Dear Barb – Overcoming Abuse

Dear Barb: I am a thirty-two year old single woman who has not been able to have a long-term relationship with a man. Everything seems fine at first, but when it starts to become serious, I get scared and end it. I think I know why this is happening. Throughout my childhood, I was sexually abused by several family members. The abuse started around age five and continued until I was eleven years old. This is something I have never told anyone until now. I realize that I need to find a way to deal with this, so that I can get on with my life. I am a voracious reader and I have read some books on this topic, but most just recount the abuse. Are there any other resources that would be helpful? I don’t think I’m ready to talk about what happened. Thanks.

Terri – Manitoba

Congratulations Terri, you are a survivor. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but you are moving forward with your life just by recognizing that you need help. The very best resource I have found on this subject is a book titled The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse written by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis (1994). As well, there is a workbook that goes along with the book that is titled The Courage to Heal Workbook: A Guide for Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse written by Laura Davis (1990).

The Courage to Heal is a compilation of over 200 stories of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Support groups throughout the country use this book as a guide to help survivors work through the trauma of sexual abuse. Included with the readings are exercises to do with or without the assistance of the workbook. Each chapter deals with a different aspect of the abuse and includes questions that can help you to understand and deal with your personal experience and its lasting effects.

The following is an excerpt from the The Courage to Heal, which may give you an indication of the impact this book could have on your healing.

“Reading this book can be a cathartic healing experience. As you begin to realize that your life makes sense, and that you are not the only one who has suffered, you may experience a tremendous feeling of relief. But relief is not the only response you may have…Women have also reported feeling terrified, furious, and anguished. Others have connected with forgotten pockets of grief and pain … having nightmares, flashbacks, new memories. One survivor, a recovering alcoholic, began to crave alcohol as she read. Another woman began fighting with her lover. Several went back to therapy. All said their lives were changed…As you read, it’s important to look inside, paying attention to your own thoughts and feelings. The idea of developing such a relationship with yourself may be foreign to you. As women, we’ve been taught to meet the needs of others, that focusing on ourselves is selfish. But healing requires a willingness to put yourself first.”
(Bass and Davis, 1994, p. 27)

I would suggest that you get these books and read through them, but realize that you will not be able to heal from this trauma alone. You need a support group or a professional counselor. If you do not know where to find help, your family doctor will be able to direct you to the resources available in your community.

The following is information about these two books. You can also check with your public library or online at for other books. Thanks for writing Terri.

Bass, E. and Davis, L. (1994). The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Third Edition. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Davis, L. (1990). The Courage to Heal Workbook: A Guide for Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. First edition. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

E-mail your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.