Three Tips to Finding Inner Strength When No One Believes You

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Three Tips to Finding Inner Strength When No One Believes You

Written by Wendy M. Johnson

Peaceful woman with eyes closed

We live in a global culture where victims of sexual abuse are not believed, where loved ones go to great lengths to protect the perpetrator(s), and where the family and society continue to re-traumatize the victims for coming forward with their stories of abuse. When survivors come forward as adults they are often shamed, rejected, and met with disapproval for speaking up. They can find themselves blamed for the actual abuse, accused of lying, and ostracized from the family or those closest to them. Often if the response of others is negative, it can stop survivors from moving forward. But how others respond to a survivor coming forward should not shape their attitude toward helping themselves move forward to overcome the sexual abuse. 

Those closest to a survivor including the perpetrator most commonly respond by:

  1. Denying
  2. Minimizing
  3. Attacking the victim
  4. Claiming the abuse was misunderstood 

This realization happens in an effort to compel the victim(s) to doubt their own evaluations of the abuse and [promote] confusion surrounding its very occurrence.[1]

A negative response from those you love or care about for coming forward regarding being sexually abused can diminish your self-worth and make you feel as if you do not have any choices. The more you feel worthless, the more you feel powerless to change. The more you feel powerless to change, the fewer choices you feel you have. But, being rejected opens a door to another path to take. If you have been rejected or not believed, you have many choices to overcome how others responded. Most importantly, do not let the response of others stop you from getting the help and support you need. 

Working with many survivors of sexual abuse, I’ve noticed a positive shift in how survivors respond when people do not believe the abuse happened when they are educated on:

  1. Understanding why people ‘chose’ to not believe victims
  2. Understanding what self-denial is
  3. Believe in their own perceptions

Three Tips to Finding Inner Strength When No One Believes You

  1. Understanding why people ‘chose’ to not believe victims

A family member or close family friends are the first sources a victim will go seeking help. Often the police are the last sources a victim will go to. The family responses or the first person they tell are critical to if a victim gets the help they need or if they stop talking about it altogether.


A Society’s Culture plays an important role in survivors reaching out for help.


There are many reasons why I say people ‘chose’ to respond with denial of the abuse because we know the majority of sexual abuse is done by someone the victim knows and often other people know about the abuse and chose to stay silent. Below is a list of reasons why a person chooses to not believe or deny the abuse: 

  1. The other parent or adults in your life knew about the abuse and willingly allowed it to happen.
  2. The adult(s) you told may be financially dependent on the perpetrator.
  3. The adult(s) you told may have been sexually abused in their past and do not protect because at some level they think it is normal.
  4. The non-offending adult may be being abused by the perpetrator also – although this is not always the case.
  5. The non-offending adult in your life may decide to protect the abuser for fear of being seen as a person who did not protect you when they should have.
  6. Non-offending adults who know about the abuse do not want other people to think they knew about the abuse and did not protect you. 
  7. Societal norms and family members seem to have a protective nature towards the abuser despite their actions.
  8. The perpetrators’ actions may go unpunished or lightly punished within a family and not reported to keep the secret within the family system for fear of exposure and social judgment.
  9. Many people still fear what exposure means and blame the victim for bringing shame and embarrassment to the family system.
  10. The perpetrators’ actions may be denied or minimized due to regular small gifts to very large extravagant gifts, trips, financial support, exposure to a lifestyle or knowing people the non-offending adult wants to be a part of. 
  11. Adults can have “each other’s back.” The sexual abuse may be disclosed to an adult who shares with another adult, and they decide to keep it silent. 

The reasons above clearly seem inexcusable for not protecting a child from sexual abuse. Abusive generational patterns are real. They are the core problem as to why abuse continues. A spouse or partner in denial of the abuse is the greatest asset to an abuser. The abuser knows that their spouse or partner will protect them, stand by them, and even lie for them to help cover up the abuse. These perceptions are often learned through cultural socialization processes such as primary socialization with overall, attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors shaped through an individual’s family (i.e., primary socialization).[2]


Abusive generational patterns are real.


Responses of others can have a serious and debilitating effect on a survivorEven after the abuse, whether you were a child when it happened or an adult, others’ responses can make you feel powerless. Powerless is another word for feeling that you have no control over your life. You may feel you have no options; no path makes sense. Feeling powerless means that you are managed by fear. When you are afraid, you don’t move. You are frozen. The trauma and others’ responses go past the fight or flight mode; it paralyzes you from reaching out again. 

It is important to understand that healing from sexual abuse has nothing to do with how others responded. Although initially, you may feel stigmatized, alone, and afraid to reach out again for fear of being hurt–again. The fact is you were not protected whether others knew or didn’t, whether you came forward and no one believed you and despite the past abuse and how others responded at this point you need to move forward in the healing process to overcome your past. The healing journey is focused on and about taking care of YOU. Moving forward in an effort to find the support you can join a virtual support group or a secured online community for survivors. You can start the healing journey in the privacy of your home at your fingertips with HEAL, an interactive membership site specific for survivors of sexual abuse. 

