Navigating the Mental Maze of Sexual Abuse

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress entitled, “Who I am Today: Navigating the Mental Maze of Sexual Abuse,” Chapter 3.

Donna Messerly-Brownby Donna M. Brown

The mental maze suffered by victims of sexual abuse is extremely complex (a gross understatement, I know). If you are a victim of sexual abuse, your maze is unique. You created it. It is ultimately up to you to solve it; however, you don’t have to solve it alone. This journey will be whatever you decide it will be. Some paths will be dark and lead to eminent danger. Others will be bright and will lead you to self-enlightenment and joy. You have probably already explored many paths. You know which paths are which. You may not know how to find positive alternatives to those ugly roads littered with quick sand and mines. Whether you are at the beginning of your maze or trapped somewhere in the middle, if you gather the right tools to help you through you will have a much better chance of escaping.

Matthew 7:13-14

13 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and
broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Sexual abuse, also referred to as sexual violence, can trigger a complicated series of mental, emotional, psychological and physical reactions. There is also a wide variety of lingering external complications that can result from sexual abuse. Family members, friends, teachers, co-workers, and peers often react to subtle and blatant changes in an individual once the abuse has occurred (whether the violation is a terrifying one-time experience with a complete stranger, or a lifetime of perpetual abuse by a perpetrator the victim knows and maybe even loves). Unfortunately, some of those changes do not occur until a victim fully realizes the impact of his or her abuse. It can literally take decades for an individual to face the trauma. Some people never do.

A Word About Mazes

Why do I call this a mind maze? Many years after my abuse ended, it occurred to me that I was regularly stumbling into mental blocks and walls steadfastly built by my protective brain as a result of my personal experience. Once I accepted that my perceptions really were skewed, and that I often engaged in what I now know to be “wrong thinking,” I found myself retracing my steps to determine how I got lost in such a complicated maze of lies, truths, anger, loss, resentment, faith, hope, survival, and fear. I asked myself the following:

  1. How did I get here from there?
  2. How can I identify and follow the right path to get to where I need to be?
  3. Where do I need to be anyway? Where do I want to be?

wiseGEEK Online offers clear answers to common questions and gives this definition of a maze:

“A maze is a complex structure with a series of interconnecting pathways . . . It is viewed as a puzzle that must be solved, and the solver must work his or her way from the entrance to an exit, or another location. Getting through a maze can be difficult, leading to the use of the word as a slang term for a complex process.”

The practice of building mazes and solving them is centuries old. Mazes have played a role in developing spiritual insight. Some cultures have actually used mazes as a form of torture (go figure, huh?). Sometimes mazes are entertaining for the brain; and, mazes have been used for physical sport and recreation.

Regardless of how or why a maze was created, who do you think has the best chance of solving the mind-boggling puzzle? That’s right, it’s the creator. Whether you realize it or not, you have created your own mind maze. You are the most likely person to solve it because you and you only possess the map to find your way through it and the keys to unlock its secret doors.

If you were taken to a dense forest and dropped against your will into a maze of massive walls, unbreakable blocks, physical threats and mental tricks, you would no-doubt struggle desperately to find your way alone, particularly if you had no tools to help you. In such a situation you could suffer in silence and spend long, dark days searching for a way out. You might even find a comfortable corner within the maze and simply decide to stay where you know you are temporarily safe in the dark and quiet of walls that trap you, but protect you. Are you getting the metaphor here? If you are trapped in such a maze and don’t even know it, you might never look for an exit and be content to live a life of misery and isolation.

Ah, but, what if you were to shout out for help? What if others trapped in the maze followed the sound of your voice and found you? If you were in the company of others who had been scanning the layout of the maze much longer than you had, you very well might gain from their experiences. Everyone’s mind maze is different, but in the case of victims of sexual abuse they are often very similar.

In my new book I am going to share some a-maze-ing secrets that will help you find your way through the dark paths your brain created as a result of sexual abuse. Mazes symbolize the twisted paths of life and fate.

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