According to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey (ABS, 2017), 11% of women and 5% of men in Australia report having been sexually abused before the age of 15 years. (Bravehearts.org.au)
Where the perpetrators are family, the very people who were supposed to nurture and protect you, this may lead to relationships where sex is confused with love and survivors are too keen to form sexual relationships.
Alternatively survivors may struggle with intimacy and lose the ability to trust and commit.
Some survivors, while willing to engage in sexual relationships, experience anxiety, panic, and even dissociation if a certain aspect of their partner’s appearance or behaviour reminds them of the perpetrator.
Like other traumas it may lead to feelings of emptiness and coping mechanisms like alcohol, drugs and food addiction. It may lead the mind to become overly defensive to protect itself from further attack and lead to avoidant or egotistic behaviours to mask vulnerability.
Some survivors of sexual abuse are not consciously aware that they have had this experience as the emotion and the memory has been repressed and is no longer accessed, especially if it happened in childhood. This is an ego defense mechanism to protect the survivor.
However the effects of the trauma are real and often impact their sexual relationships throughout their life, without the insight of the cause of these relationship issues. If a trigger for the memory causes distress, the survivor has no idea of the source of the distress.
While the conscious mind is not aware of the memory the subconscious however, always remembers and the body remembers via cellular muscle memory.
Psychotherapy helps in providing the experience of a healing, nurturing relationship where the client can experience a trusting, safe environment.
CBT can be effective to identify and reframe beliefs and thoughts where the trauma is known, but if the memory is not yet conscious, the treatment needs to access the unconscious memory.
Recent research trials have used Psilocybin to open up the subconscious and take you to the source of your repressed emotions. When used with sexual trauma survivors the treatment enables access to the repressed memory and emotion. Once the trauma is known, the survivor can unlock the original source of their distress and relationship breakdowns and gain meaning. As a result the repressed memory and emotion lose their power now that the subconscious has been brought into the conscious. By confronting the traumatic event, they are able to embrace it and move forward.
Although the effects of a sexual trauma can be lasting for some women, many women heal completely from the effects of the trauma with the help of a skilled therapist, even when the abuse occurred years or even decades earlier, and are able to recover with no ongoing relationship impacts.
If you’d like to start a confidential conversation about your experiences with a qualified therapist, feel free to book in for a free 20 Minute introductory chat.