At the surface how people are coping with the first major global pandemic in modern history might not align with the mission of Survivors to Thrivers. Covid-19 is only the current example of how a pressing uncertainty might encourage self-isolation to protect ourselves and others, but ends up magnifying the underlying stresses of our daily existence. The anxiety and fear of whether something will happen is known as catastrophizing, and compounds the normal triggers and limited belief we bravely tackle every day. This is particularly true for those of us who have suffered traumatic events in our lives like sexual abuse.
Shame is like a squatter in your mind. It enters unexpectedly and requires tremendous effort to evict it from the premises. Shame creeps up when you experience pain and feel life has not lived up to your expectations. It quickly established a presence in your psyche and creates a vicious cycle of limiting and toxic thinking.
There are steps you can take to rewrite the shame script. First, understand what the shame is trying to tell you. Although the noise has become distortive, shame is a signal that you have unresolved issues that require more attention for you to more fully heal and engaged with your life. As sexual abuse survivors, we might carry the unnecessary burden of shame for thoughts, behaviors, and actions that don’t belong to us. These thoughts are a transference of pain from being subjected to intense and personal manipulative violations. The good news is that you have the powerful ability to rewrite your story into something filled with more self-compassion and fulfillment. To help expel the shame from your psyche, try one or more the following exercises.
You might not be aware, but April is Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. To honor all survivors, we want to take a step back to help you look at your journey out of the dark and into wholeness. Here at Survivors to Thrivers, we seek to bring awareness and shine a light onto the shame, silence, and darkness of sexual abuse.
Shame is often one of the hallmarks of facing sexual abuse. A dark feeling of doubt centered around the nagging thought “if only, then…” If only we hadn’t entered that room. If only we hadn’t listened to that manipulation. If only we spoke up. If only we were stronger. The list goes on and drags us deeper into a shame spiral.
Begin by understanding what your limiting beliefs are trying to teach you. Even the harshest critic has insight embedded in the noise. It’s up to you to find the time to create a pause in your life to better hear and understand the engrained script in your head. In the pause, nonjudgmentally observe the themes and narratives, realizing you have the ability to rewrite your narrative if you are kind and patient with yourself. It is unfair to your spirit to blame yourself for being in a particular location or the actions of another person. Instead, focus on the aspects that directly were and are within your control.
As spring approaches, people begin to tire of being sequestered in their inner sanctums. They want to rush outside and enjoy the returning sun rays. A sense might be felt that after all the time spent looking inward, now is the season to see the beginning of the new phase of life we have craved.
However, before we enjoy the fruits of our hard work, we must tend to the shoots of new growth. This can be a frustrating period, and we must face it with grace and perseverance. This work can be made more empowering by taking a creative look at your situation. While you are working to heal and reclaim your voice after sexual abuse, you can use your hobbies and creative outlets as tangible manifestations of the growth process.
The waning days of winters can be especially trying. There is an urgency to finish tidying up your inner space, shedding layers and a calling to feel the rays of warm sunshine on faces. There is a sense that enough time has been spent inventorying the situation and thinking about what steps we must take to improve our lives. Essentially, we have gotten cabin fever of the soul and yearn for the new shoots of hope and promise to break through the cold, dark ground. We can feel lost when these shoots are slow to break through and frustrated with the additional work of tending to these vulnerable seedlings.
When we suffer trauma in our lives, like sexual assault, we are called to both name and claim the people and forces that keep us grounded and inspire us to break through any barriers blocking us from wholeness. During this season where I feel lost and bound up by the physical pain and fatigue, I draw strength from the Divine and the rhythms of nature. I think of the first flowers of spring, like crocuses that must not just burst forth from the hard protection of the seed coat, but then break through the hard, frozen ground. This new shoot is then vulnerable to the elements and reliant on the sun to help it blossom and flourish.
Similar to the crocus, we must break forth from the seed coat of our pain and hurt. Next, we must be brave and break through the unforgiving ground of limiting beliefs and unhelpful interpersonal dynamics. We must tap into forces that uplift us and bring us encouragement, joy, and peace. Whether that is a Divine force, a close family member, treasured friend, place of refuge, or even hobby, cultivate this support system with renewed vigor. Finally, when you feel a bit more settled in yourself, use this strength and light to help blaze a trail for people that might also be feeling lost and alone.
Love is often a phenomenon where people focus on external expressions. Commercially this time of year we see ads for Valentine’s Day tokens for our romantic partners and close friends. However, when was the last time you felt lovingly towards yourself?
