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Sexual Abuse Victims: Can They Find Closure?

By Arny Alberts

You decide to seek professional help regarding a past relationship that has troubled you for some time. The process to find a therapist is not easy, but you eventually select one through an internet search. As you schedule the initial appointment, an uneasy feeling rises in your stomach when they ask for the reason of your visit. You are not prepared for the inquiry and begin to doubt if psychological counseling is what you need. The date is set, but you remain skeptical whether or not you can actually discuss this problem with another person.

In your first session, the therapist starts by asking you a very direct question. Why you have come to see them? For the first time in your life, you talk about an inappropriate relationship that happened many years ago. A brief assessment by the therapist generates a difficult question for you to understand or answer. Was the relationship, from beginning to end, consensual? From a different viewpoint, the relationship is now defined from a position of control. As your therapist introduces the concept of sexual abuse, feelings and emotions overcome you. Knowing that a person you trusted, someone in a position of authority, betrayed and abused you is not easy to deal with. What is the best way for you to handle this recent awareness? How do you come to terms with what happened and find closure?

Listed are some steps toward closure:

  • Understand the relationship – victims of inappropriate relationships are often unaware they have been abused because of age or comprehension. Several years, even decades, may pass before victims come to terms with what happened in their past. At some point, they need to understand who the victim is in a sexual abuse situation. In order to find closure, they need to know another individual took advantage of them.

  • Removal of self blame – victims typically blame themselves for all or some part of the sexual abuse that occurred. A damaging effect of these relationships leaves victims believing the abuse was somehow their fault. In some way, they feel their involvement became a significant factor leading to the abuse. Victims, no doubt, are victims. Their abusers started, maintained and pursued the abusive relationship from its conception until its ending.  

  • Acceptance – a hard, but necessary step towards closure is accepting what happened. Accepting the fact that you are, and always will be, a victim of sexual abuse is a necessary stage. Frequently, these individuals don’t want to admit they were violated and suppress the memories. In confrontational situations, victims have been known to defend their abusers instead of admitting and acknowledging the relationship. When a victim does not truly accept their traumatic past, it may seem impossible to reach another step in the healing process.

  • Move forward with life – you can never change what happened in the past. The memories from a sexually abusive relationship could leave you feeling emotional numb or stagnant. Some days, you may not feel like engaging with the world around you. But, you need to deal with this current reality and start to live the rest of your life. Be patient. When you feel ready, take small steps each day to reach out to family and friends. Maintaining some hope for your future will bring a sense of normalcy back to your life.

  • Forgiveness – sexual abuse victims suffer from a wide range of emotions that complicate their recovery. A hard concept for victims to understand is that their abusers are human. No doubt, they have made serious judgment errors in your previous relationship and could also have suffered from abuse at some point in their life. Retribution, instead of compassion, tends to be a common reaction of a victim’s feelings about their abuser. But, forgiveness is the only way. The most challenging stage in the healing process produces strong, constructive effects.   

  • Discuss Openly – at first, you may not be comfortable talking to a therapist about your sexual abuse experience, let alone family or friends. It is not a topic most people are comfortable talking about. Every time you talk about the past abuse, the less power and strength it has over you. Eventually, a family member or friend will ask a hard, direct question about what happened. When you discuss some part, or all of the sexual abuse experience, you will find therapeutic relief. Your discussion will build a strong, rich friendship as your courage to open up will develop your own character.

  • Help Others – you may think helping someone else impossible while your life appears to be a disaster. Your emotions may be somewhat unstable and helping another person may not be a priority in your life. But, with access to the internet, you can anonymously share your experience with numerous support groups. Your story could give another victim the courage and strength to make it through one more day. You could help someone who struggles in their own life and finds future hope through your words.

Can closure be attained? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The past can’t be erased, fading memories still remain and the replay of sexual abuse continues to plague your mind. After victims accept the past, they attempt to courageously move forward with life. Time, therapy and support groups can help a sexual abuse victim deal with their emotions and feelings associated with the trauma they experienced. In the end, any effort put forth will enrich their current life, not resolve the past. Death alone will bring full closure to these horrific experiences.

Sexual abuse is becoming a highly visible topic in our world today. Each day new cases are reported through local television stations and in newspaper articles. Doctors, therapists, well- known and first time authors write books about their individual sexual abuse experiences throughout our country. It is disheartening to see how widespread this problem stretches. So many families across the United States are affected by sexual abuse in one way or another. Not only are the victims struggling to deal with the effects of sexual abuse, so are their families and friends. A victim of sexual abuse assumes that nobody wants to talk them. It may be difficult to create a suitable environment to discuss items of this nature. If you can reach out in some way, they will know you are approachable when they are ready to talk.

Read other articles and learn more about Arny Alberts.

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