When you hear the term sexual trauma, you may believe it’s synonymous with violent assault. But assault is just one of several different types of such trauma. Basically, the definition includes any non-consensual sexual behavior or contact. Any of this can happen to anyone, and sadly, it is far from rare. For men, 1 in 6 are victimized, and for women, the rate is twice as high.
Considering that sexual trauma can result in myriad psychological and physical problems, it is not an exaggeration to declare that the scope of this problem is a public health emergency. Fortunately, effective treatments and strategies are available.
Common Effects of Sexual Trauma
The symptoms and outcomes typically fall into these three general categories:
- Psychological: Your mental health will definitely take a hit. This could result in symptoms like intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, dissociation, and suicidal ideation. In some cases, the person may show signs of conditions like borderline personality disorder (BPD), depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Physical: It’s not uncommon to experience maladies like muscle aches and tension, extreme fatigue, headaches, and digestive problems. In addition, sexual trauma can manifest in sexual issues, ranging from dysfunction to feeling pain during sex.
- Long-Term: Any combination of the above two categories can develop into chronic issues that detrimentally impact one’s daily functionality and well-being. This could mean difficulty regulating one’s emotions to engage in risky sexual behaviors.
3 Strategies for Coping with the Aftermath of Sexual Trauma
1. Acknowledge the Trauma
Sexual trauma provokes shame and guilt. This can understandably lead a person to shut off memories and push down emotions. It is an awful lot to face. However, acknowledging what happened is a huge step toward recovery. Suggestions:
- Lean on your support system
- Talk about it with people you trust
- Do your research and learn more about sexual trauma
- Practice self-compassion
To release the guilt and shame, it’s essential to know you’ve done nothing wrong. On top of that, feeling emotional pain in the aftermath is not unusual. It doesn’t make you weak. It means the healing has begun.
2. Identify Your Trauma Triggers
After any kind of trauma, the survivor may be susceptible to many triggers. This is a part of recovery, but remains disturbing nonetheless. Identifying and naming your triggers is a big start toward gaining control over them. Common sexual trauma triggers might include:
- Certain scents (e.g. perfume, cologne, etc.)
- Sounds, loud noises, music, specific songs, etc.
- The taste of particular foods or drinks
- Being near the site of the trauma or a similar situation
- Being reminded of the event, e.g. when someone looks like the perpetrator
- Any type of intimacy — especially if it involves touch
Triggers like this can cause responses that mimic a panic attack. But again, awareness of your triggers empowers you to avoid them and/or manage them more effectively.
3. Practice Self-Care
This step serves a dual purpose. Firstly, self-care fortifies us by building resilience. At the same time, it reminds us that we have worth. We’re worthy of the daily or hourly effort to care for ourselves. Self-care rituals vary widely but almost always include regular sleep patterns, healthy eating choices, and daily physical activity. In addition, you can consider these elements:
- Creative activities
- Relaxation techniques and stress management
- Breathing exercises
- Enjoying quality time with trusted loved ones
Coping with the aftermath of sexual trauma is most definitely not something you will want to try doing alone. You’ll need and benefit from the support and guidance of a skilled mental health professional. Do not hesitate to ask for the help you deserve. It can be the most important phone call you ever make. Reach out to learn more about trauma therapy.