There really are no words to express the catastrophic damage that sexual abuse causes. I died inside the day I was first abused when I was a child. Though long and arduous, I eventually received healing from these wounds.
Sexual assault is a huge blow to a person’s sense of self-worth. I felt that this was happening to me because I wasn’t as good as other people. I was a worthless, bad person and that must be why this person that I loved was doing this to me. I believed I had no value and that I wasn’t worth anyone’s love.
Though those beliefs were lies, to me they were absolute truth—as true as ice is cold and water is wet. It was just how the world worked. The sun rose in the East and I was bad, and that was that. This belief was reinforced over and over for years, each time he abused me again.
Many people don’t know that sexual assault survivors have a hard time feeling angry about what happened to them. I know that for many years, I didn’t. I couldn’t. I knew that what happened to me wasn’t right. Logically, I knew that I should feel angry. But I still didn’t.
It was a few years into my healing before I finally became angry. Only when I could really understand that I was worth being angry about, could I feel anger at my abuser. I knew that it would be a temporary state, a stage to move through rather than a place to move in. But it was the result of my realization that I didn’t deserve abuse.
Anger gave me hope. It was a sign that I had begun to internalize and actually believe that I too had value. It indicated that I was making progress and getting better.
For healing to truly happen my sense of self-worth needed to rise sufficiently. I had to first face the real magnitude of what my abuser had done. I needed to allow myself to become angry, and then later to work through that anger. If any of these steps had been skipped, real healing would not have been possible.
The fullest part of the healing occurred when I was able to fully forgive my abuser. But I could not offer forgiveness when I was still in denial about the effects of the abuse, and I could not offer full forgiveness before I began to heal. My forgiveness had to come from a woman who understood her value, who understood the severity of the offense, but freely and willingly chose the path of personal peace. As I write in the next article, my forgiveness meant I no longer gave my abuser power over my emotions. Once I let go of my anger, I felt free.