Home » Blog » Tapping into Your Resilience After Abuse

Tapping into Your Resilience After Abuse

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” — Khalil Gibran

Facing the fact that we’ve been abused isn’t simple. It’s wrapped up in feelings of being deeply flawed. When we’ve been hurt emotionally, physically, or sexually, we tend to internalize our anger and turn it on ourselves.

We may feel that we’ve done something wrong to deserve the abuse or feel that we’re marked by the abuse. The shame and guilt that should belong to the abuser is transferred to the victim, giving them a sense of being defective or contaminated. That’s one of the reasons it took me so long to face the truth.

I lived in denial and feared bringing up my memories in therapy. Part of me was afraid my feelings would be invalidated, and the rest of me was just as afraid those feelings would be affirmed.

“Who’s going to want someone like me?” I thought. “What am I good for?” I thought no one would want to know a victim of sexual abuse. I imagined they would be afraid that I’d pervert their own lives somehow.

I’ve met other trauma survivors who feel “defective” or “broken.” That feeling makes survivors think that no matter what comes along we will ruin it somehow. I imagined that everything I touched would wilt.

We squirm in our own skin thinking there’s no way out of the pain and no way to overcome the past. If only abusers could feel this way.

However the survivors I’ve met aren’t broken. In fact they could teach the world a thing or two about resilience. Resilience means adapting to change as it comes and facing adversity. 

“Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress,” according to the American Psychological Association. “Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.”

Few people have endured more distress than a trauma survivor, and yet they get up every day and get through it.

“When stress, adversity, or trauma strikes, you still experience anger, grief, and pain, but you’re able to keep functioning — both physically and psychologically,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

When I don’t feel resilient, I use this meditative visualization to take my power back:

  • Find somewhere quiet to take a moment and focus on your breathing. Other things may be going through your mind, but bring your thoughts back to your breath. Count to five as you slowly inhale and five again as you exhale. If you continue counting, your mind can’t wander;
  • Your body will slowly begin to relax;
  • Become the calm you want to see in your life;
  • Be the calm you expect will never be there;
  • Be the calm you imagine you can’t have;
  • Visualize all the emotions you don’t want to feel — fear, worry, sadness, grief — floating away from your mind, out of your body. Memories of violation and disrespect are going with them;
  • Stillness and relief fall on your shoulders, warming and lighting you up;
  • Wonder enters your mind;
  • Joy comes in and opens up your heart;
  • Tension in your body is unknitting stitch by stitch;
  • Even your most worrisome parts loosen;
  • Embrace the power. You’re in control of this body. You’ve helped it to feel the way it wants to feel. Cool, calm, and collected. Not afraid or overly alert;
  • Rest assured that you’ll roll with changes because you can — You always have. If anyone’s ready for an apocalypse, it’s you. After all, you’ve endured much more than could ever be expected;
  • You are strong;
  • Stay in this awareness, in this present moment as long as you can.

Sitting quietly photo available from Shutterstock

Tapping into Your Resilience After Abuse

Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review.

2 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment
APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). Tapping into Your Resilience After Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 4 Dec 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.