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Feelings After Sexual Assault

Discussion in 'Discuss Sexual Abuse' started by Nicolette, Nov 13, 2010.

  1. Nicolette

    Nicolette Here In Spirit

    I found the following article and I thought it was worth sharing:

    Each individual victim of sexual assault has their own personal and private experience. The way they respond to the assault is determined by a multitude of factors. However, just as there are common patterns of sexual assault, there are common responses to sexual assault. These responses will be experienced by most victim/survivors at some point in time.

    Powerlessness and loss of control

    "I feel so helpless. Will I ever be in control again?"​
    All forms of sexual violation involve a wrestling of power from the victim.

    Emotional numbness

    "I feel so numb. Why am I so calm? Why can't I cry?"​
    After an assault has occurred, many victims experience periods of emotional numbness which is a shock response. This response is often misinterpreted by those around them. For example, it may be taken as an indication that they are in control of the situation, are calm and relatively unharmed, or even that they are fabricating their experience of the assault. However, emotional numbness is not an uncommon reaction to severe trauma. It should be interpreted as a victim's 'front line' defence against the overwhelming reality that they have been sexually assaulted.


    "Was it really sexual assault? I'm okay. I'll be alright."​
    Following the initial shock of the assault, or even months later, a victim may deny to others or to themselves that they have been assaulted. They try to suppress the memory of what has happened in an attempt to regain the previous stability of their lives. Denial also plays a part in the ranking of types of sexual assault. For instance, some victims may feel that if the offender did not penetrate them they were not sexually assaulted, or alternatively, if the offender did not ejaculate then it was not as bad etc. It must be remembered that sexual assault exists on a continuum and that all forms of sexual harassment and violation are experienced as threatening and can have devastating consequences for the victim.

    Disturbed sleep

    Survivors of sexual assault often experience sleepless nights and/or nightmares. The nightmare may involve reliving the assault/s which indicates that they have unresolved issues pertaining to the assault. As the healing process continues, the nightmares or sleepless nights will become less frequent.


    Memories of the assault often return without warning. Sometimes these flashbacks will be so vivid that the victim feels as if they have re-lived the experience of assault. This is not the result of irreversible psychological damage or an indicator of insanity. They represent a trauma response which, like nightmares, will decrease as issues are resolved and the healing process progresses.

    Guilt/self blame

    "I feel as if I did something to make this happen. If only I hadn't..."​
    Victims of sexual assault may feel that they could have avoided it by acting differently. These sorts of reactions are often strongly linked to the myths about sexual assault that prevail in the community which frequently blame the victim rather than the offender. The behaviour and reactions of friends, family, police, lawyers and social workers may reinforce the victim's own feeling that s/he 'asked for it'. The victim may also feel guilty that they have brought shame on their family and themselves by talking about it or reporting it to the police. Similarly, if they believe they could have resisted more forcefully they may also feel at fault. This is particularly true for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse who tend to see themselves as they are now, as adults rather than as they were at the time of the abuse.
    The offender is always at fault, never the victim. Nothing a victim does is 'asking for it'. Equally, the victim's strategies for surviving the assault are issues for affirmation, not condemnation.


    "I feel so dirty, like there is something wrong with me now. Can you tell that I've been raped? What will people think?"​
    Many people who have been sexually assaulted feel intensely ashamed and embarrassed. They often feel dirty and in some way 'marked for life'. This reaction may prevent victims from speaking out about the assault. Cultural background factors can intensify such feelings. Underpinning these reactions is the internalisation of the myths pertaining to sexual assault.

    Loss of confidence

    "I feel I can't do anything any more....even the simplest things."​
    The experience of assault exposes the victim to the stark reality that they cannot always protect themselves no matter how hard they try. The assault is not only an invasion of the victim's physical self but also the intellectual, social and emotional self. The experience of assault brings vulnerability issues to the fore, which can devastate self-confidence and destroy assumptions about the world and your place within it.

    Mood changes

    "I feel like I'm going crazy!"​
    After the assault the victims emotions may swing from intense emotional pain to complete numbness. They may feel depressed, restless or deflated, confused or stridently angry. Feeling at the whim of emotions over which they have no control may make them believe they are psychologically unstable or crazy. These mood changes are 'normal' and understandable responses to trauma. As you continue to work through the issues arising from the assault these reactions will subside.

    Low self-esteem

    "I'm disgusted by myself, by the memories. I'm just worthless."​
    Given that sexual assault disempowers, humiliates and degrades victims, it is not surprising that victims often experience low self esteem.


