Sexual assault comes in various forms. Regardless of the type, the emotional toll it will take on your life remains the same. Unfortunately, those who go through this trauma are often told to keep mum. Instead of helping them overcome their misery, people say things like “it happens to all,” or “well, this is the real world.”
Sexual abuse is in no way acceptable. However, staying traumatized and not seeking help is not the solution either. Continue reading this article if you’ve been sexually assaulted and wish to cope with your past healthily.
What Is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault refers to any sort of sexual activity, behavior, or contact that occurs without the victim’s explicit consent. Forms of sexual abuse include:
- Unwanted touching
- Forcing a victim to involve in sexual activities
Forceful sexual assault does not necessarily mean physical. Some perpetrators use manipulation, coercion, and other psychological force to push their victims to perform sexual acts.
Unfortunately, many victims fail to seek treatment. Some think the assault was too minor, whereas others are too scared to say their experiences out loud.
Carmen Watt, author of the book “Why” wrote in her book, “Did you know that in a lot of cases it is impossible for a child to speak about the trauma and only with therapy can a child speak of the things hidden deep inside? Children create a barrier in their brain, unintentionally, to protect themselves. The language area of the brain can literally shut down, making it hard for them to share words. That is the power of trauma.”
Psychological Impact of Sexual Abuse
Having experienced sexual abuse at an early age herself, Ms. Watt describes in her book the psychological impact of sexual abuse on the victim as follows:
- It is too painful to talk out loud about such things.
- There is no vocabulary to explain such hurt.
- Feeling ashamed and embarrassed.
- Not being sure how to talk about it or find a space to talk about it.
- Not wanting your abuser to get in trouble.
- Thinking that talking about sexual abuse might cause problems to your family/community/school.
- Believing that you will be blamed (I experienced that firsthand.)
- Thinking that you would not be believed.
- Assuming that no one would take you seriously.
- Planning to hurt yourself to rid yourself of the constant mental torture.
The psychological impact of sexual abuse varies from individual to individual. A child may not realize they have been sexually assaulted until they grow older. Similarly, adults try to deny their sexual abuse by believing it was consensual. The truth is that it is okay to feel that way, and there is no time limit for when you’ll feel better about yourself. Every victim’s experience is unique. However, failing to do something about your past trauma could affect your mental and physical health negatively. Victims of sexual abuse have an increased risk of:
- Eating disorder
- Substance abuse
Sexual abuse and trauma, much of which takes place out of public view, leave deep scars that can cause a lifetime of emotional, mental, physical, and social dysfunction if left untreated. Research shows that chronic, complex trauma can even rewire a child’s brain, leading to cognitive and developmental issues. Living with developmental issues is hard, but even worse is not knowing who you are. It is so painful to wonder why you are here and what the reason for your life is.
Seeking Professional Help for Sexual Abuse
Whether the sexual assault took place decades ago or a day ago, seeking professional help is necessary to cope with your trauma. Therapy is a non-judgmental and confidential session that allows individuals to talk about their challenges. A therapist can help victims deal with their feelings, manage stress, and develop coping skills effectively.
You can discuss what happened with you with your therapist without being judged in any way. Unlike friends and family, you can be as open about your trauma with your professional healthcare expert as you want to.
A therapist may suggest the following methods to help you overcome your past struggles:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: Therapists may help you recognize and replace the behaviors and thoughts that cause you distress by choosing cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is used to reduce stress while addressing trauma. It involves moving or tapping the eyes from side to side while talking about the distressing event.
- Supportive therapy: Therapists can help you make sense of your emotions. They will assist you in identifying and adopting skills that can be used to manage your symptoms.
Another great option is group therapy. Your therapist may refer you to a group to help you overcome your past trauma and develop skills like learning how to deal with your emotional baggage. However, group therapy isn’t for everyone, and you can always opt for private sessions if you feel uncomfortable.
Coping Strategies to Overcome Sexual Abuse Trauma
- Manage your thoughts – Catastrophic predictions, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts are just some ways that sexual assault affects your daily thinking. However, you may consult a therapist to help you develop effective coping skills in order to address and stop these thoughts. Managing your thoughts will ensure that they won’t take a toll on your psychological well-being.
- Face your fears – Many victims of sexual abuse go to great lengths to not remember their traumatic incidents. However, one good way to overcome your past trauma is by facing your fears. A therapist can help you utilize coping mechanisms that might enable you to face your fears. In short, facing your fears is key to moving on with your life.
- Calm your body – Whether you try exercising, running, yoga, or want to try progressive muscle relaxation, calming your body is essential to cope with the trauma of your sexual assault. Try breathing exercises to calm your body and lower your heartbeat if things seem too overwhelming sometimes.
According to Carmen Watt, “When you’re a victim of sexual abuse, you will do anything to not feel the pain. You will want to block it. We unintentionally put our hurt, shame, and pain in boxes, and we store those boxes very far away, hoping to never have to open them again. If it is for a short period, it is probably harmless, but over time, it festers and will end up erupting like a volcano. Emotional silence is deadly to the body and the soul.”
Read Carmen Watt’s book, “Why?” to learn how you can deal with sexual trauma in life. The book answers several questions that sexual abuse victims are too afraid to ask. Carmen Watt is a speaker, writer, and author. She is a passionate advocate for broken and wounded souls and has dedicated her life to helping people restore their original “healthy” state – that is whole, free, and has the freedom to choose. Buy a copy of “Why?” today. The book is available on Amazon and in your nearest bookstore!
About the Author
This South African-born author is also a mother of four and married to the love of her life, Wessel. She resides in Houston, Texas with her family.