Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) report that it hasn’t always bothered them. Others report that it’s always been scratching around the edges of their life but suddenly it’s front and center and demanding attention. Still others report that they hadn’t remembered the abuse at all until now. So why now? There is no one answer to this question. There are many reasons CSA memories come up when they do. Here’s a list of the most common reasons CSA memories wake up:
- It’s in the news. A news story or social media post about a child being abused can bring your own history into focus. These stories don’t have to be particularly similar to your own experience, it just has to touch a sore spot in your soul.
- A personal Trigger. Unhealed CSA is often remembered in a disjointed sensory way: A smell, an image, a voice or a few random details. It is possible to bring those memories back to the forefront of your life by experiencing something similar to one of those details: The smell of a similar cologne, a similar look, a tone of voice or a phrase. It is also possible to not consciously notice the triggering detail but still have it wake up your memories.
- Your child. Being pregnant, giving birth or having a child reach the age you were when you were abused can all be triggers. Events in your child’s life can also be a trigger: going off to summer camp for the first time, they start dating, or them being hurt or abused can all bring your own abuse history back into your life.
- Things are going good. It can feel like your life has just finally started going right… and *BLAM* your memories of your abuse wake up and ruin everything. And in a way, that is what has happened: As your life comes together you start to feel safe and safe is what the part of you that was holding the memory was waiting for. Perhaps you’ve moved away, got a good job, a supportive partner, or you’ve started feeling capable or confident. The part of you that has been holding onto that pain decides that now you’re ready to deal with this. Part of you thinks that now is a good time to heal.
- Something changes about the perpetrator. Something happening to the person who hurt you can also cause your memories to demand attention. The perpetrator may remarry, get released from jail, have new allegations lodged against them, or they may die. The death of a perpetrator can open the flood gates to the past. Now that they are gone you may feel truly safe for the first time.
If you are struggling with your memories of your childhood abuse there are steps you can take!
- Know that you are not crazy and you are not alone! Having abuse memories come back or seemingly randomly become intrusive is not uncommon.
- Know that you have already survived the abuse! If your childhood abuse memories are coming back to you as an adult, that means you survived your childhood! I know these memories feel terrifying, but they are memories.
- Know that you have grown up. Part of the reason it feels so scary is because the fear comes from that child self. It is the fear of that child. You are older and wiser and more capable of protecting yourself than you were when the abuse occurred.
- This may suck, but the only good choice now is healing. You can try to push it away, shove it down or pretend it isn’t there but it will not simply go away. The only way to truly get rid of the pain is to deal with the memory.
- You don’t have to do it alone. There is help out there that can help you through this process.
I am an EMDR trained therapist in Austin Texas. I specialize in working with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse) and generally helping adults heal trauma. If you are ready to start your healing journey, please contact me or a trauma therapist near you.