Reactions

Every person reacts differently after being assaulted, but many survivors experience similar reactions. It is important to know that you are not alone, you are not “going crazy” and the way you feel is not a sign of weakness.

Many survivors of sexual assault experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sexual assault can be a very traumatic experience. During an assault you have very little control over what is happening to your body, and no control over what your perpetrator is doing. There are physical and mental reactions that you may experience that are connected with the trauma of being assaulted. By understanding these reactions better, it is possible to become less afraid of them and learn to handle them better.

Re-experiencing the traumatic event: You may have unwanted thoughts, memories or images of the assault, dreams or nightmares, you may feel like it’s happening again or have “flashbacks”. Certain things such as smells, places, or situations may be distressing reminders of the assault.

Increased physical reaction: Panic attacks are very common physical reactions. During a panic attack you may have difficulty breathing, your heart is pounding, palms sweaty, you may be shaking or trembling, and feel like you’re “drowning” or going to die. Other physical reactions may be difficulty concentrating, feeling anxious or jumpy, being hyper vigilant and constantly watching for trouble, irritability, moodiness and anger.

It is difficult to feel like you have no control over the way your body and mind are reacting and may feel like you are “going crazy”. These reactions are part of the normal process of trying to make sense of what has happened. Your body and your mind need time to gain control over the event.

Avoidance reactions: in order to avoid the physical and mental reactions that occur when you are reminded of the assault, it is natural to try to prevent them from happening. Many survivors avoid anything that may be associated with the assault such as people, places, things, conversations, physical sensations, and emotional feelings.

Avoidance may be helpful in some ways, such as avoiding upsetting movies or news stories. But it can also isolate you from getting the help and support that you need from friends and family. The process of thinking through your feelings and talking about them can be important.


Taken from Counseling Tools for the Prevention & Reduction of Post-Traumatic Stress Reactions published by CalCASA