Tuesday, October 18, 2011

After Sexual Violation: Getting A Healthy Body Relationship Back

One issue I haven't talked about much here, but which I see all the time in my practice, is the connection between sexual abuse and body issues. There are so many feelings that go along with having our boundaries violated sexually: shame, self-blame, helplessness. When we take on too much responsibility for someone else's physical transgression, even if it's a kiss, a gesture or a comment, our body relationship also suffers. It might be hard to stay in the body with feelings of attraction or sensuality because they now feel risky or unsafe.

Sometimes reconnecting to the body means forgiving what has happened in the past and moving forward together. I'll often ask survivors of sexual abuse in my practice if they are still harboring any feelings of blame or guilt for something that was out of their control. Then I ask if those feelings are being lodged somewhere in the body relationship, consciously or unconsciously, by shutting down or off to vital parts of themselves, their sensations and their desires.

The responses to surviving sexual abuse are as varied as people are: some survivors become very protective of their sexuality, wearing bulky clothes or putting on weight to discourage sexual attention, burying themselves in food or numbness. Others become hypersexual, actively engaging in sexual activity that doesn't always feel good, as if they have to redo what happened to them. Self-care and boundaries can go out the window.

The body feels the consequences of both of these responses, and from a relationship perspective it is impacted by our growing distance. As if waiting to regain some hidden or lost part of ourselves, our body wants to reconnect to safe sensuality, to feeling good, vital and alive. Once we begin to look at our bodies as half of a necessary and constant relationship, we have to become responsible for our part in shutting down and turning away from all that our bodies offer us. How do we reclaim that?

One way is to begin to make your new intention known. If you've hidden or not taken care of yourself or your body as the result of a sexual boundary violation, let your body know you're sorry and you want to do it differently. Write a letter or meditate with your body on a new intention or a new way of being you'd like to create. Also, consider the person or people who violated your boundaries and write them a letter, saying that you and your body no longer take responsibility for what happened and are now choosing to be free from that person's tyranny and carelessness.

Watch how it feels to make a new commitment to your body as a survivor, one who gets to live fully in her body rather than abandoning it or numbing it. As you make this commitment, you may feel a rush of feelings--from sadness to relief to anger. Give yourself the time and the space to get the additional support you need. It's never too late to heal.

It may also be helpful to write new affirmations for the body relationship and life you want and see if any resistances come up as you do so. Can you affirm that you deserve to be happy sexually, fully connected to your body? Can you affirm that you are safe and know how to care for youself and your body, from this moment forward? If you notice a lot of emotional baggage standing in the way, contact a caring professional who can take you through this piece and out the other side.

I affirm for you that your body relationship can be something of joy, wonder and sensuality, something that opens you up to the world rather than making you run from it. Ask yourself which one you're doing with your body, and if you're taking responsibility for someone else's mistake, something that doesn't belong to you. The ultimate in our healing journey is taking back the fullness of feeling we had before we were ever violated, now with greater consciousness, compassion and love. Your body is waiting for you with open arms.

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