The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

by Ellen Bass, Laura Davis

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The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass, Laura Davis

First published in 1988, the groundbreaking The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse has been completely revised, updated, and expanded for its 20th Anniversary edition. Considered "a classic" and "the bible of healing from child sexual abuse," this inspiring, comprehensive and compassionate guide provides a map of support of the healing journey and a lifeline for millions. Weaving together personal experience with professional knowledge, the authors provide clear explanations, practical suggestions, strategies, and support throughout the survival healing process -- as well as help, hope and reassurance for families, friends, and caregivers. Readers will feel recognized and encouraged by hundreds of moving first-person accounts drawn from interviews and the author's extensive work with survivors, both nationally and internationally. Available in translations, as well as in an enhanced audio format, its life-saving messages resonate across cultural, linguistic, racial, religious, and geographical boundaries.
New elements included in this fourth edition are: • an emphasis on self-care and pacing during the healing process • contemporary research on trauma and the brain, memory , and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) • an increased focus on the body's role in healing • an overview of powerful new healing tools such as imagery, meditation, spirituality, and body-centered practices • stories that reflect an even greater diversity of survivors and their experiences • in-depth guidance to help assess evolving family relationships • new prose and poetry • reassuring accounts of survivors who have been healing for more than twenty years • insights from the authors' decades of experience • and a comprehensive up-to-date resource guide.
Readers have called The Courage to Heal "invaluable," a "beacon of hope," "wise and gentle," and a "lifesaver." Cherished by survivors, and recommended by therapists and institutions everywhere, The Courage to Heal has long been considered an empowering recovery tool, as well as an essential resource for victims of child sexual abuse, incest and trauma, as well as for their loved ones.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780996171809
Publisher: The Courage to Heal Press
Publication date: 07/20/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 606
Sales rank: 85,599
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

A pioneer in the field of healing from child sexual abuse, poet Ellen Bass currently teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University in Oregon and offers creative writing workshops in Santa Cruz, California, as well as internationally. Her highly acclaimed poetry collections include Like a Beggar, Mules of Love, and The Human Line, and her poems have appeared in hundreds of notable magazines and journals, including The New Yorker,The New York Times Magazine,and The American Poetry Review.For further information, see Laura Davis is the author of seven books including The Courage To Heal Workbook, Allies in Healing, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, and I Thought We'd Never Speak Again. Deeply committed to mentoring and supporting other writers, she facilitates weekly writing workshops in Santa Cruz, California, runs a free online writing community, and leads a rich variety of retreats in northern California, Bali, Greece, and other international locations. For further information, see

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


People have said to me, "Why are you dragging this up now?" Why? WHY? Because it has controlled every facet of my life. It has damaged me in every possible way. It has destroyed everything in my lifethat has been of value. It has prevented me from living a comfortable emotional life. It's prevented me from being able to love clearly. It took my children away from me. I haven't been able to succeed in the world. If I had a comfortable childhood, I could be anything today. I know that everything I don't deal with now is one more burden I have to carry for the rest of my life. I don't care if it happened 500 years ago! It's influenced me all that time, and it does matter. It matters very much.
-- Jennierose Lavender, 47-year-old survivor

The long-term effects of child sexual abuse can be so pervasive that it's sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly how the abuse affected you. It permeates everything: your sense of self, your intimate relationships, your sexuality, your parenting, your work life, even your sanity. Everywhere you look, you see its effects. As one survivor explained:

It's like those pictures I remember from Highlights for Children magazine. The bicycle was hidden in a tree, a banana was growing from someone's ear, and all the people were upside-down. The caption underneath said, "What's wrong with this picture?" But so many things were disturbed and out of place, it was often easier to say, "What's right with this picture?"

Many survivors have been too busy surviving to notice the ways theywere hurt by the abuse. But you cannot heal until you acknowledge the areas that need healing.

Because sexual abuse is just one of many factors that influenced your development, it isn't always possible to isolate its effects from the other influences on your life. Is your selfesteem low because you were an AfricanAmerican child raised in a racist society? Because you grew up in a culture that devalues women? Because your mother was an alcoholic? Or because you were molested when you were nine? It's the interplay of hundreds of factors that make you who you are today.

