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The 50 Greatest Self-Help Books

Best Self Help Books










Recovery from Childhood Abuse
Self-Help Books

Many adults face the difficult task of healing from physical, emotional, spiritual, or sexual abuse suffered in childhood. This is often made more difficult by isolation and feelings of shame and self-blame. Survivors may feel they must protect or shield those who abused, particularly if the perpetrators were family members.

A cultural conspiracy of silence has cloaked the open discussion of these abuses; thankfully, that seems to be lessening. Many support groups and recovery groups now exist. They help to reduce the abuse survivor’s sense of isolation and provide safe places where traumatic childhood events can be talked about and worked through. Healing from childhood abuse is a complex task, and the self-help resources listed below can help.

See also: Abusive Relationships; PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; Men's Sexual Health, Women's Sexual Health; Resilience; Spirituality

Best Self-Help Books on Recovery from Childhood Abuse

The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura DavisThe Courage to Heal Workbook: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Laura DavisThe Drama of the Gifted Child: the Search for the True Self by Alice Miller"These are the childhood abuse self-help books I recommend most frequently to women and men in my practice who were sexually, physically or emotionally abused as children or who grew up with narcissistic and self-absorbed parents."
David Yarian, Ph.D.




More Recommended Self-Help Books on Recovery from Childhood Abuse

Allies in Healing by Laura DavisAllies in Healing
Laura Davis

This self-help book focuses on the partners of women sexually abused as children, who are living with the consequences of this abuse. It is written in a question and answer format, dealing with such topics as intimacy, family issues and realistic expectations. Also included are stories of eight couples and their struggles and successes. 1991, HarperPerennial


Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy AllisonBastard Out of Carolina
Dorothy Allison

This remarkable novel tells the story of a young girl growing up in Greenville, South Carolina in the midst of a chaotic family. Though surrounded by loving aunts and uncles, she is ridiculed by her mother and sexually abused by her step-father. A powerful and compelling story of creativity and courage as a young girl faces staggering challenges. 2012, Plume Books


Beginning to Heal: A First Book for Men and Women who Were Sexually Abused as children by Ellen BassBeginning To Heal: A First Book for Men and Women Who Were Sexually Abused as Children
Ellen Bass

Based on the author’s best seller, The Courage to Heal, this self-help book takes the reader through the key stages of the healing process, from crisis times to breaking the silence, grief, and anger, to resolution and moving on. It includes compelling accounts of survivors’ pain, their strength and their triumphs. 2003, Perennial Currents


A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain by Marilee StrongA Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain
Marilee Strong

Journalist, Marilee Strong, explores the reasons that lead over 2 million Americans to injure themselves regularly and deliberately with such items as knives, razor blades, and broken glass. Most "cutters" claim to use self-injury to distance themselves from pain and rage or to "feel something" after years of abuse have left them emotionally numb. Including powerful first person stories, the author also explores the comprehensive programs and treatments available to those who self-mutilate. 1999, Penguin


A Child Called "It": One child's Courage to Survive by Dave PelzerA Child Called “It”: One Child’s Courage to Survive
Dave Pelzer

In this first book of a trilogy the author describes his abuse as a child by a sadistic and alcoholic mother. This best-selling book shows a young child’s will to survive and his ability to find love and encouragement from adults outside his family. 1995, Health Communications


The Color Purple by Alice WalkerThe Color Purple
Alice Walker

This searing novel won both the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1983. It is an unforgettable portrait of an abused and uneducated African American woman’s struggle for empowerment and is rich with passion, inspiration and love of life. 2003, Harvest Books


Coming Home to PassionComing Home to Passion: Restoring Loving Sexuality in Couples with Histories of Childhood Trauma and Neglect
Ruth Cohn

Coming Home to Passion is an invaluable tool for couples searching for a roadmap out of the familiar but lonely patterns afflicting many pairings of adult children of trauma with adult children of neglect. Drawing on two decades of work as a psychotherapist in the field of trauma, the author stands out as a sharp and careful observer of the heartbreaking relationship patterns of such long-suffering couples. Ms. Cohn's confident humanity and clarity offer an unblinking beacon of hope. 2011, Praeger