    "How am I going to go on? I feel so tired and hopeless."​
    Many victim's of sexual violation suffer periods of depression. It may take the form of inertia, fear, anxiety or self hatred, numbness, loss of appetite, disturbed sleep or include other physical indications of stress. Often associated with depression is a sense of meaninglessness. After being assaulted many of a victims previous assumptions about themselves, their rights and expectations lose their meaning leaving them feeling totally undermined.


    "I'm constantly jumpy. A sudden noise, an angry voice, moving bushes and I am afraid."​
    During an assault many victims fear for their lives. Often this fear is a direct result of the offender's threats. After the assault, a victim may be fearful of the dark, being alone or going out by themselves. They may experience fear generated by the possibility of pregnancy or STD's or live in fear of running onto the offender again or facing them in court. All of these fears are very real concerns.


    "I feel so tense. I'm a nervous wreck."​
    Survivors of sexual assault often experience severe anxiety which may manifest in physical symptoms such as difficulties in breathing, muscle tension, nausea, stomach cramps or headaches. These symptoms can be eased as they gradually deal with the issues underlying the stress, and employ relevant stress management strategies.


    Many victim's of sexual assault experience feelings of hostility towards the gender of their offenders. For example, women who have been sexually assaulted may experience feelings of hostility towards, and a fear of men. These feelings may be directed against a specific person, such as the offender, or generalised to other men. Feelings of hostility may also include a friend or relative whom the victims feels should have protected them or given them more support. It must be recognised that given their experiences, the victims reactions are quite justified and often these feelings of hostility represent the beginning of a natural, positive emotion rather than a negative one. It indicates that the victims is beginning to view the world and themselves in a different way, consequently placing less trust in what could be abusive relationships. It also indicates that the victim is not placing the entire blame for the assault on themselves but is recognising that the offender was responsible.


    "I want to kill him; I hate him, everything, everyone."​
    Anger is a difficult emotion for most people. Culturally, we are discouraged from expressing anger and it is most frequently displaced rather than directed at the appropriate target. The victim's anger towards their offender is more than justified. They may also be angry at the response they receive from others to whom they disclose.

    Sexual confidence

    "I just can't bear to be touched."​
    The experience of sexual assault has a direct impact on a victim's sexual confidence and interest. They have experienced sexual expression linked to aggression, hostility, derision, arrogance, force, domination, insensitivity and coldness. Often it is difficult to free one's mind of these associations and feel comfortable enough to re-establish or begin a sexual relationship. It is important that the victims' partner understand that they will need to allow the victim to be in control of any sexual activity and therefore, the one to initiate it. It is essential to long-term recovery that the victim is not pressured into sexual intimacy.


    Feelings of differentness, alienation, isolation and despair are often experienced by sexual assault survivors if they are unable to share their experiences with others. Societal norms prevent many victims from speaking out about their experience of sexual assault and many victims, women in particular, have few avenues for personal communication. This is particularly the case for victims assaulted by their partners or acquaintances. Likewise, victims from Non English Speaking backgrounds may be denied access to mainstream support systems. Victims with a disability may also be unable to voice their experience to others due to the nature of their disability.

    Source: secasa.com.au
  2. Nyx

    Nyx Learning to love myself

    Thank you for sharing. I think it should be made a sticky subject, for anyone who is new to find. I think it will help new members fell more like "they belong".
    krystina and cherryblossom like this.
  3. True i like that article to I believe that at first it is hard to accept what happened but it did happen and it hurts to know that it did happen. I don't like it when others tell you just to get over it. It takes a while to get over it especially when it keeps happening through your whole life. Sometimes life stinks but at others times life is good because of people like us who support each other.
    savvybeachbum and Marie E. like this.
  4. Well I agree with the article BUT I HATE the way it calls us "victims". The way I see it we aren't victims. We're survivors. Even when we are finding the struggle all but impossible we are still survivors. The article also made me realise something. A few years ago I could have said "Yes, that describes me perfectly" to every single one of those symptoms. Now I can honestly say that I only suffer from one of those (depression) and I only get that now and then instead of constantly. So I suppose I feel quite proud of me when I look back and see how far I have come. Thanks for posting that and making me see my achievements :D
  5. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Administrator Staff Member

    Great achievements Crusoe.... it's really good, and you have every right to feel proud. :D

    Unfortunately, I can't say the same..... I think the majority of those headings describe me.. maybe not all of them, and not always at the same time, but most of them are still the case for me. I guess I have a lot of work to do :eek:
  6. Perhaps you do have a lot of those symptoms hun and perhaps you do have a lot of work to do but I have every faith in you because I can see how very far you have come since we first met. I hope you can see that too. So try to give yourself more credit for what you HAVE achieved. I still have a lot of hard work ahead of me too, despite how far I can see that I've come but we just gotta keep on keeping on and on and on and we will get through it with each other's support here :) xxx
    savvybeachbum and Marie E. like this.
  7. ams


