- Sexual trauma can happen to anyone of any age or gender
- Depression, insomnia, and substance abuse are all side effects of sexual trauma
- It is possible to heal from sexual trauma
- Talk therapy helps people get past the trauma of sexual assault and live a healthier life
Recovering from sexual trauma through therapy could be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. There is something to look forward to, though. Not only can you heal from sexual trauma, but you can thrive and live an incredible life in spite of it all.
Sexual trauma can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, age, or sexual orientation. The emotional and physical weight of the experience on the survivor and those who love them varies significantly for each person.
Some survivors report their abuse immediately and seek professional help to deal with their feelings. Others diminish the experience by saying that the incident was trivial or happened so long ago that it no longer affects them or has any bearing on their life. Others feel too embarrassed to talk about it with anyone. Some survivors even blame themselves, believing it was their fault.
Coping with any sort or extent of sexual violence is difficult, but there is hope. This guide discusses what sexual trauma is, its effects on survivors, and how therapy helps heal the damage.
Sexual Trauma Facts
Sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual trauma are terms often used interchangeably, but there are some core differences. Sexual abuse typically refers to sexual crimes against children, while sexual assault is an attack against some without their consent. The following acts are considered sexual crimes:
- Rape (including marital and date rape)
- Nonconsensual pornography
- Nonconsensual sexual contact
- Sexual harassment
Sexual trauma denotes any traumatic sexual experience. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four women and one in 15 men experience some form of sexual trauma in their lifetime in the U.S.
Effects of Sexual Trauma
Survivors of sexual trauma are affected both physically and mentally. These psychological, emotional, and physical effects can be devastating, making the healing process feel impossible.
Traumas of this nature cause feelings of unrelenting sadness. This mood disorder is called depression and often accompanies sexual trauma.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is common after any type of trauma, including sexual. It is a psychiatric disorder that affects people who have witnessed or experienced a horrifying event. They have trouble recovering and experience flashbacks and anxiety. The flashbacks can be very realistic and vivid.
Many survivors develop specific phobias after being sexually traumatized. These could be a fear of being touched, a fear of intimacy, and a fear of developing new relationships. These phobias may be mild to extreme.
Substance/Alcohol Use Disorder
Partaking in mind-altering substances feels like a release from the pain for many sexual trauma survivors. It can be such a relief that many will eventually develop alcohol and drug dependencies.
Past traumas, including sexual traumas, often rob survivors of their sleep. The memories and racing thoughts of the crimes constantly repeat themselves in their minds, keeping them awake and making sleep challenging to acquire.
The body releases these responses because it is genetically programmed to protect itself. These fight-or-flight responses occur whenever thoughts or flashbacks of the incident appear.
How Therapy Helps Heal Sexual Trauma
It is vital to seek medical and law enforcement help immediately after sexual trauma. The faster treatment can begin, the quicker healing starts. Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is especially useful in treating traumatic situations for myriad reasons, including:
1. Facing the Past
Survivors of sexual trauma can have extreme difficulty coming to terms with what has happened to them. It can be unbelievable and feel surreal or disjointed, almost as though they watched it happen to someone else instead of experiencing it themselves. The shame and embarrassment of being attacked and subjected to such an incident can be difficult to admit.
Therapy helps sufferers understand that they bear no fault and that the incident does not have to dictate their future. Therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) help survivors confront bad memories and make peace with them.
2. Gain Missing Life Skills
Psychotherapy modalities, such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Prolonged Exposure (DBT-PE) and Cognitive Behavior Therapy, are intended to teach survivors valuable life skills that help them love and understand themselves better. These types of therapies also strengthen outside relationships and reinforce self-confidence.
3. Look Ahead with Hope
Sexual trauma often steals all hope from the survivors. An integral part of therapy for sexual trauma is learning that the future still holds so much positivity. As healing occurs, survivors can better understand that life is still waiting to be lived and that what happened to them has no hold on their life.
Therapy gives trauma survivors a safe place to talk about their feelings and what happened to them. It’s an opportunity to learn how to cope with their feelings and anything else the world throws at them. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity to grow past the pain of the trauma and into a new version of themselves.
The pain and trauma of sexual abuse are not the defining moments of a survivor’s life. They are but small blimps in the grand scheme of things, only to be forgotten in all the beauty that follows. Therapy is a stepping stone to that beautiful life.
Coping with Sexual Trauma Is Easier When You Have Help
Coping with sexual trauma is challenging. Sometimes it helps to have a professional guide you through the darkness. The Counseling Center Group™ can help you learn how to control your emotions and change your behaviors. We provide therapies for groups, couples, individuals, and families.
The Counseling Center Group is dedicated to helping you live a life you love. We are committed to providing relatively short-term treatments to achieve positive, long-lasting results. Our therapists use structured, evidence-based methods to efficiently help you reach realistic goals. To learn more about DBT or therapy in general, contact us today.