Your Story Has Power, and the Power Is Yours

Stories can be used to empower and humanize.

The acclaimed Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shared this experience from her life:

“I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language . . . My roommate had a single story of Africa [and] in this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”

Adichie’s experience shows that we often oversimplify complicated issues. Her roommate viewed all Africans as the same, even though they are individuals with rich stories. Similarly, sometimes people tend to view all sexual abuse survivors as the same, even though each survivor is an individual with unique experiences. Over the past few months, many survivors have come forward to share their individual stories, and these stories are giving everyone a better understanding of the prevalence and complexity of childhood sexual abuse and the impact it has on people. Awareness is increasing, but there is still the danger of falling into “single-story thinking” and viewing all survivors as the same.

Here at The Younique Foundation, we want you to know that your individual story matters. We post survivor stories every week on our website and we have a Faces of Survivors Instagram page because we believe that there is power in stories both for the person who shares and the person who reads. As you read survivor stories, you’ll probably encounter moments that resonate with you, places where you can see similarities between your story and others. But there are also parts of your story that are unique to you. You are an individual.

As more and more survivors share their stories, you might be encouraged to share your own. Your story has the power to create change by helping people understand sexual abuse better. Also, reaching out to others can be a big step on your healing journey. But always remember that your story is yours. No one can make you share, and you should never feel pressure, from yourself or others, to talk about anything you don’t want to. Once a survivor discloses, family and friends might be curious, and they could ask lots of questions, but you don’t need to say more than you are comfortable with. Also, telling your story once doesn’t mean you have to tell it again and again. Share your story when it feels right to you.

We are here for everyone: people who have shared their story publicly and people who haven’t. The power of your story is real, and it’s yours. You get to decide how to use it.

SaveSave

woman sitting on a rock looking at line of mountains in the distance

A Survivor’s Perspective: What #MeToo Has Meant to Me

Before the #MeToo movement, being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse was something I carried with me for years. It was what I called a “known secret,” meaning members of my family knew it happened but chose to look the other way. This caused a lot of pain throughout the years. But it was still something I was never vocal about because I felt I had to protect the family secret and not let anyone be hurt by what had happened to me.

Through the years the pain built up, and the weight became too much to carry. So, I sought out therapy to help me work past it. While I was slowly making some progress, the #MeToo movement started. I saw so many girls that I knew and went to school with coming out about their own abuse. They talked about how they were tired of the stigma around abuse and would no longer be held captive by the shame and guilt that came with it.

They spoke out!

I was so surprised, and I felt hope and a sense of community. I knew I wasn’t alone in this, but hearing the conviction and the power in others’ stories, I felt that it was finally my time to let go of the fear of being judged and ridiculed. I wanted to instill those feelings of power in others the way they were instilled in me.

I posted my story.

I thought I was going to stop breathing. My head was spinning and I felt sick. I couldn’t believe what I had done. Was my family going to be upset? Would I lose people in my life that I loved? What would I do if someone in my family called me and was angry? How would I respond if someone didn’t believe me?

Well, in all honesty, there were some negative results. I did get phone calls. People in my family were upset with me. I did lose relationships with people I loved, and I may never get them back. But I would not change a thing. I realized that even though it was painful, letting go of those relationships was what I needed most. I have never felt more free. I can now see that those relationships were not healthy or serving a purpose in my life. They were stopping me from creating relationships with those that do want the best for me, who love me, and want to see me happy and successful.

Because of my past, I never thought I could find peace about who I am now. After I came out with my story, it was like I had a mess of puzzles pieces in my head that I was finally able to put back together. Individuals reached out to me and thanked me for doing what I did. Through reading my story and seeing the courage I, and many others displayed in our posts, these people expressed that they were inspired to have a voice and show that courage as well.

There’s nothing else that I would rather come out of sharing my story than giving courage to the people who need it, despite how difficult it may have been for me to say. After all, isn’t that one of the points of going through hardships? So we can help the next person in line that may need the extra support to let go of the pain that is holding them back?

