas you can examine, the more you’ll start feeling better about yourself, I think.

You could go about this empowerment process in multiple ways. You can, as Dr. Dombeck suggests, take on an empowerment goal of some sort and prove to yourself through actions that you are a capable person (at least in the arena(s) you choose). A more general and abstract way to go about this process would be to hire a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist to help you inventory your beliefs about yourself, what you are capable of and what you are worth, and teach you how to examine these beliefs for logical problems and biases. A therapist can also help you find productive ways to deal with all that (appropriate and legitimate) anger so that it doesn’t become self-destructive.

Besides learning how to identify and reject false self-beliefs that keep you down, another angle of empowering yourself might involve learning how to be legitimately selfish. I think that part of what happens when you’ve been abused, is that you get very sensitized to thinking about what you might have done or not done that has triggered your abuse and you try to take control over your situation by learning to focus very carefully on the moods and needs of others, but not on your own moods and needs. So part of the empowerment process might involve learning to feel okay about being "selfish" for a while and doing things that feel good for you without (over) concern about how other people will react. This process is often called assertiveness training. Mental Help Net has material to read about assertiveness training located here.

Throughout all of this, keep in mind that in some important ways you’re doing well (Not everyone is so blessed as you with your multiple children, good marriage and great life), and keep this all in perspective. Some terrible things have happened to you, true, but other good things have happened too, and you have the opportunity now to recover some of what has been lost, I think (or maybe regrow it is a better way to talk about it). The past is done and cannot be changed. What is available to you now is the opportunity to find better ways to look at what happened to you and who you are and better ways to live well. Living well is the best revenge.

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Comments
  • Anonymous-1

    I understand everything that you have written! I too was sexually abused by my father from age 0 to 7. He also verbally and physically abused me.

    The only way for me to overcome the anger was to really really understand that it wasn't my fault and to release the shame and unworthiness I felt. By enabling myself to truly feel good about myself, I had to really work on myself. I set goals for myself. I put myself through university joined a religious affiliation developed an exercise and healthy eating regimen became assertive (and I still struggle with this one sometimes) put myself in therapy for a number of years off and on (when I needed help).

    The last stage of my healing was to forgive my father. I kept saying in my head, "I forgive you Dad." over and over. The closer I came to forgiveness, the lighter I felt. It was like years of horrible experiences where being lifted off me. It took two months of repeating "I forgive you Dad." before I really began to feel that I was forgiving him.

    I have forgiven him, but I haven't forgotten what he did to me. I wish him well, but I know he's a very selfish and vile man.

    I don't think anyone 100% gets over a childhood like this. It still haunts me, but I am just more able to live my life without pain and anger. I know longer ask..."why me???". I no longer feel angry over what happened. I still struggle with self-esteem and self-acceptance. How can anyone truly get over a childhood like this?

    Take comfort in knowing you are not alone. I am very proud of you for finding a good husband and creating your own loving family! You are a survivor and you have what it takes to get over what happened to you! I hope this helps you! You are in my prayers!

  • Kristi

    This all seems too impossible. I am 23 years old. The sexual abuse began when I was 11 and went on for a few years after that. I wouldn't even know where to begin to talk about it with someone. I have blamed myself for it because I was told I was asking for it. I went to college and ended up dropping out because of cocaine addiction. It looks as though the past is here to stay for me. I can't imagine giving away my "secret" to anyone because I feel that it is mine and it is part of my identity. I am not sure what I would do if I let go of my offender. I would like the chance to talk about it with someone. The part that confuses me the most is that I later became involved with this person (my sex offender) during my early college years. I can't understand why I would ever return to him instead of running in the opposite direction!? I am very confused at this point and it's really affecting the relationship I have with my boyfriend.

  • Anonymous-2

    i was abuse by my stepdad from about 13 to now well i had already forgiven my dad and every thing was going great i thought he had change. then i started to work with him and then he started to try and touch me.i walk out off my work place and went home to my kids i was going to tell my mum what he had try to do but by the time i got there i had talked my self out off it . now i dont no what to do who to turn to i find my self feeling like a little kid again. so i had to find another job to try and take my self away from this person. i have got in touch with my real dad but cant talk to him because i find myself blameing him for what happened to me and still happening to me i mean i am 28 years old you think i would have the strength to beat this but i dont think i have

  • Anonymous-3

    i was sexual abuse alot of times it bothers me that i dont understand anything about it and i dont know what to do about it anymore i cant be in a relationship cuz im scared of men

  • jd

    I forget sometimes there are others out there. Sometimes i feel so alone in all this.. I was abused sexually, mentally, and phsyically by my father and step father from 2 to 16. I lived in my own hades. I was so withdrawn. I was forced into therapy by the school and it was the best thing that ever happened. It's still difficult somedays... But a couple of things i learned that if you start having flash backs ground yourself focus yourself on five things you see .. four things you hear .. three things you smell .. two things you touch .. one thing you taste. Sounds wierd but it works. By the time you get to one you are so focused on it the flash back usually goes away. Hope things get better For everyone. i'm still trying to forgive my step father. I hold too much hate i can't let go of.

