Trish French, MSW, CAP, LCSW
Sexual abuse is painful enough, but what many people don’t realize is that the pain doesn’t stop there. Abuse ruins your focus, communication and ability to love others. It steals precious moments, kills your self-esteem and ruins your confidence. This affects your self-care, which impacts your physical health; these are just a few signs. We will mention many more throughout this article.
To make it simple, failing to handle your emotions and avoiding dealing with your trauma will cost you time, energy, and ultimately your life. Those who don’t seek help will eventually sabotage their life and others around them.
What Happens When We Avoid Healing?
The first step to healing sexual abuse is choosing yourself. It's necessary to make yourself a priority instead of numbing your pain through addiction, whether that’s alcohol, drugs, emotional eating, impulsive buying, sex addiction or being a workaholic.
The fact is, you're leaning on destructive habits to cope with your pain when you should be investing in yourself. You are going to invest in something to deal with your trauma, even if you are not aware.
In many cases, you have been cycling the same negative behaviors for decades. You tell yourself “That’s just who I am," when in reality, you started these behaviors to numb yourself or cope with your trauma, pushing back feelings of shame and guilt…
Let's take a moment to step back and see what it’s costing you to stay in this cycle. I’m going to challenge you to be honest with yourself; is it affecting those around you, people you love?
In my years of practice, I've seen the effects of sexual abuse and how it changes your perception of the world. You may meet the minimum social standards to continue functioning, like a job, marriage and a family, but you struggle internally, feeling lost and disconnected from yourself and others. Some survivors haven’t disclosed their past pain to their spouses due to shame and guilt. After countless years together, they still struggle with deep emotional issues like isolation, cheating, sabotage… the list goes on.
These are obvious signs that you have lost or are losing control of your life. Think about what you are losing control of… What is at risk?
We tend to be more logical in business and our daily lives, but when it comes down to facing emotional decisions, some find themselves lost, hurt and confused. It's no way to live and others around you are aware that you are struggling.
They may not be aware of your trauma, but they are aware of you missing events, having problems connecting, loving yourself and enjoying life.
Do you really think those who love you haven’t noticed your struggles? I can assure you they do and they would want you to receive help. Loved ones can be a huge support system during your healing.
The true danger in sexual abuse is how it disrupts your entire life.
I want those suffering to be fully aware… When you hit rock bottom, you will truly feel the pain and loss. I know you think it hurts now, but it will be nothing compared to watching your life dissolve. I’ve seen it first hand and it's tragic; I’ve also seen what prioritizing healing and self-care can do. It's night and day.
Signs & Symptoms of Unresolved Trauma
It's important to dive deeper into symptoms of trauma such as negative behaviors and painful emotions, while understanding how these impact your life choices and what will happen if you don't change. As I go through these points, I want you to identify which ones you are struggling with.
I would like to start by highlighting self-sabotage. From my professional experience, self-sabotage is a common effect of trauma, which means you need healing immediately. Sabotage, in its simplest term, means to deliberately damage or destroy. I primarily see the fall out happen in relationships and marriages, but you can also sabotage a job or friendships. It’s a trap that you set for yourself and anyone close to you. It will strip away any confidence you have and will make you question those who love you. You’ll act irrationally in situations and justify bad behaviors towards others… lying, cheating, stealing to name a few.
Self-sabotage ruins your ability to maintain happy relationships, causing others to leave. It causes you to feel so lonely, even when others are around, lash out, struggle with emotional control, hurt the people you love and have a difficult time with commitment. Self-sabotage causes you to abandon others and instills a feeling of loss and failure. In reality, you are sabotaging all the good things in your life.
If you stay in this cycle of self-sabotage, you will get caught in your own trap. I’ve witnessed cases where people lose their family, friends and jobs. They cheat or lie to their spouse and start showing up to work with low energy, sometimes not showing up at all, costing them money and opportunities.
This leads right into my next point, with attracting the wrong people. If you associate with others who make poor life choices, you are increasing your risk of harmful behaviors as well; you pick up their habits, negativity and influence. This is when the spiral starts. You push away the good people left in your life; you hide bad habits and isolate yourself from others, knowing you’ll disappoint, but it won’t stop there. You will try and please people who are toxic, and develop a dependency on their approval for “love”. You will find yourself lowering standards and ignoring self-care routines. You feel the urge to satisfy others at the expense of your own health. As a result, your mental, emotional and physical health start to decline.
This typically results from low self-worth, where you may feel undeserving of love, affection or positive attention. Toxic people only mirror your inner negative feelings, which is why you are attracted to them.
Think about it… The way you treat yourself is how you are inviting others to treat you. If you constantly criticize yourself, have a lack of confidence; you will risk attracting the same type of people.
The result will be a life filled with fear, depression and anger. Low-level problems will become big. You will become irritable and quick to temper. Distractions, disconnection and poor attitude will be your daily experience.
The good news is, you can learn how to break this cycle.
I want to give you insight on how we can identify your negative emotions and use them for growth, rather than self-sabotage.
These negative emotions are symptoms of abuse. They are the by-product of sexual trauma and root back decades. Chances are they are a habit, but we know habits can change. Given proper attention and respect, they can also be a signal for growth.
