The High Price of Secrecy

“Sometimes it is necessary to re-teach a thing its loveliness…until it flowers again from within.” Courage to Change Daily Reader, p. 67

When I first decided to become a sex coach, write a book and blog about empowered sexuality for women, I felt so sure, so strong and so confident in my healing process. And I truly have come such a long way—that I have reclaimed the ability to enjoy sex is in itself a significant accomplishment for any sexual abuse survivor. In fact, until recently, I believed that standing in embodied, positive sexuality was truly my Ground Zero of healing. Ah. Not so fast.

As I have begun blogging and writing my book, I have noticed my tendency to not want to say too much about the abuse itself—I haven’t wanted to make other people feel uncomfortable with knowing too many details, and I haven’t wanted to come across as being a victim. I absolutely recoil at that word and its attendant concepts.

The fact is, the more I read and research about healing from sex abuse, the more I’ve come to understand that when survivors avoid talking about the abuse, we inadvertently join the abusers in a conspiracy of secrecy. And when we agree to secrecy, we unwittingly take on the belief that we voluntarily participated in something shameful and are therefore at least partly at fault. When we believe that we are at fault for something so awful, we also believe we are somehow defective, bad and unworthy. This is one of the most insidious, hidden and challenging of all the effects of sex abuse because believing—at a subconscious level—that we are at fault for others’ violations of our bodies can tragically alter how we view others and ourselves.

Many of us truly don’t recognize this—at a surface level we honestly believe that we have not blamed ourselves for another’s abuse. For years, I’ve rejected the notion that I blamed myself for the abuse (other than the date rape)—hell, I was pretty powerless at ages 9, 12,15,18 and 21 in relation to what others did to me. How could I be at fault? And yet, in beginning to write and speak about sexuality and healing from sexual abuse, I can’t ignore the geyser of emotion that is rising from the core of my being, in response to my speaking out about the abuse for the first time in my life.

This emotion: fear, unworthiness, shame, a sense of isolation, a belief that my voice is unimportant—comes from one source: being sexually abused and when it happened, believing it meant that there was something bad, wrong or defective in me, and never telling anyone.  

In now recognizing and cutting through my denial, I see these deeper wounds and how they have shaped my worldview, my self-confidence and how I’ve shown up in the world…until now. And—even from this deep psychic wound, I can and will heal.

Believing we are unworthy can:

·      Affect our ability to make new friends or to let friends get too close;

·      Lead us not to trust others;

·      Cause us to tolerate unacceptable behavior from employers, co-workers, or spouses/partners;

·      Prevent us from going after things we want in life or from being successful in our careers;

·      Lead us to live small and to try to be “invisible”:

·      Make us think we don’t have anything special to offer.

This bears repeating: nobody who is sexually abused psychosexually manipulated or date raped bears any fault whatsoever for another’s choice to violate them. As a result of others’ abuse, we suffer from profound feelings of unworthiness, shame, isolation, lack of belief in ourselves—and at some level—the sense that something is really wrong with us, or that we are somehow at fault. And if we keep their abuse secret, we can deepen all of these feelings. My heart truly bleeds for every abuse survivor because of the way abuse alters our beliefs about our own inherent worthiness. Please get this: very simply, it’s not about you or me and it never was. We were simply the innocent targets of fucked up people who used a position of power or trust to satisfy an urge they chose not to control. The stain is on their soul: it never touched us.

“Practice courage and reach out! We have to own our story and share it with someone who has earned the right to hear it, someone whom we can count onto respond with compassion. We need courage, compassion and connection…Shame loves secrecy. The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is to hide or bury our story. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.” Brene Brown, “The Gifts of Imperfection.”

Addendum: At the recommendation of a dear friend, I'm adding this clarifying information to avoid any speculation: none of the people who abused me sexually was a family member. The people who abused me included: two different neighbor boys on two different occasions (ages 9 and 12), the son of acquaintances of my parents (age 15), someone I met on a vacation and hung around with (age 18), and a college professor (age 21).