For Survivors of any kind of childhood sexual abuse, feelings can be frightening. They can be reminders of painful memories, whether physical or emotional. Distress such as body feelings, flashbacks, panic attacks interfere with you whole life.  To get rid of these feelings we as survivors often just get into a habit of ‘spacing out’ numbing, disconnected, in your head etc.


You may switch off your emotions, you don’t have to feel. You can often go about your daily life, work, talk etc. but your mind and emotions don’t go together. 


Not being aware of your body. This can almost feel like you don't have a body. You might be able to ignore your physical needs, eating, drinking, or sleeping and not register pain or when it's time to etc.


You may allow others to abuse your body, or go along with things because you just don’t feel. Disappearing, you may get the feeling that you're actually watching yourself from outside your body. You may drift off into your own place.


Sound familiar. I used to go on the ceiling when my abuse was taking place. My flashbacks when they started were from up high, watching something taking place.


Not feeling is a way out when you are a child. It’s a habit formed that can follow you to adulthood. The best way you coped as a child was to shut down, to not be there. Why:


As a child you did not understand what was happening to you. You were scared, you had to escape, and you couldn’t physically, so you did it emotionally. Your mind had to do something to help you through it, so it 'shut down'.


If your abuse involved physical pain your brain may have gone 'numb' to protect you from the pain. Or you went into that other place in your head.


After the abuse you had to go back to ‘normality’ school, family etc. you had to find ways of carrying on. The reality of being betrayed by adults who should of protected you, not only your abuser, but teachers, parents and other adults around you left you confused, angry, hurt, frightened. How could a little child live with that?

So you learnt to ‘space out’ in which ever way helped. This protected you it helped you to survive.

As a child this was a clever and useful tool to get you through. But as an adult it can stop you functioning in the real world Emotions and feelings provide a lot of information about the world, how to relate to it and the people around you.


'Spacing out', doesn't help you when you have to make decisions, choices, and plans.


Healing from sexual abuse involves taking learning, processing information and experiencing lots of feelings and emotions. Healing is all about learning, processing information, making choices, decisions and planning.


Being 'Spaced out', can stop you healing.


You need to be able to access if people around you can help or hinder your recovery.


 You need to get help from the right people.


You need to know where your safe places are.


You need to understand when you are in danger.


You need to allow the right supportive people in.


If you're cut off from your emotions it's hard to get close to people and to let them in. Healing involves reaching out to supportive people. To do this you need to be able to establish close relationships. If you can’testablish supportive relationships you may become isolated. This can leave you in feel the same place as you were a child.


Healing is very hard in isolation.


So: Ask your self some questions.


1) How do I get myself safe?

2) Who should be in my support team?

3) How do I stop spacing out.


Find a good support team.

Ring a helpline.

Join a self-help group, they can offer support from fellow survivors.

Talk to your Doctor.

 Find a good counsellor.

 Read books on childhood abuse.




Learn to feel. As a child you had reasons not to, as an adult you have reason to.




The first step is try to become aware of when ‘space out’.


Try to identify the triggers that occur before you


Try to make the decision you're not going to ‘space out’.


Breathe. Slowly and deeply. (think about it). Deep breathing also helps with panic attacks.


Focus on your body. Sometimes feelings can be a pain or sensation in the body.


Afterwards try to identify what you've felt. You could talk to someone you trust, go on a forum, e mail someone, write about it, draw it, paint it, or mould a model of it in plastacine. Anything that gets your feelings out into the open.


Remember you still have the option of spacing out if you want to. At times you will need to. That’s OK.  You don't have to feel everything.  This could set you back or be to overwhelming.  You can choose to space out when you need to.


This could be because you may hurt yourself if you don’t. You may harm someone else. You have or had an addiction.   

Always try to tell a member of your support team about the feelings you've had.


The important thing is to get some control of your life. And start to feel your feelings and emotions. Getting control gives you choices that you never had as a child.


Beginning to feel gives you the freedom to heal.


You deserve to heal.  HOPE can support you through.



Learning to Feel


Article written by Pauline Carruthers.

You deserve to Heal

Get support











Find safe places








Let people in








Look for danger signs









Be aware of yourself








Be aware of the feeling



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