Since 1995 when I worked in a clinic, I have developed a specialty of working with women traumatized in childhood by sexual abuse. Often a family member was the initial perpetrator. I work with women individually, and in a group, and in both settings I am struck by these women’s resilience and drive to heal.
Often women’s first abuse predated their ability to understand what was happening to them. Frequently women were told that what was being done was their fault. As adults, women often say that they know they were not to blame but emotionally they can’t help but feel that they were somehow bad or wrong.
This is one of the distortions that women recovering from childhood abuse frequently have. They may be more likely to get into other relationships in which they are blamed and can’t help but feel at fault. Another common distortion is looking at other people, and thinking that they and their lives are perfect. The women often criticize themselves for any lack of perfection. They often have relationship difficulties around issues of appropriate self assertion, trust, sexual intimacy.
When they get emotionally triggered, they may find it hard to deal with their own or anyone else’s emotions, especially anger. Because what happened was overwhelming, it is not unusual for women who were abused to experience emotional flooding, or on the other hand to be over controlled and to feel somewhat numb.
Individual therapy often involves redeveloping an accurate sense of self, addressing distortions, and learning how to calm and take care of one’s self. I particularly like this work as I see such strength, and resilience in the women who do it.
I also run a group for women who were sexually abused as children; for more information see WoMAC: trauma group.