The way the abuse was handled when you were a child has a lot to do with its subsequent impact. If a child's disclosure is met with compassion and effective intervention, the healing begins immediately. But if no one noticed or responded to your pain, or if you were blamed, not believed, or suffered further trauma, the damage was compounded. And the ways you coped with the abuse may have created further problems.

Not all survivors are affected in the same way. You may do well in one area of your life, but not in another. You may be competent at work and in parenting but have trouble with intimacy. Some women have a constant nagging feeling that something is wrong. For others, the damage is so blatant that they feel they've wasted their lives:
As far as I'm concerned, my whole life was stolen from me. I didn't get to be who I could have been. I didn't get the education I should have gotten when I was young. I married too early. I hid behind my husband. I didn't make contact with other people. I haven't had a rich life. It's not ever too late, but I didn't start working on this until I was thirtyeight, and not everything can be retrieved. And that makes me very angry.

The effects of child sexual abuse can be devastating, but they do riot have to be permanent. As you read this chapter, you may find yourself nodding your head -- "Uh-huh, me too" -- recognizing, perhaps for the first time, the ways in which the abuse affects your life. Look at the following lists and ask yourself how you've been affected. Such recognition will probably be painful, but it is, in fact, part of the healing process.

When we ask "Where are you now?" we describe the range of effects that survivors of child sexual abuse experience; this is to help you look honestly at the impact of abuse on your life today. The lists are not a diagnostic tool and are not intended to serve as a way to determine whether or not you've been sexually abused.

Some of the effects of child sexual abuse are quite specific -- such as intrusive images of the abuse while making love. Others are more general -- such as low self-esteem or difficulty in expressing feelings -- and can be caused by circumstances or events other than child sexual abuse. It is important to be aware that physical and emotional abuse can also lead to many of the symptoms listed here.

If you recognize your own problems in the following lists but ate unsure whether you were sexually abused, don't feel you need to label yourself as a survivor before you're ready. Take care of yourself. Get support. Work on healing from the experiences you're sure of. And trust that over time your history will become more clear.


When you were abused, your boundaries, your right to say no, your sense of control in the world, were violated. You were powerless. The abuse humiliated you, gave you the message that you were of little value. Nothing you did could stop it.

If you told someone about what was happening to you, they probably ignored you, said you made it up, or told you to forget it. They may have blamed you. Your reality was denied or twisted and you felt crazy. Rather than see the abuser or your parents as bad, you came to believe that you did not deserve to be taken care of, that you in fact deserved abuse. You felt isolated and alone.

The Courage to Heal. Copyright © by Ellen Bass. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Customer Reviews