The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura DavisThe Courage to Heal
Ellen Bass and Laura Davis

This self-help book is a classic resource for women who were sexually abused as children. Clearly written and filled with writing exercises and self-assessments, it is a reliable guide to the healing process from childhood sexual abuse. Many survivors’ stories are woven into the text. 2008, Harper Paperbacks, 20th Anniversary EditionA 50 Greatest Self Help Book



The Courage to Heal Workbook: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Laura DavisThe Courage to Heal Workbook: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
Laura Davis

This is an inspiring self-help book for all women healing from the effects of child sexual abuse. It is in a workbook format, and includes checklists, writing and art projects, open-ended questions and activities which serve to guide the survivor through the healing process. 1990, Perennial Currents


Daddy's Girl by Charlotte Vale AllenDaddy’s Girl
Charlotte Vale Allen

Allen is a professional writer who was sexually abused by her father from age seven until age seventeen. She struggled with self-loathing and believed herself to be ugly and unlovable. This is a powerful story of courage and healing and gives interesting descriptions of the connection between childhood abuse and adult relationships. 1995, Berkeley


The Drama of the Gifted Child: the Search for the True Self by Alice MillerThe Drama of the Gifted Child: the Search for the True Self
Alice Miller

This well-known and classic self-help book demonstrates how narcissistic parents unwittingly use their children to meet their own needs, thus negatively affecting the children’s development. By gifted, Miller means sensitive and alert to the needs of others; she believes that the sensitivity and empathy of gifted children predispose them to be used by people with narcissistic needs. This timely book has helped many people reclaim their lost childhoods. 1981, Basic BooksA 50 Greatest Self Help Book

Pick of the Month Self Help BookThis book was a Pick of the Month Self Help Book! Read David's full Book Review.



EMDR: The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma by Francine Shapiro and Margot ForrestEMDR: The Breakthrough Therapy For Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma
Francine Shapiro and Margot Forrest

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a new nontraditional short-term therapy for treating trauma victims that utilizes rhythmical stimulation such as eye movements or hand taps. Dr. Shapiro, who developed the technique, describes the treatment and how it works. Co-author Forrest presents gripping case studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of the technique. 2004, Basic Books


Father-Daughter Incest by Judith lewis HermanFather-Daughter Incest
Judith Lewis Herman

Through an intensive clinical study of forty incest victims Dr. Herman develops a composite picture of the incestuous family. She reviews extensive research literature that demonstrates the validity of incest survivors’ sometimes repressed and recovered memories, and convincingly challenges the rhetoric and methods of the backlash movement against incest survivors, and the concerted attempt to deny the events they find the courage to describe. 2000, Harvard University Press


Getting Through the Day: Strategies for Adults Hurt as Children by Nancy NapierGetting Through the Day: Strategies For Adults Hurt as Children
Nancy Napier

Napier presents practical approaches to dealing with the long-lasting consequences of childhood abuse, particularly dissociation, or “checking out”. This survival technique helped many children survive overwhelming childhood experiences, but often poses problems in adult life. This self-help book teaches many effective strategies for meeting the demands of adult living while working through the wounds of childhood. 1994, NortonA 50 Greatest Self Help Book



Healing the Incest Wound: Adult Survivors in Therapy by Christing CourtoisHealing the Incest Wound: Adult Survivors in Therapy
Christine Courtois

This self-help book presents an encyclopedic overview of the phenomenon of child sexual abuse. It offers a wide range of approaches to the healing process and gives poignant stories of the pain and suffering of persons abused as children. This is a hopeful book filled with valuable information for survivors, family members and professionals. 1988, Norton


Healing the Shame that Binds You by John BradshawHealing the Shame That Binds You
John Bradshaw

