What About the Way I Feel?
Healing emotionally after a sexual assault can be a complex process. One of the most important things you can do to help yourself is to get as much support as possible. People react and cope differently after being sexually assaulted, so it is important to respect your choices and individual style of coping. At the same time, many sexual assault survivors find it helpful to know that some emotions and reactions tend to be very common. These reactions can be very confusing and upsetting, but they are normal in your situation, and can include post-traumatic stress symptoms. Some of the common reactions and emotions people have are:
Guilt |Many survivors feel guilty because we live in a culture that tends to blame the victim. No one deserves to be assaulted, even if they drink to excess, dress in revealing clothing, or consented to other sexual activity.
Fear | It is normal to feel afraid after being assaulted. Sexual assault is frightening. Some survivors find it hard to be alone at night or in a setting that is like the one in which they were assaulted.
Avoidance |It is common to avoid or want to avoid anything that has to do with the assault, such as getting assistance, because it reminds you of the assault. Although avoidance can initially assist in coping, most survivors find it is not a long-term solution.
Anger | You might feel angry—at the perpetrator, people you love, yourself, or the world. Feeling angry can be an important part of healing emotionally after an assault.
Mood Swings | Your mood may change rapidly or dramatically. Coping with a sexual assault is overwhelming, and these kinds of intense reactions are normal.
Distrust | It may also take awhile to feel like you can trust people again. If you were assaulted by someone you knew, you may feel like you’ve lost confidence in your sense of judgment about other people. If you were assaulted by a stranger, you may feel like you can’t trust people you don’t know.
Loss of Control | Survivors often feel out of control or powerless. They have been robbed of control over their bodies. One of the most important facets of emotional healing from this experience is regaining control.
Numbness | Sometimes it takes awhile for survivors to feel anything at all. One of the ways people sometimes cope with crisis is to go numb.
A Note on Coping | While the reactions listed above name some of the emotions you might experience after an incident of sexual violence, it is also important to consider how you’re coping with these reactions. Some students find that they cope by talking with others, watching more television, or turning to homework. Others find that they are participating in activities that might compromise their long-term health and safety. These can include sleeping several more or fewer hours than usual, eating much more or much less than usual, exercising for extended periods of time, spending less time with loved ones, increased substance use, and risk-taking behaviors that might be concerning to others, such as increased random hookups, radical shifts in social circles, and isolation.
It’s important for friends and loved ones to avoid expressing judgment to the student, and to instead focus on care, compassion, and empowerment. Survivors can heal from sexual violence of all kinds, and many survivors find that seeking support from individuals who can form a trusted community is helpful in ensuring a healthy and hopeful recovery process.