Dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault can be a difficult experience. Victims of sexual assault often report feeling shame, terror, depression, guilt and anger. Many blame themselves for the assault. Over time, these feelings can manifest in unhealthy behaviors, reactions, triggers, and thought processes that can impede the quality of a victim’s life.
Below are few steps to overcome the effects of sexual abuse:
- Recognize The Warning Signals:
The first step to recovering from sexual trauma is to recognize the warning signs of sexual assault in yourself or others. Whether you are a recovering survivor or close to one, you can make a difference in someone’s journey to recovery by offering support and compassion.
The warning signs of sexual assault or abuse may vary among age groups. Certain experiences like depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, self-harming behavior, or a decline in hygiene are common across all ages. College aged adults and teenagers may experience a sharp decline in grades and increased substance use. Young children exhibit inappropriate sexual behavior or knowledge, develop avoidance or attachment disruptions, and exhibit more nightmares and the fear of being alone.
- Challenge your sense of helplessness and isolation:
Trauma leaves you feeling powerless and vulnerable. It’s important to remind yourself that you have strengths and coping skills that can get you through tough times. One of the best ways to reclaim your sense of power is by helping others: volunteer your time, give blood, reach out to a friend in need, or donate to charity.
- Consider joining a support group:
Support groups can help you feel less isolated and alone. They also provide invaluable information on how to cope with symptoms and work towards recovery. If you can’t find a support group in your area, you can look for an online group.
- Reconnect to your body and feelings:
Since your nervous system is in a hypersensitive state following a rape or assault, you may start trying to numb yourself or avoid any associations with the trauma. However, you can’t selectively numb your feelings. When you shut down the unpleasant sensations, you also shut down your self-awareness and capacity for joy. You end up disconnected both emotionally and physically—existing, but not fully living.
- Forgive yourself:
Abusers groom and manipulate their victims to believe that they caused or deserved sexual abuse. As adults, survivors must forgive themselves, understand the abuse was not their fault, and place blame on their abuser.
- Stay connected:
It’s common to feel isolated and disconnected from others following a sexual assault. You may feel tempted to withdraw from social activities and your loved ones. However, it’s important to stay connected to life and the people who care about you. Support from other people is vital to your recovery. But remember that support doesn’t mean that you always have to talk about or dwell on what happened. Having fun and laughing with people who care about you can be equally healing.
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