Monday, November 3, 2014

Healing Sexual Abuse







































I am sure that you are horrified by the statistic in the picture I've shared from the World Health Organization. While the topic at hand is sexual abuse (and this statistic includes other forms of physical violence), I think we all know that that number is under-reported. In my work as a spiritual teacher and healer, I have had a lot of experiences in helping students heal from sexual violence, and I'm fairly sure that none of them had reported the abuse. As such, we can probably only guess at the true extent of this problem, but it is undoubtedly a huge problem.

Some of the known statistics are sobering and depressing as it is. According to the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN), "1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime." (Click here for more statistics).

And it is not limited to women. 10% of all sexual assault victims in the U.S. are men. Additional statistics for the U.S. from RAINN include:

"About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime."

For men who are seeking help tailored to them, the following website has been recommended to me by a reader:

Male Survivor (www.malesurvivor.org)

So if the U.S. population is 316 million people and we'll split it roughly in half for men and women, then approximately 4.65 million men and 25.83 million women have been sexually abused just in the U.S.

I'm not here to depress you. I'm here to offer a snapshot on just one major issue in the world and offer an opportunity to understand how it can be healed. Keep in mind that healing sexual abuse is no picnic, but it is so necessary. It influences so many factors of our society, and we don't even realize it. As such, it is of the utmost importance that if you or someone else is a victim of sexual abuse that help be sought out. In those interests, let me offer some help through this spirituality blog today.

Recovering From Sexual Assault


On the off-chance that your sexual abuse is a recent issue and even if it's not, here's one resource for those of you who are recovering that I highly recommend:

RAINN's Sexual Assault Recovery Information

For male survivors of sexual abuse, there's now a website specifically to help you. Find out more here:

1in6.org 24/7 Support Online

There are plenty of other resources as well, so I encourage you to seek them out. Lots of people can help, and lots of people tend to be needed to help heal this issue. It's because sexual assault is one of those violations that influences every level of us. Our minds, hearts, bodies, and spirits must heal from these abuses, and that's why there's virtually no level of healing that won't be useful. As such, body workers (who need to know that you're working with this issue), psychologists, good friends, spiritual teachers, and energy workers can all be part of a team of healers needed to help you access this deep pain and reclaim yourself. It is not a fun job, but it is a freeing one. Since there are many levels of sexual abuse from inappropriate touching to violent, multiple rapes, the level of intensity of the required healing varies. But it all can heal, and much like everything else on the spiritual path, healing comes one breath at a time.

Healing the Mind and the Demon of Doubt

The first step in healing sexual abuse begins with the mind. I think Western society has some fairly decent tools for this healing. This is essentially what psychologists and psychiatrists do best. They help people intellectually understand themselves and the pain that they carry. The more innovative and forward-looking the psychologist, the more they may get into somatic healing and other levels. And this is a wonderful thing. But by and large, the mind is the purview of this type of therapist (and there are many other types of therapists as well). A lot of important work goes on here, and probably at the forefront of that work is helping someone through the demon of doubt.

Doubt and denial is a huge issue for all of us, but especially in abuse, it can stop any healing from happening because the issue is denied to even exist. I can't tell you how often I've seen students wrestling with this demon. At times, I'll hear one thing from a student and then the doubt immediately runs in. This is particularly awful for early childhood abuse where the memory is already hazy or even forgotten. The more repressed the memory is in the mind, the more self investigation is needed to help surface the memory. The memory may not entirely come up, or it may come in pieces with diligence. But a big piece of this is helping a person to trust themselves again, which is in and of itself a huge issue.

Since trust has been violated, many victims of sexual abuse that I've met have huge issues trusting themselves as well as others. On a very deep level, a person feels like they can't protect themselves, and this can make a person hyper vigilant for danger and suspicious. Furthermore, I've noticed many victims to have a lot of self-hatred for their body. Their body knows that something is polluted and is carrying all this toxic energy, but the individual hasn't learned how to process any of it. So they try to get away from this feeling. I've seen this go a couple of ways:
  1. A person buries themselves in good feelings via drugs, promiscuity, spiritual high experiences, and other kinds of stimulation.
  2. A person shuts down entirely to people and becomes very reclusive and depressive because any kind of stimulation brings up unwanted painful feelings. Depressants such as alcohol often become a drug of choice to squash the feelings.
  3. A person ejected most of their spirit and awareness from their body during the abuse, and this has over-amplified their psychic abilities. Now, they don't even really live in the mind. Instead, they try to live in the psychic world and may even have out of body experiences to get away from the misery still stuck inside.
These are a couple of ways I've seen people with sexual abuse respond to the issue and how the issue of doubt, denial, and avoidance have combined to keep people stuck in pain.

