Importance of Community & Belonging
Written By: Daniella Tucci, Previous Placement Student , The Gatehouse
Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a very traumatic lived experience for people to hold onto for the rest of their lives. This type of abuse not only harms people physically, but as well leaves them emotionally scarred. Most often adult survivors struggle with feelings of isolation due to the impact of the abuse. Feelings of community, support, belonging, and trust may start to diminish as individuals isolate themselves from their environment around them. This then results in feelings of unworthiness and loneliness. These feelings of isolation stem from keeping the secrecy of the abuse.
Perpetrators may do anything in their power to keep the abuse a secret to avoid consequences, which then puts the survivor in a difficult situation. The relationship between perpetrator and victim is most often power-over, which means it is built on force, coercion, domination, and control, and runs off fear. It is set on the idea that some people (the perpetrator) have power, whereas others (the victim) have none (Stuart, 2019). This relationship can result in the survivor feeling broken, unworthy, and unlovable, amongst other feelings. This power imbalance creates an emotionally draining environment for the survivor, which can lead to future feelings of isolation.
CSA is also seen as a taboo topic making it uncomfortable to address, and even disclose. This unaccepting light shed onto an important global concern not only promotes silence in survivors but increases the chance of future abuse. To promote self-awareness as well as community awareness it is important to remind survivors that you are not alone. Although CSA is common, it is vital to remind survivors that this lived experience is not normal, accepting, or okay and what happened to them is not their fault. It has been found that 1 in 10 Canadians reported being sexually victimized before they turned 18 (Afifi et al., 2014). These numbers are disheartening, as a community it is important to highlight the use of one’s voice. By empowering and uplifting one another we can move survivors out of isolation to belonging.
It is common for survivors to feel alone at times due to the abuse and relationship they had with their perpetrator. Feelings and thoughts of no one will understand me, accept me, validate me, and appreciate me are common after CSA. A big contributor to this is a lack of trust. Oftentimes trust is stripped away because of the abuse, and it is hard for survivors to rebuild that sense of trust later in life. Although, trust building is a crucial part of the healing journey. To move out of isolation survivors must have confidence in others to hold and honor their experience.
Since each person’s story, experience, and coping mechanisms are different, the way in which a person seeks help can appear different as well. It is crucial to never force someone to share their story of CSA, we must accept and respect others’ boundaries and allow them to come forward when they are ready. In times where it is apparent that those around us need support or the motivation to seek help, it is important to lend them a helping hand and guide them down the right path. Overcoming feelings of helplessness, loneliness, and unworthiness require help from those around you, including professionals and loved ones (support systems). Seeking support is a big step, and it is not one you have to take alone. Finding agencies such as The Gatehouse help make starting a healing journey easier.
At The Gatehouse we believe that no one should suffer in silence. To build a sense of community, we encourage survivors to share their voice and stories in a safe space where they can be heard. We validate each and everyone’s story of CSA, highlight that you are worthy and capable of moving forward, and help promote community and connections. When seeking support, a person needs to find a place where they can flourish, feel accepted, and not alone – and that is exactly what The Gatehouse offers.
Embarking on a healing journey within a community atmosphere has its risks and benefits. Committing to a peer support group can cause feelings to arise, promote triggers and flashbacks, and cause a person to use unhealthy coping mechanisms. This is due to hearing and processing an abundance of information from the facilitators and participants. Although we highlight the risks, we as well highlight that you are not alone. Committing to a group at The Gatehouse provides a person with plenty of supports and resources. Participants learn they are not alone, and although everyone’s stories are different it is enlightening to know that they are not the only person with this lived experience. Making connections, sharing stories, and encouraging growth promote a sense of trust and community. By providing a safe environment where survivors can learn and grow together, it also creates a space where survivors can bond with one another. Peer support groups have an abundance of benefits and although we acknowledge the risks, we have seen a high success rate of healing with a community. Therefore, it is important to heal with a community since it provides support, resources, comfort, and trust that the survivor needs to process and heal from their trauma.
Important Reminder: healing is not a linear process, and although some moments on your journey can feel isolating you must remember that you are never alone.
Moving out of isolation can be hard, and overcoming unwanted feelings targeted at ourselves can be even harder. At The Gatehouse we promote sharing one’s voice and appreciate, respect, and validate each person’s story. By providing a safe, open, and inclusive space where survivors of CSA can come together to heal, we provide an opportunity to build a sense of community and belonging. Overcoming CSA does not have to be a process one embarks on alone. Through an empowerment approach The Gatehouse can offer a platform for all CSA survivors to develop a sense of community and belonging where they can overcome and grow from the abuse.
Afifi TO, MacMillan HL, Boyle M, et al. (2014). “Child abuse and mental disorders in Canada.”
Canadian Medical Association Journal. 186(9): E324-32.
Stuart, G. (2019). 4 types of power: What are power over; power with; power to and power
within?. Sustaining Community. https://sustainingcommunity.wordpress.com/2019
The Gatehouse. (2020). Phase 1 peer support group participant manual.