I was hurt as a child and went through things that a child should never have to go through, but I am a survivor. I am a fighter. And I will always be a supporter.

 

Why You Should Make Emotional Health a Priority

Quote from Sangu Delle about emotional health

What struggles have you faced when it comes to making emotional health a priority? In his powerful TED talk about taking care of his mental health, Sangu Delle talks about a time in his life when he struggled with depression and anxiety. He had just moved to the United States from Ghana to attend boarding school, and he had lost seven loved ones in a single month. Imagine the emotions you might feel in a similar situation. As he struggled, he says, “I felt a profound sense of shame. I felt the weight of stigma.” He comments that others would say, “People have real problems, Sangu. Get over yourself!” Delle says that too often people with mental health issues “Suffer in solitude, silenced by stigma.”

Sexual Abuse and Mental Health
Many sexual abuse survivors face long-term battles with depression and anxiety, and they often don’t get the help they need because they feel ashamed. They feel like they can’t go to others for support. If you’ve experienced these feelings, you’re not alone. According to the Huffington Post, “Nearly one in five American adults will experience a mental health disorder in a given year. Yet only 25 percent of people with a psychological condition feel that others are understanding or compassionate about their illness.”

Make Mental Health a Priority
As you work to heal, make your mental health a priority. Too often we don’t give our minds and emotions the attention that they deserve. Psychologist Guy Winch points out that if there is something wrong with our physical bodies, we’re quick to get help, but we don’t do the same thing for our minds. Winch says that the response to mental health concerns often sounds something like this: “Oh, you’re feeling depressed? Just shake it off; it’s all in your head.” But he comments, “Can you imagine saying that to somebody with a broken leg: ‘Oh, just walk it off; it’s all in your leg.’” Our minds deserve the same compassion and attention that our bodies do.

Experiencing emotional turmoil in your life doesn’t mean you’re weak, flawed, and can’t heal; it means you’re human. Don’t let others make you feel like there’s something wrong with you. Be generous in the way you think about yourself, and be as concerned about your emotional well-being as you would be about your physical health.

SaveSave

SaveSave

The Myth of Survivors Abusing Others

Quote related to survivor of childhood sexual abuse not abusing

One of the most pervasive myths surrounding child sexual abuse is that all perpetrators were once abused themselves. This myth is repeated because it helps make sense of something incredibly difficult to understand. The evidence, however, doesn’t fall in line with this perception.

Less than 10 percent of men and 1 percent of women who are sexually abused as children will go on to perpetrate. This means that survivors turning into perpetrators is a lot less pervasive than most people believe. This is one belief that can do actual damage, however. It can lead to abuse survivors believing that they may become perpetrators. It is also an easy excuse for abusers – whether they were abused or not – because it may make their actions more understandable and often leads people to be more sympathetic toward them. Even if they weren’t abused, lying to say they were may lead to more lenient treatment.

The truth is that no one knows why people commit child sexual abuse, though research continues and theories abound. The idea that abuse is always cyclical makes it feel true that someone must have been abused in order to do such horrible things. In all honesty, we just don’t know all the whys.

It seems a cruel trick that people will readily believe a convicted perpetrator was abused as a child, but they won’t believe the child that tells them they are being abused. One makes us think the world is a more orderly place than it is; the other makes us realize our world is not as safe as we thought. We sometimes choose to believe or disbelieve to make ourselves feel better.

Relying on facts, truths, and statistics is important to get a clear picture of the epidemic of child sexual abuse in our country and around the world. Believing things simply because they are easier or “make sense” to us is not always accurate or helpful.

In this case, when you believe that every perpetrator (or even most) are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, then you make all survivors feel a twinge of fear that they will someday abuse someone else. This is both unfair and inaccurate. Don’t add to their trauma by implying that they are something they aren’t.

Anna C. Salter says in her book Predators, “No one has all the answers about how to stop [perpetrators], nor even why all of them do what they do. But at least we should have the decency as people to stop making excuses for them.”

