IT’S no secret that sexual abuse usually causes trauma in its victims. And there are dangers in dealing with sexual abuse trauma in silence and alone.
Sexual abuse victims have to deal with painful, and sometimes, conflicted feelings during and after the abuse. At a point like this, they need help from a family member, a trusted confidant or a counselor.
Sadly, many don’t open up due to fear of stigmatization or the culture of silence that is deeply ingrained into our systems. In cases like these, sexual abuse trauma tends to worsen. And it can pose long-term damages to the victim.
30% of women report symptoms of PTSD 9 months after the rape1. Another study shows that 13% of women who are raped attempt suicide.2
Here are 8 dangers that can arise from dealing with sexual abuse trauma all by yourself:
8 DANGERS OF NOT OPENING UP ABOUT SEXUAL ABUSE TRAUMA
- Sense of loss of control
- Fear and anxiety
- Mental health issues
- Disrupted relationships
At the time of the abuse, most victims tend to experience an overpowering fear of being physically injured (beaten, shot, cut, etc.) or even of being killed.
After the abuse, a lot of victims still experience these fears. This happens when they have associated those fears with certain sights, sounds, smells, thoughts, etc.
Victims of sexual abuse typically avoid anything that can remind them of the abuse (people, places, etc.). This can go on for weeks, months, or even years. Some become so fearful that they avoid situations where they have to leave the house or be alone.
When the victim starts to tell themselves things like “I shouldn’t have dressed that way”, or “I shouldn’t have been out at that time”, or “I could have avoided this if only I had been more careful”, they may start to blame themselves. And this usually stirs up feelings of guilt.
Sexual abuse victims may also feel guilty about what they had to go along with, to avoid being injured or killed. This can trigger feelings of resentment and bitterness towards themselves.
Most victims of sexual abuse tend to experience sadness at some point after the abuse. This is normal, and can happen repeatedly.
It becomes depression when they’re constantly feeling broken and hopeless, crying frequently, withdrawing from their usual activities, and sometimes, having thoughts of suicide.
This depression usually comes with a loss of interest in activities that the victim once considered fun. Depression can reduce the sense of self-worth, and lead a victim to take destructive actions such as self-harm, drug use, and suicide.
4. Sense of loss of control
Many sexual abuse victims end up feeling a sense of loss of control over their lives. Because they were forced to partake in something that they probably fought hard to prevent, some live with a consciousness that they have no control over situations. This can contribute to a recurrence of the act, especially if the abuser is closely related to the victim.
Sometimes, sexual abuse victims can see the abuse occur again in their thoughts and/or in their dreams. At that point in time, the victim may feel that the abuse is reoccurring.
This “recurrence” of the abuse is known as a flashback. Flashbacks can trigger depression, fear and anxiety, and hallucinations. Flashbacks make it hard for a sexual abuse victim to get over the event, which can cause difficulty in concentrating and add to the sense of loss of control.
6. Fear and anxiety
It can be hard to differentiate between these two. In general, fear usually has a certain object (place, person, situation, etc.) that is associated with it. Anxiety (unease, distress, worry, etc.) is not usually associated with an object.
For instance, weeks or months after an assault, it is not uncommon for victims to experience a feeling of general jitteriness or unease – a feeling that something bad is going to come. Sexual abuse victims can experience both fear and anxiety.
Long after the assault, victims can continue to experience fear which could be triggered by reminders of the assault. These triggers could be certain features of the abuser, such as body build, skin color, type of clothing and so forth.
The fear could also be associated with the setting where the assault took place, these could be dark nights, lonely roads, or even the home. Victims often avoid situations, smells, places, etc. that remind them of the assault and trigger them.
Fear and anxiety usually cause the victims to become unsettled and constantly nervous, and also withdraw from their usual activities.
7. Mental health issues
Sexual abuse victims may experience one or mental issues. The most common of them is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, where they may experience intense memories of the abuse. In some cases, the flashbacks may be so disruptive that they cause the victim to zone out of their immediate surroundings.
Another common mental health problem that some sexual abuse victims face is personality disruption, for example, borderline personality disorder. One of the signs of borderline personality disorder is fear of abandonment.
Also, research suggests that abuse survivors are 26 times more likely to use drugs, and this could lead to addiction.
8. Disrupted relationships
It is not uncommon to see a disruption in the victims relationships with others as a result of sexual abuse. Partly, this is a result of the withdrawn behavior that usually comes with sadness and depression.
It can also arise from the victim feeling ashamed and embarrassed about what happened to them. They may experience a loss of interest in sex and withdraw from many activities.
Imagine that you have a leaking tap in your house. Rather than call a plumber to fix it, you take a balloon and attach it to the outlet with some string. As the tap keeps leaking, it will get to a point where the balloon can’t hold all of the water anymore. And then it bursts.
Sexual abuse trauma can escalate if not managed properly.
The best decision you could make as sexual abuse survivor is to find a trusted person you can discuss this with. It is important to open up about your feelings, worries and state of mind.
You may find that a friend or family member can provide this comfort and guidance. If not, a therapist or a counselor may be your best option.