When we are abused, we are often manipulated – usually by our abusers, but often by others – into believing that it’s our own fault. I touched on this a bit yesterday , when I spoke about gaslighting. When you think that something is your own fault, it can be difficult to reach out and ask for help. Often, we believe that, to ask for help, is to admit weakness. In fact, the opposite is true; seeking help is a sign of strength.
Seeking help is admitting that all is not well, and squaring up to the possibility that things might get worse before they get better. Seeking help is a brave thing to do – it is a sign that you have the courage to move on from where you are to where you can be. Seeking help is an act of heroism – a commitment to change, and change is always scary.
There are many different types of help – but they all start with a conversation acknowledging the need for help in the first place. Often, that conversation is with your primary health care worker, but it can equally be with a friend or partner, or a phone service like the Samaritans or a local rape crisis centre. Asking for help is the first step to getting it – and you deserve help. You deserve help to get to a place where you are living your best life. If you’re not living your best life, then you deserve the help you need to get you there.
The thing with getting help as a sexually abused person is that it’s rarely a one-off thing. Or even a one-off capsule of six or eight sessions. The trauma we suffer, as people who have survived sexual abuse, is complex trauma. Part of what this means is that therapy is never just cleanly done and dusted in a few sessions with a suitably qualified therapist. Complex trauma means that we need to deal with different elements as and when they arise; and we will need to deal with things on different levels as and when we are able to. As we learn more about ourselves and more about the situations we were forced into, we approach and deal with that information.
I would always caution people who have been sexually abused to be careful about the kind of help they seek, and accept. One size does not fit all – and very few therapists are not properly trained in working with people who have a history of sexual abuse. It’s – we’re – complicated, and we deserve to work with people who properly understand the long-term, multiple effects of sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse in particular.
If you can, take the time to find the best practitioner for you. Remember, that they work for you – you are not lucky they will see you; they are getting paid to do so, it’s their job. Good work can only be done if you have a good relationship with your therapist. That means clear boundaries (which work both ways and are respected as such), and a sense that you are valued and respected within the therapeutic relationship. I would suggest contacting and interviewing potential therapists. That’s what I did the last time I went in to therapy and I have to say it was hugely empowering. I wrote and gave a brief outline of my history and asked if the therapists I was contacting felt equipped to work with me. I asked for details of their education and accreditation. In Ireland, this is seen as a very odd thing to do, but I know that if I were hiring a building contractor, I’d want to know that they were qualified, were a member of a professional organisation, and I’d also seek references from people for whom they had already carried out similar work. In the case of therapists, that is neither appropriate nor practical, so I am not suggesting you would ask for references for your proposed therapist. But you are allowed to interview them.
Bear in mind, too, that there are several types of therapy; and what works for someone else may not work for you. Or it may not work for you now, but be precisely what you need in a year or two. CBT, DBT, Mindfulness, Jungian, Solution-focused, EMDR and all others are merely tools that are designed to help people manage their current circumstances. Pharmaceuticals can often help, too, depending on your difficulties, needs, wants, expectations and limitations. But they are only tools, and one size does not fit all. The wrong therapeutic approach, at the wrong time – or the right therapeutic approach at the wrong time – can do more harm than good. And you deserve good. You deserve the best. The first thing you have to do is ask for it, though. Ask for the help you need. You deserve it.