When my memories of incest returned after decades of amnesia, child sexual abuse was not yet on our culture’s radar screen. Without knowledgeable therapists or role models, I had to chart my own path to healing. After My Father’s House: a Memoir of Incest and of Healing became an international bestseller, I was deluged with letters from other survivors eager to share their stories, along with requests to speak at therapy conferences and for media interviews throughout North America and Europe.
It was a crash-course in sexual abuse survival and healing. Though publishers and therapists urged me to write a survivors’ guide, the time never seemed right. Until now.
I want this to be the kind of guide that would have illuminated my struggle with the flood of frightening memories that changed the life I thought I’d led, and the person I thought I was, along with the self-doubt that goes with cataclysmic upheaval.
When caught on a burning deck, passengers grab whatever life-preservers they can find. For abused children, that is likely to be some form of denial, either of the abuse itself or of its emotional impact. Faced with very real danger, we’ll also experience powerful feelings of anger, fear, guilt and depression, which may be vital to our survival, but which rob us of happiness when they become habitual ways of responding to life’s normal adult challenges.
How do we rescue ourselves from this radioactive fallout?
By becoming aware of these rogue emotions, and reattaching them to their source in the abuser and the abuse. Only then can we achieve full self-forgiveness - not because we were to blame, but because of the legacy of guilt that attaches itself to sexual abuse and its secrecy.
We will also examine how our repressed emotions may have imprinted our bodies, undermining our health. Then, we’ll explore the value of tapping into our dreams and even re-examining our favorite fairy tales for deep insight into ourselves.
We’ll discuss the benefits of returning to the scene of the crime and, if incest is involved, even climbing our family tree!
Though this guide is gender-neutral in regard to survivors, I use “he” when referring to abusers since the vast majority of sexual predators are male. My intention is not to give women a free pass. Unfortunately, we also play our roles as enablers and colluders in the perpetuation of abuse from generation to generation.
Whistle-blowing is a challenge for most survivors, whether it involves telling family members or reporting to authorities, and possibly writing a memoir. Then there is the thorny question of whether or not we should confront our abuser, and if there is any value, or need, to forgive him.
Along our journey of self-discovery, I will suggest exercises designed to give us greater awareness of ourselves, of the abuse and its impact on ourselves and others. We will also meet other survivors whose courage and insights will help guide our own. We will then discuss ways of transforming the past into a source of wisdom and strength in determining our future.
The goal of our journey of self-discovery is a simple one: To better love and appreciate the face we see in the mirror.
Sincerely, Sylvia Fraser
NOTE: Though this guide is designed for sexual abuse survivors, its general healing techniques are valid for survivors of other childhood traumas, such as parental alcoholism, abandonment, divorce and mental illness.
Praise for My Father’s House: “Extraordinary. . . .As telling a chronicle of the times as The Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mocking Bird. . . .
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