Peeling the Onion

Talking about childhood sexual abuse (CSA) at any age can be daunting for many girls and women. The experiences can be traumatic, debilitating and life altering. Knowing why or when to disclose the abuse can be elusive for many.

The process of disclosing, or talking to a parent, teacher, counselor, friend, relative, can be extremely challenging. It is like peeling an onion to exam the many layers involved. There is much to consider as layers of initiating, understanding and enduring the process exist. Memories may be repressed, flashbacks can occur as well as high anxiety.

There are many possible challenges to healing. There are also many researched- based options for treatment. The section below contains possible challenges and interventions one could experience in moving from surviving to thriving from the devastation of CSA.

The journey to healing can be overwhelming at times and it takes time. It is a journey that can be life changing in a positive way. Explore the lists below and see what may resonate for you.

Please note that the charts are not exhaustive.

All materials contained on this site are provided only as informational awareness about child abuse and should not be considered as professional medical or mental health advice.

Understanding What Happened

  • Processing/acknowledging what happened
  • Deciding whether, when and whom to tell
  • Asking for help and support
  • Understanding whether/when you are safe
  • Realizing you are not alone
  • Accepting offers of help and support (vs. withdrawing or self-isolating to avoid being overwhelmed by possible emotions/responses)
  • Revisiting what happened in order to heal
  • Understanding the trauma of childhood sexual abuse
  • Living with abuse perpetrated by family member(s)/friend(s)
  • Living with a lack of support and/or blame from family/friends/community
  • Cutting ties with toxic people
  • Navigating Guilt, Shame, Anxiety, Fear, Abandonment, Depression, Self-harming Behaviors, Panic-attacks, Fight or Flight Impulses, Hypervigilance, Attachment and Relationship Issues
  • Addressing Challenges with Friendships, Adult Relationships, Raising Children, Psychosomatic Ailments, Cognitive/Attention Difficulties, Flashbacks, Nightmares, Self-medication/ Substance Abuse Disorders, Reckless/Irrational Behaviors, Approach/Avoidance Behaviors, Self-Isolation/Introversion, Trauma-related Personality Disorders
  • Coping with Hypersensitivity/ Trauma Triggers
  • Recognizing and treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Reclaiming/rewriting/retelling the narrative of your life
  • Learning to move beyond surviving and into thriving
  • Claiming your story and rediscovering joy and resilience

Possible Emotions/Responses

  • Shock/denial/anger/shame
  • Physical/emotional numbness
  • Disassociation/magical thinking
  • Intimidation/fear/guilt
  • Self-doubt and self-blame
  • Lack of trust in your self/perceptions/intuition
  • Memory gaps/lack of focus
  • Panic attacks/ongoing fight, flight or freeze response/ hypervigilance
  • Self-isolation/self-harming behaviors/suicidal impulses
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Disbelief/denial/hurt/self-doubt/self-blame/confusion
  • Emotional paralysis/fear
  • Disruption of sense of self/reality
  • Withdrawal from others/distrust
  • Disassociation/numbness
  • Intentional estrangement from family/friends
  • Distrust, insecurity and need for reassurance
  • Risky and impulsive decisions and behaviors
  • Emotional dysregulation and irrational fears
  • Self-sabotaging behaviors
  • Panic as negative self-beliefs are revealed and reframed
  • Fears of self-disintegration as false personal narratives and “stuck points” in cognitive thinking are processed and rearranged
  • Relief as awareness of the effects of trauma and new coping skills to address those effects emerge
  • Self-compassion as you accept that what happened was not your fault
  • Forgiveness for yourself, and others, as you realize that healing from trauma is a lifelong journey
  • Understanding your strengths and vulnerabilities and trusting your ability to survive
  • Joy as you move from surviving to thriving

Steps To Healing

  • Acknowledge what happened
  • Trust your perception/intuition
  • Reach out to trusted family/friends/community resources for support
  • Request the support of a trained sexual assault victims’ advocate and/or therapist
  • Seek medical/legal support and guidance as needed
  • Report the incident(s) (when psychologically and physically able to do so safely)
  • Obtain professional help/social support with recognizing and responding to the long-term adverse effects of childhood sexual abuse on individuals and family systems (i.e., effects of intergenerational trauma/abuse)
  • Find a support group of people with similar experiences
  • Engage in individual and/or group therapy addressing the trauma of childhood sexual abuse and using a strengths-based approach to developing coping and resiliency skills
  • Understand how trauma affects the human body and brain (homeostasis/epigenetics)
  • Develop awareness of the brain/body connection and your physical/psychological responses to trauma triggers
  • Learn cognitive processing skills to recognize and cope with the long-term effects of trauma and build individual resiliency
  • Recognize, understand and address unhealthy patterns in past/current relationships
  • Accept personal vulnerabilities and strengthen boundaries to build confidence/resilience
  • Regain trust in your perceptions/intuitions
  • Develop self-compassion and forgiveness
  • Reconnect with your sense of self and what sustains you