This best-selling self-help book focuses on “toxic shame”: the feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and inadequacy that many adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse carry into their adult lives. Bradshaw advocates getting this shame into the open, liberating the inner child, loving the self, awakening spiritually, and dealing more positively with relationships that reinforce the sense of toxic shame. He describes a number of strategies to help individuals move through a crippling sense of shame into greater self-acceptance. 2005, HCI, Revised Edition


Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma by Staci HainesHealing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma
Staci Haines

The first encouraging, sex-positive guide for women survivors of sexual assault - heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, coupled, and single - who would like to reclaim their sex lives. While many publications on the topic broach sexuality merely to reassure women that it is all right to say “no” to unwanted sex, Healing Sex encourages women to discover ways to say “yes” - to their own desires and on their own terms. This mind-body approach is ideal for anyone searching for a new route to heal from trauma. 2007, Cleis Press


Healing the Trauma of Abuse: A Woman's Workbook by Mary Ellen Copeland and Maxine HarrisHealing the Trauma of Violence: A Woman’s Workbook
Mary Ellen Copeland and Maxine Harris

This self-help workbook offers women who have suffered sexual, physical, or emotional abuse crucial skills for coping, self-understanding, and self-care. It includes self-evaluation questionnaires, writing exercises, and a variety of activities and relaxation techniques. Also included are questions to ask a doctor, a personal crisis plan, and a comprehensive list of resources. 2000, New Harbinger


Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood by Wayne MullerLegacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood
Wayne Muller

In this remarkable self-help book, Dr. Muller suggests that our woundedness contains powerful resources for healing and spiritual growth. Written with compassion and insight, the book offers exercises and meditations to aid the healing process. 1992, Simon and Schuster


The Lost Boy: a Foster Child's Search for the Love of a Family by Dave PelzerThe Lost Boy: A Foster Child’s Search for the Love of a Family
Dave Pelzer

This book, the second in Pelzer’s autobiographical trilogy, describes the author’s nine years as a foster child, moving between foster homes until he finally finds a place in a home that gives him the love he needs. A powerful description of resiliency and strength.  1997, Health Communications


A Man Named Dave: A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness by Dave PelzerA Man Named Dave: A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness
Dave Pelzer

Dave Pelzer enlisted in the Air Force and served in Operation Desert Storm. He describes coming to terms with his childhood as an adult, making sense of what happened to him and finding ways to move on. He describes his positive relationship with his son and reconciling with his father. Although painful to read, this third volume in his autobiographical trilogy demonstrates that childhood abuse can be survived, that healing can occur, and that the pain and suffering of a terrible childhood can be transformed into a productive and happy life. 2000, Plume


Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your BodyOvercoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body
David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper

Survivors of trauma - whether from abuse, accidents, or war - can end up profoundly wounded, and often feel betrayed by their bodies. In order to fully heal from trauma, a new and healing connection must be made with oneself, including one's body. The trauma-sensitive yoga described in this self-help book moves beyond traditional talk therapies and invites the body actively into the healing process. This allows trauma survivors to cultivate a more positive relationship to their body through gentle breath, mindfulness, and movement practices. The exercises provide a gentle, step by step approach to mind/body healing from trauma. 2011, North Atlantic Books


Recreating Your Self: Building Self-Esteem Through Imaging and Self-Hypnosis by Nancy NapierRecreating Your Self: Building Self-Esteem Through Imaging and Self-Hypnosis
Nancy Napier

For people who were emotionally and physically wounded as children, the journey from childhood to adulthood is a constant struggle with shame, self-criticism, and fear. This self-help book shows how to use self-hypnosis to resolve the effects of abuse, to build a healing relationship with the child within and an inspiring one with the future self. The book includes explicit exercises and self-hypnotic scripts, emphasizing self-acceptance, healing old wounds, and getting on with life. 1996, Norton


The Scarred Soul: Understanding and Ending Self-Inflicted Violence by Tracy AldermanThe Scarred Soul: Understanding and Ending Self-Inflicted Violence
Tracy Alderman

