Title: (Dis)Connected: Navigating Intimacy after Abuse

By Ena Cesar, Epione Trauma Trainer


As a survivor of sexual trauma, safe intimacy and connection can often feel like a distant dream. When trust is so shatteringly betrayed by abuse, the path to healing often means completely rebuilding and redefining what it means to trust and feel truly loved. It is the type of journey that you are pushed on by the past’s pain but called to continue by the present’s resilience and the hopeful promise of future security. It is a testament to your capacity to heal, love, and trust again – to reclaim a sense of safety and rediscover connection in a world that once felt hostile.

Research and personal experience have shown us time and time again the way trauma can alter how our brains perceive and process our relationships with other people. What should feel like closeness can be marred by mistrust and fear. We develop a sense of hypervigilance, constantly almost expecting to be hurt so that we could hopefully get in front of it this time, see the potential threat before it is too late. I can remember all the times I have misinterpreted simple acts of affection (like hugs or touch in general) as signs of impending harm, and these things that I would crave would at the same time make me recoil. Once your boundaries are crushed by abuse, it can be difficult to remember that you do have the agency to keep and respect them. It feels as though you cannot tap into the strength that was maybe once there. It is not just other people you find difficult to trust. It is difficult to also trust yourself. Am I doing enough? Could I have done more to prevent the harm from coming to me? Have I somehow caused this? What can I do differently so that it does not happen again?

So you distance yourself, build walls around you and you don’t let anyone in. You stay suspicious and worried. Alternatively, you do the complete opposite and throw yourself into risky situations or find ways to numb. There is no right or wrong way to deal with and process trauma, so whatever it was for you is perfectly valid and you’ve done what you felt you needed to in order to survive.

For me, it fluctuated between avoidant and numbing behaviour. It came in stages but also in waves. There will be different emotions that come up – guilt, anger, anxiety, confusion, shame, helplessness. Feel them, but remember it was not your fault. Let these feelings run through you so you can make way for those you deserve to feel – hope, empowerment, peace, self-compassion, pleasure, safety. Although, as I mentioned, these might not be felt in isolation and might come in cycles. What I always try to remind people of, both personally and professionally, is that the path to recovery is rarely linear. There will be ups, downs, sideway steps and everything else in between. That never takes away from your progress or the effort that you have put in to come this far, to survive.

I am still navigating this journey of how I perceive and receive intimacy. I am still learning and processing every day so I wanted to share some challenges and breakthroughs with you because it is important you know that even though the path may feel lonely, you are not actually alone.

It was really important for someone who was training to understand trauma and complex post traumatic stress to work to demonstrate and model what a safe environment is by creating a space for me to unpack my fears and experiences. Who and how this happens will vary from person to person. For some, that may be with a friend, a family member, a partner or another survivor. For a lot of us, it starts with professional help and I get the opportunity to model this with delegates as an Epione Trainer . People in our lives can be well-meaning and have our best interest in mind, but the impact and heaviness words can have when you’re already feeling vulnerable cannot be ignored. That’s why specialist help, if accessible, might seem like a more manageable place to start. It could be a space for you to learn to set and communicate clear boundaries for when you do try discussing your story with people in your life. As a self-proclaimed people-pleaser, trust me that I know it can be uncomfortable to be firm with your boundaries, but it does get easier with practice.

Arguably one of the hardest challenges is overcoming the fear of re-victimisation, especially if you survived multiple instances of assault and abuse. Maybe it was even under the guise of love for a long time for you. Understandably, your mind and body might not be ready to accept not every experience will be like this. These challenges may feel insurmountable, but that’s also why every small victory can feel monumental.

The first step to forming safe connections is examining what that means for you. For me, a safe connection is one where I feel consistently respected, heard and valued. Where nurturing gentleness is not something to be earned but is a given, where care and comfort are mutual while autonomy continues to be encouraged. A safe connection respects your physical and emotional boundaries without pushback or compromise.

If you want to be that safe connection for someone you love, try to start by understanding trauma’s impact on survivors and the pace of the healing process as this can be essential in fostering a supportive, respectful space that reduces the survivors’ self-blame and empowers them to feel confident in building new healthy relationships.

If you are a survivor, how you were treated and the abuse is not your fault. It is not your shame to carry. You can and will get through this.

You are not alone. Ena


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