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Overcoming the Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Questioner

Anonymous

Reply Date

Apr 15, 2018

Question

As salamu alaykum,

Thank you for this incredible website. It has given me advice that has improved various areas in my life. Today, I am writing here seeking help in some problems I am currently facing.

I’m a South Asian female in my late 20’s. I have not worked for over a year now and one of the major reasons is because of my health. I was often sad whenever I worked and didn’t have enough energy to deal with the stress at work.

I believe I had these health problems because of a brain problem which started when I was in post-grad. I faced a tough toxic social situation for a couple months and I believe from the prolonged stress, my brain got partly damaged.

It has been about nine years since that situation and still my brain feels different. I have trouble controlling my deep sadness, random deep exhaustion, and once in a while the inside of my head burns. I’m not sure if its depression or a brain problem.

I am trying to get help from a mental health doctor but I’m having trouble going to one. I have a couple reasons for that and the major one is I’m afraid when people hear of my weakness (my brain health problem) I fear of being abused again by men.

When I was a child, I was sexually abused by more than one male. Also, during adulthood at some workplaces, I had major difficulty in confidently dealing with some men who forgot their boundaries and got a little too close to me to work and touching my shoulder. I had trouble trying to figure out an effective communication dialogue so they would keep a distance from me without them getting revenge and making my life hell at work.

I feel when people hear about my health, people will not be as intimidated of me and will feel I’m inferior, and that will make me an easier prey for the gross men that exist in society. I’m not saying all men are like that but some are.

I have trouble telling friends/family and getting justice because I fear many people in my network won’t have my back, and fear along the process something bad will happen that I won’t be able to handle so that stops me from getting justice. I don’t know what to do.

Currently, I spend some evenings thinking how to stop the gross men. I am building a plan so that maybe I’ll have an opportunity to get justice in this life for the childhood sexual assault, and writing letters to newspapers anonymously about stopping sexual assault in the south Asian community. I don’t know if I should be spending a part of my evenings doing this or if there is something more efficient I should be doing instead.

I just want to be happy, and confident again. I’m not sure how I can get back to good health. I have been working on this problem for years and asking God for help with it but the problem is not gone still.

Recently, this issue has been bothering me much more and the pressure keeps building because soon I’ll need to contact government agencies for financial help, then more people will know about my health issue and I don’t want them to know yet.

Please pray for me and thank you for your help.

Counselor

Answer


Overcoming the Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse

In this counseling answer:

  • Know that you are not at fault.
  • The sooner you start counseling, the sooner you can begin to heal.
  • Support groups can be a powerful tool for healing.

As Salamu ‘Alaykum,

Thank you for writing to us about your most important concerns. As I understand it, you have not worked for over a year due to health problems, specifically due to stress and a “toxic social situation” you went through in grad school.

You stated that it has been about 9 years since that situation and that your “brain still feels different, you have difficulty controlling sadness, your exhausted and the inside of your head “burns” once in a while. At this point, you are wondering if it is depression or a “brain” problem.

Sister, you also discussed the fact that you were abused as a child by more than one man. I am so heartbroken to hear this. It is truly a common problem in this world.

Who would have thought it to be so common among our ummah, our Muslim brothers who pride themselves on piety, morals, and following the Sunnah. Astaghfirullah.  It is an utterly disgusting and vile thing. Many men who say they are Muslim will surely face Allah’s wrath on judgment day.

There are so many damaged and hurting women of all ages because of childhood sexual abuse. Mostly, it is family members of varying degrees who are committing these atrocious acts, not random strangers. Therefore, one wonders if a child/girl is safe within her own home.

While I do not know who were the abusers, I just pray to Allah that you do not need to face them in your life.

Regarding what you are going through, dear sister, it is to be expected that you are suffering from some effects of the abuse, especially if you never did seek therapy and you kept it hidden in you.

It’s Not Your Fault

Please, know that you are not at fault. The justice you seek is a part of coming to terms with what happened to you, as well as your struggle to heal and move on while trying to find closure through justice.

Sister, there are many kinds of justice. Often times in this world the justice we envision, the justice we seek often does not occur the way we want it to. But be sure that justice will be served by Allah, for nothing goes un-noticed by Allah.

Often times justice comes in many forms. You may have to explore what this may mean for you.

Sometimes justice can just mean healing one’s self and moving forward in life and living a full and happy life.

The ACOG lists the most common adult manifestations of childhood sexual abuse in adults. Some include:

  • “Emotions such as fear, shame, humiliation, guilt, and self-blame are common and lead to depression and anxiety.
  • Symptoms of posttraumatic stress
    Survivors may experience intrusive or recurring thoughts of the abuse as well as nightmares or flashbacks.
  • Distorted self-perception
    Survivors often develop a belief that they caused the sexual abuse and that they deserved it. These beliefs may result in self-destructive relationships.”

