Rape, or any form of sexual abuse and harassment, is not sex. Sexual abuse is about power and control over someone else’s body. An act of such violence, alongside all forms of abuse, can be quite dangerous and can linger on for years if not dealt with properly. The brain, heart, and body can be reshaped in the face of trauma. One may feel robbed of their own body, their sense of security and ownership, and their sense of safety to say the least. Symptoms vary from one person to the other as trauma is experienced in different ways. All of those experiences though, have one thing in common; the body remembers, and it remembers well.
Scientific research has also shown that such experiences have a direct effect extending beyond the individual to relational dynamics as adults as well. Relationships can be paralyzed by emotional, physical and sexual dysfunctions.
Why? The core of adult relationships is about human connection. Even if the attack does not seem to affect the person in big, obvious ways, it can distort the image of safety and connection. The mental capacity to grasp, or risk opening up in such relationships, may be harder to handle. Some people may find it hard, even if the symptoms come very subtly and without notice.
It is not bad news from here. With the understanding and awareness of what happens, one becomes equipped with the ability to understand how to handle trauma. In fact, there is so much growth that can happen. Below is a guide to help with healing and growth.
Self-Talk: Reassure yourself that it is not your fault. The guilt that will come afterward should not be taken lightly. It is not your fault. No matter what you were wearing and where you were going.
In fact, even if you wanted to engage in any sexual activity and then changed your mind, it is still not your fault. Consent is a continuous, enthusiastic yes. No matter what the external layer scenario was, the core is still the same. Notice when your self-talk turns into guilty “what ifs” and work on replacing them with the reassurance that it is not your fault.
Therapy: If you have the financial resources, go to therapy and seek professional help with someone who is a trauma-informed professional. There are different types of therapy methods and psychotherapists; make sure you go to a specialist. There is no shame in seeking help. The Body: Move your body in order to help process emotions. Suppressing, denying, or putting emotions aside does not help, even if it seems like the quicker route. Instead, work on the flow of your emotions. For example, take regular walks and learn how to breathe properly.
Relationships: Allow time to take its course. “Establish a good relationship with your partner, take your time, and go slower than you think in touch. You need to feel safe with them over time.” As a colleague and friend Brooke Norton, LMFT puts it.
Social Support: Do not keep it to yourself. Share your story with people you feel safe with and are considered your support system and loved ones. There is no shame in being attacked violently and destructively. Attacks are not an “on and off” button to get rid of. In fact, there is nothing to get rid of or overcome. The impact of such events can be erased only when one talks about them and feels acknowledged, heard and understood.