After being raped or sexually assaulted, the most important thing to remember is that you were not to blame for what happened and you will be able to recover your sense of safety and trust once more with a little work.
Recovering from such trauma does takes time and the healing process can be extremely painful and non-linear but with the right treatment and support, you can move past the trauma and end up living a full life.
The aftermath of rape
Sexual violence is shockingly common in our society. Whilst in America, statistics show that 1 in 5 women suffer from rape or sexual assault at some point in their lives, in African countries, that figure is even higher. And sexual assault isn't limited to women; many men and young boys suffer rape and sexual trauma too.
The impact of sexual trauma reaches far beyond any physical injuries. When you have been raped or sexually assaulted, your feeling of safety is completely compromised and the world does not feel safe anymore. You may lose trust in others, even in yourself. You may question your judgement, self-worth, and you may even blame yourself for what happened. Relationships might suddenly feel dangerous, and intimacy might feel impossible. Rape survivors even struggle with PTSD and depression.
Remember that whatever it is that you are experiencing is a normal reaction to trauma. Your feelings symptoms of what you have been through, not your reality. No matter how difficult it may seem right now, there are ways that you can come to terms with what happened and learn to heal and move on with your life.
Recovering from rape
It can be extremely difficult to admit that you were raped or sexually assaulted. There’s a stigma attached to it which can make you feel damaged and weak. You may also be afraid of how others will react. It seems easier to ignore what happened or keep it a secret. But when you stay silent, you deny yourself help and reinforce your victim status.
Reach out to someone you trust. Many think that if they don’t talk about their rape, they can pretend that it didn’t really happen however you cannot heal by avoiding the truth. As scary as it is to open up, it will help to set you free. However, it’s important to be selective about who you tell, make sure it's someone you trust implicitly and who you know has your best interests at heart. Your best bet is someone who will be supportive and empathetic. If you don’t have someone you trust, talk to a therapist, a doctor or call a rape crisis number or support group.
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 help you through these difficult times. One of the best ways to reclaim your sense of power is by helping others: volunteer, reach out to someone else in need, or donate to your favourite charity.
Consider joining a support group for other rape or sexual abuse survivors. Support groups can help you feel less isolated and alone. They also provide important information on how to cope during the aftermath and work towards recovery. If you cannot find a support group where you live, look for an online group.
Symptoms and ways to cope with PTSD
When you go through something stressful, your body temporarily goes into 'fight-or-flight' mode. When the threat has passed, your body calms down. But traumatic experiences such as rape can cause you nervous system to become stuck in a state of high alert. You become hyper-sensitive to the slightest of stimuli. This is the case for many rape survivors and they tend to have flashbacks, and nightmares especially in the first few months following the assault. There is a possibility of suffering from this long-term which is known as PTSD and can be extremely damaging.
In order to reduce the stress and upsetting memories:
Try to anticipate and prepare for triggers. Common triggers include anniversaries; people or places associated with the rape, certain sights, sounds, or smells. It's helpful if you are aware of what triggers may cause a bad reaction because then you will be in a better position to understand what’s happening to you and take steps to calm yourself and your system down.
Pay attention to your body’s danger signals. Your body and emotions give you clues when you are starting to feel stressed and unsafe such as feeling tense or anxious, holding your breath, racing thoughts, shortness of breath, a faster pulse and feeling sick.
Take immediate steps to self-soothe. When you notice any of the above symptoms, it is important that you act quickly to try and immediately calm yourself down before it reaches beyond even your control. One of the quickest and most effective ways to calm anxiety and panic is to slow down your breathing and focus on positive thoughts.
The road to recovery from sexual trauma is a long and very difficult onen. Give yourself the time to heal and do not be so hard on yourself if you find yourself not recovering as quickly as you would like. These things take time and the truth is, it might never go away. Be patient, be kind and be loving to yourself throughout it all.
If you or somebody you know has been raped, you can contact the Mirabel Centre on 08155770000 or 07013491769.