I can’t stop thinking about this bad thing that happened to me
I didn’t say no so maybe it was my fault
I’m not sure if what happened to me was sexual assault
Sex and relationships have been tough for me ever since it happened
I just try not to ever think about it
Maybe you don’t know exactly how to describe what happened to you. It was uncomfortable for sure, but sexual assault? You’re not sure that’s the right word when the situation was so complicated and when your memories are kind of fuzzy to begin with. You think maybe you shouldn’t have had so much to drink, or maybe you should’ve said no louder, or maybe you were kind of leading him on so he might have been confused. Maybe you even wanted some of what happened, it’s just that at some point it seemed to cross some sort of line where you started feeling like it wasn’t what you wanted anymore. You’re really confused about the whole thing, really, and it’s easier just not to think about it, or to make a joke of it when you do bring it up. It just hurts less that way.
Or maybe you know it was sexual assault. You’ve mentioned it to a couple of really close friends and they were pretty supportive, but they didn’t really know how to help you. Really, you’re not sure what you need - it’s upsetting to think about it and you know it’s affected you a lot, but you’re not exactly clear on how. It might have something to do with how it’s hard for you to enjoy sex anymore. You think it’s probably why dating has been more difficult lately and you’re jumpier around men. You know you don’t trust people the way you used to. What can you do about that, though? It’s just this sort of black hole in your mind that you try to avoid because when you get too close, it threatens to take over.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is an experience or series of experiences that undermine our feeling of safety in the world and safety in being who we are. It’s the experience of feeling unsafe in your own skin because you’ve learned that’s a dangerous place to be. It’s the way those experiences keep affecting you long after you’re no longer in immediate danger.
Trauma is in the experience, not in the intention. Earthquakes don’t mean to hurt people, and yet survivors often struggle with trauma symptoms. Open heart surgery saves lives, and yet many people who have had this surgery experience trauma symptoms afterwards. The intentions can be totally innocent but the events can still hurt you.
Many women and femmes have had sexual encounters that are traumatic for them. Sometimes, the other person meant to inflict harm, sometimes they didn’t, but either way the survivor is often left confused, hurt, scared, angry, or overwhelmed. Trauma, and sexual trauma, is unfortunately a common experience, and it can leave lasting emotional pain. Nobody should have to sort through that pain alone, and a good therapist can help you to work through the aftermath of trauma so that you can feel like yourself again.
What Are Common Trauma Symptoms?
Common symptoms experienced by people who have lived through various traumatic events include:
- Panic attacks
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling isolated
- Difficulty feeling good or happy
- Feeling jumpy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Insomnia or waking up during the night
- Shakiness, dizziness, or shortness of breath when thinking about the event
- The feeling of reliving the event, even if it was a long time ago (called a flashback)
- Trying to avoid things that make you think about the event
- Feeling disconnected from your own emotions, or not being sure how you feel
- Feeling numb
- Feeling disconnected from your body
- Shutting down or feeling like you’re “going through the motions” during sex
- Difficulty building healthy, fulfilling romantic relationships
- Not remembering details about the event or having gaps in your memory
- Feeling like you’re not real
- Feeling like everything around you isn’t real
- Taking risks or acting in self-destructive ways
As you can see, there are a huge variety of ways that people react to having experienced a traumatic event. All of these are normal reactions to abnormal experiences. Many trauma reactions are ways our bodies and brains try to keep us safe from being further hurt, such as by making us jumpy so that we’re extra alert to danger. The problem is that these involuntary responses can keep us from healing on a deeper level.
Trauma-focused therapy helps survivors to rebuild a feeling of safety in their lives and in themselves so that their minds and bodies no longer have to rely on reactions like the ones above. My first step whenever I do any trauma work is to help you figure out ways to feel safe again - physically, emotionally, and in your own body. This is one of the most important things you can do as a trauma survivor, because once you know how to create safety for yourself, you have put yourself back in control of your own life and body. Trauma takes away that sense of control and puts the power in someone else’s hands. Trauma therapy puts the power back in your hands so you can rebuild your life and feel happy and whole again.
After you’ve rebuilt a sense of safety and feel confident in your ability to keep yourself safe, physically and emotionally, we’ll talk about your experience in more depth. How has it affected you? How has it changed the ways you see yourself and the world? How has it affected your relationships? This is a chance to process your experiences in ways that help you start to untangle the complex ways trauma may be affecting your daily life so you can create the kind of future you want to have, not one ruled by trauma.
But I don’t want to talk about what happened.
You don’t have to in order to get help! In fact, many people who do trauma therapy never talk about the specifics of what happened to them. When you do trauma-focused therapy with me, we start by helping you learn to keep yourself safe. This includes practicing ways to bring yourself back to the present if you feel triggered or have a flashback, getting familiar with your own boundaries and how to protect them, and learning how to reconnect to your body in ways that don’t trigger panic or flashbacks. Sometimes clients want to tell their story. Putting it into words and telling your story yourself can be a way of reclaiming it as a part of your own history rather than something that was done to you. Sometimes it helps to share it with someone so that you’re not carrying it alone. However, it’s not necessary to go into details of the traumatic event itself unless you want to - and if you do, I will help you to know when you’re ready and help you to feel safe before, during, and after telling your story.
But doesn’t everyone go through this at some point? Shouldn’t I just deal with it?
Unfortunately a whole lot of people, especially women and femmes, do experience trauma. You’re definitely not alone in that. The flip side of this is that we have learned so much about trauma over the past few decades, from the ways it affects our bodies and brains to the ways we can become more resilient and move through it to a better place. Research in neuroscience and somatic psychology has yielded powerful new tools for healing the wounds we carry after a traumatic event. Psychologists have started talking about “post-traumatic growth” and the ways we can become stronger and more resilient in the aftermath of trauma. There are wonderful, effective tools available to help you and counseling is one of the most effective ways to learn these tools.
How do I know if you’re the right person for me to share this really personal, painful thing with?
I’ve worked with countless trauma survivors in the more than eight years I’ve been in this field, and I’ve helped clients make amazing strides in reclaiming their lives and feeling safe in their own bodies. I’m passionate about helping women sort through the aftermath of trauma and learn how to live healthy, happy lives on their own terms. One thing I tell every prospective client is that our first few sessions are a chance for you to get to know me and what it’s like to work with me. I check in with you throughout to see how you’re feeling, and I encourage you to listen to your instincts and whether they are telling you that this is the right fit for you. I want you to feel completely safe working with me. If we meet and you don’t think I’m the right therapist for you to work with, I’m happy to help you find someone else who’s a better fit.
You don't have to do this alone.
Trauma can leave you feeling powerless and alone, but you don’t have to be. Call me today for a free phone consultation and to see how I can help you take your power back.
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