"I attempted suicide because it seemed the only way to get help," says Sarah. The attempted suicide was 15 years ago. Sarah was 12, and her stepfather was sexually abusing her.
It's very likely the person sitting next to you in class has suffered abuse, too. One in four girls and one in every six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. Statistics indicate 30 to 40 percent of abuse victims are abused by a family member. Another 50 percent are abused by someone outside the family they know and trust.
Sexual abuse turns your world upside down. After all, this person is part of your family. He or she is supposed to love you, not hurt you. Research shows abuse victims are more likely to experience school problems and struggle with depression and substance abuse than non-victims. Gaining back your self-confidence is vital to going from victim to victor.
"I felt terrible about myself because of the abuse. To feel better, I tried it all - drugs, sex, the party lifestyle. It was only a temporary fix. In the long run, the drugs and sex made me feel worse about myself," Sarah says. Change started when she stopped thinking of herself as a victim and came to the decision that she deserved a good life. She made a conscious choice to change and take charge of her life.
Here are some ideas to help you on your road to healing and getting back your self-confidence:
• You have to want to reclaim your confidence. "You have to want change bad enough for it to work," says Sarah.
• Forgive. "You can't forget," Sarah is quick to say. "It's a part of who you are, but forgiveness is for you, not the one who hurt you. Forgiving allows you to let go of the abuse, to put it behind you and move on." Like Paul says in Philippians 3:13, " ... but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead" (NLT).
• Get professional therapy if at all possible. Therapists provide the guidance critical to your emotional healing.
• Join a support group. Meeting with other abuse survivors provides encouragement and tools to help you. (Ask a counselor about finding a group.)
• "Gaining back your confidence is a lot about who you surround yourself with," says Sarah. "The people you hang with need to be positive, supportive friends who are genuinely concerned about helping you heal. Think about it; how can you become confident if everyone around you is always negative?"
• Be conscious of your self-talk. Write positive affirmations on an index card and read them every day. Carry them with you, tape them in your school locker or on your mirror at home. Say them out loud when you can (faith comes by hearing). Whenever you find yourself thinking negative thoughts, counter them with your affirmations. A good place to find positive affirmations is in the Bible. (Get started with the sample affirmation provided at the end of this article.)
• Find a positive outlet doing something you enjoy: paint, draw, write, journal, join a club at school, participate in sports. There are many choices. The point is to find something positive you enjoy doing and do it.
• Reach for your dreams!
"Regaining your emotional well-being is not something that happens overnight," Sarah warns.
Be encouraged; you are not alone and you can succeed. Sarah presently holds a 4.0 GPA as she works toward a bachelor's degree in psychology. Her ultimate goal is a doctorate with the intent to counsel girls who have been sexually abused. Sarah is also the proud single mother of a 7-year-old.
Father, you have created me anew in Christ Jesus so I can do the good things you planned for me long ago. I am empowered from your glorious, unlimited resources with inner strength through your Spirit to accomplish what you have planned for me. I give you glory, O God, for you are able, through your mighty power at work within me, to accomplish infinitely more than I might ask or think. (Based on Ephesians 2:10, 3:16, 20, NLT)
Freelance writer/editor Debra L. Butterfield is a Nebraska native who current lives in northwest Missouri. She is the mother of three and grandmother of two. For more on Debra, her work and ministries, log on to debralbutterfield.com or gloryandstrength.com.