5 Ways to Make the Holidays Safe and Happy

The holidays can be an especially challenging time for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. While get-togethers with family and friends can be a highlight of the season, they can also add a lot of stress and pressure, especially if you might see people who were involved in your abuse. Watch this video for our tips to make the holidays positive and enjoyable. You’ll hear survivors talk about strategies they use during this time of year. Then write down your own ideas to keep yourself safe and happy so that the holidays can be a joyful season filled with making good new memories with your loved ones. 

This video is our gift to you. Happy holidays. 

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How to Heal: 11 Books That Can Help You

Quote about books by William Nicholson.

One of our most-asked questions from survivors is “What can I do today?” One answer is read. The books below were suggested by clinicians and survivors alike. These books helped survivors know they weren’t alone, the next steps they could take, or ways to cope with the day-to-day reality of recovering from childhood sexual abuse. Maybe one of these books can help you on your healing journey.

(Each of the links below goes to Amazon.com; if you decide to purchase your books through Amazon, we recommend using Amazon Smile and choosing The Younique Foundation as your nonprofit of choice!)

  1. Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman: This is considered one of the foundational texts for understanding trauma survivors. Although it was first published in the early 90s, it has remained relevant to clinicians and survivors alike.
  2. Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper: Yoga is an excellent way to reconnect with your body as you heal from your trauma. This book addresses how to find a trauma-sensitive yoga class and the benefits you’ll find in attending one.
  3. Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield: So many of us have issues with our bodies, and this book takes the time to address why we feel that way. While not specifically related to trauma, it falls in line with our 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope and our focus on taking care of our bodies.
  4. Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn: Kabat-Zinn is known for his insight into meditation and mindfulness. In this book he addresses the ways that stress can limit our lives – and how to overcome them.
  5. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown: Much of Brown’s work deals with vulnerability, bravery, and how to accept yourself as you truly are. Here she talks about how limiting the idea of perfection is and the breakthroughs that come through embracing our imperfection.
  6. Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro: As the creator of EMDR (Eye Movement and Desensitization Processing), Shapiro has created a way for survivors of trauma to understand EMDR and utilize it to find healing.
  7. Tapping In by Laurel Parnell: Another book on EMDR, this one shows you how to create your own self-guided program so that you can use EMDR yourself as one healing tool.
  8. The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz: This book was written specifically for survivors of sexual abuse and carries great insight into what you may be experiencing and how to help you to manage better when it comes to sexual relationships, identity, etc.
  9. The Anatomy of Peace: The Arbinger Institute created this tome as a reference for how to handle conflict, find hope, and inspire reconciliation. This will help you view peace and forgiveness in a different way and find it for yourself.
  10. Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg: This book is all about happiness and ways we can find it for ourselves. Based on a Buddhist practice known as lovingkindness, this book will show you how to have more love and compassion for yourself – and others.
  11. Journey to the Heart by Melody Beattie: With 365 meditations, this book has one for every day. Meditation can be a powerful tool on your healing journey, and this book makes it easier than ever to start meditating today.

Whether you read one of these books above, one of the books we’ve recommended before, or find your own, equipping yourself with knowledge and understanding will benefit you. We encourage you to take charge of your own healing journey. Start today.

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Trauma and Your Brain: Calming the Inner Tug-of-War

Quote from Bessel van der Kolk's book The Body Keeps the Score.

Remember back in grade school when two teams would compete against each other in a tug-of-war? Each team would pull as hard as they could to bring the other team down. A tug-of-war is about as uncooperative as you can get—you have two teams actively working against each other by pulling in opposite directions. Usually the rope stays almost stationary, not moving too far until one of the teams comes crashing down.
 

The Internal Tug-of-War of Survivors 

Unfortunately, for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, this tug-of-war often goes on internally—and it never stops. Trauma can have a permanent effect on a survivor’s body. In his groundbreaking book The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk, an acclaimed psychiatrist, explains, “Trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on the mind, brain, and body.” 

This imprint can cause you to have conflicting reactions to situations in your daily life. For example, if you see someone who reminds you of your perpetrator, one part of you screams that you need to run while another part tells you to stay put because you’re safe. Your body experiences an internal tug-of-war where two teams are fighting for opposite goals. Van der Kolk explains that this battle within leads to “physical discomfort and psychological misery.” As a survivor, you’ve probably experienced this battle and know how frustrating it can be.
 

