6 Ways to Handle PTSD After Sexual Assault

Survivors of sexual assault develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder at a rate of 94%. More than half of those survivors will face negative long-term effects.

When mental health is inflicted upon you by an outside force, the difficulties are even furthered outweighed. For some time, you may have questioned why you were put in such a position. Only to be left with a day-to-day struggle you may have had the opportunity to live without.

However, help is available. Within this blog, we explore 6 different ways you can learn to better handle your PTSD symptoms caused by sexual assault.

1. Talk to Someone You Trust

People who survive sexual assault often keep the experience bottled up for years or even decades. Sometimes, this kind of behavior is out of guilty feeling. However, there are many who simply feel scared to open up - uncertain of what someone else will think.

This is why it’s important to reach out solely to someone you can trust. Someone who can be supportive, calm, and offer you empathy. Though this will be difficult at first, it’ll help you in the long-run. Not only will you have someone to go to when triggers of symptoms appear, but you’ll begin to gain a comprehension of your mental health.

Still, not everyone knows of someone they can trust enough to reach out to. If this is your case, you may want to find the right therapist or call a rape crisis hotline, such as the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: (800) 656 - HOPE (4673).

You may also be able to find local support groups.

2. Prepare to Battle Flashbacks and Bad Memories

When it comes to PTSD, one of the biggest difficulties people face is battling flashbacks. Many take it upon themselves to avoid any potential triggers and, in turn, can cause further mental health problems, such as depression.

It’s important to anticipate these bad memories. Develop an understanding of your triggers - whether it be a person or place that’s associated with the sexual assault, certain dates, or a specific sight, sound, or smell. Through this understanding, you’ll be able to better prepare yourself for when a bad reaction onsets.

For many, they can sense negative feelings early before a PTSD attack. These may include:

  • Dizziness

  • Hot flashes

  • Lack of breath (or holding your breath)

  • Nausea

  • Tenseness

When these triggers do appear, do what YOU need to do in order to let an attack pass. For some, it helps to sit down and sit up straight while taking deep breaths. Others might turn to specific medication given to them by a medical professional.

Whatever YOU need to do, do it.

3. Understand Your Shame

It goes without saying that you have no reason to feel ashamed for someone else’s attack. Yet, many continue to struggle with guilt or shame for a long period of time after the attack. More often than not, they’re caused by the following 3 circumstances:

  1. You were drinking and weren’t cautious enough.

  2. You put someone in a position of trust when you “shouldn’t” have.

  3. You didn’t attempt to put a stop to the assault.

The above three are merely excuses to offer your perpetrator a bit of sympathy. Not only is this absolutely wrong, but it puts you in a position where you feel as though you’re in fault.

Many sexual assault survivors experience the above circumstances for a variety of reasons. For example, when it comes to not stopping an attack, many people feel “frozen” at the moment of attack. Almost as though they’re in a state of shock.

Natural reactions as such lead to excuses for others to make. Don’t allow yourself to feel ashamed or guilty for these circumstances. It will help to talk to someone else about the scenario in order to get a clearer sense of WHY you behaved the way you did during your attack.

4. Redevelop a Connection with Your Spirit

Immediately following an attack, many people feel numb and/or as though they want to avoid anything that can remind them of the experience. To many extents, this kind of behavior shuts down your spirit. It doesn’t allow you to enjoy your life, but rather has you live in shame and fear.

Admittedly, it’s not an easy task to reconnect with your soul. You may have to come face-to-face with some of the darkest aspects of your PTSD and, in turn, feel as though you’re placing yourself in a dangerous position. However, a vital step in the recovering process is allowing your spirit to develop.

Here are a few suggestions on how to do this:

  • Meditation - Focus on the present moment. Who are you and what do you want to become. Though our past shapes us into who we are today, it doesn’t have to define who we are tomorrow. The main purpose of therapy is to observe yourself and that around you without judgment.

  • Massage - Many sexual assault survivors become uncomfortable at the thought and presence of human touch. Yet, touching is an important part of human nature. It allows us to offer affection and comfort to one another. It allows us to better understand one another. Massage therapy is a great way to open yourself up again to physical human touch.

  • Move Your Body - Whether it be through exercising or dancing, it’s important to keep yourself in motion. Often, people who avoid PTSD symptoms find themselves spending large amounts of time indoors and without movement. It’s been proven that proper exercise will allow for a healthier mindset.

5. Keep This Connection

As you begin to reconnect with your spirit, you’re going to find you need to always work on keeping that connection. Furthermore, as you develop this connection, you may find yourself disconnecting from areas of life you were once interested in, such as family and friends.

It’s vital to maintain this as your spirit goes through the redevelopment process. For if you stray too far from previous interests, you may lose sight of yourself.

In order to maintain a balance of connections, it’s vital to:

  • Be open to making new friends.

  • Go out and be a part of social events.

  • Reach out to old friends or people you haven’t talked to in a while.

6. Treat Yourself

Sexual assault survivors face a struggle many others will never have to come across. In turn, they face distinct challenges and often have to work harder at reaching common goals. This can all be very difficult on the brain and body.

Therefore, it’s extremely important you learn to treat yourself when necessary. Whether it’s taking a day to relax or going to your favorite amusement park, do something for YOU every now and again. Not only will this give you the motivation to work towards something, but it’ll allow your spirit to develop in a positive manner.

Written by Paul James.