Podcast: Sexual Abuse: The Last Stage in Recovery
While searching for a way past her own childhood sexual abuse, Rachel Grant learned that many people don’t understand what, exactly, sexual abuse is and how to recover. Using her counseling background, Rachel was able to research and learn valuable coping skills to improve her own life.
Join us as Gabe and Rachel discuss the many factors involved in recovering from sexual trauma, steps society could take to reduce sexual abuse, and what the first step could be for others trying to get beyond surviving.
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Guest information for ‘Sexual Abuse Recovery’ Podcast Episode
Rachel Grant is the owner and founder of Rachel Grant Coaching and is a Sexual Abuse Recovery Coach. She is also the author of Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse.
She holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. She provides a compassionate and challenging approach for her clients while using coaching as opposed to therapeutic models.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Sexual Abuse Recovery’ Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: Welcome to the Psych Central Podcast, where each episode features guest experts discussing psychology and mental health in every day plain language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Podcast. Today I will be talking to Rachel Grant. She is the owner and founder of Rachel Grant Coaching and is a Sexual Abuse Recovery Coach. She is also the author of Beyond Surviving: The Final State in Recovery from Sexual Abuse. She works with survivors of childhood sexual abuse who are beyond sick and tired of feeling broken, unfixable, and burdened by the past. Rachel, welcome to the show.
Rachel Grant: Thank you so much for having me, Gabe. It’s nice to be here with you.
Gabe Howard: Well I really appreciate you being here. The first question that I want to ask you is I think that sexual abuse is one of those things that everybody thinks that they understand. But I suspect that in reality there’s probably a lot of nuance and a lot of information that maybe the public is missing. Can you kind of fill us in on that and maybe talk a little about it so we understand exactly what we’re going to be talking about for the rest of the show?
Rachel Grant: Yes. So for our purposes today and for the work that I do, childhood sexual abuse is generally defined as any act towards the person who cannot consent or refuse based on their age or their circumstances or level of dependence or perhaps fear or manipulation. And so any act that can fall into that category. Anything from being tickled and to the point where you’re saying no and you’re still being tickled and you’re you know your body space is being violated in that way all the way through to child rape. All of these things constitute childhood sexual abuse and are the types of experiences that I myself have had of course. And then that I work with my clients through everyday.
Gabe Howard: There’s a phrase that always kind of sticks in my mind when I listen to sexual abuse recovery survivors, whether childhood or otherwise. And the phrase is specifically is “a fate worse than death.” That kind of strikes me as a little bit odd but you know I’ve come to understand again what it means. Can you talk about that a little bit because I know that this is a very uncomfortable subject but of course it needs to be better understood so that people can get the help that they need.
Rachel Grant: Yeah for sure. The experience of childhood sexual trauma, I don’t know that it’s necessarily a fate worse than death. But what I will say is that you know as somebody who experienced childhood sexual trauma, my grandfather began abusing me when I was 10 years old. It’s likely that he was abusing me before that but my most conscious memories start at the age of 10 so that’s just where I mark it. There is an immediate rupture of self that happen when sexual abuse is occurring. And so what I often describe it as is you have this sense of self. You have this person who you are and the trauma creates a disconnection and a separation from that self. And then what happens is over time all of these layers of abuse and trauma and the beliefs that you have as a result of that experience get layered on top of who you really are. And so this process is fatal in the sense that you become so separated and disconnected and if we do not have a reintegration of self, if we don’t have a healing of the nervous system and of the brain and of the spirit, well then you know you can kind of in the be walking through life as a ghost of yourself and that’s tragic and this is a real epidemic in our world. And so talking about it is so key, Gabe, because without conversation, without bringing these things into the light, we can’t really get into the process of creating systems and structures and policies that really will fully address what’s going on here in our world, in our family, and for the young children today who are being abused. So we want to try to prevent the next generation as much as we possibly can.
Gabe Howard: And I know that a lot of childhood sexual abuse survivors, they start off in a place of blaming themselves. They think it’s their fault which makes them not great at advocating for themselves because they sort of feel like it’s their problem to deal with when it’s anything but. Am I speaking truth or am I misunderstanding?
