Written by: Jenny Smith
The Rape Crisis Centre offers support to all women and girls who have been abused in any way whether the abuse is historic or current. They estimate that about 85,000 women are raped every year in the Uk, over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year and that one in five women in the Uk has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.
These statistics show the prevalence of sexual abuse and also tell us that the experience of trying to create a healthy relationship after abuse will also be common. This doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be easy though. For some women, after they have done recovery work from abuse in a therapeutic setting, getting into a relationship or continuing a relationship can be extremely challenging.
The phrase ‘recovery’ is a contentious one. Some people believe that it is possible to heal fully after experiences of abuse, others believe that some aspect of the abuse experience will remain with the person forever. Whatever your view on this, revisiting abuse experiences in therapy, although an extremely tough and challenging process, can be an important part in creating a healthy sexual relationship in the future. There are various organisations such as the Rape Crisis Centre who offer free support via helplines and they can refer individuals to more indepth support. The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy is the official site for registered therapists and holds details of individual practitioners experience and areas of expertise.
Making a decision to enter into a relationship can also the final part in the healing process. Experiences will vary and will play out in different ways but there are common themes that many people have to address. A primary example of this is the area of boundaries which were often violated through the experience of abuse. Simply put, boundaries are about the right to say yes or no at any point, the right to change your mind and the right to be treated in a respectful and loving way at all times. If you have had the experience of your boundaries being disregarded it may take some time for you to recognise what feels like healthy boundaries again. It may be harder for you initially to recognise inappropriate actions because this sort of behaviour may have been normalised in your childhood or past relationships.
Trust your intuition
Something that is commonly experienced after abuse is the loss of the persons own intuition. If at some point you knew something was not OK but had that knowing denied by others around you, trust in your own judgement is likely to be diminished. Trusting your own intuition again is a gradual process that can take time, but once you have managed this, you will feel more confident and empowered to ask for and receive what you would like.
Be open and honest with your new partner
Clear, honest communication with your partner is essential for you to create trust. If you feel able to, let them know what you are dealing with and that you want to take your time in opening up. Try and communicate in the first person so that you are talking directly about your own experience and not turning the attention onto what you imagine your partner is or isn’t feeling. Give yourself permission to be emotional, opening up to someone is a big act of trust and you may encounter lots of fears and tears in the process. Take things slowly, keep breathing and let go of any goals of having to get anywhere by any time. Remember that one minute of real intimacy of whatever kind, can be more healing than two hours of disconnected sexual interaction.
Help is always at hand
If you find that things get intense for you and that you start to lose your trust in your partner or repeatedly feel confused about your boundaries, it may be helpful to return to some form of therapy to have some extra support. Reaching out for help really is a sign of strength and it’s important not to underestimate the gravity of what you‚Äôre healing. Give yourself what you deserve in order to maximise the chance of creating that relationship you deserve.