There’s Hope 

The services we offer to survivors at The Younique Foundation work to calm this internal tug-of-war. You can train your mind and body to work together to have healthy and helpful reactions to the situations you’re in. 

If you feel like you’re currently experiencing a tug-of-war within your body and mind, know that you can change. The 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope are a good place to start, and The Haven Retreat offers a variety of experiences and services designed especially for you. We’re here to help you along the way in your healing journey. 

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Trauma, Fear, and Fuzz of the Past

Guest Blog written by Katie Steck, Education Coordinator at The Younique Foundation

It’s just after midnight and you decide it’s time to turn in for the night. You enter your bedroom where dim light from the street lamp outside bleakly illuminates your space. As you pull back your covers, you notice something dark, indiscriminate, about the size of a quarter jump across your sheet. You feel a sudden rush of panic as your heart rate soars, your muscles tense, and your thoughts race to images of a spider you thought you had killed last week.

After another moment of contemplating a battle to the death with whatever unwelcome intruder this is, you suddenly realize it’s just a piece of FUZZ! Cursing the fuzz and vowing to never watch Arachnophobia before bed again, your heart rate returns to normal, your muscles relax, and you continue your bedtime routine.

Why do we feel fear before we can even identify what is making us afraid? And how does this relate to sexual abuse we may have experienced in the past? Research into how fear is processed in the brain can shed light onto how a small fuzz can create a large fuss in our brains and bodies, particularly if the fuzz relates to past trauma.

Fear takes two simultaneous pathways in the brain; one is fast and one is slow.1 When your body receives visual signals from the outside world, it creates a basic representation of the object and sends a quick message to a place in your brain called the amygdala.2 Here, our brain asks, “Is this thing a potential threat?”

Comparing the major features of the object to what you’ve encountered before, your amygdala makes a snap judgment of whether the body needs to get ready for battle. If the amygdala deems the fuzz has enough similarities to a spider (or a similar threat), it activates other battle systems in your body, even without fully knowing what the object is. Stress hormones are released, your sympathetic nervous system is kicked into high gear, and your thoughts may retreat to the effectiveness of a flame-thrower as a defense tool.

Meanwhile, the slow pathway of fear is routed to a part in the front of your brain where the prefrontal cortex begins a full-scale investigation into what the object is and whether you should really be afraid of it in this context. If it turns out to be just fuzz and not a spider, then your prefrontal cortex sends a signal to your amygdala saying, “Shhhh, it’s okay, amygdala. No threat here.” This will, in turn, relax those battle systems that the amygdala activated and you can safely put away your flame-thrower.

In those who have experienced childhood sexual trauma, the amygdala is especially sensitive to threatening signals.3,4 Furthermore, the prefrontal cortex has fewer resources to manage fear signals and is less able to communicate when something is not a threat.3,4

This is why when we encounter the everyday fuzz that either consciously or unconsciously remind us of our traumatic past (smells, situations, sounds, etc.), we are extra responsive to the fear that comes through the fast pathway, while the slow pathway through the cortex may not be able to get messages to our amygdalae to say, “Don’t worry, we are safe from the fuzz and you can put down the flame-thrower now.”

You are not alone in the struggle with fear. You aren’t out of your mind because certain places, people, or smells make it hard for you to feel safe. Your brain has adapted to survive and may only need some redirection to help keep you on a path to healing and happiness. The good news is that you can do it, and we can help.

  1. Méndez-Bértolo, C., Moratti, S., Toledano, R., Lopez-Sosa, F., Martínez-Alvarez, R., Mah, Y. H., … Strange, B. A. (2016). A fast pathway for fear in human amygdala. Nature Neuroscience19(8), 1041–1049. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.4324
  2. LeDoux, J. E. (1998). The emotional brain: The mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1996). https://doi.org/10.2307/3953278
  3. Thomason, M. E., & Marusak, H. A. (2017). Toward understanding the impact of trauma on the early developing human brain.Neuroscience342, 55–67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2016.02.022
  4. Dannlowski, U., Stuhrmann, A., Beutelmann, V., Zwanzger, P., Lenzen, T., Grotegerd, D., … Kugel, H. (2012). Limbic scars: Long-term consequences of childhood maltreatment revealed by functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging. Biological Psychiatry71(4), 286–293. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.10.021

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We Can All Help in the Fight against Sexual Abuse

Written by Doug Osmond and Evan Jones: Philanthropy Managers at The Younique Foundation

Childhood Sexual Abuse needs to stop and it can be stopped little by little.