  • Biddy

    Abused as early as 3-16yrs old from my mother many men friends. My older sister was fondled, but mom sent her away because she complained. I became the target. I grew up angry, hatful, and fat, my protection to ward off preditors. I have been ashame of my past and thought I would share those shameful secrets with my husband in our early years of marriage. Big Mistake! He has used it as his weapon. He told my daughter at the time 10 yrs, his mother, brother, sister just about any one he could, telling me he's helping. I was devestated. He now uses my shameful secret as his tool to control and hurt me, calling me slut, bitch, any vile thing he could think of. I have been confronted sexually as an adult from well respected men in my congregation and felt powerless like a child all over again. I told my husband and he ignores me, says I asked for it. I had begun to believe I'm here on this earth for sexual misuse. I can't believe I'm still with this man for 33 years. I'm now in my early 50's and I'm still ashame, mad, fat, and angry with my self. My sister is the only sholder I can cry on. I feel like my husband has abandoned me like my mother, who don't want to deal with me or the situation. Today I still cry, I still feel at blame, today I'm still ashame.

  • Caroline

    My own experience is minimal. I was abused sexually at age 4-7, as well as physically alternating with neglect, and emotionally abused from ages 9-14. I am now only 21, so too young to add any real advice, more just what has helped me up until now. The thing that has helped the most has been setting up a secure support system. I used to be able to count the people on my college campus who knew on one hand, up until this year. Letting people who can help in a little has minimized the impact it has on my life. I still cannot face guys. I have never had a boyfriend, and I tend to have panic attacks often, especially if I am forced to spend time around a guy (taxi, professor who accidentally moves too fast, etc). Also, spending lots of time doing things you love (reading, piano, drawing) instead of reflecting on the past can help to get away from disturbing thoughts. Maybe I'm just avoidant, but I try to keep the time I think about it down to therapy or when talking specifically about it with a trusted friend, or reflecting necessarily in order to make decisions about life. I just always remind myself of how far I've come, and I'm no longer a child, but have my own destiny in my hands and am far from those who hurt me. Hope some of that rambling helps! Good luck!

  • Lisa

    I feel everyones' pain who has posted on this site. I too was sexually abused by many people, one being my dad. It occured for many yrs. To this day, I still blame myself, because I was told I was a slut (asked for it). My parents didn't back me up as a child, my mother told the court that it was all a big fantasy. I didn't remember my father abusing me until several yrs. later and I tried to commit suicide. What bothers me is I have been sexually abused by people in the workplace recently. I have never even gotten over the abuse from my past, and now this happens. I feel like I have SLUT written across my forehead or something. JUst when I feel a "little good" about myself something like this happens. Just know that you are not alone. I have to remind myself of that, but that still doesn't make the pain any less.

  • Cherry

    I am just begining my journey to overcome sexual abuse , i am sure i am going to struggle but i am positive i can beat this. From the age of 5 till i was 14 i was sexually abuse by 3 different men, two of them were uncles one was a neighbour. I am 36 years old and just last week i almost let the shame and guilt of it take my life. Was on suicide watch and nearly lost everything. I no longer want to be a victim i want to be a survivor and be the person that my family and friends have always said i could be . I have a very loving supportive boyfriend and an amazing best friend who i almost lost due to shutting everyone out and going into isolation. My Brother and two of my aunts are two of my other heros , without all of these people i would be lost and i know with them by my side i can overcome this.

    Sites like this are great and i just wanted to thank you all for sharing your stories and letting me share mine.

  • crob 22

    iv never done anything like this and never told any one, so dont no how to explaine.

    but i was abused also by my stepdad since the age of cant remember till my mum split up with him when i was about 10, i was very troubled when i was younger fightning with my mum and others getting drunk and wot ever else you can think of.

    it never clicked till i was old enuf to realise what ive been through when i got to about 16 and i new that it was wrong.

    when i was young i new what was going on and i new it was wrong but never said anything, i would pretend i was a sleep and was to scared to jump up.

    and now i have sooo much hate for him and think in my head to kill him, but i can never do it as i have too younger brothers that is there dad. and im not that much of a sico to actually kill someone!!

    i have a good job, love my mum, we have a great relationship now but she dont no about it. and i have lots of friends and have a boyfriend.

    he also abused my older cussion and we spoke about it but have not metioned it for yrs now.

    im just so meesed up, depressed and wont to alk about it, wen ever im in a mood i think about it and wind myself up even more and just cry and cant stop.

    i dont wont to see anyone because i cant bring myself to talk about it but this is making it easier and this site has made me realise that im not the only one and should stop feeling victimised all the time.

