Understanding reactions to sexual assault and relationship violence:
It’s not your fault, but you may think it is. Many communities blame or shame those who experience violence, and many of us believe those lies on some level.
- Shame – Many survivors feel embarrassed by what has happened or what is happening to them. They may feel like a bad person for being involved in a situation they know is wrong. However, the only one who has done wrong is the abuser.
- Guilt – Many survivors feel that their behaviors caused the assault or abuse. They feel like they should have known better or deserved what happened. No one deserves to be assaulted or abused. Just because you were out with a new person, or drinking, or engaging in some sexual activity you were comfortable with doesn’t mean someone has a right to push you into something you’re not ok with. Just because your partner is stressed doesn’t mean they can yell at you or hit you. An abuser is in control of their actions and is the one to blame.
Your feelings may seem out of control, but you’re not crazy. You’re having a normal reaction to a very traumatic situation. You may feel any or all of these things. You may find your mood swings from one feeling to another without warning.
- Fear – Many survivors find that they are scared, even in situations that they know are safe or with people that they used to trust. It can be hard to trust anyone, even those who want to help.
- Anger – Many survivors experience anger at some point. Most people expect that the person may be angry at the abuser. But survivors can often be angry at themselves, at family or friends, at people who have never experienced such pain, or at the world or their god.
- Powerlessness – Many survivors feel that they have no control over their body, their life, or their future. It can lead to hopelessness that anyone could help or that anything could change.
- Numbness – Some survivors feel nothing at all for a period of time. This is how some survive horrible situations.
You may feel that the experience has taken over your life, or you may hide from it.
- Avoidance – It is common to want to avoid anything related to the abuse or assault. Many survivors want to act like it never happened, because it is too painful to deal with. This is a common reason that survivors do not want to seek help. This is not a good long-term coping strategy, however. A good friend, counselor, or other support person will let the person talk about it at their own pace, and won’t pressure you to talk about it or take action faster than you’re ready to.
- Re-experiencing – Others wish they could avoid it. Many survivors have thoughts about the abuse or assault that they can’t make go away. They may find themselves dwelling on it or even talking about it more than they want. They may have nightmares or flashbacks. This can cause difficulty concentrating and sleeping.
Fortunately, reaching out for support and seeking help can make all the difference! Salem State’s counseling and health services department, PEAR Program and the university chaplain have tremendous experience helping survivors of violence, abuse, and assault.