We came to work here because we feel like The Younique Foundation is making a huge impact for change. When we learned that 1 in 4 girls would be sexually abused before the age of 18, we knew we needed to do something. These statistics have got to change!

We at the Foundation can’t fight this epidemic alone. We need your help. As our Executive Director, Chris Yadon, says, “Until people are as comfortable talking about child sex abuse and its prevention as they are talking about car seat safety, we won’t be able to make a difference.” That is why this blog is so important. We need your voice, and we need you to share the message of The Younique Foundation with as many people as you can. Our message is that survivors of childhood sexual abuse can find hope and healing.

Sexual abuse survivors deserve to heal from the fear and trauma of sexual abuse. The services that The Younique Foundation offers to these women are completely free to them. The reason they are free is because of generous people like you. So far, more than 1,000 women have attended The Haven Retreat to enjoy a variety of healing activities including individual and group therapy, exercise classes specifically designed for trauma survivors, and classes that teach healthy ways to deal with the impact of abuse.

Please help us make a difference in the lives of the millions that are affected by this plague, even if you can only give 5 dollars a month. Your entire donation will go directly to helping these survivors to reclaim the hope that has been taken from them. Every dollar and every voice counts. Now is the time to act. Your contribution will lead to fewer and fewer innocent children facing a horror that is 100 percent preventable.

Thank you for your generosity.

two people holding hands

Survivors and Sexual Intimacy

If you’re involved in a relationship with a sexual abuse survivor, there might be moments when you don’t know exactly how you can be most helpful in her recovery. Uncertainty about how to help is especially likely to arise when it comes to the most intimate aspects of your relationship, like sexual activity. You want to have a healthy sexual relationship with your partner, a relationship that leads to well-being and continued healing, but what does this look like?

To help understand the survivor perspective, consider that, for a survivor, her initial sexual experiences happened when she was being threatened, coerced, or manipulated. She wasn’t in a situation where was able to fully understand what was going on and give consent. Due to these negative experiences, sex and trauma can be strongly linked in her brain. This connection isn’t something a survivor can just forget about or disregard. A supportive partner can be a key part of healing. Here are some specific things you can do to foster a healthy sexual relationship:

Focus on intimacy, not just sex

 Intimacy involves deeply knowing and trusting someone. Survivors often have difficulty trusting people, especially if the perpetrator of abuse was a trusted individual like a close friend or family member. Spend time building intimacy with your partner. Focus on both physical and emotional intimacy. Build physical intimacy through activities like holding hands, giving massages, or just sitting together to watch a movie. Emotional intimacy can come from genuine conversations about feelings, hopes, dreams, and worries. Strong physical and emotional intimacy can lead to a healthier and more satisfying sexual relationship for both partners.

Recognize that sex can be a trigger

 A trigger is something that sparks a memory and reminds people of a traumatic event. Triggers can make a survivor experience a flashback where she feels like abuse is happening again. Unfortunately, sex can be a trigger for many survivors. If you notice that your partner is beginning to shut down or experience anxiety during sex, it could mean that she no longer feels safe. Maybe her triggers include certain positions, sexual acts, places, or smells that you should avoid. Recognize that sex is an activity you will need to approach with care and understanding.

Communicate

 One of the keys to the success of your relationship is frequent and open communication. Discuss what is acceptable and what is off-limits when it comes to sex. Your goal here isn’t to explore past trauma in graphic detail. Your goal is to establish what will make her feel safe and comfortable. A survivor might feel like she’s ready for sexual intercourse but then change her mind. If your partner ever says she wants to stop what you’re doing, then stop. Continuing to have sex will only damage your relationship and possibly make it more difficult to be intimate in the future.