Rachel Grant: Oh yeah for sure. When you are a child and you are dependent upon the adults around you. The lesson that most children are taught is listen to the adults, right? They know what’s going on. They know what’s up. Trust them, follow their lead, follow their guide, and a lot of times that’s to the benefit of the child
Gabe Howard: Right.
Rachel Grant: Right. If you have good mentorship, if you have good guardianship, you have someone who is really trying to light the way for you as you’re trying to figure out this whole crazy thing called life. But when an abuser uses that child’s innocence and trust to create a circumstance in which abuse happens, the child is completely faced with something that is discordant. So you have on one hand these messages that you’ve been given that the adults in your life care about you, trust them they want the best for you but your internal experience is one of fear and lack of safety and confusion. And so one of the things that we all do as human beings is we try to understand why we’re having the experiences that we have. And so if you put a little person in that kind of environment and leave them to their own devices to try to understand why is this happening to me, then the egocentric mind of the child let’s just basically means you know children focus on themselves right. They’re not very altruistic yet
Gabe Howard: Right.
Rachel Grant: Which is natural and normal.
Gabe Howard: Right. We’re young.
Rachel Grant: That’s part of a healthy normal human development. The trap of that for children who are experiencing trauma is that they turn everything internal and so it becomes, what am I doing? What’s wrong with me? What am I doing that’s causing this? What is there about me that’s making this person hurt me in this way? The other reason why that happens, Gabe, is because it’s protective for the psyche. If you’re a child, you’re dependent upon the adults around you for your safety and by the way I’m speaking in this context because the majority of abuse happens within the context of family. It’s actually a very small percentage of abuse and trauma that happens outside of that context. So you’re living within this family system; you’re dependent upon the adults for your food, your shelter, your clothes like these sorts of things. So to then mentally make the switch to labeling that person as someone who’s harmful, someone who’s dangerous, psychologically that is that would be detrimental to a child to do that. Because of that you’re basically you’re only out at that point is I better get out of here. And how can you do that? You can’t. So psychologically we turn this back on ourselves because it feels safer. The other thing I’ll just name in this moment of talking about the whole “it’s my fault.” This is like one of the top three beliefs of survivors of trauma are kind of conditioned into and find themselves dealing with. One of my mentors says you know when we are experiencing trauma we hold onto the hope that this person will somehow change. They will become that loving nurturing adult that we possibly know them as in other contexts or knew them as for a very long time. And then there was this change. And so we hold onto the hope that will come back. And if we label this person as bad and wrong and harmful, we have to give up that hope and that again is detrimental to a child’s psychology. So, we hold on to that blame and this is certainly one of the things that I had to work so very deeply on, Gabe. You know in my own healing journey, it was quite the mountain to climb. And of course with all my clients now there’s a full process within my program where we look at all the different aspects that add up to the idea of it’s my fault, and then we break it all down and we dismantle that belief so we can come into the realization that we are not at fault. There isn’t anything about who we are or what we did or what we didn’t do that caused the abuse to happen.
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Gabe Howard: We’re back talking to Rachel Grant, author of Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse. It sort of strikes me that some of the most traumatizing things that can happen in this space are things that happen because it feels so normal in an abnormal situation. And it does not make sense because I can see how this is just nothing that people are prepared to deal with, both as the victim and of course as the parents or caregivers.