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Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse 20th Anniversary Edition 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
These authors have no credentials to support their writing. Recovered Memory Therapy can destroy your family and your life---you do not get better and move on with your life, you end up with endless therapy, hospitalizations, medication, huge therapy bills and no hope. Find instead a mainstream therapist if you were abused and RUN don't walk from anyone who says they thing you have symptoms of 'repressed memories'. People of abuse have real memories and don't need hypnosis or guided imagery to remember.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is written in a caring and nurturing way to ease the topic about sexual abuse. It gave me insight into my experience as well as wonderful encouragement and soltuions. If you are a victim of child sexual abuse, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It is an important resource to have and has helped me tremendously in my healing process.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most dangerous and revolting books I've ever read. I "recovered" memories after reading this book, which was submitted to my by 3 therapists as a must read. Baloney! I never forgot the sexual abuse when I was a child by my cousin, but I was led to believe that my father molested me as well after reading this book and through "therapy" (and I use that term loosely). I agree with another poster: RUN, don't walk, away from this book and any counselor, therapist or psychiatrist who recommends this book to you. My life was ruined for 3 years because of the hacks who wrote this book, and the hack counselors who "help recover hidden memories." I don't believe in book burning, but in my opinion, this particular book would do more for society if they were all burned. This book is pure BS.
Guest More than 1 year ago
READ THIS BOOK! I read this book years ago to learn more about the woman I was dating. She had been sexually abused by her father as a child. I was trying to get a better understanding of who she is. At the time, I had supressed my own memories of sexual abuse. Years later I did recover my memories of my sexual abuse by my cousin. I was able to pull all the information I had learned about abuse from this and other books I had read and I believe my healing started from the very first day I remembered. I have been able to reconcile with my abuser and we have a healthy relationship today. I found out today my own sister was abused as a child also. This is the first book I suggested to her to read. She is feeling all the same things I felt only she is more confused about them than I. I really hope her and the rest of you out there read this book and start on the path to healing. I have never sexually abused someone and I never will thanks to this book and the Bible. I pray for all of you out there going through what so many of us have. Please read this book, it will change your life for the better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book destroyed our marriage. My wife suffering from depression was given this book by her psycologist who then with hypnotism recovered her repressed memories from the age of 2 years. All of which were proven false, but not until the damage was done. She went out and accused her whole community of sexual assault. It has done untold damage to her and her family. Her psycologist then just bowed out of the picture.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The content of this book is alarmingly inaccurate. Memories that a reader was previously unaware of simply cannot be 'recovered' decades later with any accuracy. External verification of any 'recovered' memories is essential. I did not like how the authors promote cutting off one's family! The text is offensively misandric. The therapy endorsed by this book is dangerous in that vulnerable women can create completely inaccurate memories. I do not recommend this book whatsoever.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended by my therapist. I was amazed at how much I could relate to the stories and other things in this book. It really validated my feelings. I gained much stregnth and did have the courage to heal. It was very intense, finding out daily who I was as a person, no longer defining myself by others. I now know who I am and what I want out of life. The most awesome book I have ever read, Thank you for writing this. You along with God has saved my life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a fabulous book, and has something in it for every survivor and survivor's supporter. This book is all about supporting women in their recoveries. Many, many women are sexually assaulted and/or abused. The U.S. govt. says that 25% of girls under 18 are sexually assaulted in this country (see the FBI crime statistics home page). And those are the reported numbers--we all know how often this kind of thing goes un-reported.

