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Suffered a sexual attack and finding it hard to cope? Five things you can do to help yourself
Posted on 3rd Dec 2021
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may know that I see a lot of clients who have suffered a sexual attack or sexual harassment. Although these are shockingly common in our society, nearly everyone who has been subject to sexual assault or harassment can feel very alone. This feeling of isolation can be accompanied by feelings of shame or guilt, which in turn can make you feel even more isolated.
I would strongly recommend that if this has happened to you, you seek professional help from someone like me. A therapist experienced in working with sexual attack can help you work through your feelings and support you as you rebuild your sense of self.
I would also like to give you some immediate help, a guide through difficult times, and a few things you can be aware of and do which will make you feel as if you can get back in control, see a way into a happier future and rebuild your sense of confidence and value in yourself.
After a sexual attack or sexual harassment? Here are my 5 things you can do now to start to help your mental health.
1. Let go of any lingering idea that you were to blame.
It is very common, and understandable, that you will run through what happened and ask if you could have done anything different which could have stopped what happened. It is a short road from here to beginning to think it was your fault.
Hindsight is 20/20. At the time you could not see into the future and you could not expect to. The fault lies not with you but with the person who hurt you. Many predators will blame their victims, accusing them of sending the wrong messages, of dressing in a certain way or behaving in a certain way. You are in no way obliged to take on your attacker’s beliefs, world views, or ideas. Just because they have said something does not make it true!
You may dwell on what happened and decide that you behaved in some sort of way that put you at risk. There can be a useful side to this, it can be a learning experience where you decide not to go to a certain place, or to see a certain person again. But this is very far from the whole story. How you behaved, where you were, and what you did was not permission for another person to attack you. You do not need to take on their ideas, they and only they were responsible for the attack!
2. Accept your feelings and acknowledge that they are painful
Allow yourself space to feel negative emotions. For some people, it can help to talk to a trusted friend about what happened and how you feel. Reading about how others have coped with similar situations can also help you to get a sense that your feelings are valid. Ringing a helpline can also be a great support for you. Acknowledge your feelings but also promise yourself that they will not be so dominant in your future. Once you have made this promise to yourself you are in a better position to move on. But do so in a way where you make a path to move on and a way to move from the negative to be positive, which takes us on to.
3. Take time to build a more positive mindset
This is not going to happen in a day. It will take time and it is easier to do if you work on it every day. There are various things you can do to help yourself here. Remind yourself that you are here, alive and functioning and you are going to get better over time. Celebrate everything you do which makes you feel proud or gives you pleasure (it does not matter if these things are small if you have managed to concentrate on a television program or have taken a short walk for the first time that is fantastic).
Reward yourself for each little step. This can be a metaphorical round of applause for yourself, or if you feel comfortable share with a trusted friend. Or you might decide to mark each advance by giving yourself a little gift, this could be an experience, for example, a scented bath, or a massage or it could be a thing, a new something for your home perhaps or a book or a piece of music. Whether you go for things or experiences, record them, take a picture for your phone perhaps. This gives you a very pleasant record where you can see your progress.
4. Develop a healthy and nurturing daily routine
Often the effect of a sexual attack is a big dip in your self-esteem. And often when self-esteem goes, so does the desire to look after yourself properly. Make a daily plan to nurture yourself, both mind and body. It will be good for you in itself. It will also send your subconscious mind the message that you are valuable.
Make sure you do things you used to do to make yourself look and feel good. This could be regular visits to a spa, going to a good hairdresser, making sure you take up your exercise regime again. Think about your social life too. You may not feel like rushing back to the pubs and clubs scene, but try to spend some time with friends and family who you value. Guard your mental health. If you are feeling anxious then try to make time every day for something which will make you feel calmer and happier. This might be self-hypnosis or meditation or it could be some time taking a country walk or listening to gentle music. You will know what feels right for you. Watch what you eat; it is very easy to comfort eat or not to eat at all when you are under stress.
Do a bit of planning. Choose the healthy foods which you like and plan your diet around them. Have a glass of wine if you fancy it but watch you do not drink too much. It might make you feel better in the immediate term but it is a depressant and is likely to bring you down before long. It will also affect your decision-making abilities and your clear thinking, and you need them now as you rebuild your life and your confidence.
Take some time out to remember what daily routines you used to have which worked well for you, which made you feel better, healthier, and happier. Set about recreating them. This is good for you and is also sending the message that you are going to get your life back. Pay attention to your physical health, do not avoid the doctor if you have a problem.
5. Be prepared for trauma
It is perfectly normal to react to the trauma you have suffered. Feelings of hopelessness, dwelling on what has happened feeling anxious and being unable to do normal tasks are all symptoms of trauma. Your body will have gone into ‘flight or fight’ mode which is exhausting. So, it is not surprising if you feel tired. You may also feel hyper-sensitive to any stimuli, again this is a reaction to trauma but can induce anxiety and make you very tired.
Flashbacks or vivid memories of the event are common. Some people find that seeing anything which reminds them of the attack, or even a sound or a smell can trigger memories of the event or make you feel very anxious or afraid. These symptoms are all very unpleasant. Sometimes simple relaxation and breathing exercises can help you overcome the feelings of fear and anxiety and the hyper-sensitivity you may feel. But if the symptoms are making it difficult to live an ordinary life or you are becoming very distressed then seek help from a professional who deals in trauma.
I work with many clients who have suffered trauma and can assure you that you do not need to suffer forever. Modern therapies can overcome the effects of trauma. See Eye Movement Therapy for an example of one of the successful therapies which might help you.
I hope this helps you. Do seek help from a professional as well, though. It will get you through much more quickly. If you want to know more or talk through your options then contact me.