8 Powerful Steps to Overcome Childhood Sexual Abuse Trauma – Ask a Therapist #6 with Keiko Chibana-Shinn

I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and although the events happened over 20 years ago, I still struggle with the emotional fallout. I experience intense anxiety, nightmares, and sometimes feel like I’m reliving the trauma all over again. I’ve tried therapy before, but it was too painful to open up about the abuse. How can I work through these lingering issues and find a way to heal from such deep, complex trauma?

In response to the inquirer: Thank you for your courage to share from your personal journey. You are not alone in this and there is hope for better days ahead for you. Here’s my response to your question:

The term, Complex Trauma can send a formidable message that says healing is out of reach. But healing is not out of reach. My hope is that by taking a closer look at Complex Trauma, and unpacking what it means, we will not only validate the agony of yesterday but we will begin to experience hope and healing for today. Healing from childhood sexual abuse is a deeply personal and challenging journey, but there are steps you can take to work through the lingering issues and find a path to healing:

  1. Gift Yourself with Time to Heal:

I encourage you to face the beast of your trauma by establishing consistent treatment, with an effective therapist, and a few supporters by your side. Sometimes the greatest obstacle is getting through the therapeutic door. I encourage you to invest in yourself and to make yourself a priority so that you can live your best and authentic self. Healing is increasingly possible when you give yourself one hour a week to the clinical care of your body, mind, and emotional state. Therapy is all about integration of these vital parts of self. 

  1. Find the Right Therapist for You:

Seek out a therapist who specializes in trauma and sexual abuse. It’s important to identify a clinical practice that offers effective trauma treatment and to identify a therapist who can cultivate a presence of safety to explore the impact of your trauma. It is crucial to find a therapist you feel comfortable with and who uses trauma-informed approaches since the initial phase of trauma treatment is to establish safety and stabilization which includes the following:  

  • Establishment of bodily safety and control of the body
  • Establishment of a safe environment 
  • Establishment of emotional and autonomic stability 
  • Consider therapies such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) or Cognitive Processing Therapy with the inclusion of somatic experiencing, these are just a couple of modalities specifically designed to help with trauma. 
  1.  Identify your Support Network:

Surround yourself with supportive friends, family, or support groups who understand your experiences and can offer empathy and encouragement. Find out if the clinical practice offers group therapy on trauma healing. Online support groups can also provide a sense of community and understanding. Additionally, if possible, find a community of like-minded people who have similar interests that support common passions to connect, offer hope, and support others in your region.  

  1. Practice Self-Care:

Engage in activities that help to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety, such as meditation, mindfulness practices such as deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation exercises. Journaling can be a powerful tool to express your thoughts and emotions safely and privately. Since “remembering is not recovering,” it is only necessary to come to terms with the traumatic past, rather than trying to uncover all the details, so keep your journaling to daily reflections, meaning-making exercises, and gratitude writing. Your therapist can assist you along the way. 

  1. Set Boundaries and Pace Yourself:

Healing is not a linear process and it’s important to respect your own pace. Set boundaries around what you are comfortable discussing and when. The therapeutic alliance can be very powerful within the collaborative journey. Your therapist is there for you and will encourage you to know you are at the helm of treatment goals established at the beginning of your therapy and can be modified throughout treatment as you progress in your healing process. 

      6 . Learn About Trauma and Its Effects on the Body, Brain, and Relationships:

Educating yourself about how trauma affects the brain, body, and relationships can help you understand your reactions, you will develop effective coping strategies, and increase the quality of your significant relationships. Books, articles, and reputable online resources can provide valuable insights in addition to the therapeutic work in your session times. Your therapist can recommend great and insightful resources.

      7. Explore Creative Outlets:

Art, music, writing, dance, or other creative expressions can be therapeutic and help you process emotions in a non-verbal way. If you are interested in learning more about art therapy, seek out a practice that offers art therapy services to interweave with your trauma healing. These activities can provide a sense of control, ignite positive change, and strengthen a sense of self and identity.

       8. Consider Medication:

If anxiety or depression are significantly impacting your daily life, discuss with a healthcare provider whether medication might be appropriate as part of your treatment plan.

Remember, healing is a gradual process, and it’s important to be patient and compassionate with yourself as you navigate this journey. Thank you again for your bravery in opening up about your emotional pain. Please be encouraged and take those much-needed steps in your trauma healing today. You will discover how ready you are to invest in your well-being. We all can and deserve to be happy, healthy, and whole.

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