In December we discussed the importance of self-care. This is essential to our physical, spiritual and mental wellbeing as well as a loving act we give ourselves. But consider on any given day how you speak about yourself either to others or most importantly towards yourself. Chances are you are far nicer to others in your life than you are to yourself. This month we will work on correcting this pattern and reintroduce it to your true best friend.
As sexual abuse survivors, we can be hyper-critical of ourselves for a number of reasons. Abusers may have programmed us with an inner dialogue of nasty words to keep us from understanding our own power or potential. It can also be due to a feeling that we brought this trauma onto ourselves through our thoughts, behaviors or actions. If you were abused by multiple people or suffered multiple significant traumas in your life, especially during childhood, you may have the limiting belief that you were the common denominator in all the painful events and thus unworthy of self-love or redemption. Read on to discover a few exercises you can explore to help you rewrite your inner dialogue.
There is nothing quite as powerful as the force that humanity calls “love.” Yet for survivors of sexual abuse, nothing can be more complex or difficult for us to express. Sure, we can “love” to have our morning coffee, or we “love” see both our favorite series or a dear friend. But deeper, unconditional love can feel fleeting or at worse elusive for many of us.
Although society becomes fixated on romantic love this time of year, it may be helpful to resist this trend and instead turn your attention inward. Think back on the past month and reflect on how you have been talking to yourself. Have you been leading with love or with judgement? Are you so quick to focus on the tangibles in your life because they seem at the time to fill a void deep within your essence? Are you having difficulties in your interpersonal dynamics because you have forgotten along the way to be your own cheerleader and nurturer?
There is a scar that never fully fades when one has been sexually violated. In a snap, our soul is forever marked by who and where we were at the time of our trauma(s). We endure the shock, attend to our hurts, reclaim our voice and finally, focus on shining the light of hope around us; but the echo that remains is real and haunting at times. When we are able to be in Thriver-mindset we are able to hear the needs and learn valuable lessons from this echo. However, to fully be present to process this (not sure what this word is) part of our essence, we must act lovingly and without judgment to ourselves.
Every New Year we get the opportunity to look back on the success of the previous year and establish what we hope to accomplish in the new one. This year, we get 366 opportunities to live the best possible version of ourselves. We also get 366 chances to make peace with the past and find ways of further healing our pain.
As we discussed earlier in the month, January is thought to be named for the Roman God Janus. This two-faced deity oversees the gate between one’s past and future. He governs the movement from who you were, to becoming who you want to be.
New Year’s Day is a wonderful way for us to remember that every new day is another chance for us to be the best possible version of ourselves. This year, in particular, can feel a bit more impactful since 2020 might have felt like such a futuristic year as we were coming of age. Many people might be feeling like they haven’t lived up to the expectation they set out for themselves decades prior. Do you feel like your reality is better or more lacking from what you had envisioned?
The year alone conjures up thoughts of 20/20 vision. The visual acuity that people strive to possess throughout life. You can take this clarity of sight and apply it to your everyday life. No doubt you have been inundated with thoughts or mentions of New Year’s Resolution or how “this year will be better.”
Instead of thinking in terms of absolutes or a need to be better, try thinking in terms of your journey. The month of January is thought to be named for the Roman God Janus who governs transitions, duality, and passages. He was essentially a gatekeeper with the ability to look both forwards and back. We, as people with a history of sexual abuse, understand what it is like to live between two worlds. How life was before our assault, and how the trauma forever changed us. This transition is at the heart of the journey of a victim, to a survivor, to a thriver. It’s this growing process that helps us heal, reclaim our voice and ultimately shine our light of inspiration to the broader community.
Does the thought of the approaching holidays and winter weather fill you with anxiety? You aren’t alone. If you look closer, you can see December also teaches us the value of self-care. Winter weather gives us a firm nudge to slow down and reconnect with simple gifts in life.
Survivors of sexual abuse often struggle with balancing the needs of others without neglecting our own. When we were Victims, we might not have felt worthy to care for ourselves or to speak our truths. As Survivors, we reclaimed our voice, but still may have used serving others as a way to distract ourselves from the heaviness of emotions produced by our healing. Now, as Thrivers, we must better advocate for ourselves so we can maintain optimal health (physically, mentally and even spiritually). Self-care is not selfish it’s about self-respect and nonjudgmentally accepting our needs. It allows us to pause, recharge and reset, so we have the energy to be present and loving for both ourselves and others.
The power of self-care is in the endless ways we reconnect with ourselves and promote overall internal wellness. It may be as quick as a mindful breath or stretch into a time allocated to an activity. It can be done solo or more structured with friends, like a walk. Have fun and experiment with what works best for you.