Rachel Grant: Yeah, we’ve got a lot of dynamics happening here. So first of all we have to take into account what’s called “generational trauma.” So if the caregivers have themselves experienced trauma and abuse and haven’t received support, and sometimes even if they have, when faced with the trauma of their child, they just kind of go right back into that blank space of like I don’t want to deal with this. I don’t want to look at this. I can’t handle this. And so it’s like hitting an escape button and rationalizing or denying it is the easiest escape. But there is so their own trauma can often inform and influence their reactions. This is not to excuse those choices and those behaviors. There are layers that are happening here. You have families where you know maybe mom is extremely dependent upon the abuser or vice versa. And so when faced with this moment there are all these very layered considerations that the person is working through. What’s going to happen? Can I support myself? What if we end up homeless? And I hear this from lots of people who I’ve spoken with who have been in these exact situations. It seems like a very clear cut thing; your child says I’m being sexually abused or I’m being abused by someone and the adult says OK we’re going to pursue this, we’re gonna handle this, we’re going to react to it, we’re going to take care of you, we’re going to protect you. And I would hope to get to the place where we have that being the more standard response then not. But people are people and they have their layers, they have their trauma. Again I’m not excusing any of those behaviors because it’s really terrible. It’s really a problem. But I think something that surprises, well surprised me in my own healing and I suppose when I’m working with my clients, is that you know part of healing from this trauma is beginning to understand your experience in the full context of everything that was happening. Again not to excuse or to dismiss. But when we have or when we can pull out of our pain and we can pull out of that moment of just being deeply within the trauma where our life seems like that’s all there is as we learn and we heal and we grow and we get a broader and broader perspective about the experience. We do start to understand what was happening for that person. What were their fears? What were their traumas? What were their limitations? And I think when we reach that place, Gabe, we start to have a sense of empathy. And to my mind, that is one of the greatest healing factors of all, because we get to step away from that situation and the victimhood of that situation and instead understand it in the full context of what it really was.
Gabe Howard: I really appreciate you saying we start to understand the full breadth of what’s happening because you know I live in the world. I live in America you know just like everybody else and you know there’s been a lot of large sexual scandals, childhood sexual scandals that have gone on for decades and involve you know hundreds of families and the one thing that I see on the Internet and I hear you know from the watercooler talk is well, that would never happen to me. That would never happen to my child. Well those parents must have been awful.
Rachel Grant: Oh, yeah.
Gabe Howard: There’s this knee jerk reaction that if you or your child are in that situation you did something wrong. And to hear you talk about it, it’s much much different from that. You’re not giving anybody a pass. You’re not saying that. As you said, this behavior is terrible, it’s wrong and we have to do better. But it sounds like you understand the complexity of it in a way that could probably get us to solutions faster than just pointing the finger at people and saying all these parents are terrible.
Rachel Grant: Thank you. Yeah. That’s it. Exactly. And I think that’s one of the reasons why having these conversations publicly and bringing this topic more and more to the forefront and starting to impact the way that we educate children in sex ed and in our homes. And how do we educate our parents? I mean my goodness, the level of safeguards that we do not teach people. I was a teacher, so I love teachers. But I often look at my own life experience and teaching and man like this is only going to help you for like a day. What you really need to be learning and understanding is how to communicate and how to relate to people. And I think that a lot of the reactions that we see that are poor come down to unhealed trauma and a deep deep lack of education and willingness to approach and talk about these topics. If you had parents being spoken to and talked to like here’s what you do, here’s how you respond. Here are the resources, right? If you think about it like if your kid falls down and gets a scrape on their knee, you know what to do immediately. Right? You pick them up, comfort a little bit. You get the you know antibiotic whatever it is. Put it on, put on a Band-Aid.
Gabe Howard: Yep.
Rachel Grant: Why do parents know how to do this without thinking about it? Why did they just react? Because we’ve had this modeled for generations all right. This is how you take care of a scrapped knee. What we have not had modeled for like only like a minuscule amount of time there are people starting to try to do this work is how to respond when your child comes to you with an emotional trauma or a sexual trauma. So if we can start to treat these sorts of experiences the same as like oh this is my child telling me he or she has a scraped knee, what is my protocol? What do I do? How do I respond? Then I think we can support our parents and also of course educating our children on how to speak up and use their voice to.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that struck me as you were giving that analogy is you’re using all the correct terminology. You said my child scraped his knee. You didn’t say my child got a boo boo on his bendy leg or you know anything like that. And it we understand how to sort of help children through emotional stuff like you said. You pick the child up, hug or maybe cuddle them for a minute, but not too long, not too long. There is all of these things that I think about man when we deal with sex let’s just talk about children and sex.
Rachel Grant: Uh-huh.
Gabe Howard: We don’t even use the correct terminology.
Rachel Grant: Correct.
Gabe Howard: You know, it’s your pee pee or your bottom or you know so if something did happen one we’re already uncomfortable with a lot of emotional things we’re already uncomfortable with sexual trauma. And just at its core, we’re uncomfortable discussing sex with children.
