Sexual Abuse: How Can Counselling Help?
Rochelle Dawson writes from her experience with sexual abuse counselling.
Bridges Counselling Parramatta has experienced Psychologists and specialised Relationship Counselling for those seeking an established professional team. Our 10 therapists have Masters degrees or the equivalent.
Sexual abuse. Someone hears your story. Someone hears your pain. This is so important as you move from being a victim to being an over-comer of abuse.
People seek sexual abuse counselling for many reasons. You may be dealing with sexual abuse from childhood or something more recent. You may be living every day with the effects of this sexual abuse, trying to cope with feelings of dealing with shame, anger or guilt.
When you think about how you are coping it is good to ask yourself “Where am I now with my self esteem and personal power, my feelings, my body, intimacy, sexuality, children and parenting?” All of these areas can be affected by abuse.
Areas of Struggle
Sexual abuse affects people in different ways. You may be struggling with:
Self blame and guilt
For many survivors they blame themselves almost entirely for the abuse. This may be because you felt helpless and powerless at the time. Regaining control of your life can help. Seeking help may be the first step in this.
Sexual abuse affects the basic beliefs you have about yourself human nature and the world.
You may be dealing with a high degree of fear; fear of the dark, fear of sleeping alone, night terrors. This is because abuse destroys our ideas of the world being safe and in order.
Any type of abuse is wrong at any time. You are right to feel angry at what has happened. Sometimes you may be angry at yourself too.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
This is a psychological response to the experience of overwhelming trauma. It can leave you feeling shock or helpless. It comprises of three groups of symptoms:
- Frequent memories of the trauma which can take place in the form of repetitive thoughts, images and dreams.
- Avoidance symptoms – when you stay away from reminders, withdraw from social situations and have difficulty responding emotionally to others.
- Heightened arousal with reduced sleep, increased jumpiness, irritability and anger.
Flashbacks and nightmares
Memories may be replayed in your sleep as nightmares or as flashbacks when awake resulting in feelings of fear and anxiety to certain events.
What are you thinking about yourself and life?
You may feel uncomfortable with who you are and maybe even your accomplishments and how you think others see you. You may feel like you aren’t worthy of love or that you don’t deserve happiness.
It is not uncommon for people who have been abused that they are “damaged or used goods”. How does this happen? Some people believe that, “It must have been my fault” or “If I wasn’t such a bad person this would not be happening to me or if I was better or more lovable I would have been abused.” Or they might believe that “I let it happen”. Thinking this way can you leaving you feeling ashamed and guilty.
There are many ways we cope with sexual abuse
Specialists of addictions including alcohol, drugs and eating disorders, estimate that up to 90% of their patients have a known history of some form of abuse.
Low levels of sexual esteem may lead to inappropriate sexual behaviour, promiscuity or prostitution; retreating from all sexual activities; physical sexual problems, flashbacks during sexual activity and fear of medical examinations.
You may lead either a sexually promiscuous lifestyle in attempt to ‘conquer’ or control situations or withdraw from any social or sexual interaction and lead extremely isolated lives. You may find it harder to form intimate and trusting relationships with men or women.
You may be more vulnerable to depression if you have been abused.
Some people who have been abused hurt themselves in response to feelings of loneliness or sadness.
To protect yourself you may have shut down your feelings to cope with unbearable emotional pain.
This can involve difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance or overprotectiveness toward one’s self and others and exaggerated startle response.
How can Sexual Abuse Counselling help?
What if a family member has been abused?…
You may be trying to cope with the fact that a family member has been abused. You may be feeling shock, disbelief, anger and sadness. It can help to talk this through with a counsellor.
Many people have not told anyone about their experience. Often this is the first place that counselling helps. Someone hears your story. Someone hears your pain. This is so important as you move from being a victim to being an over comer of abuse. Sexual abuse counselling with a trained therapist can help you over time work through your painful feeling and thoughts and help you live again.
For emergency sexual assault counselling services, contact: