Editor’s note: the following column discusses sexual abuse and may be difficult to read for some people. 

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Abuse

Dear John,

How do I support my husband’s needs being the husband of a woman who was sexually abused by her father?

How can I better understand his experience and not get overwhelmed with the feeling of guilt that it is my fault & that if he weren’t married to me he wouldn’t have to deal with this…feeling like it’s my fault and if I removed myself from the equation, then my husband would be better off…

How do I talk about it with him and not take on his feelings & being triggered?

Continued from last week…

Dear Survivor,

“How do I talk about it with him and not take on his feelings & being triggered?”

We’ve covered a lot of material and language in Parts I and II, so some of this may feel repetitious. There are two primary components to engaging in safe conversation and avoiding triggers: 1) creating a safe container to discuss these traumatic experiences openly and honestly, and 2) understanding your triggers and integrating them back into a whole concept of self.

There are many facets to the trauma created by sexual abuse, and the lasting consequences. Thus, it makes sense there are many reparations required to restore one’s integrity and personal authority. Creating a healthy container requires several factors: trust, safety, transparency, and faith. It requires each participant avoid assumptions, blame, judgments and criticisms. As Brené Brown says, “clear is kind.” If something is not clear, ask for clarification from a genuine place of curiosity and compassion. It can be extremely hurtful to diminish, negate or tell the other participants’ story or their truth. If this is new or difficult, there are professionals who are available to help facilitate these intimate and deep conversations so they don’t result in processing retraumatization.

It is worth exploring the dilemma you may find yourself in when trying to create a safe container. If you are wounded and triggered, how do you trust the container? If you have been lied to repeatedly, how do you know what honesty and transparency looks like? If you have been abused and manipulated, how can you know what safety feels like? In order to offset the grooming, lying, manipulations and gaslighting required to abuse a child, survivors will have to start trusting their intuition, reconnecting and reaffirming their gut instincts, and developing their inner trust and personal authority. This is the first of many early stages to healing the injuries sustained in your childhood. Eventually, a maturation, an inner knowing will emerge to help you intuit who is trustworthy and who is not. Over time, through small, consistent, and repetitive gestures and actions, these people build trust through kindness and compassion. Invariably, there will come a time when there is a gap between trusting and knowing. That is where faith comes in. You have to trust your intuition and rely on faith that you are opening yourself up vulnerably to an individual that will hold your safety with great care. It is a scary place to be, and courageously moving through it can yield great transformation. In those raw moments, it is still possible to be hurt, for your partner to misstep and make a mistake, and it seems justified to retreat and withdraw. If you trust your partner, be open and honest with where you are so they can do better next time. As Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

To be continued…check back next week for the finale of this 6 part series.

With love and light, John Moos, MD For More Resources: RAINN – Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis The Courage to Heal Workbook: A Guide for Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Laura Davis The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.