SaveSave

SaveSave

Don’t Let Shame Stop You on Your Healing Journey

Shame surrounding childhood sexual abuse should never follow the survivor on their healing journey.

Childhood sexual abuse survivors often spend years suffering from shame. Shame can set in quickly after abuse happens, especially if the people around the survivor are unwilling to discuss what has happened. But shame can be a barrier to reclaiming hope and healing. John Bradshaw explains that when you internalize shame, you feel like “nothing about you is okay. You feel flawed and inferior; you have the sense of being a failure. There is no way you can share your inner self because you are an object of contempt to yourself.”[1] If you’ve felt this way before, you are not alone. Have confidence that you don’t have to feel like this forever. Overcoming shame can be challenging, but it is possible. Here are some ways to start:

Be open and honest.

Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding sexual abuse often leaves people silent about their experiences, and shame thrives in secrecy and silence. When people don’t talk about what has happened to them, they carry the burden of pain alone, and they might even start to feel responsible for abuse. Bradshaw says, “To heal our toxic shame we must come out of hiding. As long as our shame is hidden, there is nothing we can do about it.”[2]

Accept feeling vulnerable.

One of the biggest obstacles to being open and honest is often a resistance to feeling vulnerable. It’s easy to understand why we don’t want to feel vulnerable: it’s scary. If you open up to someone about past experiences and current emotions, you don’t have control over their reactions. Giving up control is hard. Also, being vulnerable involves admitting that we’re struggling, and that can make us feel weak. But shame researcher Brené Brown points out that a willingness to be vulnerable is courageous. Brown believes that “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”

Build connections with others.

The more you feel like people love and accept you—the honest and genuine you—the less shame you will experience. And all of these things work together. As you’re open and honest, as you’re vulnerable, connections with others will naturally form. Then your connections will make it easier to be honest and vulnerable. Don’t let shame make you feel like you’re not worthy of having intimate connections with people. Brown has observed that feeling unworthy of connection can stop people from trying. You are worthy of experiencing deep human connections.

Be compassionate with yourself. Remember that your sexual abuse was not your fault, and remember that healing is a journey that takes time. We’re often too hard on ourselves, and “self-criticism is closely associated with feelings of shame.”[3] As you work on opening up to others and forming connections, make sure you select people you trust, people who care about you, people who want to help you on your healing journey. You are enough, you are worthy of love and acceptance, and you deserve to live a life free from shame.

[1] John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You, Dearfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1988.

[2] Healing the Shame that Binds You

[3] Christopher K. Germer and Kristin Neff, “Cultivating Self-Compassion in Trauma Survivors,” Mindfulness-Oriented Interventions for Trauma: Integrating Contemplative Practices, New York: The Guilford Press, 2015, 43-58.

SaveSave

I Will Hope, Laugh, and Share

Every survivor of childhood sexual abuse has a different story. Every person deals with it differently, and everyone finds healing in their way. This blog is about a survivor, but not just one survivor. This is a combination of stories from several of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. These feelings and experiences are common among survivors. If you’ve faced any of the feelings described in this blog, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

It’s been a long journey of healing. I went from not being able to be in a committed relationship, to finding someone I want to spend the rest of my life with. I went from sabotaging all my best efforts at work, to starting my own company. I went from being ashamed of being a survivor, to sharing my healing journey with others.

I’ll continue to do that, too. I am looking to the future in a way that I never have before. I can see it so clearly – and it’s amazing! I am making plans and goals. I am sharing my hope. I’m happy! I laugh now, as often as I can, and I never used to laugh.

When I look back to the abused little girl I was and the broken woman I became, my heart floods with compassion. I didn’t deserve what happened to me. No one deserves that. But it happened. And I had two choices: I could either deal with it or I could ignore it.

I ignored it for years and years and years. I ignored it and nothing changed.

