Sexual assault here is used to describe childhood sexual abuse, rape, sexual harassment, and other forms of molestation. For the healing process, please note: that not all the stages are experienced one by one or in any order or are applicable for everyone.
The Decision to Heal
Once you recognize the effects of sexual assault in your life, deep healing can begin.
The Emergency Stage
Beginning to deal with memories and suppressed feelings can throw your life into utter turmoil. Take gentle care of yourself during this stage, take care of urgent matters in your life, stay close to safe and supportive people, and distance yourself from those who aren’t. Remember, there is real healing at the end of the journey. It won’t last forever.
Many survivors suppress memories of what happened to them. Those who do not forget the actual incidents often forget how it felt at the time. Remembering is the process of getting back both memory and feeling. Body memories – pain that feels as if the injury happened yesterday are common.
Believing It Happened
Most adult survivors often doubt their own perceptions. Coming to believe that the sexual assault really happened and that it really hurt and affected you, is a vital part of the healing process.
Often adult survivors kept the abuse a secret in childhood or kept the rape a secret. Telling another human being about what happened is a powerful healing force that can dispel the shame of being a victim. Silence serves only to protect offenders.
Understanding That It Wasn’t Your Fault
Children and adults oftentimes believe the sexual assault is their fault. As an adult survivor, you can place the blame where it belongs – directly on the shoulders of the perpetrator(s).
Making Contact with The Child Within
After a lifetime of protecting yourself, many survivors forget how vulnerable they really are. Pay attention to how little you were or how vulnerable you were, offering yourself the compassion you need and focusing your anger at the perpetrator can help you along your pathway to healing.
Listen to your inner voice. Learning to trust your own perception, feelings, and intuition forms a new basis for action in the world. When you trust your own perception, you begin to see how often well-meaning people give bad advice. As you heal, you can replace that with good advice when you encounter other victims.
As children being abused and later as adults struggling to survive, or as adult rape survivors, most haven’t felt their losses. Give yourself permission to grieve, acknowledge the pain, let go, and move forward.
Anger is a powerful and liberating force. Imagine that you are driving your anger around with all the care you would a vintage Cadillac. Try not to bump it into innocent bystanders or hit a brick wall with it. Slow it down, steer it carefully, and direct it squarely at the abuser. This tool will help you for the rest of your life.
Disclosures and Confrontations
Directly confronting the perpetrator helps some people but not everyone can or wants to do that. It can be a dramatic, powerful tool, even if it consists of merely writing it down and never disclosing it.
Resolution and Moving On
As you move through these stages again and again, one day you’ll discover that you feel calmer, more in control, more integrated. Your feelings and perceptions will stabilize. You will come to terms with the perpetrator, even if those terms keep you safe by instituting a permanent estrangement. History won’t be erased but you have made deep and lasting changes in your life. You have gained awareness, compassion, and power through healing, and are making this a better world.