Rachel Grant: Um-hmm.
Gabe Howard: So I can see how all of those things coming together would make it very very difficult for the child to be able to talk about it correctly and be able to you know sort of move the needle with an adult but an adult being able to ask questions back to find out if the child is incorrect or misinterpreting or again, I fell down and hurt my knee. OK. How did you fall down? I fell off my skateboard. Or you know, there’s follow up questions. You know what to look for. You don’t have to take the child’s word for it. That doesn’t exist, you know, in this other arena. What’s the solution for that side of it? I mean I can think of a million solutions. You know we have to stop you know tiptoeing around sex with children. I mean I understand that that’s a tall order. My mother still cringes when I say penis or vagina to
Rachel Grant: Right.
Gabe Howard: Children under twelve but I’m like, “Mom, that’s what they’re called.” And you know she’s old school she prefers
Rachel Grant: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: You know pee pee and hoo hoo. And I understand why she’s uncomfortable but I feel that there’s a real need for this kind of open dialogue in our society but we’re only a generation apart so
Rachel Grant: Right.
Gabe Howard: That means at best one generation and believe me I have friends my age that are just like, “Why are you doing that?” They think it’s weird.
Rachel Grant: It’s such a tricky thing. I think there are so many components that add up to the discomfort that we have around sexuality. America in particular, the United States in particular, is a fascinating society because we are the most sex phobic yet the most sexualized.
Gabe Howard: Right.
Rachel Grant: So as long as it’s like pictures and images and these representations of these ideas of bodies and sex that we’ve come to decide are good and sexy and fun all of that. Then we lean in. But when it comes to the actual nitty gritty of the things you know it’s like whoa, hands off. I can’t go there; I can’t talk about it. And so you know where does this come from? I mean I’m not a historian so I’d love to speak with somebody who maybe knows more than me but just from my own kind of intuition and research and being in this field thinking about you know if we trace it all the way back to where we start in this country and the way that sexuality was represented and utilized. We can go even further back than that in the way that women were treated and they’re still treated. You know we’ve just got a very very very very long history of women’s bodies being used as objects or as barter. And so we’re fighting against that and not to leave out male survivors, because just because they don’t have that history, doesn’t mean they don’t get abused. They do. And so you know to have conversations about sex, to start being more on point about it just put this in the open, I don’t think is going to be our generation. In other words, I think only you know, it’s going to be the next.
Gabe Howard: Ok.
Rachel Grant: I think we’re about three or four generations away. Fingers crossed.
Gabe Howard: Right.
Rachel Grant: Right. Generations out from before we start to really challenge and start to see some shifts. I know some really wonderful people, colleagues of mine who are doing great work with parents about how they’re talking with their kids about sex and their bodies and these sorts of things. So yes, we have discomfort in talking about sex, but ultimately this is a conversation that when you get down to the nitty gritty, when you put people in rooms together, they talk about sex all the time. Like my girlfriends and I will have deep, interesting, graphic conversations about sex. Right? And so there is also this confusing illusion that it’s uncomfortable, but it’s comfortable in certain spaces. It’s all right in other spaces, it’s not the parent child dynamic there’s this tip toeing around that doesn’t happen when they’re with their adult friends. So I don’t have the answers I guess as long story short here but just looking at some of the things that I’ve seen at play that I think are where we’re making changes and where we’re starting to see some movement in some of the reasons why we’re still very stuck.
Gabe Howard: I appreciate you being so honest with your own life and your own history and your own trauma. I think that it’s very brave to be open about it. And I also appreciate that you’ve put so much work and research and education behind it so that you can help others. That’s very commendable and I applaud you for it. Thank you so much for moving in that direction.
