Self-esteem, recovery from sexual abuse

This week while reading Scientific American Mind I came across some interesting articles that relate to self-esteem. I will write about these articles in the coming weeks and would love you to comment with your thoughts.

The first article relates to survivors of childhood sexual abuse, an issue I have personal experience of both as a “survivor” and a therapist.

The article refers to a common lingering reaction of contamination where survivor feels negative feelings of “impurity”. They feel they are still contaminated by the abuser and spoiled goods. Not surprisingly this often leads to self-esteem, body image and relationship issues. In some cases there are behavioural issues such as obsessive body washing.

Scientific American Mind report on a study undertaken by psychologists at Goethe University, Frankfurt using Behaviour Modification methods that applied both logic and emotion. The study took the form of a brief intervention of one session with a “booster” follow up meeting.

The following steps were taken:

1. The participant was encouraged to discuss the detail of their thoughts of contamination including feelings, where they had these thoughts and the impact on their daily life.

2. The participant was given a research task to find out how often human skin cells are rebuilt and replaced. In particular to calculate how many times the cells in trauma related parts of their body had been replaced since last contact with the abuser. This was done via the internet during the session.

3. The therapist then facilitated a discussion where the participant explored what these facts meant. For example, none of the existing cells on the participants body had ever been in contact with the abuser so were free of contamination.

4. The final stage was a visualisation where the participant was encouraged to imagine shedding their contaminated skin.

The study author, Kerstin Jung reported results that were extremely positive and encouraging. There was a significant reduction in feelings of being contaminated and they also noted decreases in overall post-traumatic distress scores.

In Jung’s opinion the combination of factual information coupled with the mental imagery is key for emotional change. Knowing the facts alone provides information only without emotional change. To quote Jung “we introduce the imagery technique as a vehicle to transport the rational information from the head to the heart…… images are much more powerful to change emotions than verbal information”.

This research connects with the work Rick Gray has been doing in the USA working with war veterans suffering from PTSD. He has been using NLP techniques based on V-K dissociation (Visual-Kinesthetic) and measuring changes in brain structure at the molecular level using MRIs.

The veterans often experience more progress in one session of two hours than measured during two years of alternate therapies. MRIs show actual changes in brain structure at the molecular level after the intervention.

Many survivors of sexual abuse experience PTSD and imagery often seems to help people move on to a new place in their thinking and experience in life. This in turn boosts self-esteem.

I’d like to expand this out further by thinking about the impact of identity labelling. I have very deliberately used the label “survivor” in this blogg to label the participants in Jung’s study as this is the label they used however even this label needs to be questioned.

In my own journey there were some interesting changes in my labelling of self. In NLP, identity is one of the most profound levels when looking at self-belief and identity labels are often the most resistant to change.

Here is how my labelling progressed. Until the age of 29 years I was without a label for my experience of sexual abuse, I knew that a regular visitor to the house had sexually touched me and I had kept it secret. My experience was at an unconscious, childlike level as if I had stayed stuck at that age sexually. My memories were intact I just didn’t share them with anyone and didn’t really consider how the experience had negatively impacted on my self-esteem and adult relationships.

The identity level was so profound that it lacked a label and was just who I was. I then attended a personal development workshop where I had a revelation about many things and this in particular.

I became for a short while a “victim” of sexual abuse. This label of course is very disempowering and I was quickly helped to reframe this label to “survivor” however for quite a long time it was a word only and not who I felt I was. I still felt like a victim.

As the anger began to kick in I started to feel more comfortable and almost self-righteous with my proud label of survivor. I was confident and willing to share my experience with all who wanted to know and some who didn’t! It was still emotion laden.

As I continued along my personal development journey I realised that truly moving on from this traumatic experience from my childhood involved moving to a new state where this experience was just an experience.

I no longer use the term “survivor” in relation to myself. In my opinion this keeps us still locked into the experience at an identity level. Moving to a place where our past traumas can be recalled without the emotional load frees us to step into our full personal power.

Now I have labels that are far more positive “woman”, “wife”, “friend”, “teacher” and “leader”. I probably have more labels than that as I like to be flexible in my interaction with life however I am clear that the only labels I want to define myself with are those that focus on a positive and happy future unchained from past events.

To look at the original article in Scientific American Mind go to:

For more information about Rick Gray’s work follow the link below:

Next week I will write about the second article and it’s links to self-esteem.

About Melody @ GWizlearning

Melody spent fourteen years gathering experience of the business world working in banking, telecommunications and the public sector before co-founding The GWiz Learning Partnership in 1993. Melody has a Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology, a degree in Psychology and a diploma in Psychotherapy. She is an NLP Master Trainer which allows her to run NLP Practitioner, NLP Master Practitioner and NLP Trainer Training courses certified by the Positive School of Intrinsic Neuro-Linguistc Psychology. She is also a qualified Myers Briggs practitioner and EI practitioner and added to all this is five years Transactional Analysis training, meaning she is able to help organisations access the hidden potential in their staff. She is also in demand for her work in transforming average or even troubled teams into high performers. Melody is a visiting lecturer at University of East London, teaching "Wellbeing and Positive Psychology" to undergraduates. Additionally, she is a member of the CIPD and is ILM accredited. Melody's interests are many and varied. She has a keen interest in personal development, canine and wolf psychology, conservation, movies and running. She also enjoys western horse riding, walking the GWiz dogs, nature watching and stage combat (particularly sword fighting).
This entry was posted in Emotional Awareness, NLP, Personal Development, relationships, Self Esteem and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Self-esteem, recovery from sexual abuse

  1. Ezza says:

    Melody, this is a great article about being a survivor and being able to turn your life around.

    Your article has touched me deeply as I also understand what it’s like to be a victim and what it means to be in-complete and have damaged inner esteem from such an experience.
    Sexual abuse is not just skin on skin, it is also the inner suffering and the damage it causes now and in the future – I am talking from experience and I understand what individuals go through. I believe NLP is another way to help bring back the person we keep inside but seeking help is important and being open about the experience. Understandably, this does take time and the experience is painful but so.o.o.o worth getting it out in the open and finding inner solace. Sometimes in life, we do re-visit the experience due to something in our present life that may bring up the trauma and it is best to speak about it immediately so the universe can decide whether it is what you want or you are speaking in the past.

    Melody, I am so happy for you that you can now look back and say “this experience was just an experience” and “moving to a place where our past traumas can be recalled without the emotional load frees us to step into our full personal power.”

    If you need someone to talk too, I am definitely in your corner and I am willing to listen.
    All the Best,

    • Thanks Ezza

      I share my experience to give hope t those still on the journey. Your support and love is much appreciated. The more of us willing to speak out the warmer the world becomes. :0)

  2. Pingback: Photojournalist Nobuko Oyabu’s Own Journey of Recovery Sheds Light on Survivors of Rape and Sexual Abuse « Leo Adam Biga's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s