Dear Readers: The person who submitted this question is a young woman—as such, I’ve decided to engage the topic of sexual abuse as it pertains to girls/women. I am very aware that boys/young men are also victims, and I in no way intend to marginalize their experience by speaking solely about girls/women—I am simply tailoring my response to the circumstances presented to me by this questioner.
I had a horrible relationship with my mother in high school because she was dealing with her newly diagnosed bi-polar disorder. We would always clash because I didn’t know what she was going through, but now I fear I am turning into her. I see myself lashing out sometimes and getting upset over things that seem to have no substance, and when I do calm down I realize that I shouldn’t have gotten angry. Most of the time I take it out on my boyfriend, and that’s what I fear the most. I don’t want to upset him over tiny fights and push him away. It’s like I have in my head this “self-fulfilling prophecy” that of course I’m going to turn into my mother—I feel like I’m making that fear come true. My boyfriend is very supportive of me trying to deal with this situation. He never gets mad at me in return—when I am angry he tries to solve where it is coming from and why. My worst fear is pushing him away while trying to figure this out.
I don’t know if this aggression I have is stemming from me thinking I am turning into my mother, or from the sexual abuse I suffered in high school from my first boyfriend at the age of 14. My boyfriend would hit me, cheat on me, and sexually assault me—this was all very frequent for 9 months. I was so young and sensitive and he was 17 and I didn’t know what to do, so I put up with it. When I’d tell him I wanted to end it, he would threaten to kill himself. He finally hit me in public once, and my best friend and her boyfriend saw, which gave me a way out because he got scared that I wasn’t the only one to know anymore.
While all this was going on with my boyfriend, my mother was dealing with her anger over being raped by her cousin. When she returned home for a wedding, she saw him and he hugged her as if nothing happened. It brought up so many emotions for her and she ended up taking it out on me—she would lash out and hit me—it got so bad that my dad and I had to move out for a few months. I went to a therapist for a while and I thought I had dealt with my pain, but with all these emotions now I’m not sure what to think. I get so angry at little things, like my personal short comings and when things don’t go as planned—it’s starting to affect my life. I just want to get my anger or whatever seems to be happening to me under control before I turn into my ex or my mom. I’m lashing out like I did before I went to my counselor in high school. I’m not sure where to go from here. I don’t know if you have any insight for me, but I’ll wait to hear back.
I am so grateful you wrote to me, and humbled that you revealed not only your identity to me, but so many more details about your abuse, in a second note. There are so many layers to your hurt, so many dimensions to what was taken from you, and I hope you can hear what I am about to write to you: Everything is going to be okay. You are not your mother or your ex, nor will you “turn into” them, and you are going to get to the other side of this suffering that is interrupting your life.
Unmanageable anger is always a symptom of unmanageable pain. You are in so much pain, but you can release that pain, and when you do, your anger will subside. Pain masquerades as anger because anger gives us a sense of power and control (which is what we long to feel when our personal power and control has been violated) while pain just brings us to our knees and leave us exposed and vulnerable to a depth of suffering that can seem unbearable. Please try not to let your anger frighten you—instead—see your anger for what it is: an invitation to come to terms with how much pain you are in. It’s true that pain not dealt with can swallow our life in the form of out of control anger, depression, substance abuse…but you are not going to let that happen. As of today, you are going to become radically conscious of your interior life, and as a result, you will begin to heal.
So for starters, please change your perception about yourself and your anger. What you are feeling and how you are reacting is completely normal, given the traumas you’ve experienced. If you weren’t in this much pain, if you weren’t spilling that pain out in the form of unbridled anger, I would worry you were shut down. You are not. You are a vibrant young woman who has been through something terribly traumatic, and while you did some work with a counselor back in high school, it’s clear that the trauma is still very much present in your body—so you’re trying to have a happy life in college with your boyfriend, but your entire being is in a state of trauma—or post trauma if you will. The goal is to unlock, lift, and release the traumatic events, so that they don’t dictate your emotional and psychological wellness…or your life.
