I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse; there, I’ve said it! Unless you are in the same position yourself, it’s hard to understand how difficult it is to first utter those words. Perpetrators of child abuse rely on the fact that those they abuse are rarely equipped to understand what is happening to them or to report it. They cultivate fear, guilt and shame in the child’s mind in order to protect themselves. Sometimes that is compounded by the fact that the abuser is a family member and when the child reports others do not want to believe that it’s true. In my own case, I reported the abuser when I was twelve, but my parents belonged to a high control religious group and the crime was swept under the carpet for fear of reputational damage. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I gathered sufficient courage to report the crime to the police and that’s not an uncommon story.
The damage caused by childhood sexual abuse goes way beyond childhood. The normal trusting attitude towards adults is destroyed. The child may rebel against authority, display challenging behaviour as they seek to take control in other aspects of their life to compensate for the control that has been taken from them. That’s not the only thing that is taken. Think of the normal rights of passage from childhood to adulthood, first boyfriend or girlfriend, first kiss, first tentative steps towards a sexual relationship; all of that stolen by the abuser.
So will the survivor ever recover? That depends what you mean by recover. If you were in a car accident and ended up with a gash to the leg and a broken bone the gash would heal and the bone would repair but you would need some rehabilitation to return to normal function and you would always have the scars as a reminder. In the same way, a survivor of abuse can reach a point where they can function “normally” and enjoy life, but it’s likely there will always be a mental scar; the survivor will always be prone to triggers that remind them of the abuse.
Some mental health therapies begin with an uncovering of underlying causes and that can be problematic for a survivor of abuse. Imagine how it feels; you suffered the abuse as a child, with no power to prevent it or bring it to an end, you supressed it because of guilt or shame until you finally had the courage to reveal it, perhaps years later, and then you had to go through all the details again for the benefit of the police. Now you can finally get some help and your therapist asks you to go over the details again; it can be very traumatic.
Solution-focused clinical hypnotherapy takes a different approach. If you went to hospital with a broken bone, the doctor might take an x-ray to assess the damage before sending you for a plaster cast. They might ask what you had done to cause the damage but they wouldn’t force you to discuss it. How you broke your leg isn’t relevant to how to mend it. In the same way I wouldn’t need to know the details of the abuse someone suffered as a child to help them to address the effects and make progress towards getting their life back on track. My own childhood experience and its consequences drove me towards educating myself about the workings of the brain and ultimately to becoming a psychotherapist and solution focused clinical hypnotherapist. I’m now glad to be able to use my experience as a survivor of abuse to help others who have suffered.