Healing from sexual abuse can start with one word
From a Tedx talk
After Rena Romano gained the courage to speak out about her experience of childhood sexual abuse, she discovered that few victims have the same supportive experience.
This Ted talk reveals an approach allowing each of us to aid sexual abuse survivors to lead healthy, happy, productive lives.
Rena counsels, “How you and I react and speak to sexual abuse survivors can make a difference in whether we shut down or get help. If healing begins by telling, then we must make telling safe!”
Here are some extracts:
When I was 34 I had a great job as a sales rep making twice the money as I did the year before. One evening I was standing in front of a closet full of expensive clothes. The outfit I was searching for couldn't be too conservative or too sexy. I was looking for the perfect outfit to wear as I killed myself.
I remembered the suicide hot line on TV and I reached for the phone again and again and finally I dialled. The man who answers is calming, gentle and I feel safe whispering I was sexually abused as a child for years and I've never told anyone. He allowed me to speak without interruption or judgment and when I finished, he said, "Congratulations. I am proud of you and your courage to share your story".
Congratulations. It's not what I expected to hear. They say your secrets make you sick. Mine was almost lethal. It's not stranger danger as you may think. 93% of molesters abuse children that they know. It was my big brother who stole my innocence.
You may be wondering why children and later adults don't tell. After that phone call, I went to counselling. The ladies in the group were of all ages, status and ethnicities and sadly the consequences of their telling were disastrous. Some weren't believed. Many were blamed and then punished - kicked out of their home or forced to run away to escape, while those committing these atrocities were allowed to remain in the home.
I'm fortunate that my mother, other siblings and my husband believed me. They listened to my story. They allowed me to speak and they listened without interruption or judgment and they supported me in getting help. It turns out this is an uncommon action.
Now I know it's difficult to hear stories about child sexual abuse. I believe that most people who hear our stories want to be supportive but are not sure how to react - uncomfortable sympathy. This leads to reactions such as, "Oh you poor thing.", "Well just don't let your past define you.", "Why don't you just get over it.", "You need to stop talking about it - you will hurt your business if people find out."
They may be well-intended but they can they make us feel unworthy of support and they contribute to our shame. They can imply that the victim is responsible for stopping these crimes but at 4 years old how can you?
Child sexual abuse going untreated can have devastating effects. Research [Adverse Childhood Experiences - ACEs] shows that hiding this horrible truth can cause chronic illness, devastating psychological, emotional and sociological effects. If we can't speak our truth, the pain is going to be released somewhere or we find coping mechanisms such as drugs or a life of crime. Did you know that 84% of prison inmates [in USA] have been abused as children and 75% of women entering treatment programs report having been sexually abused.
Doesn't it make you wonder what different paths their life may have taken had they been encouraged to speak their truth?
If healing begins by telling then we must make telling safe and you can help. What I believe first saved me from suicide and then kept me determined to get fixed is what I call the praise approach. What do you think would happen if we immediately offer praise and encouragement.
Not long ago, a young lady approached me whispering that happened to her too. I listened without interruption or judgment and then I congratulated her courage and strength to persevere. Clearly that's not what she expected to hear. Wiping away her tears, she stood straighter and started smiling. In her last email to me, she's in counseling and on the way to recovery.
It's imperative that you and I be aware of how we react and speak to survivors to encourage positive steps forward. If we can help survivors be proud of their survival traits, help them focus on the strengths that help them persevere during and after what they've experienced, this can aid in the healing process.
Listen to her 14 minute talk here.
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