Rena Romano: Healing Child Sexual Abuse and Conquering Past Hurts

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Certain topics in this world make people uncomfortable whenever they are brought up. Think about suicideself-injuryalcohol addiction, and, yes, child sexual abuse. However, even though such topics can easily make us uncomfortable, it does not take away the fact that they happen to people—or, they can even befall us. A lack of understanding of how to be there for others or how to be there for ourselves is often the amplifier of a great deal of suffering.

That is why The IPS Project is here: to share all this information and to deepen our understanding of life topics that most of us learn little to nothing about when we were growing up.

In this episode, we have invited Rena Romano—keynote speaker, mindset coach, and a survivor, or rather, as our guest in this interview likes to put it, a “sur-THRIVER” and advocate of those who have suffered child sexual abuse and sexual assault. Rena has appeared numerous times in the media to give voice to these topics. She has been a featured guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and various other shows such as Daytime, 10 News, and ABC Action News.

In 2017, Rena delivered an incredible TEDx Talk titled “Healing from Sexual Abuse Can Start with One Word,” which is truly worth watching. Today, Rena is a true “sur-THRIVER,” filled with pride, positivity, self-love, and self-empowerment. However, she came from a very dark place.

She endured nearly 20 years of sexual abuse by her brother, who is 11 years older than her and who made her do horrific things starting when she was 4 years old. As I mentioned in the intro of the interview and will state here as well, I feel that those details are not mine to tell, so I will let Rena share them in the interview.

Sadly, this was not Rena’s only experience with sexual abuse and assault. In her twenties, Rena worked at a job where her boss sexually harassed her, and she was also raped by a colleague in her own home.

These are words that are indeed hard to read. Likewise, for me, they are difficult to write. Imagine the agony it must be for someone to experience this. And maybe some of you can because you have been through a similar experience. The damage that traumatic experiences cause will often be carried for years into adulthood. For Rena, being sexually abused completely shattered her self-esteem and self-worth, and almost led her to commit suicide.

To see her today as the positive person she is, filled with life, joy, and a greater purpose as a result of her ordeals—a purpose of helping others find courage, strength, and tenacity to persevere during and after trauma—is nothing short of admirable.

This makes her indeed the perfect person to talk about this topic and provide a deeper understanding for anyone who wants to learn more about sexual abuse or take a step towards healing.

In the interview, Rena shares many insights and advice about dealing with childhood sexual abuse, but because of the complexity and multi-layered aspects of child sexual abuse, we have provided additional information, which you will find here in the show notes, to understand this topic even better.

Let us start by making it clear exactly what sexual abuse is. Yes, this might sound like an easy term to define. However, it is broader in scope than most people know.

Child sexual abuse includes:

Any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors when one exerts power over the other.

  • – Forcing, coercing, or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual activity.
  • – Non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism, and communicating sexually by phone or on the Internet.
  • – Based on this first pillar of knowledge, let us take a brief look at the current statistics on child sexual abuse.

Sexual violence is notoriously difficult to measure, and there is no single source of data that provides a complete picture of the extent of the crime.

While the numbers will vary globally depending on which country and source you check, data from the World Health Organization shows that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men report having been sexually abused between the ages of 0 to 17 years.

What is also shocking to know is that 93% of children who are sexually abused know the perpetrator, and 90% of the time, the children do not report the crime. This statistic is likely to be even higher for boys because of the stigma.

Child sexual abuse is an extensive problem, and even the lowest prevalence includes a huge number of victims. 

To combat this, it is important that we not only make it safe to talk about sexual abuse but also take note of signs that a child may be undergoing sexual abuse.

Signs That a Child May Have Been Sexually Abused:


Physical signs:

  • – Excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics
  • – Keeping secrets or not talking as much as usual
  • – Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior
  • – Regressive behaviors or resuming behaviors they had outgrown, such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting
  • – Overly compliant behavior
  • – Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age
  • – Spending an unusual amount of time alone
  • – Trying to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe

Behavioral signs:

  • – Change in eating habits
  • – Change in mood or personality, such as increased aggression
  • – A decrease in confidence or self-image
  • – Excessive worry or fearfulness
  • – Increase in unexplained health problems such as stomach aches and headaches
  • – Loss or decrease of interest in school, activities, and friends
  • – Nightmares or fear of being alone at night
  • – Self-harming behaviors

These signs and symptoms give us another pillar for this topic that can greatly help us to become aware if something might be amiss with your child or any child in your surroundings. If you have been sexually abused, certain recollections might fall into place.