I notice that one reviewer said that this book ruined his family, but I have to say that this book (along with a supportive therapist) have SAVED my family, and indeed, has contributed greatly toward saving my life. I give this book my HIGHEST recommendation.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This Book has given me the courage to accept the notions I've had all my life, that I was sexually abused as a child. Now, after 47 years, I can start to heal. I look forward to the day that I can see life through clear eyes, reality, and peace.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book! I can't express how this book has helped me relate in this world. Through reading about other's journeys and healing I know I am not alone. With that, I've been given helpful tools for my journey. These women's voices were helpful in finding my own voice. This book is for anyone who even has an inkling that they've been sexually abused as a child. For all it a tool to progress from victim to survivor.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The identification with so many of the stories and feelings expressed helped to validate the overwhelming feelings I couldn't understand at the beginning of my healing proces. This book has helped me to attack so many of the issues that accompany childhood sexual abuse!!! I cannot thank the authors enough for providing survivors with this comprehensive tool! Their down-to-earth approach (without pscho-babble) has been so useful that I recommend anyone who has had any kind of abuse growing up to utilize this along their own healing journey. I use the information to remind me that healing is possible and that I can change negative perspectives into positive actions. I cannot say enough about how helpful and inspiring this book has been. The best self-help book I've seen and read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Many people have read this book and then falsely accused a family member of sexual assault which never occurred. This book encourages women to 'remember' things from 20 or 30 years ago which never actually occurred. Many families have been severely damaged because of this irreponsible book. The book does not require proof that these things happened, only that the person has a 'feeling' it happened. The list of 'symptoms' which 'prove' past sexual assault include things such as eating too much or too little, trusting too much or too little, drinking too much or not at all, having headaches, back aches, dental problems, or 'feeling uncomfortable' when incest is discussed. People should talk to a doctor, priest, and their families instead of reading this political diatribe.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you were a victim of child sexual abuse then you must read this book. It has helped me understand so much more about myself. And now that my fiance has read it he is much more understanding, and is willing to bend over backwards to support me in my healing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Courage to Heal is my bible. I keep it close to my heart and always near by. I found inspiration and comfort. I struggled to get through the pages, this was not an easy task! I recover still today and am so grateful for the strength of sharing of all the survivors who did have the courage to heal!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would highly recommend this book to any survivor or partner of a survivor. This book gave compassionate, help and inspiring stories, that has helped me tremendously. This is the BEST book on the market if your trying to heal from sexual abuse.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have had several therapysts while I was trying to cope and recover from child sexual abuse. Everyone is different and I won't attempt to speak for the others who did not have success. Or make promises that this will work for you. That's not my place, each experience is different and individuals react differently. However in my personal search for understanding, hope,forgiveness and peace combined with my therapyst and this book. I was able to recover from my abuse. I related to several of the brave women in this book who want to heal. I identified my triggers and was able to work through them. I could give answers to my husband who was in the dark. I sincerely hope that you find this book to be helpful. And those who haven't are able to find comfort and healing with another resource. Not coping is one way to go, that didn't work for me. Eventually with enough time everything surafces. I hope that you have a strong support system when it does. Regardless of the method you choose. Best wishes
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
lots of help
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first started reading this book nine years ago, when I was in the Emergency Phase of my recovery, and it helped me realize that I was not crazy. It also let me know that I was not alone. There were other women out there, just like me, going through the same process that I was. That comforted me a great deal.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My pastor bought me this book when I was talking to her about some of my own experiences. I have found that this book has helped me to see that I am not alone in this problem, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I even struggled through some of the writing exercises within the book, but it just made me even stronger. If you have a good therapist, as well as this book, you are starting down the road to heal. You are not alone in this battle. You will make it through!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is absolutely incredible. I have seen every pyschologist possible since coming out with being molested 11 years ago and my newest one gave me a copy of this book. What this book has helped me to achieve since having it, I can't even put a price on. This is a must have if you or someone you know has ever been the victim of sexual abuse.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read The Courage To Heal Book ten years ago. It changed my life. I realized that I was not the horrible person I thought I was and that most of everything I had done in my life was influenced by my abuse. I gave the book to my daughter and it has been passed around through my family ever since due to the abuse so many of us have suffered. Since that time I have become a Christian and know that without God I could not have reached the level of healing I am in now. I also realize that forgiveness is a very necessary point to healing. Unforgiveness hurts no one except the one that harbors it. The one you harbor unforgiveness toward is not the one that suffers because of it. You do. That is one point that I do not agree with in the book. I also do not agree that this has to be a lifetime thing. Although it does take a long time, the healing can reach the point where no pain is associated with the memories. This takes God and a determination that the damage will not steal another moment of your life. Once you know the damage, and you continue in the wrong thinking, then you are giving the damage more power of destruction in your life. As soon as I realized why...I stopped the destruction. I even developed a relationship with my father...though this time I have boundaries that he is not allowed to cross. This book showed me how to set boundaries with others and to learn how to live free of the damage.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has changed my life and has help me over come so many problems I didn't even know existed. Amust read for someone needing to heal!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
WOW. I have reccomended this book to every one of my clients--males/females/incest survivors/secondary victims and even to those wo have never been directly affected by rape, incest, or other sexual crimes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book with much eagerness to rush home and read it. I was dismayed to find the graphic details, and hate poured out by some of the victims with the authors actually stating that forgiveness toward abuser is not necessary for successful healing. Some of the stories are graphic and chilling. The author, herself, does gives a touching story relating to herself and also how her lesbian lover is helping her to recover from the abuse. The saving part of the book to me is the ability to relate to others who have gone through the abuse. You can recognize the the same feelings and emotions, and recognize that there is healing out there after a long and painful road. (The courage to heal workbook is more practical, if your the kind of person to work things out through doing and thinking.)