Managing recovery from sexual trauma
Individuals who have been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused often describe a constellation of reactions that can be described as “emotional shock.” Some symptoms of this include confusion, glazed eyes, inability to concentrate, intense fear, and disruptions in eating and sleeping patterns.
Following trauma, many survivors experience symptoms of acute stress or post-traumatic stress disorder. Acute stress and post-traumatic stress are characterized by the following:
- A subjective sense of numbing, detachment, or absence of emotional responsiveness;
- A reduction in awareness of his or her surroundings (i.e. “Being in a daze”);
- Dissociative amnesia (i.e., inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma or the feeling of not fully being inside one’s own body);
- Hypervigilance, increased startled response, and/or irritability;
- Avoidance of people, places, activities, or other reminders of the trauma;
- A re-experience of the trauma through recurrent images, nightmares, flashbacks, or a marked sense of “reliving” the experience;
- Increased anxiety; and/or
- Interference with daily functioning with family, friends, relationships, work, and academics.
Although many survivors of trauma experience these symptoms, there are ways to manage recovery. Immediate emotional changes are normal. For most people, these symptoms will fade with time. However, symptoms may last for months or even years. Research shows that the sooner an individual seeks assistance to manage trauma, the easier it becomes to manage the symptoms associated with acute or post-traumatic stress.
Survivors who have experienced other traumatic events may be more or less likely to have further difficulties. Survivors with difficulties may alternate between periods when they are anxious and re-experience the incident and times when they are depressed and withdraw from family, friends and activities. These changes are to be expected. Situations that include strong reminders of the traumatic incident may make post trauma consequences worse. Anniversaries of the event may cause memories and worsen post trauma consequences. Families and friends become co-survivors and often experience post trauma consequences of their own. Survivors who recover most effectively are those who take specific actions to manage their consequences.
If you are a survivor of trauma or think you may be at risk, it is important to take time to care for yourself. Seek assistance from individuals who can provide options and assist with short-term decision-making. Rely on others for a “safe place” to stay for physical and emotional care. Do things to help you feel stronger. Many survivors find that talking with a professional counselor or support group helps with the healing process. You can contact Health Education Services to confidentially discuss options to improve your physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing at (202) 687-8949.
24 hour Doctor on call: (202) 444-PAGE
Sexual Assault & Relationship Violence Services
Physician On Call: (202) 444-PAGE
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