RECENTLY DIVORCED, Erin Hearts admits she has a tendency to seek emotionally unavailable romantic partners. When the 39-year-old decided it was finally time to ask for help with breaking her unhealthy patterns, she called O life coach Martha Beck. In their first conversation, Hearts revealed a long-held secret: Between the ages of 5 and 13, she experienced sexual abuse from a girl her age. “She’d touch me or touch herself in front of me,” said Hearts, who confided that although she was ashamed at the time, she also enjoyed the attention because she felt ignored and lonely at home. Beck gently encouraged her client to have compassion for the vulnerable little girl she’d been and told her she deserves help from a therapist specializing in treating adults who were sexually abused as children. Relieved, Hearts said she was ready for that next step: “It just feels so good to be taken seriously.” To see how she’s doing, let’s listen in on their second session.
Martha Beck: Erin, how are you?
Erin Hearts: Lately I’ve been a little sick—I couldn’t even talk for a couple of days, but now I’m getting over it.
MB: I’m glad you’re feeling better. What’s happened since we last met?
EH: Well, I got a therapist.
MB: Good for you!
EH: And I’m reading the book you recommended, The Courage to Heal.
MB: That’s great. It’s an incredible resource for women who have survived childhood sexual abuse.
EH: I decided I want to be open with my parents about what happened. When I tell them, they’ll probably have a lot of questions, though, and I have to be ready for that. Telling the truth is scary.
MB: What’s your worst fear about telling your parents?
EH: That my mom is going to be really upset. She already worries a lot. And I’m afraid my dad will be angry and say, “Why did you do this to your mom?”
MB: It’s interesting that as soon as you decided to speak out, you lost your voice. The patterns you’ve established to avoid the truth are really strong, and they’re saying, No, that’s not how we do this. It’s very understandable. So I’d like to focus on your mom. Imagine telling her about the sexual abuse, and instead of jumping to what you think will happen, I want you to go deep inside yourself and ask, Am I absolutely positive she’s going to break down? Just drop the question into your chest like you’re dropping it into a well, and see what comes up.
EH: I could see her reacting differently.
MB: What can you see?
EH: I think part of her might be glad I’m telling the truth.
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