2. Understanding why people ‘chose’ to not believe victims

Denial is a destructive power that binds you to the past“Denial is a psychological defense mechanism that a person uses to screen out distressing realities and the painful feelings they cause.”[3]

Denial protects us from the pain of our abuse. Denial regarding sexual abuse occurs with the victim, their family members, and society. When you are in denial, you deny real feelings, real perceptions, real thoughts, real wants, and real needs. You deny yourself of expression. Denial keeps you from growing. Denial harms you because it causes you to ignore problems for which there are solutions. Dealing with denial will help transform your life. During the abuse, denial allowed your body and mind to adjust to the shock more gradually. However, as an adult, it is not good to deny warning signs that are treatable. The cause of denial is inner conflict. 

Stages of Denial: 

  1. Denying that the problem exists. 
  2. Minimizing or rationalizing the problem. 
  3. Admitting the problem, but still denying its consequences in your life. 
  4. Being unwilling to seek help for the abuse. 

Victims can deny the truth because accepting it means that they need to take action. when you are abused, everyone around you can act like you’re not being abused. Because of this, you can start to doubt your own inner voice and find self-destructive coping strategies to deal with the abuse. Survivors fear that by taking action they will experience more pain than not taking action. That is false. Staying stuck with past ‘hurts and traumas’ is more painful and can affect other parts of your life than not taking action. 

3. Believe in their own perceptions 

Woman eyes closed at sunrise

The best guide to healing as a survivor of sexual abuse is listening to your inner voice. Believing in your own perceptions is vital to the healing process and can shape how you see the world. Although denial can be a destructive power that binds you to the past, so can being not believed for coming forward about the abuse. 

Your inner voice is powerful and can take you from being a victim to a survivor. Your inner voice is your guide and can be defined as that instinctive part of yourself. Your inner voice helps in your decision-making process. Abuse can affect your inner voice, masking your true self as your mind becomes cloudy and confused about who you are. 


In seeking the acceptance of others, you try to fill that void with external forces.


Why do victims of sexual abuse have a hard time tapping into their inner voice?

As a victim of sexual abuse, you may find yourself struggling as you strive to obtain approval from others in your life. The need to feel normal and accepted can pull you away from self-acceptance because, when you feel damaged inside, you don’t accept yourself. In seeking the acceptance of others, you try to fill that void with external forces. In reality, only you can fill the void with self-love and self-acceptance. Your road to tapping into your inner voice is a journey of redefining how you talk to yourself, about yourself. 

How do you get in touch with and trust your inner voice? 

Abuse denies you of your own awareness; your path to healing will help you get in touch with yourself. Learning to trust your inner voice can be hard and takes practice after being sexually abused. 

Getting in touch with your inner voice goes beyond the chatter of self-talk. It’s about slowing down enough to pay attention to what is really happening inside of you. As a victim of sexual abuse, you may not know how to make sense of the confusing thoughts and feelings you may have. You may be too afraid to feel and pay attention to what is really going on inside. Having your inner voice as your guide can help you overcome self-doubt and fear by replacing your negative/false narratives about the abuse or anyone else’s narrative with truth-your inner truth.

Why do victims doubt their own perceptions? 

Most sexual abuse is caused by people the victim knows, meaning that the victim likely sees their abuser frequently. You can start to question whether the abuse is wrong. When a victim of sexual abuse comes forward and tells another adult, the victim is often silenced. This silencing can affect their perceptions. Many start to doubt their feelings and intuitions because no one believed them when they told about their abuse. Negative coping strategies are catalysts to you doubting your own perceptions. To speak and be heard is to have power over your life and more importantly even if you are the only one who believes you

How do you believe in your own perceptions? 

Believing in your perceptions forms a new understanding of your place in the world. Even if people turned a blind eye, the abuse still happened. You should not minimize the effect the sexual abuse has had on you even if no one believes you. Tapping into your perception of the abuse, trusting how it made you feel, and recognizing how it affects you today are vital to your progress. It is important that you start to trust and believe in your perceptions and attach the appropriate feelings to them. Minimizing the effects of something is, in a way, denying them. How can you overcome something you keep denying? Instead, it is important to change your perception of your abuse and tap into the “real” feelings associated with it. The perspective that changes is that you are attaching a different meaning to how you view the abuse and how it affects your life. 

Now is the time to make the changes in your life to tap into your potential. 

I’m being honest when I say it may not be easy.

It’s not. 

It takes commitment to improving your life and trusting your perspective and inner voice, but it is the journey that will change your life for the better in every way. Stay the course. Start by focusing on one truth you feel you may be denying due to how others have treated you. It can help you start taking back your life and redefining how you work through your past. 

I can’t wait to hear about your success!

Love and Friends,

Wendy

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[1] Harsey, Sarah J., et al. “Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Blame.” Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, vol. 26, no. 6, 3 May 2018, pp. 644–663., http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10926771.2017.1320777.

[2] Acquaviva, B. L., O’Neal, E. N., & Clevenger, S. L. (2020). Sexual Assault Awareness in the #Metoo Era: Student Perceptions of Victim Believability and Cases in the Media. American Journal of Criminal Justice46, 6–32. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-020-09585-7

[3] Adams, Christine. “Mothers Who Fail to Protect Their Children from Sexual Abuse: Addressing the Problem of Denial.” Yale Law & Policy Review, vol. 12, no. 2, 1994, digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcon- tent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1273&context=ylpr.

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