Common Responses to Sexual Violence
As a survivor of sexual violence, you may have a variety of feelings and emotions. Sometimes the feelings and emotions are so strong that you feel like you are “losing your mind” or “going crazy”. Having the language to explain the emotions can help. Below is a list of possible feelings or reactions. If you want to talk about your responses call us at 519-253-3100.
Shock: you cannot believe what has happened; feeling numb, as if things are not real; feeling separate from or different from other people
Fear: of it happening again; for the safety of you and your family; fear of trusting others; fear of telling people; fear of not being believed or supported; anxiety, worry and nervousness; you may have fears that are not connected with what happened
Anger: at who caused it or “allowed it to happen”; at how stupid and unfair it is; frustration with the law and the system; at feeling angry and irritable; at feeling too sensitive; disturbing dreams
Sadness: about the losses, both human and material; about the loss of feelings of safety and security; feeling depressed for no reason; feeling helpless; can’t seem to care about anything or anyone
Shame: for looking and feeling helpless or emotional; for not behaving as you would have liked
Disbelief: can’t believe it really happened and that it happened to me
Embarrassment: as to what people will think when they find out; feeling ashamed about sharing your experience with anyone
Guilt: could it have been avoided; guilty feelings about sharing as you watch how others react
Denial: trying to forget about the victimization; wanting it to all go away; pretending that if you don’t think or talk about it—it will go away
Sleep: change in sleep patterns; difficulty getting to sleep because of disturbing thoughts; restless sleep or nightmares; dreams and nightmares about what happened; bad dreams of other scary things
Physical problems: easily startled by noises; too much activity or not enough activity; feeling tired all the time; feeling shaken and tense, dizziness; uncontrollable trembling; hard to breathe; headaches or general aches and pains; stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea or constipation; health problems (e.g. change in appetite, headaches, digestive problems)
Memories: frequent thoughts or images of the incident; thoughts or images of other frightening events; flashbacks or feelings of “reliving” the experience; trying to shut out the painful memories; pictures of what happened jumping into your head; nothing else seems important other than this incident
Confusion: difficulty making simple decisions; can’t concentrate or remember things; hard to solve problems; hard to think straight
Social: withdrawal from others and needing to be alone; easily bothered by other people; feelings of being separate from others; not interested in normal activities and hobbies
Work: not wanting to go to school; no energy; can’t concentrate or pay attention
Habits: loss of appetite or increased eating; loss of interest in enjoyable activities
The warning signs described above are common and natural reactions to sexual violence. Everyone reacts differently. Some react immediately, some after a time, some intensely, some hardly at all. It is common to feel these emotions while working through the trauma even though it is very unpleasant.
Usually, reactions will lessen over a period of a few weeks, although some may last months or even years, especially if the assault was particularly frightening. You may also find that the feelings will worsen when you are reminded of the assault or when you talk about it to other people. Try not to let that stop you from sharing your reactions and feelings with others. It will help in the long run.
Do not be afraid to get help if you think you need it; it is not a sign of weakness and you are not losing your mind. Often, the help you receive will be short and simple and will prevent you from having longer-lasting reactions.
What we do know is that the sooner you deal with your feelings, the better chance you have to be free of the effects of the assault. If you choose not to deal with the trauma or try to ignore what happened, it could change the rest of your life in a negative way. Just as we need help to heal the physical effects of trauma, we also need help to heal the emotional wounds. Counselling offers a safe and supportive way to work at moving forward.