Sexual Abuse and How Sexual Abuse Counseling Can Help
Sexual abuse counseling can transform a broken victim into being a resilient survivor who walks through the world with unique wisdom and gifts. Unfortunately, a couple of specific obstacles often preclude sexual abuse victims from seeking help.
Misunderstanding and Minimization
Sexual abuse is a broad term used to encapsulate any form of sexual assault, sexual violence or sexual misconduct — including more covert forms like sexual harassment, sexualized verbal abuse, non-consensual voyeurism or exhibitionism and, even, distorted power roles. It is in this more covert range of sexual abuse that many victims minimize the impact of their debilitating experience upon their psyches and lives. In fact, we commonly field questions from individuals seeking to distinguish sexual assault versus sexual harassment — when the effects of each on their victims is essentially identical.
In fact, trying to parse the difference between sexual assault versus sexual harassment, or sexual assault and sexual violence versus their more passive counterparts demonstrates similar myths and misconceptions held by most victims of verbal abuse — they erroneously believe that because there are no bruises, they are not being harmed. So while victims of the more physically apparent sexual violations will often seek sexual assault online counseling, in-person counseling or hotline assistance — many survivors never even realize that the host self-destructive behavior patterns with which they struggle are actually symptoms of sexual abuse.
Many abuse survivors will naturally repress any memory of the trauma, and this can happen in both child and adult victims. Specialized sexual abuse counselors will respect this repression and not try to press the psyche beyond it, because it is not a “bad” thing — this is actually a person’s internal survival mechanism being protective, to ensure that they do not reexperience further trauma. However, repression also certainly decreases the odds that a survivor will reach out for professional help from a sexual abuse therapist or counselor.
Sexual Abuse Help
The phenomena of minimization and repression sometimes leave survivors a bit “sidetracked” from healing, by obsessively seeking answers to questions like, “How can sexual abuse affect someone?” and “Could I be a sexual abuse survivor?”
We can start by telling you that non-survivors never ask themselves these questions — in fact, to even ponder such questions constitutes a valid indicator that something traumatic happened.
1. Some form of trauma has disrupted my instincts and my well-being.
2. Whatever this trauma may have been, it was not my fault.
3. I need qualified help and support to get through this.
These are the only prerequisites to restoring your sense of self-worth and security, because the recovery process for all forms of trauma is fundamentally the same — whether for sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, spiritual abuse,social abuse, financial abuse, or any other form of trauma.
Effects of Sexual Violence
The effects of sexual violence and the effects of any other form of sexual abuse are synonymous — because any type of abuse is inherently violent, whether it is in a physicalized form or not.
In fact, the effects of all forms of trauma are similar, and this allows us to completely bypass any barriers of minimization and repression. Instead of categorizing, labeling or “qualifying” traumatic experiences — we can focus upon the much more empowering endeavor of helping victims to acknowledge, honor and transcend their suffering. Essentially, we can identify the root cause by its symptoms. You might be surprised to know that many difficulties for which people seek self-help and professional counseling are actually indicators of sexual abuse. The overarching reality which many in society do not wish to face is that 1 out of 3 women and 1 out of 4 men will experience some form of sexual abuse — and these statistics are considered low, due to underreporting.
So most symptoms of sexual abuse coincide with the standard symptoms of PTSD — particularly when they manifest in the sexual or relationship arenas. Here are some pertinent signs to consider, when looking for the effects of sexual abuse:
PTSD Symptom: Psychic Numbing
Psychic Numbing or Dissociation means feeling disconnected from both self and the world, in order to numb overwhelming feelings related to trauma. A survivor’s own brain chemistry will facilitate dissociation to protect them, but substance and behavioral addictions — like love addiction, relationship addiction, sex addiction, codependence, food addictions and other eating disorders, or addictions to compulsive behaviors like gambling, working, shopping, spending or hoarding — will all serve to further enhance a dissociative state.
1. active addictions
2. attending a 12-step or other recovery program for addictions
3. eating disorders like overeating, bulimia or anorexia
4. relationship addictions or difficulties
• pattern of abusive relationships
• pattern of being a victim
• tendency to victimize oneself after having been victimized by another
• codependency and/or avoidance (either or both extremes)
• instinctively knowing, doing and “being” what others need or want
• intense fear of abandonment, including a desire for relationships with no separateness
• intense longing for and/or fear of intimacy (either or both extremes)
• difficulty with boundaries, including no recognition of personal power or right to say, “no”
• feeling that one must perform, produce or be “perfect”, to be loved
• Feeling that one must barter for their emotional and other needs in a relationship
5. sex addictions and difficulties
• sex feels dirty or like violation
• want or need to use alcohol or drugs, in order to have sex
• disconnection, “shut down” and inability to stay “present” when having sex
• strong negative reaction to specific forms of appropriate touch
• strong aversion to or need for specific sexual acts
• confusing sex with love
• sexualizing of all meaningful relationships
• compulsively seductive or compulsively asexual (either extreme)
• promiscuous sex coupled with the inability to have sex in an intimate relationship
• difficulty integrating sex with emotions (can have sex without feelings, or love without sex)
• confusion or overlapping of affection, sex, power, dominance, aggression and/or violence
• must be sexual initiator (because pursuit feels like violation), or cannot be (either extreme)
• using sex to try to get power, control, love, affection or money
• erotic responses to abuse or anger
• Self-destructive sex work (prostitute, stripper, porn actress, etc.)