Continuing Cycles of Abuse

The sad truth is that while this pain is still inside of people, they also unconsciously seek it out. They may seek out more abusers or similar situations in an unconscious way to try to address the issue. They don't know they're doing this. And the truth is that this is the nature of most pain and karma that people have. They keep doing the same types of things over and over again to try and address the issue. In this case, the level of pain being recycled tends to be amplified. Victims of sexual abuse can also become "professional" fixers of others. In this case, this is the example of the wounded healer who becomes a therapist working with victims of sexual abuse. Unconsciously, this person is trying to heal their own wounds by healing others with similar issues, but it doesn't work. 

The list of ways abuse gets recycled goes on longer than what I've mentioned, but I wanted to give you a flavor of what's happening. For those of you who haven't realized that you've been abused, this may jog some things loose. For those of you connected to a victim of sexual abuse, I am hoping to give you some clues so that you can figure it out and potentially offer some help to a friend or loved one. Because if we don't help people to heal, this pain will continue to recycle. Many victims become scared of healthy intimacy, and they can have a host of mental illnesses. Some victims can often become perpetrators as well, and the cycles of pain and suffering continue on.

Delving Into Acceptance

Acceptance isn't a one-time thing. If you are healing from this issue, you will likely have to keep accepting what you find at each new depth of this issue. Accepting that something happened when you are a child at the hands of your father is a difficult enough thing at the level of the mind. Then there are levels of acceptance that come in for the different times and ways that a violation happened. Then there is the acceptance of who knew or didn't know what was going on in your life. There is the mental acceptance that there was nothing you could do. It was not your fault.

Very quickly emotions come up. This is to be expected, and it is important. You are not a robot processing data. You are a human being, and so safe space is needed to accept all the hurt feelings that come up. In regards to spiritual healing, I help people to accept and let go of these emotions. It's important that we don't allow a victim mentality to remain in place. You are not a bad person. Something bad happened to you. It is not your fault.

This type of healing is a fundamental reclaiming of your power, and so I help people understand that true healing requires us to see what happened and to forgive. Forgiveness is a critical medicine for healing the heart. Survivors of abuse have to forgive themselves, the perpetrators, accomplices, bystanders, and those who were in positions of power, but did not know (this might be the mother in the aforementioned incest example). This type of forgiveness will tend to go in multiple waves as you drop deeper into the core pain to fully heal the emotional space.

Healing the Body of Sexual Abuse

Healing the body isn't a matter of cells reproducing themselves and removing cuts and bruises. Our bodies remember everything that happens to them. If a traumatic event arises and we can't fully process it in our body, things get stuck. When things get stuck, we start to compensate. Physical compensation puts strain on different parts of our bodies that shouldn't be participating in some way. As such, the physical body may be clenched in some areas of the genitalia from shock, and that can be causing undo stress on the pelvic girdle. This, of course, is probably an invisible issue because most people will have already started numbing themselves. So to the victim, it simply is how your body feels and part of why you hate it so much. As such, a lot of the initial healing phase (and this happens in many ways for people on the spiritual path) is about detoxing. If drugs and alcohol are big parts of numbing, then they need to go. In general, they need to go for most people. They serve almost no useful purpose for being a healthy human being. A lot of refined sugar and processed foods can also serve the function of numbing the body, and people can end up tremendously overweight because of that. Unnumbing yourself here means a change in diet and losing weight.

All of this is just the first step to get to a place where you can feel your body. If you can't feel, you can't heal. This healing will require tremendous courage. This is why I encourage those of you healing from sexual abuse to set up a spiritual support system and a set of spiritual tools to assist you in bring awareness to the depths of this issue so that it can release fully and you can get your life back.

Healing the Energetic Field

Energy is super intelligent. Many times, as the other levels heal, this level heals too. However, it can sometimes also jumpstart the healing process by side-stepping some of the defenses, blockages, and numbing agents that are keeping everything else shutdown. This isn't ideal, and if something is jumpstarted, the person still has to let go of defenses like doubt and drinking to go more deeply into healing. But energy work especially for those of you who are really sensitive to energy can be tremendously healing. For some levels of ourselves, it is the only way to truly heal them. When that inner life force is no longer plagued with darkness and the disease that has infected someone, it starts to heal you from within. It starts to push up memories, emotions, and physical sensations so that you can finally address them.