  • Anonymous-4

    i was seven years old when it happened. three times by a so called friend and once by a step father. i have horrible flash backs, i use to cry at night, and i am scared of men. i have never been to a psychiatrist because i could never afford it. a lot of other things happened around the same time in my life but this is one of the things i could not get over.

  • Anonymous-5

    I too was a victim. I blocked it out for over 15 years but the flash backs kept coming back.

    I had therapy after trying to commit suicide.

    Last week however after 25 years I have reported him to the police as I have since found out he is married with 2 young children.

    I now feel it's my responsibilty to protect those children and make his wife and family aware of what he is.

    The rest is up to them but I cannot be silent anymore and even if no one believes me which is highly unlikely - at least I have done my bit to help those children.

    Pedophilla is a sexual preference so these people will not change. It's not our fault it happened it's theirs so why should we stay silent any longer.

    Also if you want to remain annoymous you can still report a pedophile and the police will still have a duty to investigate them.

  • Anonymous-6

    I hate him. i wish he would die,i wish his child comes out so sick that he will have to suffere all his life. please god help me and rot him to death for ruining my life. I can't trust anyone to begin with, i have crapy relationship with my mother and father because i hate them for leavign me alone in the situation. I cannot admit this to anyone because it's something society looks down on. Even i degrade myself,why me when i was just a child, i never asked for it.

  • Heather

    I actually have a question. How do i get over the abuse and learn ro communicate with people at school. I am always afraid of peopl, because of what happened to me. I am now having no friends in school and can't help but feel that this isn't normal. I don't know how to communicate with them because they make me feel that i will get hurt again. Help please!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous-7

    I was abused by my brother from age 8-13, I am getting help at the minute but it is very early stages and very hard to do. I have spent all of my life keeping this secret to myself and it was slowly killing me inside. I have two wonderful children and a fantastic husband, who is so supportive, they are my inspiration to feel better about myself. I have a very negative view of myself and that has to change.I suffer from anxiety which really doesnt make life good. I dont think I will ever overcome my experiences but I feel one day it'll become easier to get up in the morning.I wish each and every one of ye all the best with yer journeys to dealing with these horrible events in yer lifes.

  • Anonymous-8

    I was sexually molested by my father at the age of 7. I have been in and out of therapy and institutions since I was 17 yrs old. I am now 35, divorced and destroying the good relationship I have now with a wonderful man. I have no trust for him and have convienced myself that he is unfaithful to me. I do not know how to have trust. My ex-husband was a verbal abuser and an alcoholic like my dad and is now married to my ex-best friend, if that tells you something. Again no trust for men. I hate myself, my life, i can not focus on positive thoughts and consume myself with self doubt, worries, depression and so on. I don't know what to do at this point. Please someone out there please help me...

  • sadako

    My dad start sex abuse me when i was 3 years old, when i told my mom and older sister about it, they laugh at me.until now i still can remenber how they laugh and the way they laugh at me. during that time i thought it was normal. but when i grow older i found it was ..... I dont dare to tell teacher about it i scare they will laugh at me or make a joke about it. when the time pass by i'm now 25, I dont trues any guy. but I really dont understand why he can live a life that my older sis will give him money every month and my mom help him to pay off debts(Over Thousands), after making my whole life miserable. If my life miserable, he should be even worse. I hate him.

  • Leena

    I was 26 abused by my husband dad. Still get angry and sometime I donot know how to react. I just hate my in laws family cause they all acted like nothing happened, I thought with time it will fade away but it became worse help.

  • sheri

    my 8 year old was comming home from school when a man ina mask touched her. 2 weeks later he come again this time touching her vagina he wore no mask . she seen drs, artists, lineups, policxe reprot what i dont understand is why didnt the police question who was in the house my daughter seen him run into is it cuz my family has a bad reputation. i bet it is but why should my daughter suffer. she was also overdosed on 9 meds on purpose by a man i ws with he overdosed her for 2 weeks on psych meds the police told me if anything happens to him were comming after you and the father. im writting this annonomisley cuz when another preditor found out he come to my house without me knowing he was a molester. i feel my daughters being punished. she says how they ruined her by touching her i reasure her shes perfect and hes a bad man . god please take over and let revenge be yours lord. hurting mother daughter and brother in pa. seems far fetched how a single child can live threw so much and no justice.all she wants is them to rot in jail

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