This self care guide is for survivors of rape or sexual abuse who want to understand and process their own personal reactions to their experience. When you have suffered rape or sexual abuse it can affect how you think, how you feel, how you behave and how you see the world.
The experience of rape can be very different to that of child sexual abuse and different again to other forms of sexual violence. This self care guide is for people who have experienced any of these forms of abuse as the reactions and questions that follow can be similar. It is normal to feel confused, angry, upset, anxious, and a whole range of other emotions. But it does get better. Be gentle and patient with yourself as you go through your feelings and reactions and fnd ways to feel safer. This takes time.
Remember: what you are feeling is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.
Choosing to start working on the healing process takes courage. Read it at your own pace: take breaks and try not to overwhelm yourself.
What kind of reactions do
people have to trauma?
When a person has experienced a shocking, unexpected or traumatic incident they are likely to develop deep emotional and physical shock or stress. These reactions are normal and will be very unique, personal and individual.
Here are some typical reactions that people can experience after a trauma:
● Tension in the muscles ● Headaches
● Tiredness and exhaustion ● Dizzy spells/funny turns ● Diarrhoea ● Unsteady breathing ● Little desire to do anything ● Tightness in the chest ● Hyperactivity ● Increased, rapid heartbeat ● Dry mouth ● Other physical pains ● Sweating
● Feelings of hopelessness ● Moodiness ● Guilt ● Panic attacks ● Depression ● Nightmares ● Insecurity ● Poor memory ● Irritability ● Loss in self confdence or ● Anxiety concentration
● Increased smoking and/or ● Nail biting
drinking ● Impulsiveness
● Over working, or not turning up ● Twitches, tapping fngers, etc.
● Non-stop talking
● Personal neglect ● Changes in eating patterns ● Cutting or other self-harm
Why do people have
Your senses are constantly sending signals to a part of your brain called the amygdala. The amygdala searches through these signals for any threats. If it fnds a threat, it tells your hypothalamus to release defence hormones. This will trigger one of these fve instinctive reactions:
Fight, Flight, Freeze Be-friend and Flop
Your mind will choose the reaction that is most likely to lead to survival and the least harm. It doesn’t think about how you will feel after. During rape or abuse, the frst two options often aren’t possible as they may lead to further physical or mental harm. The last three options are very common as they expose the survivor to the least immediate danger.
These responses have evolved over thousands of years. Think about how animals pretend they are dead to avoid predators (Flop) or how you may stand still when you see a car coming towards you before you think to get out the way (Freeze).
This all happens in a split second. A split second later, the amygdala begins the slower process of sending the threat signal to the rational part of your brain (the cortex or hippocampus). It is a few seconds later that we manage to think rationally about the threat.
As the instinct for immediate survival overrides longer-term rational thought, fear can overwhelm rationality during trauma.
If there is a safe outcome (survival), the brain learns to use that reaction again. Sometimes, this response can be used repeatedly in less and less risky situations. This can lead to a heightened state of awareness of risk, or to a feeling of numbness.
● I should have…
● I should not have…
● I deserved it because…