But you have to be ready for that. Which is why mindful spiritual healers don't jumpstart people's energy systems willy-nilly. This is delicate work, and a person needs to be prepared for a lot of nastiness to come up. Those of you in awakening know what I'm talking about even if you didn't have physical abuse. When your energy starts moving things, it can be extremely demanding.

5 Tips for Healing Sexual Abuse 

I want to reinforce that you can heal from this. This pain doesn't have to be with you your whole life. The memory may be there, but the underlying pain and trauma can go. I've had the joy of seeing people and students in my life make amazing progress in dropping this abuse from their hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits. But you need to be prepared for a lot of intensity. To do so, here are some things that I've seen help people:
  • An evolving support system. As there are different levels of healing, you'll need different types of practitioners at different times. A psychologist may be critical for healing your mind. A somatic healer trained in working with trauma may be necessary for healing your body. It's important to take it one step at a time. Don't try to do everything at once.
  • Engaging your social circle. Friends, partners, and family members need to be involved so that they can help emotionally support you, but they shouldn't include the specific perpetrator (if you are still connected to the perpetrator in some way, you will need distance from them either permanently or temporarily. In the latter instance, I'm thinking of an abusive mother or father).
  • Building your spiritual practice. Our spiritual practices are about knowing ourselves. Meditation, journaling, yoga, and other tools are important ways to help us to understand ourselves and figure out what happened and how it has influenced our lives.
  • Making space to be messy. Healing is a messy process. Lancing a festering wound to get to the bullet stuck inside will inevitably spew pus and blood. It's important to find space in your life and your schedule where you can fall apart. Having a spiritual caretaker or close friend to be present for you can be really helpful during these messy moments.
  • Taking time to rest. For those of you who start to notice the benefits of healing your abuse, you may want to keep charging forward. I honor and admire your enthusiasm. But I caution you to go slowly. This type of healing can take a lot of energy, and it's important to allow yourself to fully heal each level. As your inner healing process kicks in, the next thing will come up on its own when you're ready for it.

Recovering Repressed and Lost Memories

For some people, they don't have memories of their abuse because the trauma happened in early childhood before they had a functioning memory, or it was so traumatic that the mind ran away. The memory got lost and repressed because the ego-mind simply couldn't process what was happening. If a traumatic sexual violation happened later in life, it can take away a whole section of memories from that time period of life. My theory on this is that however the brain works, things that happened in the same timeframe of the trauma have to get suppressed to suppress what happened. It can feel like years of someone's life are lost, and that often includes a lot of good and happy memories. For those who have healed a trauma, part of moving past it can be recovering those positive memories.

My experience in helping survivors fully heal is that as they trust themselves again and relax more deeply into their healing, bits, fragments, and chunks of memories begin to surface on their own. It's important to not go too fast in trying to pull all the pieces together. It's more like sticking your hand in a puzzle box and snagging a bunch of pieces. These pieces should be sat with, meditated upon, and journaled with because they probably don't all connect to each other. You're still missing a bunch of other pieces. As you get used to letting these fragments come up and be there, more pieces start to come up, and your natural divine intelligence can start to order some things.

Recovering lost memories is delicate work, and it must be approached very mindfully (especially by a healer) because you don't want to create suggestions or links that may not be correct. But with time and dedication a lot of what was lost and repressed can come back. And that sense that there is a mental hole in your life can be repaired.

Recommended Healing Books

One of my students recommends this book as a helpful resource on healing repressed memories and sexual abuse:

"Repressed Memories: A Journey to Recovery from Sexual Abuse"

by Renee Fredrickson

I've also heard high praise about this book in regards to healing trauma in general:

"Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma" 

by Peter Levine

Here are more recommended books:

"The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, 20th Anniversary Edition "

by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis

"The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma"

by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.

This book is a recommendation from a comment below, and considering the very high ratings on Amazon.com, it sounds like a very useful book, particularly for men:

"Victims No Longer: The Classic Guide for Men Recovering from Sexual Child Abuse"

by Mike Lew

A Message of Hope

Ultimately, I have a lot of hope for survivors of all kinds of abuse. I have seen such amazing levels of healing arise in people that there are no ways to properly relay it here on this spirituality blog. Whatever the abuse you may have suffered. you can heal. You can change your life, and you can feel healthy and whole in your body, mind, heart, and spirit.
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