Knowing My Worth
by Teresia Smith
A majority of childhood abuse victims struggle with depression and anxiety, poor relationships, sexual issues, eating disorders, sleep disorders, drug dependence, and suicide. The chronic stress of life after childhood abuse has also been shown to affect survivor’s health with a greater risk of heart disease and cancer as it takes a toll on the body.
We often hear of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disorder that affects many who experience a variety of traumatic events. Now we are also recognizing Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), which differs in that those who suffer from it experience all the effects of PTSD plus they tend to have persistent, unyielding negative feelings for themselves that often occur as a result of repeated trauma. Sufferers find that they struggle with managing strong feelings, difficulty trusting anyone, and they carry a deep sense of shame and incompetence that often holds them back in life.
“The first thing Sabah Kaiser does after sitting down at the table when we meet, is to pick up a pen, and write her name on the nearest sheet of paper. She does it almost unthinkingly, and only later will it come to seem significant. When she was a little girl, Kaiser wrote her name a lot. She scrawled it defiantly on the wall at home, balancing precariously on a banister four floors above the ground to reach the wallpaper: “Sabah is the best.” Later, she wrote it in foster homes: “I would find the hardest place that I could reach, or the most beautiful or lovely area, and write ‘Sabah is the best’.” It was a coping mechanism she learned young, without really understanding why. But now, at 43, she recognizes it as a way of fighting the feelings of worthlessness and shame so many child abuse survivors experience. “It was saying: ‘Look at me, I belong here; I can do the same as you, if not better.’” (theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jun/28/it-never-stops-shaping-you-the-legacy-of-child-sexual-abuse-an-how-to-survive-it).
Living as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse can be emotionally complicated, and many struggle with the pain all of their lives. Often, I hear from older survivors who have finally come to realize that a lot of the pain and battles in their life can be traced back to not dealing with their abuse. Shoving your feelings away and just trying to forget them never works and can also lead you to making poor choices in life. Becoming educated about child sexual abuse and reaching out in a safe, trusted space can help you heal and cope with the trauma.
So how can you work through your experience and realize your value and worth? A great place to start is realizing YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Childhood sexual abuse happens in secret and many children are either afraid to tell, they don’t have a trusted adult to tell, or they are not believed. Carrying this secret can make you think you are the only one experiencing abuse. This in turn can lead you to feel that something is wrong with you, or that you are less than, damaged, or worthless. And it can make you feel very much alone. Statistics from the CDC estimate that about 1 in 13 boys or 1 in 4 girls are sexual abused by the age of 18, regardless of race, religion or economic status. Statistics like that tell us that many of the people in your life that you have kept your abuse a secret from have their own secret of abuse too.
You also need to know IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT. Abused children experience