Why Self Love Can Help Overcome Trauma
Six years ago, I was raped on a work trip.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been raped – my first sexual experience was forced. But as I lay there frozen in my nervous system’s desperate attempt at safety, I resolved it would be the last.
Finding your way to a healthy self-image after 16 years of poor sexual choices and low self-esteem isn’t easy.When your early messages around sexuality imply that you’re both worthless and only good for sex, it’s hard to know where to start, let alone how to make it right.
You only know you feel empty.
You only want to feel loved.
But you can’t get the love and respect your deserve from others without learning to love yourself. It’s the only way to heal.
It’s also one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned on my journey to loving me that may help you:
1. Forgive yourself.
It’s normal to be angry when you’ve been on the receiving end of sexual violence. You may be angry at men, adults, kids, our shared culture – or all of it. But you need to forgive yourself first and foremost to break the cycle of trauma and hurt.
That means facing your shame, humiliation, and embarrassment. It means finding compassion for the choices you’ve made that you think tie you to blame and guilt.
It means facing yourself head-on and being willing to accept that you’re not perfect, and then saying
“That’s okay. I forgive you anyway. Just because you’re you.”
Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead helped me understand how shame played a role in my life, which then helped me take better control of my choices.
2. Be gentle.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably heard for years that you’re too hard on yourself, have too high expectations of others, push too hard, or are a perfectionist. The desire to control and contain is a natural reaction when you’ve experienced trauma outside of your control.
But you can’t forgive yourself and heal if you’re still being hard on yourself.
To learn to be gentle, you need to learn an alternative way of thinking. Since the only voice in your head is most likely yours, you may be hearing distorted messages caused by the chronic stress of post-traumatic recovery. That may make it hard for you to imagine what being gentle looks, feels, and sounds like.
This powerful practice helped me start to retrain my inner voice:
When you feel like you need to change yourself or be “better” in some way to receive money, love, or affection, ask yourself – “Can I accept this?” about the feeling, situation, or belief.
If the answer is yes, great. If it’s no, then ask yourself if you can accept that the answer is no.
What this practice does is slowly build trust with yourself. It gives you a way to tune into your inner dialogue, allow space for your feelings and thoughts, and show that you both hear and care about what you’re really feeling.
The more attention and consideration you give yourself, the more you’ll be able to feel safe and supported by your self. Then you’ll be able to create that same safety and support in relationships with others because you’ll know how to show up for yourself.
3. Reclaim what “woman” means
If you’ve lived with the consequences of sexual abuse or trauma for years, you may be cynical about what it means to be a woman. You may have tried to shut down and “turn off” your own feminine sexuality by cutting off your hair, gaining weight, or wearing baggy clothes.
On the flip side, you may have also tried the opposite extreme – being seductive, overtly sexual, or revealing.
Both approaches may have left you feeling disillusioned and dissatisfied with femininity and sex. But you need to own your sexual power in a healthy, whole way to heal from sexual trauma.
For me, the sacred sexual practices of Tantric yoga were transformational. Within the ancient breathing techniques, I discovered a philosophy that celebrates the creative, transformational power of women.
Yoga also honors sexuality as a spiritual experience – one which can help you discover and explore your true nature, not just your physical body. By embodying the divine feminine, I learned to embody myself. In the process, I healed my heart and learned to believe in the beauty of intimacy again.
No matter where you are in your healing journey, there is always more room for self-love, care, and attention.
I leave you with a quote shared with me by a very wise woman:
“To love yourself is to forgive yourself. To forgive yourself is to heal yourself. To heal yourself is to love yourself.”