To build a final pillar of understanding, let us look at some of the long-term effects sexual abuse can have on a person.

Mainly, we would like to underscore and recognize that this traumatic experience leaves deep wounds on its survivors and that we need to intervene immediately, at any cost, if we notice one or more of the above signs and symptoms in a child.

And for the survivors reading this, this can give you further clarity on why you might feel the way you feel after you’ve experienced sexual abuse as a child.

Long-Term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse in Adult Survivors:


Shame & Guilt

The vast majority of survivors report feelings of shame and guilt after experiencing abuse; these feelings seep into their very being and are often carried into adulthood. 

You might feel guilty and repeatedly blame yourself for not having been able to stop the abuse.

Guilt involves the awareness of having done something wrong, even if you have not.

Shame, on the other hand, is an unpleasant, self-conscious emotion typically associated with a negative evaluation of the self. With sexual abuse, that feeling of shame can simply come from the fact that this act has happened to you.

These feelings often prevent survivors from sharing what has happened to them and can even lead some to take this burden to the grave. 

Living with such feelings greatly decreases the quality of a survivor’s life. Because each time they are reminded of their past, these negative feelings will come back and interfere constantly with their well-being.

This is why it is so important that we make it safe to talk about child sexual abuse.

And that is why it is so important for survivors to not merely survive but become a sur-THRIVER: to find a path where you can thrive despite what has happened to you.

If you have not yet listened to the interview, Rena will talk much more about this topic there. And if you have already listened to the interview, listen to it again until her words truly register in your mind.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Various types of traumatic events can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sexual abuse is certainly one amongst them.

Symptoms can extend far into adulthood and can include withdrawn behavior, sleep problems and nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks whenever you get triggered by something that reminds you of the abuse, and trust issues with the gender that abused you that can significantly interfere with any kind of relationship in your life.

Living with PTSD is torture to the self. 

However, there are ways to live a life without PTSD. Working with a psychologist, more specifically one who specializes in trauma therapy, has been shown to be a major stepping stone in the healing process for survivors.

Again, it should be underscored how important it is to ensure that your psychologist or therapist is someone with an actual license. An untrained therapist can just as easily cause the patient to become more traumatized and make things worse instead of better.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse and have been contemplating whether you should go to therapy or not, check out the following two videos on the YouTube channel of The IPS Project: “How to Find a Good Therapistand Know You Are Making Progress” and “Going to Therapy for the First Time: Top 3 Reasons People Don’t Go to Therapy”. 

These two videos will help you learn more about therapy, how it works, and how to find a good therapist.

Side note: Trauma is complex, to say the least. Therefore, we also did a separate episode on The IPS Podcast about this topic. Whether you are a survivor or someone who wants to be more informed about child sexual abuse, I highly recommend you check out EP 019 – Dr. Guy Macpherson, Ph.D. “What is Psychological Trauma and How to Heal It,” to understand the effects that trauma has on a person and how to start the healing process.

Addiction

Harmful, unwanted, or abusive childhood experiences usually cause intense negative emotions—if not right away, then later in life. People naturally want to avoid and escape them. 

This is especially true of emotions like fear, shame, and guilt. As you can see from one of the points raised above, survivors of child sexual abuse often walk around with feelings of shame and guilt. 

If no healing happens during childhood after the traumatic event (which is most often the case), these feelings are carried into adulthood.

To cope with these feelings, survivors may use unhealthy coping strategies such as drugs to numb themselves. Because drugs help numb this pain and provide a temporary escape, this behavior can easily result in addiction.

Drugs, however, are not the only unhealthy coping tools survivors can use. Overworking, compulsive use of porn and indulging in sex can all be attempts to avoid and escape feelings of helplessness, fears of rejection, and unfulfilled longings to be loved.

While they may all help to cope with the trauma, they are only short-term solutions. No happy life can be built this way. Often, these types of avoidance and escape end up causing new and bigger problems.

Side note: If you struggle with alcohol addiction, which can result from being sexually abused in the past, I recommend you listen to EP 023 – “Scott Pinyard on Alcohol Use Disorder, the Effects of Alcohol on the Brain and Body, and How to Provide Support,” where Scott Pinyard, head coach of This Naked Mind, breaks down the steps on how to start drinking less.

Depression and Suicide

The statement that time heals all wounds is, sadly, not always true. The body remembers. When it comes to emotional wounds that go unhealed, time only deepens them.

