“I think I was abused as a child, what do I do now?”
Do you have symptoms that might mean you were sexually abused as a child? Or are you having snippets of what seem repressed memories flashing through your head, and you are worried they are real?
“I Think I Was Abused” – What to Do Next
Here are the steps to take to protect your mental health while navigating worries or memories about abuse.
1. Don’t immediately accuse people.
Rage is a common response if we suddenly suspect we were abused.
Many people experience a a strong impulse to go after the abuser, or call everyone that knows them to let them know “I think I was abused by this person”. It can seem, in the moment, the ‘right thing to do’.
But here’s the thing. Discovering you might have been abused puts you in a very vulnerable mental and emotional state. Even if anger and the cortisol rush of stress is making you feel energised and powerful, you aren’t. If someone turns around and accuses you of being dishonest, or picks a fight you aren’t ready for, not only might you lose support from people you need on your side, you might find your mental health deteriorating quickly.
It’s not that you can’t or shouldn’t make a case of abuse! It’s that the best time to do so is when you have had time to work through your emotions and thoughts and are feeling more stable. And it’s also something to do when you have support to help you navigate any fallout.
2. Don’t assume just because you have symptoms you were sexually abused.
Sexual abuse is sadly common. It’s estimated one in four children experiences some sort of sexual abuse. The reality might be higher. And many people block out memories of sexual abuse. So yes, maybe you were abused.
At the same time, the symptoms of sexual abuse – dissociation, depression, body image issues, low self-esteem, promiscuity – can also be from other sorts of trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
In our society sexual abuse has the most shame around it of all traumas. So it becomes the one we all assume is the problem if we have symptoms but no memories. But this means other very real and also serious traumas and mental health problems which might be the actual issue can get overlooked.
The best thing to do here is to accept that something has happened to give you mental health symptoms. It might be some sort of abuse. Then reach our for professional support for the symptoms, tell your therapist what you suspect, and take time to work together and see what surfaces.
3. Don’t obsess over exactly what happened, obsess over what you are going to do next.
One of the easiest ways to completely re-traumatise yourself is to become obsessed about knowing ‘exactly what happened’.
Of course this is normal, and is part of many people’s process of healing. We want to know the details. And it’s okay to feel really angry, frustrated and sad that you can’t get the facts.
But until someone builds a time machine, we can’t go back in time and find out exactly what happened to us. We simply do not have any control over finding out the exact facts. All we can do is accept that something difficult and tragic happened, and we have some facts but not all. And then we can focus on what we DO have facts and proof about – our symptoms.
You can’t change the past but you can work to manage your symptoms. And that is what is actually going to help you progress towards healing, not obsessing on details you’ll never be sure of.
4. Minimise other stressors.
Learning we might have been abused is an incredibly difficult and draining process. It is not the time to take on anything new if you don’t have to. Now is not the time to look for a new job, pick a fight with a friend, or set a challenging goal.
In fact it’s the time to lessen any unnecessary stressors. Are there social events you can say no to? Obligations you can back out of? You need down time to process your emotions and be with those who support you.
The only new thing you want to be doing here is building a support team and seeking out help, like therapy, self-help books, and support groups.
5. Up your self care to the maximum.
This is absolutely the time to be as kind and gentle with yourself as possible.
Yes, you might want to binge on all the food in the refrigerator or drink an entire bottle of wine yourself. But here’s the thing – this is self abuse. Isn’t it enough that there is abuse in your past?
How can you send a message to yourself you deserve to be taken care of? Can you go to bed early, say no to the social event you don’t want to go to, start taking long walks, take that bubblebath you always mean to but don’t get around to?
6. Do find support.
Be wary of reaching out to people who won’t be able to handle your experience. Feeling letdown is just one more thing to feel bad about you don’t need.
And be careful you don’t mistakenly turn to someone who is a gossip. It’s up to you when, how and if other people find out about your experience, not someone else.
If it is possible to reach out to more than one person, that is ideal. Working through abuse memories can mean you need a lot of support, and it isn’t always fair to expect one person to provide all that.
This is why it’s also highly recommended to find any and all support elsewhere. There are online forums which can be useful, and you might want to consider a support group. Google to see if there is one in your area.
If you are feeling desperate, or are having suicidal thoughts, reach out to a free helpline. Read our article on “Mental Health Helplines Available in the UK“.
Why it’s so important to seek professional support for sexual abuse
Thinking we were abused attacks our sense of being safe in the world. So it tends to cause anxiety and panic. If you already had anxiety or other mental health issues, they can worsen.
And if memories of abuse start to surface, then you can also start to experience symptoms of trauma. This can look like feeling dissociated from reality, being jumpy and edgy, having huge emotions you don’t understand, and wanting to hide away from the world.
Without support, it can all spiral into a mental breakdown or self-abusive behaviour including self-harm.
Some people do try to navigate abuse in childhood themselves. Over many years they might reach a level of acceptance. But that same level of acceptance can be achieved in a fraction of the time with the right support.
Why leave yourself to live a half-life when help is actually available?
Would you like to speak to a highly trained, warm and friendly therapist who can help you if you think you were sexually abused? We connect you with top therapists in central London locations, and now worldwide via our new platform where you can book online and phone therapy quickly and easily.
Still have a question about what do do if you are feeling “I think I was abused?”. Post below in our public comment box.