Overcoming Child Abuse

Reflections on recovery.

If George Will Were Your Father: Other Reasons Not to Tell

Important considerations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse

Last month I wrote a blog about dilemmas abuse survivors face regarding whether or not to tell anyone what happened to them. The blog was definitely skewed in the direction of not only the value of telling but also the necessity of telling, as part of the healing process. A reader posted a painful response to that blog, pointing out that telling doesn’t always result in a good outcome, and I do agree with her, at least at face value, because for one thing, disclosure by one person doesn’t always result in a desired response by the other, and for another thing, a heartfelt disclosure might stir up intense pain and/or new memories in the abuse survivor, who might rate that as a very negative outcome. Also, general guidelines are just that — general — whereas each abuse survivor has her or his unique dynamics and/or context as well.

I pulled out several books on the subject from my office bookshelves today, and as I perused them was not surprised to find that each one recommends telling as an important component of healing. How could it not be, when the indictment to keep the secret is part of the abuse? Ellen Bass and Laura Davis devote an entire chapter to the importance of telling, in their book, The Courage to Heal. They point out that there are levels of telling, ranging from the first time one broaches the subject to when you’ve told so many people so many times and in so many ways that you can talk about it naturally, as just a part of your life.

I think that choosing someone to tell is the step that’s most important in this process. Be smart. Be protective of yourself. Choose someone with whom you feel physically and emotionally safe; someone whom you know you can trust to listen with compassion; someone who will believe you, and has some genuine knowledge and/or insights about sexual abuse. After all the media hype this week concerning Washington Post columnist George Will’s stated view on June 9th, that being a rape victim is a "coveted status" on college campuses today, if you were a college student and his daughter and had been sexually assaulted, would he be the first person you’d tell? I hope not. I'd hope instead that there were a friend, teacher, doctor, or counselor you could talk to and be assured of an intelligent, compassionate response

It's best to get into therapy and/or a support group while you're dealing with painful issues related to your abuse.  An experienced, competent therapist can help you to determine whether and to whom you're ready to disclose your abuse, as well as how to do it, and then afterwards she or he can help you to process the encounter and deal with the fallout.

Some abuse survivors prefer to talk to someone anonymously first. Trained volunteers at the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) are available to talk to on the telephone 24 hours a day at 1-800-656-HOPE. They’re also available on an online hotline. Take a look at their video about it: https://www.rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-online-hot....

 Sometimes children’s books have the purest advice for dealing with life’s difficulties and while writing this blog I was reminded of one of my favorite: Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech. It’s about a boy whose teacher inspires him.  He gradually finds that he has a lot to say, and he finds a way to say it.

Catherine McCall is a Clinical Fellow of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the author of Never Tell: A True Story of Overcoming a Terrifying Childhood.

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