The work of recovering and healing from any trauma can be challenging, especially the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. For many survivors of sexual abuse, healing requires feeling difficult emotions, recalling painful details, and sorting through thoughts and experiences that were far too complex for the child who experienced them to understand. Healing is also a journey, one that will include highs and lows, progression and regression, and everything in between. The good news is that the human brain is capable of learning and relearning, which means it is very possible for you, as a survivor of child sexual abuse, to practice behaviors and patterns that will help you find healing. One of these practices is Acknowledgement.

What is Acknowledgement?

Acknowledgement is a healing practice that involves:

  • Looking at the past and present with clarity.
  • Showing yourself compassion for where you’ve been and where you are now.
Acknowledgement is looking with clarity and self-compassion at where you have been in the past and where you are today.

Looking at the Past and Present with Clarity

Acknowledgement asks you to look back on your life all the way up to the present and reflect on your experiences. In particular, it may be helpful for you to ask yourself:

“When it comes to the trauma I experienced as a child, what might I need to acknowledge?”

This question will likely lead you to others:

  • “How was/is my life affected by the trauma?”
  • “How were/are my relationships affected by the trauma?”
  • “How did/does my body manifest the effects of the trauma?”
  • “What coping strategies did/do I employ?”

Answering these questions with clarity (meaning that you allow yourself to be clear and honest with yourself) can be the key to identifying the next steps you need to take in order to make progress in your healing. For example, one survivor might examine these questions and write:

  • “How was/is my life affected by the trauma?”
    I’m on edge all the time. I lack the energy or interest to do anything outside of work because I focus all of my efforts on managing my anxiety and anticipating the next panic attack.

  • “How were/are my relationships affected by the trauma?”
    I need to keep people at a distance because I can’t risk getting hurt or feeling betrayed again. The one exception is my sister, who believed me when I told my family about the abuse.

  • “How did/does my body manifest the effects of the trauma?”
    I have chronic physical pain in my neck and shoulders. I also struggle with digestive issues and tend to wake up in cold sweats during the night.

  • “What coping strategies did/do I employ?”
    The best way to distract myself from my anxiety and chronic pain is to spend hours at a time getting lost on social media by seeking out heated Facebook arguments. I also sometimes take an Ambien in the middle of the day to sleep through the afternoon.

Showing Yourself Compassion

It can be easy to assume that seeing yourself clearly means focusing on your faults, but it’s so important to approach Acknowledgement with as much compassion and kindness as you can. It may be helpful to try to neutralize your thoughts as much as possible. For example, you may identify some coping strategies that you’d like to adjust or change. Instead of labeling these coping strategies as “bad,” apply some self-compassion and reframe your thoughts. Maybe Acknowledgement could look something like this:

  • Clarity: “I drink large amounts of alcohol to cope with emotions that I don’t want to feel, specifically those related to my abuse.”
  • Self-Compassion: “My drinking has been a way for me to cope with feelings and memories that are very painful. I’m not damaged or weak; I’m human and I can learn different ways to cope with these feelings and memories.”
  • Clarity: “In order for me to work through those feelings and memories, I will have to drink less alcohol. This will be challenging for me.”
  • Self-Compassion: “I want to feel better for me. I’ve done the best I could do for where I’ve been, and I can make changes to be closer to where I want to be. I will take it one day at a time as I make small adjustments.”

Healing is a process that involves stages or steps. And more often than not, those stages or steps are repetitive. This means that Acknowledgement isn’t a one-time thing. As you work through healing, acknowledging where you are and where you’ve been, intentionally focusing on healing, and working on goals for the future, it will be helpful for you to cycle back to Acknowledgement to help you see the progress you’ve made, as well as to make adjustments or pivots. Ideally, Acknowledgement can become a way of daily living, but it may take some time and practice to feel like you are looking at the past and present with clarity and self-compassion. Keep practicing; Acknowledgement may just be the first step you’ll take in embracing and accepting your true self.

As you practice Acknowledgement, you may find that you are more prepared to engage in the healing practices of Mindfulness and Aspiration. Each of these practices has its own role to play in your healing, and these practices are beneficial to you regardless of where you are in your healing journey.

How Can I Practice Acknowledgement?

Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to try something new, especially when it requires you to be so vulnerable with yourself or others. Try these activities as a way to practice Acknowledgement, reminding yourself as you go that Acknowledgement includes clarity and self-compassion.

Navigating Your Relationships

An important component of healing and overall well-being is having meaningful, healthy relationships. Feeling connected to others is important, and relationships that are mutually supportive and respectful can be especially beneficial as you work on healing the trauma of the past. This relationship assessment prompts you (and your loved one, if you are interested in including them) on areas of strength in your relationship, as well as opportunities for growth. This provides a great example of Acknowledgement because it allows you to assess the health of the relationship by evaluating, with clarity and honesty, attributes of healthy relationships. Practice self-compassion as you assess your own contributions to the success of the relationship (and perhaps offer compassion to your loved one as you grow and increase trust).

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Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), an exercise that involves flexing and relaxing different muscle groups, can be a great way to practice Acknowledgement. Sometimes survivors experience a difficult relationship with their physical self. For example, they might struggle to see the positive aspects of their body or feel connected to the physical experiences of the present. PMR can help you reconnect with your body by acknowledging the following: the discomfort and tension you may be feeling in some muscles or areas, the sensations you are experiencing based on the setting around you, and the ways in which your body—with all its perceived strains and stress—is still succeeding at serving you. Ultimately, PMR can be a great way to notice how clarity can be powerful in accepting what is. As you notice areas that are tight or tense, practice self-compassion in thanking your body for doing so much to keep you going.

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Creative Expression

Want a new outlet to explore the emotions and anxieties you may be experiencing? Creative expression can be a wonderful, cathartic way of acknowledging and putting a voice to what you are going through in the present moment. The act of creating something new can enable you to address and sort through thoughts and feelings that helps you make sense of them. It can also be a method for self-discovery, and you may find that practicing Acknowledgement is easier (and more fun!) when you allow yourself freedom of expression. You can use any variety of tools and materials to create in any medium you prefer (drawing, painting, collage, songwriting, journaling, etc.). Consider taking up Art Journaling or Expressive Writing as great ways to Acknowledge, with clarity and self-compassion, where you’ve been and where you are.

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