Healing After Child Sexual Abuse

What are healthy healing mechanisms that child sexual abuse survivors can do/participate in that can help in the healing journey?

During the healing journey, many feelings may resurface in the body and in the mind, and it can be hard to get through simple day to day tasks. This is normal. Understanding that healing is not a linear process is a good place to start. Healing can be up and down. It can be like an upward spiral. Below are a few strategies that you might find helpful on your healing journey:

  • Deciding to heal: You may get to a point where you become actively intentional in healing your mind, body, and soul from the impact of trauma. Being intentional about healing can include actively seeking and engaging in activities that focus on recovering from trauma. It could be engaging in some form of therapy, meditation practices, support groups, etc. Deciding to heal is investing in making decisions that promote recovery.
  • Validating your experience: There may come a time where you can acknowledge that the sexual abuse was damaging to yourself and that it happened. Being validated helps reduce feelings of shame and increases view of self (Kim, 2008).
  • Be compassionate: Continue to be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself and learn to talk to yourself with love, compassion, and understanding. Remember that what happened to you is not your fault. Be gentle with yourself. Overcoming shame and guilt: Child sexual abuse can be damaging to one’s sense of self and place in the world. This has the potential to be carried throughout adulthood, which can manifest as shame and guilt. Remind yourself that what happened to you is not your fault and you deserve support.
  • Reclaiming your body, mind, and soul: When a child experiences sexual abuse, sexual arousal becomes activated prematurely and can impact the survivor's sense of autonomy over their body and sexual sense of self. Therefore, the trauma becomes held within the body, leaving you feeling disconnected, drained, and overwhelmed. Here are some ideas for activities to help one reclaim the body and start on a journey to body, mind, and soul healing.
    • Yoga and breathwork (Joseph, 2015)
    • Using meditation in the writing process (Campbell, 1994)
    • Journal writing (Swearingen, 1994)
    • Dance therapy (Mills and Daniluk, 2011)
    • Music therapy (Amir, 2004)
    • Group Art Therapy (Brooke, 2007)
  • Allowing yourself to feel: Allow yourself the space to feel all the feelings. Some days will not be easy. All your feelings are valid.
  • Writing/Journaling: Jotting down your feelings can be therapeutic in itself as it can provide some sense of release. It can help you process your emotions and get your emotions out on paper.
  • Finding a community: Finding a support group, activity, or hobby in the area can help you reconnect with others. It can give you a chance to start new friendships and create a space for support and communion.
  • Get active and re-discover hobbies: Try rock climbing, biking, dancing, gardening, knitting, and/or painting. Re-discover things that you once loved to do.
  • Get educated: Become educated on child sexual abuse and its long-term and short-term effects. Sign up for training in your local community. Participate in a dialogue around mitigating sexual violence. Read books written by professionals in the child sexual abuse field. If you happen to be an adult survivor of child sexual abuse with children of your own, read more here on how to parent in a trauma-informed way.

To speak with a trained support specialist, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

Want to learn more about healing after child sexual abuse? Access RAINN's eight-week learning series "Redefining Resilience" with topics such as understanding trauma, moving past shame, managing memories, and more.