Thoughts, feelings and coping techniques
Everyone reacts in their own way after being sexually assaulted or raped. On this page we have included information about some of the thoughts, feelings and behaviour that our clients have shared with us and some suggestions about how to cope if these are part of your experience.
You may feel completely alone and unable to trust that anyone else can understand or help. It may be true that no-one else can understand your unique experience but talking can help you to feel better. You may have a friend or family member that you can speak to or it might feel easier to give us a call and arrange to speak with someone you do not know.
As well as feeling angry with the person or people who did this, you may feel angry with yourself and others, including your close family and friends. Your anger might be so strong that you feel overwhelmed and frightened by it.
Exercise can help to release anger and aggression, while talking about the feelings to someone who can hear and accept them can help you to begin to feel better. If you do not feel ready to speak to someone, you might find that writing a journal helps you start to understand your thoughts and behaviour and begin to feel more in control.
Guilt, shame and self-disgust
People often feel guilty and ashamed after they have been raped or sexually assaulted. It is important to think about these feelings so that you can understand them and then you can start to feel better. However, it is also important to remind yourself that guilt for what happened to you lies with the person or people who committed sexual acts you did not agree to.
There are lots of reasons why you might feel confused after being raped or sexually assaulted. Your memories of the assault may be very vague and you may be experiencing a complicated mixture of feelings. These are normal responses to trauma. The lack of clarity about what happened and when may be greater if you were drinking alcohol or taking drugs before you were assaulted.
Time can help with this, especially if you are able to get enough sleep so that your brain can process your experience. Talking to someone you trust or a specialist counsellor can also help.
Difficulty sleeping is normal after a traumatic experience. However, sleep is when the brain organises and stores our experiences and without this difficult memories can become trapped resulting in feelings of anxiety, frequent intrusive memories and difficulty living in a way that feels meaningful.
Try to take get some exercise whether a gentle walk or an aerobics class. Create a routine for yourself so that you wake up, eat and go to bed at regular times. This will help your body to regulate itself, helping you to sleep. A warm bath and a hot drink such as drinking chocolate or chamomile tea can help you to prepare for sleep. Lavender oil in a bath or on a pillow can also help with relaxation.
Intrusive memories, nightmares and flashbacks
People who experience trauma often feel that they have lost control over themselves and their world. You might have lots of unwanted thoughts about the assault or the perpetrator while awake or in the form of nightmares, or experience flashbacks which are very vivid memories where it feels as if the trauma is happening again. Experiences like these are likely to affect your concentration and sleep making it difficult for you to work, study or relax.
Slow, deep breathes can help you to feel calm and in control. Try breathing in slowly for 5 counts and then out slowly for 5 counts. Press your feet into the ground and press your fingertips together to remind you where you are and that you are safe.
Unwanted thoughts and nightmares may become less frequent over time. However, for some people they continue and can become worse. If you find that this is happening, give The Bridge a call or speak to your GP. You do not have to live with this alone and things can get better.
Anxiety, depression and low mood
Exercise and routine can help with low mood and feelings of anxiety. Suggest going out for a walk together or remind them about an exercise class or activity that they previously enjoyed. Encourage them to get up in the morning, to do something that will give them a sense of achievement, and to have a regular bedtime. Time spent with loved ones or doing ‘normal’ things can help them to re-establish their sense of connection with other people and a feeling that their life has meaning and value.
Be prepared for your suggestions and gestures to be rejected and respect their need for space. You cannot take away what has happened to them or force them to feel better but you can let them know that you are there for them.
Withdrawal from relationships
Close relationships with friends and family may feel very difficult. You may also find it hard to communicate with colleagues and acquaintances. There are lots of reasons why you might be feeling like this and a natural response is to avoid people. However, contact with other human beings who care is what will help you to recover. Friends and family members may get things wrong when they try to reach out to you, but listen for their kindness, love and support, let them know that you have noticed and tell them what you need from them, especially if they are a partner. A specialist counsellor can help you to understand and cope with your feelings and to begin learning how to trust again.
All the staff have been so friendly and welcoming, and very kind. I was supported from the very first contact, and overall, could not have gone through the past few years without this wonderful service. A major asset to our NHS service, and one that I hope is able to reach as many individuals as need it.