Therapy and support are important
Therapy to help you heal from the traumatic experiences related to sexual abuse is very important. It may help you to relieve fear and stress and to practice better, meaning more effective, behavior.
However, you can’t stick with therapy if you live in a void. In addition it’s less effective if it’s not integrated in your daily life. You need to have (or work on building) a supportive network. One of the first things you need to learn is how to do that.
Developmental steps you may have missed
There’s a few little steps in your development you might have missed, if you’ve been abused in you childhood years. You haven’t experienced relationships, friendships, dating, everything related to sex, the same way other kids your age have. Where other teens experiment with sexuality, with all the emotional turmoil associated with it, you’re either uncomfortable or advanced in such a way that exploration is out of the question. Love and intimacy are often absent too, so you have missed some developmental steps. Healing from sexual abuse also means that you need to catch up. In the course of this process you will learn to make choices: in relationships, sexuality and intimacy.
Making choices about your own sexuality
The better you’ll get to know yourself, the clearer your choices will be. People ask me if they should tell their potential partners about their history of sexual abuse. I always think they should do what feels right, but I always try to find out about my partners’ feelings concerning sexuality and intimacy. In our society people don’t communicate enough, even in intimate relationships, about making love.
Sexuality and intimacy
And it’s not just about sex, it’s about intimacy as well: How close do you want to be? Do you like hugging and touching or do you feel more comfortable spending time together without physical contact? Would you like to live together, marry maybe, or would you rather live alone and feel free to come and go as you please? Do you want to sleep together?
My advise is to talk about these things at the early stages of a relationship. That way you can learn and act upon each other’s wishes and expectations.
Talking to your partner about sexual abuse
Being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, there are thousands of things you can talk about with your partner. Certainly one of those things is the sexual abuse itself and what it has done to you. What it has done to your sexuality? What are the consequences today?
Talking openly about triggers
It’s also good to talk about triggers, when you’re not completely healed from sexual abuse yet. What happens when you’re triggered? How can your partner tell and what do you expect from him/her? Do you want to be held or not? Do you want them to stay or leave? When you have nightmares do you want to be woken up or not??
And when you’re not sure tell him/her: “I’m not quite sure how I want you to react when that happens, but let’s try it this way.”
Communication is key
The more you communicate early on in your relationship, the better. The more you share about what’s on your mind: your expectations, your fears, the better. The more information your partners gets, the greater the chance he/she will and can help you. Also they might feel more comfortable sharing their own wishes and expectations with you, so you won’t find any unwanted surprises there!
In my opinion this is a good way to start any relationship whether you’ve been sexually abused or not. But when you’re coping with trauma of sexual abuse it’s even more important to be clear in your communication.
For more information about the long term effects of child sexual abuse and how to heal from them, buy the book ‘I Thrive. Healing child sexual abuse’ at Amazon.com