5 Books for Struggling Abuse Survivors

person reading book

The healing process is vital for abuse survivors, but it is important to acknowledge that it is also a challenging ordeal to live with past trauma. This can be especially difficult for children. In our post ‘Safe, Seen, Supported’ we outline that one in five children experience at least one form of abuse. Recognising this issue, our organisation offers peer support and other initiatives that can help survivors feel safe, seen, and supported.

On top of these initiatives, survivors can also work through their healing process by reading books. The World Economic Forum pointed out that non-readers are more likely to report depression, while readers are less likely to feel stress. Reading can also aid in healing by enhancing sleep quality, improving self-esteem, and decreasing feelings of loneliness. Most importantly, books can provide valuable information that can help you on your healing journey. To illustrate, here are books that can help struggling survivors:

Dear Professor: A Woman’s Letter to Her Stalker

Donna Freitas’ story was hailed by Publishers Weekly as an important testament for the #MeToo movement because of the abuse she went through from being stalked. ‘Dear Professor: A Woman’s Letter to Her Stalker’ details how authority and power can be dangerous—even if they’re a celebrated scholar, priest, and academic mentor. Consequently, Freitas wrote the book to enlighten readers about harassment and harm from individuals in power. You get a glimpse of her seething emotions as she confronts her stalker within the text. Through this, she empowers fellow abuse survivors by guiding them on how to express their experiences and find their own voices. As a result, Dear Professor has become a book that survivors can turn to in their journey to liberate themselves and find their strength.

Recovering from Rape: Practical Advice on Overcoming the Trauma and Coping with Police, Hospitals, and the Courts – for the Survivors of Sexual Assault and their Families, Lovers and Friends

Rape is a vicious act that causes emotional, mental, and physical trauma to the victim. Overcoming this abusive experience can be very difficult for those who are still seeking justice. Recognising this challenge, Linda E. Ledray wrote the book Recovering from Rape to guide survivors through any concerns and questions that they may have. It provides practical advice on overcoming trauma as well as a list of resources and services that can help sexual abuse victims. The book also contains guides on how one can cope with the police, hospitals, and the courts so that one can attain justice and peace. But most importantly, the book emphasises that rape is never justifiable—and that goes, regardless of what the victim was wearing. This is written about the American legal system, so British and other countries will have differences in process, but the general guidance may still be helpful. It does contain detailed case studies, so may be triggering.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Individuals may struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing abuse. Unfortunately, PTSD heightens one’s stress responses and affects their social functioning, physical well-being, as well as their occupational ability. This is why psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk wrote ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ to explain the impact and symptoms of PTSD on his patients. By explaining the functional and chemical changes caused by PTSD, van der Kolk is able to help survivors learn how to manage the disorder. The psychiatrist also helps PTSD patients address their trauma by providing scientific and philosophical approaches to the healing process. Through this book, survivors can learn to regain their control and rewire their thinking through mindfulness techniques, play, yoga, and other such activities. This is a ground-breaking book and highly recommended for any survivor.

Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in Search for the Living Past

Besides addressing PTSD, it’s also important for survivors to work with their memories. Dr Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing, explains that survivors struggle with emotional triggers that can remind them of past traumatic experiences. In fact, his book ‘Trauma and Memory’ tackles how the past can still live in individuals and affect their experiences in the present moment. To help his readers, Dr Levine provides guides on how you can get past these ingrained memories so that you can fully connect with your present self and form new relationships with others. This then allows you to gain control over your memories and overcome trauma responses. By reading this book, one will find just how crucial memories—both implicit and explicit—are to one’s mental state and even their overall identity.

It Wasn’t Your Fault: Freeing Yourself from the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion

After all is said and done, it is most important to acknowledge that what you went through was not your fault. Beverly Engel is a practicing psychotherapist and her book It Wasn’t Your Fault delves into shame and how it affects the human psyche. The text is structured like a gentle guide, with step-by-step guides and helpful tips on practicing self-compassion. The author explains that self-compassion actually lessens the severity of negative thoughts, such as that self-criticism, thought suppression, and rumination. And through writing this book, Engel seeks to help abuse survivors develop the self-regulation skills they need to get rid of their self-blame. This then allows them to move on and live a happier life. After all, it’s what all abuse survivors deserve.

Books can be a useful tool for readers struggling with their mental health. They can provide people with guidance and a sense of belonging. And for abuse survivors, the role of books is all the more crucial. Texts like the ones above can provide advice on how abuse survivors can find their voices, attain justice, and process their experiences. And while they are not a replacement for resources such as mental health counselling or trauma therapy, they provide an opportunity for survivors to take matters into their own hands—to realise that they are not alone in their struggles and that there is a better future in store for them.

For more resources, such as peer support groups, specialised training, and other research projects, follow the Survivors Voices Network.

An article for survivorsvoices.org by blogger Ayla Devon

One Reply to “5 Books for Struggling Abuse Survivors”

  1. Great article Ayla. I read The Body Keeps The Score a year ago and it was eye-opening. Suddenly I had some understanding of why I had certain struggles and where they came from.
    Being able to answer some of the whys in relation to what I thought were character traits was immensely helpful.
    Gaining understanding of trauma and abuse through reading books is something that I can wholeheartedly recommend—particularly in the absence of therapy, which has been my case.

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