6. raised in an alcoholic, addicted or otherwise dysfunctional family
7. raised in a household with siblings who show these symptoms
8. no memory of entire childhood or of one person or place from childhood
9. Accident prone during unremembered time periods
10. frequently “spaces out”, losing track of time or conversation
PTSD Symptom: Psychic Disruption
Sexual abuse survivors usually experience an understandable loss of focus and concentration, combined with intrusive thoughts about the trauma.
11. fear of being alone in the dark or of sleeping alone
12. disturbing sexual memories or dreams about childhood
13. sensory flashes (a brief image or feeling that seemingly has no meaning)
14. nightmares or “night terrors” (especially about being chased or trapped)
PTSD Symptom: Anxiety and Hypervigilance
Hypervigilance is a natural, instinctual response to trauma. Survivors will attempt to regain a sense of safety and control, by staying constantly aware of and defensive against any
potential for danger.
16. uneasy around a particular sex/gender
17. afraid to have children, or to have children of a particular sex/gender
18. strong and disproportionate negative reactions to a person, place or event
19. avoidance of any awareness or mention of child abuse
20. adult nervousness over being watched or surprised, or feeling “watched”
21. enhanced startle response
22. obsessive/compulsive patterns (attempts to control small things, just to control
23. rigid control of one’s thought process, including “all or nothing” thinking patterns
24. panic attacks
PTSD Symptom: Extreme Behaviors
Many trauma symptoms can be identified by their level of intensity, because the nervous system will remain on “high alert” and take “emergency measures” — long after traumatic event(s) have passed.
26. high risk taking, or the inability to take even healthy risks (either extreme)
27. total mistrust, indiscriminate and absolute trust (either extreme)
28. compulsive honesty disclosing too much too fast, or compulsive dishonesty (either
29. need to be perfect or “perfectly bad”, the “black sheep” or the “outcast” (either extreme)
30. inappropriately tight or inappropriately baggy and multi-layered clothing (either extreme)
31. self-injury or self-mutilation, such as “cutting” or self-tattooing
32. suicidal thoughts, threats or attempts
33. passive suicide attempts (through self-destructive behaviors)
PTSD Symptom: Depression
It goes without saying that sexual and other forms of abuse will cause depression, because traumatic experiences leave victims grappling with a sense of inadequate worth.
35. social Isolation (also known as “social anorexia”)
36. low self-esteem; feeling of worthlessness
37. Intense feelings of guilt or shame
38. feeling of carrying a secret
39. feeling “marked” or “defective”
40. seemingly baseless crying or sadness, including crying easily or often
41. difficulty with everyday functioning, feeling unmotivated to participate in life
42. fear of humor, joy or happiness (depressed mood, extremely stoic or solemn)
43. high appreciation of small favors by others
44. apologizing regularly when nothing is wrong
PTSD Symptom: Anger
Anger is also a very normal response to abuse. As uncomfortable as it may sometimes be to feel — it’s actually a very healthy sign. Counseling can help someone to redirect their natural anger toward internal self-care and the external power that it exudes.
45. inability to identify, feel entitled to or express anger
46. fear of anger
47. constant anger
48. misdirected anger
49. intense rage
50. hostility toward an entire sex/gender or ethnic group (usually that of the perpetrator)
What Are the Types of Sexual Assault and Sexual Abuse Therapy?
Sexual Assault Crisis Services
Sexual Assault online counseling and hotline assistance are available 24 hours per day through resources such as (800) 656-4673, and making such a call is usually the first step to seeking sexual abuse help. This crisis intervention level of care can help callers to disclose your abuse, come up with a trigger list and a safe list, and come up with a trigger plan
So, how can therapy help?
While crisis intervention is beneficial, more long-term, comprehensive care is needed for transformative goals such as rebuilding self-esteem, setting boundaries and choosing healthy partnerships. The “bumper sticker” level of advice that extolls the values of “be kind to yourself” or “give explicit consent” are easier said than accomplished, for trauma survivors — precisely because their instincts are locked in a continual “overdrive” position, as a protective reaction to the abuse that they have endured.
How Sexual Abuse Counseling Can Help
ARCS counseling provides a secure and supportive online environment which teaches survivors emotional skills for how to deal with sexual abuse trauma and its internal aftermath — by teaching you how to “rewire” or “reboot” your instincts into a safe and empowered stance.
Once your instincts are realigned, a natural love and loyalty toward yourself emerges. This internal shift makes self-care, boundaries, discernment between abusive versus healthy people, and other issues which may have confounded you become intrinsic, working parts of your nervous system.
Along your healing and recovery journey, you’ll begin noticing that you are changing “automatically”. You’ll witness yourself transform from merely surviving — into thriving. If you or a loved one are experiencing any signs of trauma, seek help! You are not alone, and there is a way out.