the Hope of Survivors

Tips for Helping a Partner who was Sexually Abused as a Child—Grant Cameron

(From the July 2013 edition of HopeSpeak)

Grant CameronIt was several years ago, but I clearly remember the day my wife, Liz, told me that she had been sexually abused as a child.

We were watching TV and I could tell she wasn’t really interested in the show.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her, unaware that her answer would turn my world upside down.

“My stepfather sexually abused me when I was a child,” Liz said. “Now I’m getting harassing phone calls from him.”

It all came flooding out.

Liz told me about the abuse. She told me about the episodes in the bathtub, the attic, times she’d wake at night to find her stepfather watching her with a strange, mad look on his face.

After that, Liz spent roughly a year going through the process of healing from childhood sexual abuse. It was a roller coaster ride at times. And, as a partner I often had nowhere to turn for help.

Having gone through the healing process with a survivor, though, I can now provide some insight into the problems that partners face. Following are five tips to help partners cope:

1. Find a Good Counselor

This should be a priority. They are worth their weight in gold.

Word of mouth is perhaps the best way to find someone who can do the job, someone whom you can trust to help the survivor heal.

If you know someone who has been through the process, don’t be afraid to ask him or her for the name of a counselor. They’ll likely be more than helpful in pointing you in the right direction.

Failing that, try the yellow pages. Look under marriage and family therapists. That’s where most of them are listed. Call the local family counseling centre or sexual assault centre. They’ll also have names of counselors available.

2. Prepare for the Crisis Stage

This is the time in the healing process when everything in the survivor’s life seems to come apart at the seams. The crisis stage can come on suddenly and without warning. It happens because the memories of the survivor’s past can be overwhelming.

The best way a partner can help a survivor get through this stage is by taking an interest in what the survivor has to say. Rather than just wait for her to talk herself out, get involved in conversations about her past and ask questions so you can better understand it all. By sharing her experiences, the survivor will not feel alone during this stage.

3. Release Your Anger

Anger is something you’ll have to deal with if you’re going to get safely and sanely through the healing process with a survivor.

It’s caused by the fact you have limited control over the situation and because things seem hopeless at times. Learning how to control anger is the key to survival.

Your anger needs to be vented in a constructive way or it will boil over inappropriately.

Exercise is a great way to release your anger. There are myriad ways to vent. Go out and hit the heavy bag in the garage. Go fishing. Sometimes taking a walk in the park can also help.

4. Take Breaks

The pressure and problems associated with helping a survivor heal can tax your reserves to the limit.

If you don’t schedule breaks, you’re going to buckle under all the pressure—especially down the road as the healing process drags on.

You need to be physically as well as mentally fit for what’s ahead, for whatever comes up on the survivor’s road to recovery. To do this you’ve got to eat property, exercise and, above all, take regular breaks from the healing process.

5. Realize it Will End

Just knowing this can help you get through the healing process with a survivor.

It takes time, but the survivor will heal. And as the survivor heals, she will leave behind the pain of the past. She will no longer mourn for her lost childhood, although she will always remember what happened to her. The key is that she will no longer suffer as a result.

Grant Cameron is an award-winning journalist and author living in Ontario, Canada. He has written a downloadable PDF book called What About Me? for men who are helping female partners recover from the effects of childhood sexual abuse. To order a PDF, go to www.helpforpartners.wordpress.com. The book is $15.95. Grant can be reached at grant.cameron@cogeco.ca.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18