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Sexual Trauma: Signs, Effects, and Treatment
Sexual assault is pervasive, and its repercussions on survivors may be long-lasting. However, it may be possible to heal from sexual trauma.
Trauma from sexual assault or sexual abuse as a kid may affect anybody who has experienced it. There is no time limit on how long the trauma of unwanted sexual contact may affect a person. Understanding the impact of physical and psychological trauma may aid in the healing process for a victim of sexual abuse.
Trauma and sexual violence
Assaults and other forms of sexual abuse are common. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men report experiencing unwanted sexual contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Both short-term and long-term impacts of sexual trauma have been linked to sexual assault and sexual abuse in children.
According to Shauna Springer, PhD, chief psychologist for Stella, an organisation specialising in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, “trauma is the result of an experience, or layers of experiences, that dramatically and negatively change how we see ourselves and how we navigate our relationships and the world around us” (PTSD).
Variable predisposing variables have been linked to posttraumatic stress disorder after unwelcome sexual contact. How trauma may manifest is difficult to assess since no two instances of sexual abuse are comparable and rely on the specifics of each victim’s situation. Pauline Peck, PhD, a psychologist in California and New York, believes that “not everyone who encounters sexual abuse [or assault] will acquire trauma,” and that “others could be traumatised by a single episode.”
Peck identifies the following as potential causes of post-traumatic stress disorder in survivors of sexual violence:
- the age of the victim at the time of the abuse or attack
- repeated exposure to hostile or violent environments
- repeated acts of violence or abuse from several perpetrators
- violence or abuse from a close friend or family member
According to board-certified psychiatrist and Psych Central Medical Advisory Board member Nicole Washington, DO, MPH, sexual trauma may manifest in ways comparable to other traumas, including the existence of triggers.
Certain scenarios may be upsetting to a survivor after they’ve suffered trauma. A variety of factors, such as physical proximity or orientation, might act as triggers. Other possible causes are:
- interaction by contact with one’s body
These and other symptoms are sometimes experienced by survivors of sexual abuse.
- bad dreams or other sleep disruptions
- ideas that force themselves in
- lack of control over one’s emotions
- feelings of hopelessness, despair, or suicidal ideation/action
- neglect of one’s own desires or demands
Harmful coping mechanisms
Licensed marital and family therapist Saba Harouni Lurie of Los Angeles’s Take Root Therapy warns that some trauma survivors may resort to detrimental coping techniques in order to deal with the symptoms that follow exposure to traumatic events.
When dealing with the long-term effects of sexual trauma, survivors will “do the best they can,” according to Lurie. Sometimes it means doing things that aren’t safe or good for them in the long run, but are successful in the short term.
How a survivor handles future sexual encounters might be influenced by how they handled a traumatic one. Even if hypersexuality is possible, it is not usually a problem, and it is not always a symptom of trauma or another condition. Some people, however, may utilise closeness as a kind of self-medication rather than a means of processing and moving beyond trauma.
Moreover, many individuals have anxiety or discomfort with sexual engagement after experiencing sexual trauma. Some people prefer to avoid sexual activity altogether, while others are more selective about their partners and their methods.
Connections with other people are important to us since we are social creatures. However, sexual trauma may make it difficult to trust people and develop meaningful bonds. Sexual trauma may affect future romantic partnerships as well. Washington claims that one typical reaction to sexual trauma is isolation.
Some more ways in which sexual trauma might influence romantic connections are:
- Distancing oneself from others
- poor limits
- Conflicts of Trust
- habits of picking risky partners
- Sexual trauma may also have an effect on parent-child interactions.
“It’s not unusual to see adults who were victims of sexual trauma as children find an increase in trauma-related symptoms as their children reach the age they suffered their sexual trauma,” adds Washington.
Can PTSD be triggered by sexual assault?
A PTSD diagnosis is not automatically given to every victim of sexual assault. Springer believes that many individuals suffer from trauma symptoms in silence for years, even decades, before they get the help they need.
Although many people who suffer from PTSD have experienced sexual violence, this is not the case for everyone with this condition. Nonetheless, studies conducted in 2013 suggest that sexual abuse may cause PTSD, with roughly 45% of survivors exhibiting symptoms.
In what ways might I make progress?
It may be scary and uncomfortable to admit to having experienced sexual abuse. However, there are certain strategies for dealing with the fallout that might help your recovery process.
In order to assist trauma survivors regain their equilibrium, it is common practise to offer grounding exercises. Trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness training are two practises that may help you safely re-engage with your body.
Peck explains that victims of sexual or physical abuse may feel uncomfortable in their own bodies. The tenets of trauma-informed yoga include “freedom of choice, openness to new experiences, and respect for one’s physical self. A safe space is provided for survivors to reacquaint themselves with their physical selves and begin the process of rebuilding lost connections.
You might also benefit from engaging in therapeutic pursuits like:
- art-making (i.e., painting, drawing, etc.)
- bibliotherapy (reading work from others with shared experiences)
Therapy and counselling
Clinical settings may make available therapeutic strategies like cognitive processing therapy (CPT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a subset of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with promising new evidence that it might help people overcome harmful ways of thinking after trauma.
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) uses rapid eye movement or rhythmic tapping to alter the way a specific memory is filed away in the brain, which may aid in reprocessing.
Both CPT and EDMR were created by trauma therapists to assist trauma survivors in identifying and addressing their traumatic experiences. If you’re a trauma victim, talking to a mental health expert who specialises in helping people deal through their experiences might help ease the anxiety you have while confronting your problems.
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