“Helping you gain control over the things you want to change”
Christmas is coming. I can help you to deal with social occasions if you have been traumatised by sexual violence or assault
Posted on 17th Dec 2021
As I am writing this, we are once again not quite sure about how Covid is going to affect our lives. We may find that once again our lives are curtailed. But at the moment it still looks as if we are going to have the chance to be out meeting at least some friends and family which is better than at this time last year. For most of us, this is something to look forward to. However, if you have suffered a sexual assault, harassment, or violence, then it could be you are dreading the social season. You may well find it difficult to get out and about again.
This is not surprising, a sexual attack of any sort can be very damaging to your mental state, your trust in others and feelings of security will have been damaged. You may feel afraid and worried if you are around people you do not know, for example. You may find noisy places overwhelming, or dislike going to places you are not familiar with. Perhaps when you do go out, you feel everyone is looking at you, or everyone knows what happened to you.
It can help to know that you are not alone with these feelings. Many, perhaps most, people who have undergone a sexual attack suffer some degree of trauma. Being free of the trauma can take time, and it often requires professional help to recover.
I always advise anyone in this situation to get that professional help so they can change the impact of the trauma and start to recover fully. I also advise people to take things slowly and only do what they are comfortable with.
I know this can be difficult at this time of year. The period before Christmas is usually a busy social time. If you are feeling under pressure to go out more than you feel comfortable with, I hope I can offer you some pointers to help you enjoy the festive season in a way that suits you. Before we jump in though, I do want to ask you not to do anything you do not feel ready for, or which makes you feel uncomfortable. This is a time of your life to be gentle with yourself and to put yourself first.
Learn to say what you want and what you do not
If you feel a certain social situation is not for you then it is important that you feel able to say so.
There are some simple tactics to do this. It just takes a bit of practice.
One of the best ways is to learn and to get familiar with a few simple sentences and statements which get your message across.
Get used to beginning sentences with the word ‘I’. Sit down somewhere quiet and start saying ‘I’ think ‘I’ would prefer ‘I’ want. You may find it difficult, even strange at first. Perhaps you are not used to saying what you want or putting yourself before others. A bit of practise will get you more comfortable with this.
After you have got used to saying sentences that begin with ‘I’ say what you do not want, and then what you do want. For example, ‘I don’t feel up to a big party at the moment but I would love to go out with you and Jane and perhaps a few others.’ Remember you do not have to tell people what happened to you, you do not have to justify your own preferences. You have the right to your own likes and dislikes and to do what you feel comfortable doing. ‘I am just not feeling up to at that just now, and I would prefer to stay home, I don’t want to say anymore it is just how I feel at the moment,’ is fine.
When you are doing this remember non-verbal cues as well. Let your body back up your statements. This will not only help you communicate better it will help you feel better. If you are being direct, standing tall, and making eye contact you are coming across as confident to other people and you are also telling your own subconscious that you are getting your confidence back. The more you can look confident, the more you will feel confident.
Here is a short checklist for giving the right non-verbal cues
- Stand straight and lift your head. Relax your shoulders and do not cross your arms across your body
- Breathe deeply and slowly
- Make eye contact. If you feel uncomfortable then concentrate on the forehead of the person you are talking to, they will not spot the difference.
- Listen to what is being said and give positive signals, such as nodding and saying yes I agree.
Dealing with negative thought patterns
We all have negative thoughts from time to time. If you have suffered a sexual assault then you are more likely to experience negative thoughts, and you can even find yourself falling into negative thought patterns. You may not even be aware of this, so here are a couple of things to keep an eye out for.
- Mindreading. Do not assume that you know what other people are thinking. Especially do not assume they know what has happened to you. Do not assume that other people’s demeanor is about you. One way of breaking this habit is to think about all the alternative explanations for someone’s behaviour.
- Catastrophising If something goes wrong to not assume that everything will go wrong. Do not assume that one bad thing is the start of a run of bad things. One way of breaking this habit is to think of all the times bad things have not happened when you feared they might. This can help put your sexual assault into context, It was an awful thing, and it will take time to recover. Yet many good things have happened to you as well. Spend some time everyday focusing on them.
- Mental filtering. It can be very easy to concentrate on the negative and downplay what is good, or good interpretations if you are still traumatised by a negative sexual experience. Take some time after a social event to add up what was good and what was not. Then spend some time concentrating on the more enjoyable aspects. This is a great exercise for the mind.
Your own safety
If you have suffered a sexual assault then your safety had been compromised. I hope you have at least one good friend or family member who you can talk to. Or you can phone a rape crisis helpline. In either case, make a clear plan to keep yourself safe if you are venturing out again. This will make you feel that you are taking back control of your life which is a great step towards recovery.
Remember what you like
I often speak to my clients about what they like to do, what social situations they most enjoy, what their idea of a fun day out is. When people have been sexually assaulted they can find it difficult to remember what they used to like doing. I know that getting people to talk about their preferences is a big help. Not only does it help to recall more positive times, but it will also get you back into more positive mental habits.
I hope you find some of these tips a support as you recover. I would encourage you to also see a professional like myself. This can put you on the road to pushing the bad experience into history and rebuilding your resilience and self-esteem. Give me a call if you want to know more. And have the good Christmas which you deserve.