Feeling Safe After Childhood Sexual Abuse

Woman holding head using both hands inside lighted comfort room, face obscurred
Image credit: photo by Kevin Laminto on Unsplash.

Safety is something we often overlook the importance of until we are in a situation in which we no longer are safe. For children who are sexually abused, the importance of safety is inescapable.

As these children become adults, they often live with a feeling of not being safe for years or decades after the abuse ends.

The Difference Between Feeling Safe And Feeling Comfortable

It's important to differentiate between "feeling safe" and "feeling comfortable." If you grew up in an abusive environment, then abuse might be a very comfortable place for you.

Children who are sexually abused often end up in domestically violent relationships as adults. Behavior that was invasive, boundary crossing, disrespectful, and damaging is familiar to them; however, though it may feel comfortable, it is by no means safe.

In the same way, safe situations may feel very uncomfortable to a survivor of abuse. A loving, respectful relationship can set off alarms in a survivor’s head because they’ve never been exposed to that kind of care before. It is extremely unfamiliar, so it feels dangerous and unsafe instead of warm and welcoming.

Building Safety

Building safety for survivors is key to healing. As Abraham Maslow famously stated, there is a hierarchy of needs, and physical needs such as basic nourishment and safety come before anything else can be met.

To begin developing a feeling of safety, survivors need to look inward – at themselves. An internal sense of safety is a belief that the individual is capable of protecting themselves and keeping themselves safe from harm. It is the most reliable and important way to start healing after your safety has been taken away from you by abuse.

Therapy can help develop an internal sense of safety. Breathing exercises, meditation, and other grounding techniques can help the survivor build confidence and trust in themselves – and begin to finally feel safe.

What makes you feel safe? Whether you’re a survivor or not, how do you create a feeling of safety? Share your strategies in the comment section below.

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