So, I faced it. It was tough, but so am I. There were days when I didn’t think I could spend one more second inside my own head, but I kept going. I found love and support, important things for any journey.

For too long I thought I was alone. I don’t want anyone else to feel like that. So, I share my story. I share my hope. And, yes, I share my laughter. Because as the incomparable Maya Angelou has said (who was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse herself): “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

As I get better, I do better. As I heal myself, I look for ways to heal others. As I find joy and laughter, I share it with the world. I was broken, but I am healing, and I will never stop sharing my hope.

Healing from the impact of sexual abuse is a journey. For more information about how you can find healing, please refer to Reclaim Hope, a free e-book available on our resources page. Also, you can read more about the journey of survivors at: I Was Abused, Broken, and Lost and I Am Talking, Writing, and Healing.

I Am Talking, Writing, and Healing

Every survivor of childhood sexual abuse has a different story. Every person deals with it differently, and everyone finds healing in their way. This blog is about a survivor, but not just one survivor. This is a combination of stories from several survivors of childhood sexual abuse. These feelings and experiences are common among survivors. If you’ve faced any of the feelings described in this blog, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Have you ever noticed how once you start thinking about something, you see it everywhere? Like, you buy a car and suddenly you see dozens of cars just like yours that you’d never noticed before. That’s what it was like for me. Once I realized I needed to deal with the trauma I suffered as a child because of sexual abuse, I started seeing it everywhere. Articles on sex trafficking, news spots about women who’d been sexually abused, books about healing from trauma.

I even started talking about it. Only a little bit and only with people I REALLY trusted. I never referred to my abuse, just sexual abuse in general. I wanted to see how people would react if I brought it up.

The craziest, saddest, most amazing thing happened – people I knew and loved and trusted UNDERSTOOD! Some of them because it had happened to them, some because it had happened to someone they knew, and some because they were just wonderful and caring people.

I’d thought that if I broke my silence the world would come crashing in around me. That no one would believe me and that all of that guilt and shame that I’d carried around my whole life would overwhelm me and swallow me whole. But it didn’t happen.

One of my best friends, a writer, suggested that I write about what happened. She even recommended a book to me, Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. Look, I’m not a writer, but that book changed my life. Suddenly I had an outlet to write down all of these things that had been pushed away inside me for so long.

Now, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses, and it didn’t get better overnight. Some days were good, and some were terrible. I tried going to a therapist, but I couldn’t really open up to him. I almost gave up on the whole therapy thing until a friend recommended someone who specialized in working with trauma survivors.

After feeling broken for so long, I suddenly had the tools to repair myself. You have no idea how amazing it felt to wake up in the morning and know that the choices I made were making a difference.

I am healing!

Healing from the impact of sexual abuse is a journey. For more information about how you can find healing, please refer to Reclaim Hope, a free e-book available on our resources page. Also, you can read more about the journey of survivors at: I Was Abused, Broken, and Lost and  I Will Hope, Laugh, and Share.

I Was Abused, Broken, and Lost

Every survivor of childhood sexual abuse has a different story. Every person deals with it differently, and everyone finds healing in their own way. This blog is about a survivor, but not just one survivor. This is a combination of stories from several survivors of childhood sexual abuse. These feelings and experiences are common among survivors. If you’ve faced any of the feelings described in this blog, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Some things happened to me when I was a kid. Things that I didn’t understand – I still don’t always understand them, to be honest. I won’t go into detail, but someone who was supposed to love me and protect me, didn’t. I was sexually abused. And it went on for a long time.

For years, I imagined that it had no effect on me at all. I was fine. I was normal. Nothing going on here. Except there was, always under the surface, that guilt and shame and doubt. I just refused to deal with it. You know how some people have this big lightning bolt moment that leads them to enlightenment? I didn’t have one of those. Instead I spent years of my life feeling like I was broken, but refusing to look at why I felt that way.