Rachel Grant: Thank you. Yeah. You know there was this when I was 18 and I went off to college, I met a boy. And within, you know, maybe about six months of dating this boy, I was really clear that I that this past trauma of mine was a problem. That I had not healed. That it was really impacting my ability to trust, and my ability to communicate, and my emotional regulation was all over the place and with some prompting from him I finally decided to start going to counseling and talk about what had happened. You know in my work one of the things I talk about is all the stages of healing and in this moment of acknowledging hey my life isn’t working. I’ve got to take a look at what happened. That moment of acknowledgement is a bridge from victimhood to Survivor. And I lived into that and I started understanding and I started coming to realize why my life was the way it was and why I felt the way I felt. And in the midst of all of that and this relationship ended up being a 10 year run that we were together. And along the way he became a very abusive man. And he drew out my abusive nature as well. And when that relationship ended, Gabe, I was in my new apartment. Life had just kind of been stripped down. I had a sleeping bag and a lamp. And I remember sitting, leaning against the wall, one day and I was crying in fear and what’s going to happen in my life and I don’t know anymore. You have to think about it from 18 to 28. I’ve been with this man.
Gabe Howard: Yeah it’s a long time.
Rachel Grant: Right. And I’m thinking I’m pushing 30 and I don’t know what I’m doing with myself and I just remember a really strong voice kind of interrupting all of that and just saying Rachel you have got to get your s**t together like right now. Right now. And I don’t know why it was, and how it was, and what happened exactly in that moment. But that was the turning for me and I just became obsessed and I was like I am going to figure this out. I’m going to answer this question of how do I actually heal from sexual abuse? And that’s really, Gabe, what launched me into reading and researching, studying neuroscience, doing my master’s in counseling psychology, and honestly just using myself as a guinea pig. I really didn’t set out to do this as a career. I really was just starting to get myself together. But as it began to unfold, and as I started to see my life changing I thought well if this can work for me, maybe there’s a chance that it can work for others. And 12 years later here I am and that to me is the greatest gift is just when I really started to shift from just understanding the trauma to wanting to understand what to do about it and how to heal about it. That’s what I call beyond surviving.
Gabe Howard: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much I really appreciate that. We’re almost out of time but I have a real quick question for the Sexual Abuse Recovery Coach. If anybody who is listening is a survivor of abuse, you know they’re relating to your story, and their understanding what you want to say and they want to reach where you have. What are some of the first steps that they can take toward recovery?
Rachel Grant: So first of all my darling beautiful people who are out there listening who have experienced sexual trauma. This is not a life sentence. You’re not destined to be hurt. You’re not destined to spend every day dealing with the past and in pain. And the first thing that we can do is make a decision. We have to make a choice that we want something to change. And from that place of choice we can then take action. And to my mind the best first action is to understand exactly where you are in this healing process. From my web site you can go RachelGrantCoaching.com/checklist. And you can get my guide that will talk more about the stages of recovery. Victim, Survivor, and Beyond Survivor, and the important thing about that guide is going to give you a checklist to help you figure out where you are. But it’s also going to tell you what the goals of each of those stages of recovery are and the types of support that align with that stage. So many survivors of abuse and trauma end up getting retraumatized because they’re trying to do goals that they’re not ready for yet. They’re trying to reach and achieve things that they’re not they haven’t got the other foundations in place yet and they’re using healing modalities that don’t address the correct stage of where they are. So that guide will help break all of that down. And from that place you’ll then be able to make better decisions and focus your energy on what you need to focus on to get to the next level and then to the next level.
Gabe Howard: Thank you, Rachel, so much. Your book Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse, I’m sure you can get it on your Web site. But is it also available on Amazon and other sites like that?
Rachel Grant: It is definitely available on Amazon.
Gabe Howard: Thank you so much, Rachel, for being here. I really appreciate you taking the time to sort of play in my sandbox.
Rachel Grant: You’re welcome, Gabe. I appreciate you and thank you for creating the space for me to share my story and to connect with your community. I really appreciate it.
Gabe Howard: Well we certainly appreciate you and listeners please if you can take a moment to go to wherever you downloaded this podcast and give us as many stars as possible. Use your words and write us a nice review, share with your friends, shares on social media. Email us. Burn it onto a C.D. and give it to your grandma. We would really appreciate it. And remember you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling anytime, anywhere simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We’ll see everyone next week.
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About The Psych Central Podcast Host
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is also one of the co-hosts of the popular show, A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. As a speaker, he travels nationally and is available to make your event stand out. To work with Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Central Podcast, T. (2019). Podcast: Sexual Abuse: The Last Stage in Recovery. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 3, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/podcast-sexual-abuse-the-last-stage-in-recovery/