As you can see sister, just from the few I have included, you appear to suffer from the abuse you experienced as a child. While only a therapist who has assessed you can determine if you are, this would explain your fear of others finding out you were abused or your fear of people seeing you as “inferior” as well as your distrust of men and your fears of being abused again.

These feelings indicate a vulnerability and a sign of strength. A strength that serves to protect you from evil deeds, that as a child you were defenseless against.

Seek Counseling

Sister, I ask that you please insha’Allah put aside your fears of people finding out about your issues and get counseling as soon as possible.

While I understand this is hard and that sometimes there is a stigma attached, often times we need to look at ourselves in the light of how we were created.

We are of mind, body, and spirit. Your suffering from your abuse is not your fault. However, it can affect your mind (depression, PTSD, fears, future intimacy issues, trust issues, etc.), your body (headaches, fatigue, sweating, even burning feelings…) and your spirit (your ability to feel worthy in front of Allah; or perhaps anger about why this happened to you). All of these things are interconnected.

When your body was abused and violated as a child, it set up a chain of events that created coping mechanisms that involved your mind, body, and spirit. Just as someone with diabetes sees a doctor for treatment, or someone who has high blood pressure seeks out a nutritionist or doctor to find remedies to cure what is wrong, so too should we seek out care when we are suffering emotionally and mentally.

I kindly suggest dear sister that you continue with your efforts to seek out a good therapist. The sooner you start counseling, the sooner you can begin to heal, insha’Allah. Begin to feel good and re-learn how to trust, to live and to smile. It will take dedication on your part sister, but aren’t you worth it?  Those wicked “men” took a part of your childhood. Don’t let them have the rest of your life. Sometimes the best justice (and revenge) is healing and living life fully and happily.

Sister, I know this is not going to be an easy path, but you are not alone. Just in the US alone, some 12-40% of children experience sexual abuse. That is a lot of hurting children and adults.

Support Groups Are a Powerful Tool for Healing

In addition to counseling, support groups can be a powerful tool for healing. Not only can you share your experiences (if you so choose) in a safe space with others who have experienced sexual trauma and abuse as children, but you can gain useful coping tools and productive mechanisms to deal with the aftermath of what you have been through. Others will share what they have learned, how they overcame obstacles, fears, etc. and went on to develop healthy responses and diminish negative thoughts and feelings.

In a group setting such as this, you will not need to fear being judged, thought of as less nor attacked. It is a safe place to heal and learn new skills and eventually apply them to your life in general such as at a job or in a social setting. I kindly recommend this option sister in addition to counseling.

You stated something powerful which may be an indication of what you may wish to do sometime in the near future. You stated that “I spend some evenings I dedicate to thinking how to stop the gross men. I am building a plan so that maybe I’ll have an opportunity to get justice in this life for the childhood sexual assault, and writing letters to newspapers anonymously about stopping sexual assault in the south Asian community”.

Perhaps these thoughts can be turned into a constructed project.

Maybe you want to start a center for survivors of childhood sexual abuse or studying photojournalism and chronicling the lives of women who have been abused and how they rose up and survived.

You could also start an educational course geared towards Muslims in the community and teach about child sexual abuse; how to know if it is happening to your child, what to do; what the Qur’an states as well as other useful topics concerning abuse for the community at large as well as families.

There are a lot of construct ways in which you can make a difference sister, just make du’aa’ to Allah that He guides you in the right direction.

Should you decide one day to pursue one of these idea’s or others surrounding childhood sexual abuse, I am confident that insha’Allah you will help many children as well as women who like yourself are suffering from the past and in need of healing.

Conclusion:

Insh’Allah, you will seek counseling and begin your healing journey.  Insha’Allah, you will be able to put aside your fears of what others will think as well as what your family thinks and if they will “have your back”.

If no one does, Allah “has your back”, and you will also meet many who will, insha’Allah.

This is your life, no one else’s. This journey is about you, your well-being, your healing, and your happiness. It will be difficult at first, taking the first step is always scary, but it will also be so rewarding.

We wish you the best,

***

Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.

Read more:

Sexual Abuse: Be By Your Child’s Side

Sexual Abuse, Disorder & an Illegitimate Child

Suffering from Sexual Abuse & Mentally Ill Mom




About Aisha Mohammad-Swan

Aisha Mohammad-Swan received her PhD in psychology in 2000. Aisha worked as a Counselor/Psychologist for 12 years for Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Care Center in New York with a focus on PTSD, OCD, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, marriage/relationships issues, as well as community-cultural dynamics. She is certified in Restorative Justice/ Healing Circles, Conflict Resolution, and Mediation, and is also a certified Life Coach. She is currently studying for her certification in Islamic Chaplaincy, and takes Islamic courses at SHC. Aisha works at a Women's Daytime Drop in Center, and has her own part-time practice in which she integrates counseling and holistic health. Aisha also received an MA in Public Health/Community Development in 2009 and plans to open a community counseling/resource center for Muslims and others in the New York area in the future, in sha' Allah.

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