A survivor of child sexual abuse on recognizing the impact of her experience, and how addressing it helped
Quick to flare up.
These were the common epithets my family, friends, and colleagues used to describe me. Thankfully, despite having anger issues, an affable personality ensured that I didn’t alienate my entire circle of friends. But by the time I reached my late twenties, working and living with children in an alternative school meant that I could no longer afford to let my emotions override me. That’s when I decided to take a deeper look at what was making me lose my cool. And that’s when I was forced to admit that a lot of my behavior seemed to be stemming from having been sexually abused as a child and the unresolved issues around that. While the memory of the abuse was alive in me, I had never spoken about it to anyone, and I could see that it affected a lot of what I did.
This prompted me to seek help. While battling a bout of depression, I started seeing a psychiatrist who didn’t have a clue about how to handle my abuse. Meanwhile, I was starting to recognize the impact that the abuse had left on me. Not just did I have anger issues that stemmed from an unresolved past, I also had a huge trust problem, not to mention body image issues. I managed to hide all of this from others with a mask of confidence but internally I was confused, lost, unable to fully comprehend what was causing these issues. Some of it was evident, but to join the dots that the abuse can have such long-lasting impact on me and in such ways was not something that magically came to me.
Through my sessions with the psychiatrist, I began to realize that he had no idea of how to help me with what was really bothering me. That’s when a friend mentioned RAHI Foundation. RAHI is a center that works specifically with women survivors of incest and child sexual abuse. I reached out to them and started therapy with them.
Being in a therapeutic space which focuses specifically on the impact and fallout of child sexual abuse really helped put things in perspective. I realized that guilt was the overriding emotion that I carried the whole time. That was what prevented me from speaking about the abuse until I was 30. Guilt that I allowed it to happen, guilt that I was a party to it, guilt that if I had wanted to I could have stopped it.
It took the guilt and shame away from me and placed it where it belonged: with the abuser.
Therapy helped me figure out that I was a child of eight, with no real agency over my decisions, with no clear understanding of what was really happening. I was abused by someone I knew very well, someone I trusted and that I had no power to say no, even if that was an option. It took the guilt and shame away from me and placed it where it belonged: with the abuser.
The journey from silence to becoming an advocate for the issue has been a tumultuous one for me. While I did have fairly functional relationships, the emotional rollercoaster that I had been on since a child was draining. Going through therapy, learning to process these emotions, learning to recognize the effects of the abuse, this changed my whole outlook on life. My anger issues became almost non-existent; I became generally more confident and self-assured.
I am able to now look back at my abuse as something unfortunate that happened to me but with it having no power to hurt me anymore. It left a lasting impact, but it is now within my control to decide what direction my life should take. A combination of personal guilt and familial and societal pressure ensured that it remained buried. One of the best decisions in my life has been to break the silence. Not only has that helped me channel my activist energy into the issue, it has helped me improve my emotional, mental, and physical health.
Rina D'Souza is an activist who has been involved in human rights, environmental and animal rights issues. She is currently working with RAHI Foundation with survivors ofincest/child sexual abuse.