This step-by-step guide is designed to help victims of self-inflicted violence understand why they feel the need to hurt themselves and to take steps to change their behavior. This self-inflicted pain may be a way of focusing and controlling overwhelming feelings of chaos. It also may serve to free the sexual abuse survivor from the numbness that defends her from the pain of previous abuse. Alderman helps those struggling with self-abuse to explore the reasons for it, understand its impact on their lives, and learn how to break the habit either through psychotherapy or on their own. 1997, New Harbinger


The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women by Diana RussellThe Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women
Diana Russell

This landmark self-help book -- based on a large-scale scientific study -- presents convincing evidence that both the incidents and the consequences of incest have been grossly underestimated. The book makes a persuasive case for an epidemic of abuse on a national scale. Russell also confronts the controversy over false accusations and false memories. 1987, Basic Books


Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred by Patrick Carnes and Joseph MoriaritySexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred
Patrick Carnes and Joseph Moriarity

Sexual anorexia is an extreme fear of sexual intimacy and the obsessive avoidance of sex. The authors examine its causes, often arising from childhood trauma and other forms of abuse and neglect, and then describe concrete tasks and plans for exploring intimacy and restoring healthy sexuality. 1997, Hazelden


The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy MaltzThe Sexual Healing Journey
Wendy Maltz

This useful self-help book focuses on the ways in which one’s sexuality may be affected by childhood sexual abuse; this is often a cause of sexual difficulties in adult intimate relationships. Maltz suggests helpful exercises and activities to do alone and with one’s partner. Techniques for becoming comfortable with touch and dealing with specific sexual problems are included. 2012, William Morrow Paperbacks


A Thousand Acres: A Novel by Jane SmileyA Thousand Acres: A Novel
Jane Smiley

In this powerful novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the adult daughter of a successful farming family comes to terms with the dark truth of her childhood sexual abuse. 2003, Anchor Books



The Unsayable: The Hidden language of Trauma by Annie RogersThe Unsayable: The Hidden Language of Trauma
Annie Rogers

In this powerful self-help book, clinical psychologist Annie Rogers demonstrates how discovering the "unsayable" helps unlock the psyche of sexual abuse victims. Telling her own story and using resonant case examples, she makes a compelling and heart breaking case for the value of psychoanalysis and the restorative power of the human mind. 2007, Ballantine Books


Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse by Michael LewVictims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse
Michael Lew

Childhood sexual abuse happens to boys as well as girls, and this excellent self-help book focuses on the experience of men who were sexually abused as children. Topics covered include the myths and realities of abuse, masculinity and surviving abuse and recovery. Many personal stories are included in this self-help book. 1990, Harper and Row


When Your Child Has Been Molested: A parents Guide to Healing and Recovery by Kathryn Brohl and Joyce Case PotterWhen Your Child Has Been Molested: A Parents Guide to Healing and Recovery
Kathryn Brohl and Joyce Case Potter

This new edition includes current research and information on the nature and effects of molestation on boys and girls, as well as proven techniques for therapy, healing, and recovery. 2004, Jossey-Bass, Revised Edition



Wounded Boys, Heroic Men: A Man's Guide to Recovering From Child Abuse by Daniel Jay SonkinWounded Boys, Heroic Men: A Man’s Guide to Recovering From Child Abuse
Daniel Jay Sonkin

This is a step-by-step guide to healing for men who were physically, sexually or emotionally abused as children. Special problems that men face are addressed, including not seeking help, being expected to “fix” themselves, reliance on thinking and avoidance of feeling, and being stoic. This self-help book is hopeful and offers men a new vision of what is possible in recovering from abuse. 1992, Longmeadow


Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and emotional Upheaval by James W. PennebakerWriting to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval
James W. Pennebaker

This self-help book takes readers through a series of guided writing exercises that help them explore their feelings about difficult experiences. The approach is based upon the field of expressive emotions therapy (EET), developed by the author. The book stresses thoughout the healing power that lies in story-telling, whether through fiction, dance, or art. The reader is left with a strong sense of their value in the world. 2004, New Harbinger


Recovery from Childhood Abuse Self Help Resources