When someone has experienced rape or sexual abuse it can impact them in many different ways. There are very good reasons for a survivor to behave in certain ways.
There will always be some thoughts or feelings behind our behaviour:
- Trying to control anxiety or exposure to triggers
- Trying to block out memories
- Trying to ‘keep the box shut’ by distracting themselves
Some of these thoughts and feelings can help survivors to cope and to process what has happened safely. Others may cause the survivor further distress or be harmful. Emotional support can help you to understand trauma responses, if you want to talk about trauma reactions you can get in touch on our helpline or e-support.
Below are some common reactions to trauma:
Pushing people away
…When I push people away I feel more in control but more alone.
Pushing people away can be an instinctive way to protect yourself from further harm. It’s normal to be cautious to trust people again. Finding other people to talk to can help you to think about your own thoughts and reactions can help you to see that what happened wasn’t your fault.
Not wanting to be intimate
…How will I ever trust anyone again? I feel like my body isn’t my own.
A lot of people fear intimacy after rape or abuse. Take your time, do things as you are ready. What happened to you was not sex. Sex is different because you are in control. It’s important your partner understands and allows you to take it at your own pace.
…I want to have control back over my body. Sometimes, I don’t feel how I expected to afterwards.
Some people find that they want to have lots of sex, sometimes with lots of different people. This can be a way to take control back of your body. Sex is a healthy and natural thing, but be aware of if you are putting yourself in some risky situations. Make sure you are safe and think about how it makes you feel.
Being very vigilant
…I am constantly on edge.
Feeling over-attentive and alert to every sound and movement is normal after trauma because your sense of risk can be intensified. As you work through the feelings and thoughts behind this vigilance, it will become easier. In the short-term, try to find a safe place where you can go or a safe person you can talk to if you feel overwhelmed.
Drinking / smoking more
…It makes me calmer, helps me to be sociable.
These are normal coping mechanisms in any stressful situation. In what situations are you drinking or smoking? How do you feel before and afterwards? Is it leading to any risky or challenging situations?
Being more irritable
…I keep snapping at people. It’s not their fault and I’m pushing them away.
Everybody is irritable sometimes. Extreme irritability can come as a result of a lack of sleep, feelings of isolation or lack of control amongst other things.
As well as identifying the behaviours that are associated with recovery, and thoughts and feelings behind them, creating new positive and therapeutic behaviours can be helpful. Here are some ideas:
- Call, write to, email or visit a friend or member of the family
- Give a genuine compliment
- Think about what your friends and family give or mean to you – and tell them
- Join a group (singing, craft, wellbeing)
- Do something nice for a stranger
- Donate to a worthy charity
- Create a mix CD, artwork or photo album for a friend
- Print out an inspirational poem and post it in town
- Donate blood
- BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Want to talk?
Women and girls
0808 801 0456
Men and boys
0808 801 0464
Monday 11.00am – 2.00pm
Tuesday 6.00pm – 8:30pm