Second: Post Trauma Stress and pain go hand in hand, and the pain (the anger) will only worsen over time if not addressed. When the traumas first occurred, your body, your mind, had no way to process them. Very few events promise to gut us, but sexual abuse is one of them. Once gutted, the open space that remains gets filled with an acute pain, the sort of pain that only toxic levels of shame can usher in. As a result, the layers of pain disconnect us from our true Self, which means our true Self is no longer navigating our life. Instead, our wounds lead the way. Before you know it, our sense of Self, our true identity, can’t be felt or heard over the loud cry and dictates of pain.
So you need to rescue your Self, the same way you would rescue your own child if she were kidnapped. You would never give up on your child—you’d find the strength, the endurance, the will, to bring her home, and this is the fierce love I want you to bring to yourself as you do the work to rescue your Spirit. Remember the inner gingerbread person I spoke about in class (for those who wish to understand this reference, click here). You want your life to be led by the authentic you, not some EGO generated version of you that will only lead you into more suffering. And so you need to bring your consciousness back to the consciousness of your Spirit.
A history of abuse functions in the present as a means for recreating the experience of our identity to one of “victim in the now,” which serves to keep us treading in the waters of despair—it’s as if the pain reinforces the victimization. What we need to do is break that cycle. We need to see our chronic state of suffering as a distorted reality that prior abuse ushered in. The truth is that you are well and safe right now. The goal is to shatter the illusion and reconnect with the very source of your well-being—your authentic Self.
While this is not a small task, and certainly not something you can push through in a few weeks, it is entirely possible. Trauma does not need to hijack our life—it can, it often does, but it doesn’t have to. When we understand what is going on within us, it can be a little easier to heal. In order to begin the work to recover, it is really important to understand what actually happens to us when we are abused, especially sexually abused, aside from the obvious degradation and humiliation—it is important to understand the trauma from an energetic perspective, so that when you invest in your recovery, it is holistic rather than piecemeal.
Third: Please do not self-diagnose (I am referring to your concern that you are bi-polar). While your fear is understandable, fear is the greatest obstacle to healing, and fear can potentially grow so big that it envelopes us and yes—we can think ourselves unwell. So when that fear arises, I want you to try this: Pause, recognize it, and gently invite it to step aside. I mean that literally. When thoughts that you are turning into your mother swallow you whole, try this: Fear…there you are again…I’m sorry, but there is no space for you in my consciousness or anywhere else in my life…I have to ask you leave. Blow it a kiss goodbye, and then affirm: I am a strong, healthy woman, capable of peace and great joy…” While it may sound hokey, that practice will help you to observe and breathe through your fear before it robs you of another opportunity for progressive healing. Remember: fear can only live in our ego consciousness, and the source of healing rests in our spirit consciousness. Healthy thoughts squeeze out the negative, allowing our Spirit to rise up and our body to be healthy. Fear has no part in the equation.
You are your own person, and while your trauma happens to be similar to your mom’s trauma, that in no way dictates what your life will feel like and look like. Your nature, your brain chemistry, your way of being and recovering, your purpose in life, is and will be unique.
The Unique Nature of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is not just another form of physical abuse—it is a physical violation whose effect is to disconnect a woman from the source of her emotional and intuitive power—the very sources of power that enable women to manifest their destiny, as well as change the world. Sexual abuse confuses, humiliates, shatters trust, and fills its victim with shame. It can enslave us to our mind, a sure path to many other maladies, like depression, anxiety, and addiction. Sexual abuse shatters the spontaneity of wonder, and suffocates the ability to feel safe. We become protected and layered and we navigate life from a sub-consciously wary and guarded place. We will even sabotage the arrival of genuine love, because our shame convinces us we don’t deserve it. The hurt, the damage, is profound.
Women are incredibly powerful. Incredibly so. The source of our power rests in the energetic potential of our sexuality. Please do not read this wrong—by sexuality I am referring to our potential to be genuine lovers, creators, healers, and courageous truth tellers, power that is energetically informed by the part of our body that invites life in, grows it, sustains it. Women create. This is not about baby making per se, but is about the energetic potential our bodies hold—an energy bigger than any menses, egg, uterus, or delivery. It is an energy so interconnected with the divine, so purely and infinitely powerful, that our body’s energy bestows a wisdom upon women that is spontaneous and clear. Yes. I’ve said it. Women and men are different, in part because of their energetic body wisdom.
