He is taller than me and though this has been okay in general, right now it feels like he is towering over me. I do know that I am in control so I feel safe but what I am about to do is so outrageous that I am feeling very nervous. We are both standing in front of each other. He is looking at me in a very neutral way. He assures me that all will be ok and that I don’t need to worry, he won’t cross my boundaries.
First, I ask him to slap me on the face. He gently slaps my face – that doesn’t do anything. I ask him to do it a bit harder. He complies but as soon as he goes a bit harder (to be honest, it wasn’t hard at all), all the traumatic memories from my childhood rush to my face. My eyes become teary. We both stop. He hugs me and holds me tight till I am ok again.
I think to myself, I can’t do this. This was too hard. Maybe I need to try something else.
I lie on the floor on my back and I ask him to restrain me in this position. I want to try and free myself from his grip. He is on his fours and he has his hands holding my arms so that I can’t move. I try to break free but I can’t. He is strong. Suddenly I feel like I am every woman and he represents every man who has ever abused a woman. I have to break myself free.
I have to break myself free, not for myself but for every woman.
I am filled with a sense of power. I push against his restraint. He pushes too but I push harder and after a bit of tussle, I manage to break myself free… He stops immediately too and sits next to me, assuring me of his support.
I am overcome with emotions. I feel that I have re-written every ending in my life where a man had overpowered me and had abused me.
I feel free yet I am unable to grasp what has just transpired. it takes me a few minutes to absorb and come back to reality.
And in this new reality of mine, I am no longer weak. I am strong and I stand against all abuse. My life is changed forever.
We both hug. I thank him enormously for his support and his sensitivity. I feel enormously safe with him.
What I have described above is a specific technique called “reframing” that I practised with a close friend in the context of a workshop (where we worked with trauma associated with violence).
When the abuse occurs, it gives us the sense that someone else has overpowered us and that we are weak and cannot trust ourselves because we couldn’t protect ourselves when the abuse occurred all those years ago. Reframing sexual abuse doesn’t quite change the memory of the actual event but what it does is to change the sense of helplessness for survivors.
Reframing sexual abuse has a transformative impact in changing the story in our brains.
By changing the ending of the traumatic memory in your mind, you are literally changing the structure of your brain. You are changing your reality from “I am powerless” to “I am powerful”. You are changing your reality from “others can hurt me” to “I can protect myself”.
Norman Doidge, in his book The Brain that Changes itself, describes the piano experiment and the power of the mind. Two groups of people (who have never really played the piano) try to learn piano. One group by doing a daily practice and the other group by visualising/imagining the lesson.
The results for the two groups were astonishing. The group that imagined a piano practice could play piano at about 70% of the group that actually did the practice.
Isn’t this amazing?
You can literally change your brain by imagining. This is why meditation and visualisations are such an amazing tool in any form of healing methodology.
In my case, I did it by practising with a person whom I trusted deeply. You can do that in your imagination or you can also practice it with a person (of the same gender as the abuser) whom you trust.
You can do it in stages or you can do it all in one go. The choice depends on how much of the abuse you can visualise without going into an extreme emotional state. It’s better to be safe than sorry so try with very small things and do it in stages as described below.
Reframing Sexual Abuse – Stage 1
You probably remember all the details of how the abuse occurred. If not, you can create a scenario. But in the first stage, you just imagine them entering the room and you can reframe what happens because you are in total control of your thoughts. In your mind, you can make them leave the room without them ever being able to touch you.
Reframing Sexual Abuse – Stage 2
Once you are okay with them being able to leave without ever touching you, you can take it a bit further. You can imagine them coming a bit closer to you but again, they leave without ever being able to touch you because you stand firm and strong and you make them leave.
Reframing Sexual Abuse – Stage 3..n
You can break down the incident in as many stages as you want. Once you can get comfortable with one stage, you can imagine a bit more.
As you become comfortable with the memories, you will start to notice a shift in you. You will notice that you are no longer afraid. You have control over what happens in your future. You will notice that the traumatic event no longer has a hold on you.
You will no longer feel powerless. You will feel strong and you won’t be overwhelmed by your emotions and anxiety. You would be able to handle the traumatic memories in a much more palatable way.
You can also read my blog Anatomy of Childhood Sexual Abuse Trauma to understand how and why you get triggered.
I invite you to try.
Blessings and Love
- An article on reframing and how it can help us lead a better life
- An article on feel happiness website
Please also note that Ruby Usman is not a therapist. She draws upon her experiences and years of research to help you take charge of your own healing. If you are looking for a therapist, please contact your local medical centre