The journey of recovery from sexual abuse can often be a journey of pain that over time may become hopeful longing and turns towards the end into delight. Even though most survivors understand recovery as a lifelong process, a significant milestone is usually achieved when coping without professional help becomes possible.

For many it’s a journey that departs from an experience of brokenness of the self to arrive at a sense of wholeness and peace with one’s self. It is a journey of transformation at the core of survivors’ self-understanding that affects their self-relations and identity.

How does this transformation at the core of survivors’ self-understanding take place? It takes place through a process described here as ‘Recognition’. The first and maybe the most important step to recovery is self-recognition, whereby the survivor gives recognition to her/his need for care and support and affirms the will to live a life worth living.

Whilst for some people ‘asking for help’ might constitute an admission of weakness, in the case of recovering from sexual abuse asking for help represents a monumental paradigm shift. Whereas acts of (sexual) abuse leads victims to believe “I am worthless, nobody cares about my needs”, asking for help is the first sign of changing that belief into “I am worth caring about, my needs matter”. This may only be a subtle, unconscious shift, but it’s a shift none the less.

A direct result of the first step of self-recognition is receiving recognition from a caring health professional, counsellor, or therapist. How specifically is that recognition given? Survivors who were interviewed pointed out that most helpful for them were: being listened to, being respected, being validated, being understood, being supported, being cared for, having someone who just ‘was there’ for them when they needed someone.

Receiving recognition from their therapist in the described forms of support and care has a remarkable impact on survivors. They feel less alone, are more hopeful, start thinking more positively about themselves and become more confident in social situations. The more survivors can internalise the care and support from their therapist, the stronger they become, and the more they can cope with ‘challenges’.

Being supported and cared for strengthens survivors’ sense of self. It enables them to regain a sense of control over themselves and their body. They become more confident in social situations, and are less inclined to accept any forms of disrespect. Abuse based thought patterns such as “I am not ok, I am stupid, I am unlikeable, I deserve to be treated badly” undergo a radical shift whilst responsibility for their struggle is put back to the perpetrator(s).

The process of recognition turns out to be a self-perpetuating cycle of strengthening that allows survivors to regain self-confidence and self-esteem. In doing so it causes a reversal of the harmful impact of sexual abuse.

As we see, recovery from sexual abuse is a process that starts of with survivors giving recognition to themselves. This act of ‘Self Love’ has been the seed from which recovery could grow. ‘Self Love’ will be significant all throughout the journey of recovery. Without ‘Self Love’ recovery will not be possible. Self-hate and self-criticism only lead to distress and an affirmation of the negative messages received through the abuse. Finding ways of expressing ‘Self Love’ is the back bone of recovery. The Beatles sang “All you need is love” – how true!

Author's Bio: 

Gudrun Frerichs, PhD is a psychotherapist and trainer. Go to for solutions for relationship, for the recovery from (sexual) abuse, and for communication. Her FREE TeleSeminar discusses 5 key principles of recovery based on research, practice, and survivors feedback that unlocks your own healing power and improves your quality of your life. See more