That’s how it seemed to me, anyway. It felt like I was always sabotaging myself. Something good would happen, and I found a way to ruin it. I’d meet a really great person that I wanted to date and then something would happen, and I’d be running from them as fast as I could (figuratively speaking). I’d get a new responsibility at work, and it was like I’d go out of my way to prove that I didn’t deserve it. As the saying goes, I was my own worst enemy.

Why was I doing this to myself?

One Saturday morning I was laying in my bed and watching the sunlight making shapes on my ceiling. It was so beautiful. I started to cry. I couldn’t remember the last time I had thought anything was beautiful. I couldn’t remember the last time I was happy. I didn’t even know if I remembered how to be happy.

I cried. And I cried. And I cried. I didn’t want to stop because it was the first time in a long time that I was feeling something. I didn’t even care that it was pain and sorrow, it was something!

I’d like to tell you that Saturday morning changed everything. It didn’t. But, in a way, it did. Because it forced me to look at my life and what I was doing and how I was doing it. I was broken, but surely there was a way to repair me. There had to be. I was lost, but someone must know how I could find myself again. There had to be something more for me.

Healing from the impact of sexual abuse is a journey. For more information about how you can find healing, please refer to Reclaim Hope, a free e-book available on our resources page. Also, you can read more about the journey of survivors at: I Am Talking, Writing, and Healing  and  I Will Hope, Laugh, and Share.

I Am Educated and I Understand

When a survivor first breaks the silence about abuse, loved ones sometimes struggle to know how to respond. Initial reactions often include anger and confusion. The first step to understanding what has happened to your loved one is education. As you learn more about sexual abuse and its impact on survivors, you will be able to process your responses and find ways to support your loved one. Below is the learning process that you might go through as a supporter. This is a story that has been compiled from the experiences of many supporters.

When I first found out that my wife had been sexually abused, I had so many questions, so I tried to learn. I needed to understand what my wife had gone through and how it impacted her. The first thing I learned is that sexual abuse is more common than I thought. It’s not something I had heard about before my wife talked to me, so I just assumed it didn’t happen very often. The reality is that it happens frequently. I also assumed that most perpetrators are strangers. I thought it was crazy that my wife had been abused by her uncle, but then I found out that most sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone close, often a family member. I realized that a situation that I thought was unusual is, sadly, typical.

I also learned that most abuse survivors never tell anyone about what happened. And if they do tell, the abuse probably won’t be reported. When my wife first told me about her abuse, she told me that it had gone on for two years. I wondered why someone didn’t make it stop? I knew she told her parents, but they told her that saying anything about it publicly would “look bad.” They said her family’s reputation was too important. Again, this seemed crazy to me, but I found out that her situation was pretty standard. Child sexual abuse often goes on for a while, and it’s rarely reported.

The most important thing I learned was that my wife was still suffering from the trauma of what happened. Abuse isn’t something that people just forget about. Their bodies and minds hang on to the trauma and continue to respond years later. I found out about my wife’s abuse when a man who reminded her of her uncle sat in front of us in a movie theater. This man triggered my wife—he brought back memories of the past abuse, and my wife’s body reacted as if she were in danger—as if the abuse were still happening.

Initially, I was angry and confused, but now I am more educated. I understand that what happened to my wife isn’t all that uncommon, and I learned that she’s going to need help recovering. She can’t just get over it. It’s going to take time, but it’s possible. And I know that I’m a big part of her healing. Survivors need people who love them and support them, and I can be one of those people for her. I understand that my wife and I can have a relationship that will be fulfilling for both of us—a relationship with emotional, physical, and sexual intimacy. It will take some work, but it’s worth it.

Healing from the impact of sexual abuse is a journey for both supporters and survivors. For more information about how you can support the survivors in your life, look at the Supporting Hope e-book on our resources page. Also, read more about the journey of both survivors and supporters at: I Was Confused, Angry, and Hurt and I Will Listen, Acknowledge, and Support

5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope After Childhood Sexual Abuse

Learn the tools, 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope, that you need to overcome childhood sexual abuse

One thing that makes The Younique Foundation’s approach to healing from childhood sexual abuse distinctive is our use of the 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope. We created these tools specifically for survivors to help them on their healing journey. Below is an in-depth look at each strategy and an example of how it can be used.

