I wanted to speak about a topic that many are leery to speak about or don’t know what to say. Sexual trauma has absolutely been a topic in the media, but many don’t actually know about it and what a Survivor experiences day to day.
Trauma is complex and can look different for everyone, but I wanted to highlight a few things that many Survivors often experience. Both to validate your experience if you are a Survivor or if you have a Survivor in your life.
Many Survivors feel “bi-polar”. They find themselves shifting moods quickly and not understanding why. Emotions often appear magnified and volatile, coming from a place of hurt. This causes emotions to look explosive and can result in the Survivor shutting people out. These responses come from triggers that can occur within the Survivor’s surroundings. Triggers can be a sound, noise, smell, person, or anything that may remind their body of the trauma. The target of these feelings can often come out on those closest to the Survivor, causing relationships to be difficult for Survivors. Trust is also often difficult for a Survivor to have after they experience harm within a relationship that often started as trusting. Their trust was disrespected and disregarded. It is difficult for a Survivor to truly understand these patterns and the emotions that cause them, until they explore the effect of the trauma on their daily life.
Survivors can often feel on edge in their daily life, because their body is constantly preparing for the next threat. I’m sure you have heard of fight, flight, and freeze. These responses are subconscious responses in our body that keep us alive. When we experience trauma, our body gets stuck in that mode and all thinking shuts off, leaving only our subconscious responses to respond within seconds of a perceived threat. When we don’t have the opportunity to reason through a situation, it can leave us anxious, flighty, and on edge. Imagine always preparing for a fire to break out, but you have no idea when or how it might happen. That is the subconscious response that ones body is in after they experience trauma. This becomes normal, to the point that one might not even realize that everyone isn’t experiencing this all of the time.
As mentioned above, relationships can be difficult. The trauma may have and often occurs from someone that is trusted. Or maybe it was while the survivor was vulnerable and under the influence of a substance. Asking for support and relying on others after trust has been broken can be difficult. When someone takes advantage or doesn’t respect you, it can often be difficult to think about opening up and trusting others. Survivors often wonder - “what if they will hurt me too?” There is a fear that everyone is bad and won’t be trustworthy. There is hope in the fact that healthy relationships can heal the brokenness caused by an unhealthy and abusive relationship. Therapy can be a form of this and so can a healthy relationship with a friend, significant other, spouse or whoever feels safe.
Shame. A word that holds a lot of power and feels gross. Many survivors carry shame. “I wish
I could have….” Fill in the blanks and a survivor has a million things they could say to finish that statement. “It’s my fault”, “My body responded to it”, “Why didn’t I stop it from happening”, etc. This list could go on and on. It is hard for the brain to reconcile what happened.
If you or someone you know has experienced this. I want to emphasize a few things. It isn’t your fault, you didn’t choose it, and you don’t have to live like this forever. There is hope for your future.
Please know, you are not alone. You do not have to face this alone and there is a future that can exist in which this doesn’t rule your life.
Brittany Wingfield, MS, LPC
Nurtured Hearts Counseling's Blog
I am a Licensed Therapist in Lone Tree, Colorado and my goal for this blog is to explore taboo subjects that no one is willing to talk about and I am eager to bring awareness to.