Survivors need to build trust with their sexual partners and feel like they are in charge of their sexual experiences. Focus on ways that you can make sex a safe activity that will empower the survivor in your life and strengthen your relationship with each other.

How to Re-Wire Your Brain After Childhood Sexual Abuse

In a previous blog we discussed the different parts of the brain and the basic way that childhood sexual trauma can affect them. We also addressed the way that childhood sexual abuse can prime your brain for addiction.

The trauma that you experienced in childhood leaves a lasting impression on your brain. Your limbic system (survival part of the brain) is hyper-aroused and will do whatever it can to protect you – whether that’s good for you or not. So how do you gain control again and move past the pain? Below are five things you can do to re-wire your brain and work toward healing. Each one is inspired by one of the 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope.

1. Mindful eating.

This can be especially useful if you have a tendency to use food as a way to cope with emotions. Take the time at one meal today to take a bite and experience your food. Chew it. Really taste it. Inhale deeply between bites. Don’t rush through your meal, but take the time to really enjoy every bite you take.

2. Junk journaling.

Writing can be intimidating if you don’t feel like you’re a good writer. You can spend too much time worrying about your words or sentences or self-consciously censor yourself. Junk journaling is the answer to that. Find a cheap notebook that isn’t too fancy and just write. No one will ever read it. You don’t have to worry about what you put into it. And because it’s just a junk journal you can even destroy it when you’re done. The act of writing in it can be amazingly healing.

3. Forgive yourself.

Too often survivors of sexual abuse blame themselves for what happened. If you’re going to re-wire your brain and move forward on your healing journey, you’re going to have to address that and forgive yourself. That process will be different for everyone, but a great place to start is by discussing it with a trusted friend or licensed therapist.

 4. Meditation.

There are a lot of different ways to meditate. You’ll need to find the one that makes you feel the most at ease and comfortable. The goal of meditation is to bring your thoughts inward and truly connect with yourself once again. As you do so you calm the limbic system, which will allow you to take more control when it tries to protect you in an unhealthy way.

 5. Power pose.

The way you hold yourself can make a huge difference in your feelings about yourself. Amy Cuddy gave an amazing TED talk about the benefits of power poses. So as you start your day tomorrow, stand in front of your bedroom mirror and channel your inner Wonder Woman. Put your hands on your hips and raise your chin. Do this for a minute or two every time you’re feeling low and see what it can do to raise your spirits.

The truth is that there are no quick and easy ways to re-wire your brain. It takes time and energy combined with knowledge to change the effects that trauma had on your brain. That being said, it only takes small steps every day to make a difference. You can re-wire your brain. You can find healing.

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5 Ways to Find Healing for Those Struggling After Attending The Haven Retreat

The Younique Foundation Haven Reatreat

Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again.

And in between the amazing and the awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine.

Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary.

That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life.

And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

-L.R. Knost-

Many may not realize that six months after The Haven Retreat, we reach out to participants to see how they’re doing. We’ve found that while most feel that their life has improved, there’s a small number – about 10% – who don’t.

This blog is for you.

There could be a myriad of reasons why things haven’t improved. It may have been as simple as having a bad day when you filled out the survey, or it could be much more complex than that. Whatever it is, we hope that this blog can help you work through this and find yourself in a happier place.

With that in mind, here are 5 things that we think will help those of you struggling after The Haven Retreat:

1. Professional and personal support.

Find a therapist you trust who can be a support for you. Create a support system of friends and family members who you can turn to when you need help. The women you went to retreat with can be a great source of encouragement when you’re down.

2. Be honest with yourself and others.

Maybe there’s something you aren’t addressing, a roadblock on your healing journey. Perhaps there’s a relationship, a coping mechanism, or a way of thinking that is preventing you from moving forward.

3.  Setbacks can happen.

Healing isn’t always a straight path forward. There are ups and downs, and sometimes the downs can be devastating. Don’t give up. Don’t let the downs derail your progress.

 4. Embrace the Faith Strategy.

One of the 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope is Faith. It’s all about creating an amazing future for yourself. Sometimes you may not be able to do more than wish for something good to happen, but keep hold of that wish. Visualize the life that you want – even if you can only take one small step toward it today.