Studies have found clear and convincing evidence of a link between childhood sexual abuse and a host of psychological symptoms, with more cases of depression and a higher rate of suicide attempts in sexually abused children compared to those without a history of abuse.

Depression can be described as a persistent feeling of deep sadness. 

Walk around long enough with this deep sadness and ultimately, you may find yourself completely lost in a darkness of pain and sorrow, with seemingly no other option but to press the self-destruct button to end all the horror.

Understand that while the abuse might have happened years ago, the symptoms of depression can come much later in adulthood.

However, depression and thoughts of suicide are not just treatable but curable. Again, as mentioned in one of the above points, it is essential to seek out the help of a professional. 

There are evidence-based therapies that have been proven to help people live a life free of these destructive thoughts and feelings.

Side note: Another episode that is worth listening to is EP 012 – “Mark Henick – Mental Health Advocateon Coping With Suicidal Thoughts,” where Mark, a renowned mental health advocate and expert on the topic of suicide, provides comprehensive advice on how to be there for anyone who has depressive symptoms or signs of having suicidal thoughts or tendencies, as well as how to be there for yourself if you are walking around with these suicidal thoughts. Together with that, I also suggest you check out EP 021 – “How to Rewire Your Brain to Be Happy | Dr. Rick Hanson, Ph.D. | The Science of Happiness,” where you can learn practical ways on how to start changing the architecture of your brain to be more receptive to happiness in life.

While this list could easily get longer, it already gives some idea of the pain that victims of child sexual abuse carry with them, often for many years.

However, the fact is that you are here reading this and hopefully about to listen to the episode (if you have not done so already) with a sur-THRIVER of child sexual abuse, Rena Romano. This only means that there are people out there willing to learn more about this topic, and in doing so, help make the world better.

Child sexual abuse has been decreasing globally. While this decrease is due to various reasons, one reason is certainly because we are talking more about it.

Do not undermine the importance of your being here, educating yourself on this topic. It matters to maintain this global decrease in child sexual abuse and to build a safe future.

And to the survivors who are reading this, I hope this information has brought you some clarity about what had happened to you. I sincerely hope that the interview with Rena Romano will (or already has) contribute something of value to you in knowing that you are not alone and that there truly is a path to living a happy life, despite what has happened.

If you need further advice or wish to seek help for yourself, do not hesitate to contact The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline, available 24/7 at https://hotline.rainn.org/online

With that, please enjoy this episode with the sur-THRIVER of child sexual abuse, Rena Romano.

Books:

  • – His Puppet No More!: a memoir (His Puppet No More! is the courageous true story of how she triumphed over the years of horrendous victimization and control of her abusers.)
  • – You Can Help: A Guide for Family & Friends of Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Assault (You Can Help offers concrete tools to family and friends who wish to participate in the healing process of someone who has been sexually victimized.)


Websites:

  • – RAINN | The nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization (RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.)
  • – The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline (Whether you’re looking for support, information, advice, or a referral, our trained support specialists are ready to help.)
  • – The THRIVE Perspective Podcast (Our mission with the show is to empower women survivors to take back their power to Get Help, Get Healed, and Get Happy to release their shame. We are creating a program that will show other survivors of child abuse and sexual assault the endless positive possibilities of their potential after trauma.)
  • – Erin’s Law (Erin Merryn is lobbying every state to pass Erin’s Law, which requires all public schools implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program.)


People:

  • – Maya Angelou (Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees)
  • – Oprah Winfrey (Oprah Gail Winfrey is an American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist.)

Coming soon.

Coming soon.

If you feel that you’ve gained some insights and lessons from this interview, and you are curious to see what else we offer at The IPS Project, check out The IPS Academy, where we offer online courses taught by guests here on The IPS Podcast.

Learn more about essential life topics, such as mental health, relationships, the mind, and the body and the brain, through fun and interactive courses. Simply go to TheIPSProject.com/academy.

What is also interesting to note is that all the courses are quite affordable, as we at The IPS Project do not want money to stand in the way of bettering one’s life. Each course has a few lessons to try for free, so you get a taste of what the course is like.

We have countless reviews from other students so you can see what others think, and there is a 30-day money-back guarantee if you end up not liking the course. Again, check them out at TheIPSProject.com/academy.

Healing child sexual abuse

FOLLOW Rena Romano

sur-THRIVER and Advocate, Speaker and Coach

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