    So how long do the periods of emotional numbness go on? I've been feeling numb off and on for... a while. I don't remember if it goes back to 2006 (first rape) but I'm certain I felt it after the second one on halloween 2008, because after I figured out my mom and sister weren't going to be supportive, I gave up on caring. Sort of. I feel angry at them both still but for the most part, I'm totally indifferent and accept that they suck at being supportive with this one thing. I'm just totally indifferent about everything sometimes, and if I feel upset about something or happy about something, I usually take a deep breath and let it roll off and I'm unphased.
  8. Nyx

    Nyx Learning to love myself

    I think they're supposed to become shorter as you go more into therapy and trauma work. I say "I think" as I've been in this numb state for almost a week and it doesn't seem to go away. But I have to admit to myself that I'm not trying that hard to make it go away.. I might even let it be until the holidays have passed and I am clear from depression.

    I don't think that's bad, really. I think it just means you have accepted the idea and moved on.

    Did you use to be different?
  9. ams


    I don't remember. I think I actually used to care too much, and was more sensitive. I'm sensitive now, too, but I don't show much emotion. I still have my opinions and some things really do upset me or excite me, but a lot of things just don't phase me. My responses are always "Okay..." or "cool...." lol. My guy last night was telling me about some issues at his job and how he's on the radar, his boss thinks he (and some other employees)'s stealing (which he isn't). He said he might lose his job if they decide to press charges, etc. But I'm not really concerned about it. I mean I care, but I don't feel like its a big issue.... does that make sense?
  10. Nyx

    Nyx Learning to love myself

    Makes perfect sense. I used to be like that too - involved and caring too much. And still am about some things. I know this numbness is not perfectly okay, but it's so good, it's like my soul is resting...
    Marie E. and ams like this.
  11. Wow.
    I think I have all these reactions every day.
    for me this article is spot on.
  12. ams


    "Some disturbing new research indicates that certain physiological changes in the brain may be permanent conditions. Some survivors with RR-PTSD are unable to accurately gauge the passage of time. Consequently, they are likely to show up for appointments late, early, or not at all. Another possible permanent side effect is a kind of tunnel vision. Victims may be unable to see the "big picture" which results in difficulty distinguishing between a little crisis and a big crisis. Therefore, all events in their lives are viewed as crises. - Does this make sense to you guys?? I read this today on nvoc's website about rr-ptsd and the part about not gauging the passage of time is SPOT on.
    LucyM, Lucille and Marie E. like this.
  13. WOW! I was told that I have tunnel vision when I got tested.
    This doesn't sound great. :(
  14. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Administrator Staff Member

    I think in this case, the 'tunnel vision' that Ams mentioned is a metaphor, rather than the type of tunnel vision you get tested for.
  15. I definetly can relate to the tunnel vision syndrome. My therapist always used to chide me because I never was 'ok' or 'normal'. Everything was extremes, same with crisises. She says that with the re-introduction of the trauma (my abusive relationship ended six years ago, but he recently moved back to the area and all this stuff resurfaced) I'm starting to go back to viewing things in extremes.

    As for the article, thank you for posting - it helps seeing it in print, that these are NORMAL responses, because I'll be honest I was really feeling the 'I'm crazy' section!
  16. Well I see that I have the emontional numbness,I've always had nightmares now and then. Once I figure out why they usually go away...My new issue is a smell that is triggering a memory..I am scared as hell but dont know why,but at the same time i'm trying to pin point the smell but I cant. This has happened twice now.
  17. I like that...Congrats! Thas pretty much how I feel. I am a survivor that has overcome some of the worst situations anyone will ever experience in there ifetime. It has made me the strong person that I am today. God has allowed me to struggle to prepare me for what may come. If this is my purpose in life to take the abuse so my kids to be abuse free.....i'd do it again in a heart beat!
  18. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Administrator Staff Member

    I'm so glad that you have evolved from bad situations a strong person. I think you will be a great asset to this community. I see a feisty woman, with fighting spirit. I think we could all do to follow your example http://sexabuse.ptsdforum.org/styles/default/xenforo/smilies/applause.gif
    Marie E. likes this.
  19. Kat


    Thank Nicolette for this article, It describes the way I have felt for most of my life. Thanks. I don't care for the word victim,it makes me feel helpless. Its one of those words with negative facets. Words, words, words. I love them but sometimes they can be so hurtful.OH as I write this I realize I that I didn't have any words for along time. :D I was a victim now I'm a survivor that is working on getting better. yea
    Nicolette and Nyx like this.

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