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Are you feeling worried, stressed, fearful, angry…..confused? Find some answers to ease some common reactions to going through this process.


Why do I feel this way? What might help?


Information below is provided by “Coping with Sexual Assault: A Guide to Resolution, Healing and Recovery”

Most sexual assault victim have a range of emotions after the assault. Here are some other possible responses you may experience. (This section was adapted from material by the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the Assault Crisis Center of Ypsilanti, Michigan and is used with permission.)


Shock and numbness: This can occur right away. It includes feelings of disbelief or denial about what happened. Your body may feel like it is shutting down or withdrawing. You may feel emotionally detached or drained. Life may not seem real – you are going through the motions, but unaware of all that is happening. Other reactions may include: tearful, laughing nervously, withdrawing or claiming to feel nothing or to be “fine.” You may be so overwhelmed you do not know how to feel or what to do.


What might help: Understand these are often normal reactions after trauma. Reassure yourself these feelings will lessen. It may be helpful to ask a friend or loved one to be with you if you want company. Think about what has helped you through a previous crisis. Take some calming breaths and remind yourself you will be okay. The shock and numbness will pass.


Disruption of daily life: During the first few weeks or months it may seem like your life was thrown off course. You may be preoccupied with thoughts about the assault. You may think about the sexual assault when you don’t want to think about it. It can be upsetting to have reminders of the rape when you are trying to “get on with your life.” You may have difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping with nightmares, appetite changes, anxiety or depression.


What might help: Although these are normal reactions, they can be very distressing. Be gentle with yourself and do whatever you need to do to try to reclaim your life. It is common after any kind of crisis to need time to grieve, to adjust and to reorganize your life. You will find that the initial disruptions will go away and you can go on with your life.


Loss of control: It might seem like your whole world has just been turned upside down or that you will never have your life back again. Your thoughts may be racing and overwhelming. You might feel anxious, jittery, or scared and not sure what to do. It can be difficult to focus or concentrate. Even minor decisions, like what to have for lunch, may be difficult to make.


What might help: You may want to make some small changes, such as: rearrange the furniture in your home/room or buy some new bed linens; change your look by cutting your hair; or change your routine by exercising in the morning instead of at night. These small changes can help you to feel that you are taking back control. Try to make as many of your own decisions as possible. Even small decisions can help you regain a sense of control. With big decisions, make a list of pros and cons of how it might impact you. Talk to a trusted friend or a family member. Seek out professional resources such as counseling or legal advice if needed. Trust your instincts to do what is right for you.


Fear: It is not uncommon for rape victims to experience fear after an assault. For example, you might fear that the rapist will return or fear for your safety. You may be afraid of seeing the person who did this to you or have anxiety about situations or people that may remind you of the assault. These fears can come and go and can also range from a mild, uncomfortable feeling to an anxiety-producing panic. Most of these fears will go away or lessen over time.


What might help: Make any changes in your life that you need to make in order to feel safe. For example, it is okay if you need to sleep with the light on for a while, or sleep in a room other than your bedroom (especially if you were raped in your bed.) Change your locks, take a self-defense class, or stay with a friend or a family member. If you want or need company, ask people that you trust to stay with you day or night. Keep your phone nearby if you are alone in case you need to call someone – even for some emotional reassurance.


Guilt and self-blame: You may think that you could have or should have done something differently to avoid or to prevent the assault. You might blame yourself for what happened and start to doubt yourself or your ability to make good judgments.


What might help: Remind yourself that you did not cause this to happen. Realize that guilt and self-blame can be efforts to feel some control over the situation. Some survivors think that if they avoid similar situations, it will not happen again. Think about how you might so things differently in the future as a way to feel safer, not to blame yourself about the rape. It can be helpful to read about recovering from rape or talk to other victims (e.g. rape survivor’s group) to know you are not alone and did not deserve it to happen-no matter what the situation.


Anger: You may have many different reasons to feel angry. You might be angry toward the person who did this to you, the police, your family, the medical staff, your counselor or towards yourself. You might also feel angry at society because you no longer feel safe or trusting. If you are religious or spiritual, you may be angry that your faith did not protect you or you might question why God allowed this to happen to you.


What might help: Allow yourself to be angry. It is a natural and common reaction after a sexual assault. You may be more irritable or short-tempered with others for awhile. This is a part of your anger. Some people find physical activity (exercise, walking) can help release the physical tension that often foes along with anger. Writing in a journal, playing music or singing out lout to music are helpful and healthy ways to let go of anger and sadness that sometimes accompanies it. If you are religious or are struggling with questions about your faith, you can seek out a spiritual counselor (e.g. minister, rabbi, priest or pastoral counselor) who is familiar with sexual assault issues and can guide you through your questions. Find what works best for you to express your anger in a healthy manner that will not hurt you or anyone else.


Vulnerability and mistrust: You might feel like your ability to trust others has been taken away. You may wonder who you can trust – especially if the person who hurt you was someone you trusted. Some victims also question their own judgment and become more cautious or guarded in relationship with others.

What might help: Try to trust your instincts about what you need and with whom you want to share what happened. Turn to friends and family who have been dependable in the past. Select people who are not judgmental and who are good listeners. Take your time re-building trust. If something feels uncomfortable, listen to your instincts. Know that there are many people who do are about you and are trustworthy.

Sexual intimacy concerns: It is common to have different reactions and feelings about sexual intimacy after an assault. For example, you might fear that having sex will remind you of the assault and therefore avoid it or you might wonder if you will ever want or enjoy sex again. You may need reassurance that you are still attractive or desirable and you might use sex as a way of coping. These are normal concerns after a sexual assault.


What might help: Go at your own pace, in small steps and only when you are ready to resume sex. Be very clear with your partner about your needs and limits when it comes to any type of sexual touching or sexual contact. Your partner may need reassurance that it is okay to touch you. Let your partner know if something reminds you of the rape and causes you anxiety. Tell your partner what kinds of physical touching or sexual intimacy feels comfortable or uncomfortable for you.


Your interest in sex after the rape can also vary. You may have a need to know that you are still desirable, or, you might have less interest toward any kind of physical contact. A therapist with experience in sexual trauma recovery can be helpful if you have concerns or anxieties about sexual intimacy after a sexual assault. If you have a spouse or partner, it might be helpful to have your loved one join you for a few sessions to learn how to best support your healing together.


This information can be triggering to some people. If you begin feeling stressed and overwhelmed, feel free to call the Support line for free confidential support from a trained and experienced Advocate. 1-800-871-7741



Kennebec & Somerset Counties in Maine

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual abuse... there is someone who will listen.

Call the Maine Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Line


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