Surviving Trauma from Sexual Violence

When you’ve been sexually assaulted, it feels as though your world has been turned upside down. Everything you know and believe has been shattered. The person who violated your body and mind now occupies a space inside your head that you can never get rid of. You try to push the memories away, but they keep creeping back up no matter how hard you try to forget. This is PTSD. This is what sexual trauma does to a person.

The Reality of PTSD as a Sexual Assault Survivor

It’s been said that PTSD is like living in a war zone. I’ve experienced this first hand, and it’s an accurate description. The whole thing feels like a perpetual living nightmare, especially in the first months or even years after the assault! Your mind is constantly on high alert, looking for any (and every) sign of danger. You’re jumpy and easily startled. You have trouble sleeping and concentrating. You might adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb the pain.

When it comes to sexual assault, PTSD can be triggered by anything that reminds you of the attack. It could be a person, a place, a sound, or even a smell. News reports and social media posts about male violence or victim-blaming often trigger a depressive or dissociative episode, too. These triggers can send you into a panic attack or make you dissociate (feel disconnected from your body and reality).

If this is where you find yourself, you probably feel like you will never be the same again, but it’s important to remember that you are not alone. PTSD is a common reaction to sexual trauma. With time, patience, and professional help, you can start to heal the wounds of your past. However you feel right now, you are not weak or damaged because you were sexually assaulted. You are strong and brave for surviving something that was out of your control!

So How Do You Start to Heal the Trauma?

The first step is to acknowledge what happened and that it wasn’t your fault. It can be hard to do, but acceptance is an essential part of the healing process.

Then, you need to start talking about what happened. This can be difficult because it means reliving the experience, but it’s a necessary step in order to begin to heal the wounds. It’s important to understand that PTSD is not something you can simply ‘get over.’ It’s a real, debilitating mental illness that requires treatment, so you should seek professional help from a therapist specializing in PTSD and sexual trauma. They can help you work through your memories, start to process the pain, and rebuild your life. Learn some coping tools like radical acceptance and self-care. You might also benefit from medication to help with anxiety and depression.

You Survived!

Remember: you will get through this. Your story is not over. You are not defined by what happened to you. You are so much more than that. PTSD does not have to control your life. While you may never forget what happened, you can learn to live with it and even thrive despite it and step forward with your head held high!

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (467) or visit their website at rainn.org for more resources and support.


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8 Comments Add yours

  1. It’s interesting, because a lot of stressful events happened after my assault in 2019. I had to quickly move to a different province, and then when I moved back, it was a lot of work and trying to survive. Then when I settled, I was so grateful to be stable again … and grateful that I was still alive after that terrible event. If someone scared me (a male), I would start shaking, but for the most part I felt like I’ve healed, but it’s only now I think it affected me more than I realized. I’m out of survival mode now and am more in touch with my mindframe. I know I will be okay, but I realize I should have spoken to a therapist years ago.
    Thanks for your post. 🙂

    1. Christine Rose says:

      When you’re out of survival mode, the effects of trauma definitely catch up with you. I’m so sorry that happened to you. Men still scare me too. You never know if/when they’ll turn.

      It’s beneficial that you’re dealing with the trauma head-on. It’s the best way as difficult as it is.

      You’re welcome for the post. I’m glad it helped. Thank you for commenting!

      1. That’s a good point. Once you’re able to relax a little more and you’re not focusing so much on having enough money to eat, you can really sit back and realize all you’ve been through. I recently spoke to a guy at a hostel about it (sometimes you’re more comfortable talking to strangers) and he mentioned there would be long term effects from that. I’m sorry you went through that too and that men still scare you. It’s crazy how the ones you’re so sure would never do something bad are the very ones who trick women into trusting them. And you’re right, dealing with it head on is the only way to get through it. It’s amazing how we brush off something like that sometimes and hope we’ll just get over it in time.

      2. Christine Rose says:

        Yep! Society definitely encourages denial, as people rarely believe is and even when they do, they don’t want to hear about it and certainly not acknowledge how ubiquitous it is.

        Predators will do whatever it takes to offend. No matter how much they have to lie, deceive, or pretend to infiltrate safe spaces and/or gain your trust.

        There’s a great series called “Meet the Predators’ on the Yes Means Yes blog.

      3. It’s true – when we try to keep busy or bury our emotions, it ends up having detrimental effects in the long run. We definitely need time to process our emotions and experiences in order to fully heal.
        You’re right – predators tend to be skilled at hiding their true intentions and that’s how they lure people in. It’s interesting that guy I spoke to at the hostel was telling me abit about predators and how they can be any type of person. They just throw a lure out hoping you will bite.
        Interesting I will have to take a look! Thanks so much for your care and for your replies. <3 Means a lot.

      4. Christine Rose says:

        They certainly hide in plain site, and no one sees what they are except their targets. The face they show the world gives others yet another reason not to believe us.

        You’re welcome. ☺️
        …and you’re not alone!

      5. Yes they are skilled. They lack empathy and remorse, which is scary in and of itself.
        Thank you. <3 And I found the blog by the way! I appreciate your recommendation.

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