 5. Change one small thing today.

Are you overwhelmed? Tired right down to your bones? Exhausted from fighting every day? We understand. So today don’t overwhelm yourself with goals – just pick one. If all you can do today is get out of bed and get dressed, that’s enough. Do what you can do and celebrate yourself for every single step you take.

Although you’re home from The Haven Retreat, we here at The Younique Foundation have not forgotten about you. We want to continue to help you on your healing journey. We want to lend our support. You are not alone – we’re here for you. And we always will be.

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The Younique Foundation’s Top 10 Blogs of 2016

If you have a dream, don’t just sit there. Gather courage to believe that you can succeed and leave no stone unturned to make it a reality.

-Roopleen-

2016 was an amazing year for The Younique Foundation. We were able to connect with so many amazing survivors. One way we were able to do that was through these blogs. So here, in case you missed them, are our 10 most popular blogs from 2016.

1. 5 Stages to Finding Healing is a blog about how the five stages of grief are tied to the five stages of finding healing.

2. Relationship Between Addiction and Trauma is a blog about the tie between childhood trauma and the reason it can lead to addiction.

3. Win the Fight Through Mindfulness is a blog explaining Mindfulness a little more thoroughly and how it can help on your healing journey.

4. The Effect Trauma Has on Your Brain is a blog that explains how trauma can alter the way that your brain works.

5. Your Brain and Trauma is another look at how trauma can literally change the way that your brain functions.

6. The Forgotten Survivor is a guest blog written by The Younique Foundation’s Executive Director, Chris Yadon.

7. I Get Triggered and That is OK is a guest blog written by The Younique Foundation’s Image Coordinator/Beauty Creative, Annie Vandermyde.

8. 8 Books to Read on Your Healing Journey is a list of books that any survivor can benefit from reading.

9. Yoga: A Way to Find Healing for Trauma Survivors is an explanation of the great benefits that trauma-sensitive yoga can have on a survivor. It also includes a video that you can watch and try from home.

10. The 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope After Trauma is a picture collage blog that gives a definition of each of our 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope.

African American women in a hoodie sitting in a field

The Relationship Between Addiction and Trauma

Tough times never last, but tough people do.

-Robert H. Schuller-

For many survivors of childhood sexual abuse, the way that they cope with their overactive limbic system, pleasure seeking part of the brain, is through unhealthy behaviors that often lead to addiction. In order to silence the triggers, the traumatic memories, and the panic of living in a body that has been traumatized, some survivors turn to things like alcohol, drugs, or food as a way to self-medicate.

Those with addiction issues will tell you that a part of them wants to stop the behavior, but another part of them doesn’t and even seems to drive them back to the behavior again and again. This is because of how the brain works.

When something feels good or enjoyable to the limbic system, dopamine is released. As noted in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, “Certain activities can release up to 10 times the amount of dopamine than natural rewards do, and they do it more quickly and more reliably. Our brains do not have an easy way to withstand the onslaught.”

Addictions are most prevalent when someone is experiencing any part of BLASTT because that is when the limbic system, or pleasure seeking part of our brain, is most active. BLASTT is an acronym that stands for:

Bored

Lonely

Angry

Stressed

Tired

Trauma Trigger

When any of these are occurring, instead of dealing with the core issue – the unresolved trauma experienced as a child – the addiction is used to cope, then becoming an issue of its own.

One survivor, we’ll call her Lisa, was addicted to food as a way to self-soothe. When emotions of any kind crept in, she would go to the cupboard for food, usually something sugary and sweet. The food helped her block out unwanted feelings, emotions, thoughts, and memories. One night as she looked in the mirror, she felt disgusted by her reflection. She felt overweight and out of shape. One voice in her mind berated her looks, but another one (the limbic system) told her to go and get a candy bar, that it would make her feel better.

It was the first time she’d realized the full impact her limbic system was having on her everyday life. She knew she needed help, both for her trauma and for the addiction she’d turned to in order to cope with her trauma.

Dr. Lisa Najavits said, “All major research indicates that when people are given the tools to cope with trauma and addiction, they improve, often in quite short time-frames.”

The 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope are each beneficial to helping you heal from your trauma as well as combat your addictions.