You should know that the strategies are not in order of importance or sequence. You don’t have to master one before moving onto the next. They can be used individually or together in any combination or order that you like. You can spend time focusing on one, or you can spend time every day trying to tap into each. One of the benefits of the 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope is that you can make them work for YOU.

1. Awareness

The first strategy is Awareness. We define it as “becoming more fully grounded in the reality that the only time something can actually happen is now, in the present moment.” But what does that mean? Be present. Too often we get caught up in memories of the past or in anxiety about the future. Awareness reminds us that we get to make conscious choices, to choose how we react to the situations we’re in.

One way to effectively use Awareness is by utilizing grounding techniques. These are used to get your limbic system and prefrontal cortex talking to each other. They can be used anytime but are especially useful if you experience a trigger, anxiety attack, or other unpleasant situation.

2. Acknowledgement

The second strategy, Acknowledgement, is defined at The Younique Foundation, is “accepting where you are. You recognize your truth and what you need to do to improve.” Think of Acknowledgement as a three-part process – you recognize your truth, whatever it may be, then you accept where you are right now, and from there you can see what you need to do to improve.

For example, if you are in the beginning stages of your healing journey, you need to recognize that you are a survivor of sexual abuse. That is your truth right now. Once you accept that, you can move onto the next step. In this case, it may be applying to The Haven Retreat, finding a local support group, or simply writing your truth down. Then, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, when you know better, you do better. You repeatedly use Acknowledgement in your life to recognize the truth of where you are on your healing journey, accept the progress you’ve made or the setbacks that have come your way, and then make a plan for your next steps.

3. Power Through Surrender

The third strategy is Power Through Surrender. We define this as “knowing what to fight and, more importantly, what NOT to fight.” You might consider power and surrender opposites, but they aren’t. You gain power by consciously deciding when you will let it be. There are thoughts and feelings that you’re going to have that won’t serve you, but fighting them, yelling at them, or berating yourself for having them will be neither helpful nor productive.

To fully benefit from Power Through Surrender, you have to be willing to recognize when something you’re thinking is coming from your limbic system. For example, when that voice in your head tells you that you’re not enough, you can argue with it or you can say, “That isn’t me thinking; that’s just my limbic system,” and move on with your day. This isn’t always easy, but with practice, you’ll be able to know which thoughts you need to deal with head on and which ones you merely recognize and let be.

4. Mindfulness

The fourth strategy is Mindfulness. Although you’ve probably heard this word before, here we define it as “the ability to focus on empowering thoughts and feelings while choosing to coexist with non-productive thoughts and feelings.” Mindfulness is all about choice. Are you turning toward the sunshine or the shadows?

Mindfulness is something that you can practice daily, and you’ll actually see amazing benefits from it if you do. Every time you are in a situation where you feel overwhelmed or upset, step back for a minute and choose your response. You’ll soon realize that you feel empowered by the simple act of choosing where to aim your focus and how to deal with a situation.

5. Faith

The fifth strategy is Faith. While you may hear this word all the time, at The Younique Foundation we define it as “the act of moving forward on your belief that wholeness and healing are possible, even if you may not see it.” With Faith, you believe that you are capable of healing and that every day you are taking steps on that healing journey.

One easy way to think of faith is as a seed. You plant it, give it the support it needs in the form of water, sunlight, fertilizer, etc., and believe that it will grow. You may not see progress every day. Sometimes it can be weeks before you’re even sure the seed is growing at all – but if you keep taking care of it and giving it what it needs, one day it will bloom.

For more information about the 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope and how you can use them in your everyday life, you can read our Reclaim Hope book and workbook on our website at youniquefoundation.org/resources. Which strategy will you use today to help yourself heal?