While our whole body, mind, and spirit contain this spark, it is concentrated, if you will, in our second chakra, the part of our body that enables us to literally co-create with God—it is the place of the whisper of women’s distinct intimacy with divinity, and when it is violated, we can become disconnected from the intuitive knowing that we possess, the inherent power to intervene and solve, the ability to bring forth what is righteous and good in the face of despair and fear. We cannot access our divine power when we are filled with shame—cut off from our birthright, we feel dead inside.
When we have experienced sexual abuse, our recovery is complicated by the fact that sexual abuse severs our ready access to the very source of our healing. But that source is patient and will wait an eternity for us to access it—so we can do one of two things. We can accept the message the abuse left us with—that we’re worthless and discard-able—and let that belief direct the course of our life, OR, we can look at that toxic belief head on and refuse to accept it—no matter how we feel, we can begin to affirm the opposite message which is the true message: I am precious, I am safe, and I have been chosen to co-create with the divine…and let that belief direct the course of our life.
The abuse you endured at the age of fourteen from the two people whose job it was to provide tender and safe love was an experience your psyche had no way to process—it was chaotic, random, violent, degrading. We are not equipped to process such devastation in the moment—it is not natural to be treated in such a way, and the body/mind gets shocked into coming up with a defense mechanism which allows us to survive—anger is a good distractor while we slip unknowingly into a depressed state. But defense mechanisms are short term solutions. You are here. You are strong. And now you must grapple with the fractures as an adult.
Pull yourself out of your EGO consciousness as often as you can. We can do this with imagination. Imagine your gingerbread girl…I want you to ask her what she needs…ask her how she feels about your anger…ask her how it will be possible to break free of the lack of trust and the impulse to react negatively. Ask her why your mom abused you. Ask her why your ex-boyfriend did what he did. Ask her why this has happened, and what good could ever come from this pain. TALK TO HER AS MUCH AS YOU CAN, for in so doing, you will be practicing the art of moving from EGO consciousness to Spirit consciousness. Fake it ‘til you make it. I promise, if you devote yourself to this practice, you will begin to break free of your suffering. I recommend a pretty notebook, a great pen, a beautifully scented candle, and at least 15 quiet minutes a day to speak to her. I used to do it at the crack of dawn, before my son woke up: candle, coffee, pen and prayers—it’s a heavenly way to begin a day, and over time, your spirit is going to occupy much more space than your pain.
In the meantime, remember that you are not a victim any longer. All the potential for trust, for calm, for moving through life with faith and exuberance—it’s all there. Your authentic self was never touched or even phased by what another did to you…it remains clear, eternal, and ever accessible. It is our mind that perpetuates the brokenness, not our Spirit. So set up camp in your Spirit consciousness as best you can, and you will see just how fine you actually are.
Second: Trauma gets locked in our brain and in our body, but we can release it with the help of a skilled professional. My therapist, a most gifted healer, practiced EMDR with me, and it is stunning how well it worked. Find a counselor who is familiar with EMDR and trusts its process. Also, IFS is an amazing therapeutic tool. I highly recommend you find a therapist who is competent in both (a quick Google search will explain these methods). Talk therapy is good, but it is not enough given the traumas you have experienced.
Also, accept the idea that you might have to return to a therapist at various points in your life—when you’re stuck, when the anger is bigger than you can handle, when the sadness feels insurmountable—milestones in one’s life can dredge up trauma. But also remember that being stuck doesn’t mean we haven’t healed—instead, it could very well mean that we are being invited to understand a new dimension of our suffering, one that can empower us like rocket fuel.
You are a beautiful, strong, capable woman. You are loved. You will get to the other side of this, and when you do, you are going to be amazed at the depth of compassion you will feel for the most broken and abusive individuals. You will be a warrior for love, and your life will be one of joy. I have great faith in you, and much affection.