The issue is, when we push back or ignore our emotions, they become amplified. You not only start to shame yourself for having these negative emotions, but you shame others. In our society, people judge themselves for experiencing depression, anxiety or grief, so we learn to push them back or ignore our emotions. Trying to force yourself to be positive is rigid and ineffective. It's just not authentic to who we are. You lose your ability to deal with the world.
Negative emotions can be given a positive purpose; you’ve just been ignoring the message your brain is trying to send you, or may not be aware of what these emotions mean.
Many survivors struggle and feel lost in handling these emotions. You may have been taught to avoid or push back your feelings, but this only makes you hold on to them. You must change your approach; try a new method. If you continue the same behaviors, you will continue to receive the same results. Anger will only produce anger and self-hate will only cause you to bleed hate on others.
Most people are aware of their bad habits, but they struggle to understand how to change these negative habits to feel positive. I’m aware, you may have never experienced a life with true happiness and joy.
You have a deep need for authentic love, but won’t allow yourself to feel it because of fear. Changing your perspective on what you deserve can change your entire life. The ability to change perspective comes from being open-minded. Allowing change, craving growth and applying knowledge will improve your quality of life over time, giving you the ability to maintain emotional balance.
On the other side, avoiding your emotions takes considerable effort every day. As a result, little energy is left for the important things in life, such as self-care, family, relationships and career. This leaves you mentally exhausted, causing you feel "on edge" or irritable.
This negative cycle of emotions leads to low self-esteem. The pain, loss, fear and anxiety you feel daily, keep you trapped in the cycle of feeling powerless. You have a sense of failure before you even begin a task and have little faith in yourself. Your critical inner voice tells you you're “not good enough, worthless, and unlovable”. When you become triggered by rejection, feelings of inadequacy and disapproval, this impacts every decision you make, causing you to lose the ability to stay grounded and logical. When low self-esteem takes root, you will stop fighting for yourself and the ones around you.
How Low Self-Esteem Begins
The cycle of low self-esteem slowly sabotages your life. We develop self-esteem and self-image during our youth. Experiences we have in our childhood still influence us today. If you have developed low self-esteem, you may have gone through childhood trauma, such as
Neglect & Abandonment
Having anger or frustrations taken out on you
Children’s brains are like sponges, soaking up every bit of knowledge needed to live and survive. As children growing up, when we encounter unhealthy or harmful situations, we start to believe everyone in the world is similar to these harmful people, so we begin to construct ways to cope and behave according to our reality.
Your negative self-talk becomes normalized and you may not notice this behavior, especially if you grew up around negative people.
This critical inner voice creates unhealthy rules, forcing control and “perfection”. You may even try to control others in their decisions, interactions and opinions, possibly exhibiting a habit of agitation or aggression towards others when things are not going your way.
In some cases, you overwork and stress out, just trying to get through the day, even though you feel inadequate. Having success in one area of life, such as a job, makes you feel like you’re doing okay, but the reality is, you’re suffering in all other areas of life. To have true success, you will need to maintain balance and prioritize self-care, emotional wellbeing and physical health.
You developed perfectionism from your trauma, always wanting things to be perfect, to receive approval. Perfectionism creates an unhealthy perspective that can lead to anger, anxiety and psychological stress. On the surface, being a perfectionist would seem like a positive trait, but setting excessively high standards is a no-win situation. You know that you or your loved ones will never meet these expectations. This trains your brain to be overly critical, creating unrealistic standards. It will also cause you to hesitate and procrastinate. You are always looking for the “perfect timing.” You hold off on important decisions, trying to control the outcome of situations. More times than not, it leads to failure. This puts you right back into the negative cycle, making you feel worthless.
A person who thinks they are “worthless” may develop rules to please people, hoping to receive approval. Their sense of love is tied to self-sacrifice. It's an unhealthy mindset. The unfortunate truth is, you rarely receive approval from toxic people. This just reinforces your low self-esteem.
Eventually, your life will begin to collapse. Survivors tend to feel guilt and shame after sexual abuse, thinking you could have done something to prevent it from happening; it's overwhelming and creates a sense of loneliness.
Many survivors keep their abuse a secret for 20-30 years, struggling with painful emotions, destructive behaviors and self-sabotage. You may struggle with these thoughts internally, but don’t know how to navigate your feelings, and act as if these feelings don't exist.
These issues won’t disappear with time…they will worsen. Trying to deal with sexual abuse alone can be DESTRUCTIVE and even DEADLY if left untreated. It's impossible for survivors to fully heal without the appropriate help. These are deep-rooted issues that require specific treatment. Self-sabotage, people-pleasing, low self-esteem; they’re all connected.
You may struggle with not being able to imagine a life without painful emotions and triggers; this creates a disconnection because you don’t have passion and purpose for life. You are stuck, just trying to survive. There is no progression or motivation.
Our next article will cover the key to finding your purpose and reinventing yourself. I will discuss what life looks like after healing from trauma, outlining how survivors can create a plan for their life that prioritizes self-care. I will also discuss what hopes, dreams and goals they have, and how they can maintain their emotional balance. I will help give insight and clarity, primarily for those who can’t imagine a life without their current issues. You deserve to be happy.
We know the exact method for healing your trauma. Our approach is different because we not only focus on healing, but on reinventing your life after healing.