Hope After Hurt: Overcoming Sexual Abuse

If you or a loved one has experienced sexual abuse, know that you are not alone. Millions of people around the world have gone through similar trauma.

Healing from sexual abuse can be a long and difficult journey, but it is possible.

I’m Dr. Termary Hernández, a postdoc resident at Syrona Counseling Retreats. In this article, we will explore the steps to healing from sexual abuse and how therapy can help.


What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the victim’s consent. It can take many forms, from inappropriate touching to sexual assault.

These experiences can leave you feeling powerless, confused, and alone. Sexual abuse, especially during childhood, can have long-lasting effects on your brain, mind, and body, leading to disturbances in your ability to self regulate your nervous system.

Why does this happen?

When experiencing a traumatic event, like a sexual assault, your body goes into “survival” mode, where your sympathetic nervous system floods your brain with stress hormones.

This gears you up for flight or fight.

And, this affects three different parts of your brain:

Sexual Trauma Changes Your Amygdala

This is your internal alarm system. After trauma, it becomes hyper vigilant and sees threats everywhere. In other words, your internal alarm system now stays turned on.

Sexual Trauma Changes Your Hippocampus

This is your memory storage and it gets jumbled up and overwhelmed during trauma, leading to flashbacks, memory loss, and confusion. 

Sexual Trauma Changes Your Prefrontal Cortex

This is your brain’s organizer and it gets overwhelmed during trauma, so that you find it hard to distinguish triggers from the past from what’s going on in the present.


Types of Trauma Responses

These changes result in what is known as “trauma responses”. It’s important to know that trauma responses are unique to every individual, and therefore vary from person to person.

Some of the more common ones are:

  • Hypervigilance
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Avoidance of certain people or places
  • Flashbacks
  • Chronic sense of shame and/or guilt
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Emotional over-or under-reacting

Types of Coping Strategies

Survivors of sexual abuse also develop different coping strategies to help them deal with these trauma responses.

These may include:

  • Avoidance of certain people or situations
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-harm
  • Risky behaviors
  • Not wanting to be touched or intimate
  • Numbing out any connection to the body

Please know that trauma responses are a “normal” reaction to an “abnormal” situation. These responses are your body’s way of trying to stay safe, and are often automatic and unconscious.

Trauma therapy is a powerful and effective way that you can learn how to shift away from trauma responses and return to more authentic and natural coping mechanisms.

The thought of starting therapy can be daunting. With the right help, you can learn to break out of the fear and shame of sexual trauma and into the freedom of life beyond the past.

Trauma-trained therapists not only understand how sexual trauma disrupts safety and trust, but they know the paths towards its reconstruction.

If you would like to start your healing journey, click the link below and schedule a counseling retreat today. I look forward to working with you.


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