How Healers Can Help in the Up-rise of Exposed Sexual Trauma

Sexual trauma photo header

Happy Winter Solstice!  I had plans to only discuss the symbolism of the winter solstice and how it relates to our psychological nature in this blog post, but I feel the need to also discuss something that is more of a pressing issue.

As I’ve been reflecting on the year and how my practice has grown and changed, I’m reminded of the shift in our culture this year.  As trauma, particularly sexual trauma, is being more and more exposed in society, I’m sitting with people in my office as they process through their own sexual trauma.  While it is taking a ton of bravery and vulnerability in working through these horrible experiences, I’m glad that people are feeling more freedom to talk about it and acknowledge it.

I suspect that as clinicians and anyone working in healing practices, we are going to hear about and see people who have endured great pain more often.  I want to offer some tips to my fellow therapists and anyone working with others in their healing journey.

I also suspect that we may be seeing more people who have sexually mistreated others.  As the call-to-action for increased vulnerability and the decrease in toxic masculinity shifts, we may be hearing from people about how they have taken advantage or violated others.

First, BELIEVE PEOPLE when they say they’ve been sexually mistreated or when they’ve sexually mistreated others.  It is not our job to decide what happened.  Offer your open ears to give them space to explore their experience.

Secondly, reflect on and work through your own feelings, experiences, and thoughts about sexual abuse and the disclosures that are popping up constantly.  If you feel that you cannot truly support your clients because of your own trauma, experiences, thoughts, and feelings regarding sexual abuse, despite supervision, consultation, and your own therapy, I highly recommend referring a client to a therapist who specializes in trauma.  It is absolutely okay if you aren’t the best fit for a client who has experienced sexual maltreatement but it is not okay to keep trying to support them when you aren’t actively doing your own self-reflection.  KNOW WHAT YOUR LIMITS ARE AND HOW YOU ARE ABLE TO HELP.  This is not only in the best interest of our clients but also for our own self care.

Third, remember that sexual trauma can happen to women by men, men by women, women by women, and men by men.  While more women are survivors of sexual abuse by men, there are still many men and women who are hurt by same or different genders.

Fourth, BE PATIENT.  For many, it is feeling pretty risky to disclose sexual trauma.  Respect your client’s pacing and timing as they uncover their experience.  We probably wouldn’t completely expose a really deep wound for a while because environmental threats could effect the healing process.  We would slowly uncover the bandages, gradually making the bandages more transparent.  Our clients get to decide their timing; we get to sit with them in that timing.  Asking a ton of questions or expecting them to talk about it all the time may be or feel impossible!  With trauma, there aren’t always words right away.  Maybe not for a really long time.  For some people, it may take a while to digest and process their experiences before they have words for it.  For other people, they may need to share every detail of their experience with you in order to better process their experience and integrate it into their story.  THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY.

While I do not condone sexual abuse at all, for those of us who work with people who have sexually harassed or assaulted other people, I think it’s super important that we keep shame out of the therapeutic equation.  Just as we would with survivors, offering space to people who have done hurtful things so that they can explore and be honest about their behaviors and feelings is crucial for change to happen on a collective level.  

Winter solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the entire year.  For many people throughout time, this day has represented the birth or rebirth of the sun, longer periods of darkness, and a time to let go of the old. In some cultures, it has been a time for destruction, instinctual nature, and closer connection to spirit.  It is a time of retreat from the cold outer world and return to light and warm the home within.  It is a time to begin planting seeds for the next season of growth.

Our personal lives fall into this cyclical nature of shedding, death, and darkness to prepare us for more growth and light, just as our societal nature is doing.  Perhaps there are parts of our individual Selves that are dying and shedding (old habits, old relationships, old ways of being).  Perhaps there are parts of the larger group that are dying in Western culture (traditional roles, patriarchy, toxic masculinity, the damsel in distress).  These darker times can feel really frightening and can bring on a ton of uncertainty because it means losing what we know (even if it’s not most helpful to our growth), but it is my belief that it’s only making room for something new to take up space.

My colleagues Brenda and Sam recently released a podcast episode called, “Why Can’t Men Keep It in Their Pants?”  They address the current news on sexual allegations and abuse, but they explore the issue on a much deeper level.  I invite you to listen as they, like many of us, try to make meaning of what’s going on.

If it feels right, find some time today, the longest day of darkness of the year, to bring some warmth and light inwardly.  Build an internal fire.  Plant seeds on paper for what’s to come in the new year.  Reflect on which parts of you need some paying attention to and which parts of you have been really well taken care of this year.