Trauma is an experience, such as sexual violence, which overwhelms you and involves a threat to your life or your safety.
In everyday life, any of us can have an experience that is overwhelming, frightening, and beyond our control. We could find ourselves in a car crash, the victim of an assault, or see an accident. Most people, in time, get over experiences like this without needing help. But for some people, traumatic experiences set off a reaction that can last for many months or years. This is called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD for short.
Trauma is a mix of upsetting emotions, frightening memories and feeling vulnerable and in danger (even if the danger has passed). Sexual violence often causes trauma. The effects of trauma can last for a long time; adults may still experience the effects from something that happened in childhood. The effects of trauma can fade away completely. But sometimes memories are triggered by a smell, sound, or an anniversary that reminds you of the traumatic experience.
Trauma can affect survivors in many different ways. These are all a natural response to what happened.
- Shock, denial, disbelief
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- Guilt, shame, self-blame
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety and fear
- Withdrawing from others
- Feeling disconnected or numb
- Avoiding people or places you associate with the trauma
- Not being able to sleep and/or nightmares
- Being startled easily
- Racing heartbeat
- Aches and pains
- Difficulty concentrating
- Edginess and agitation
- Muscle tension
- Flashbacks (reliving the experience)
- Intrusive thoughts or images
Reasons you may need support to recover from trauma
There are many things you can do to help yourself, but you may find support helpful to recover from trauma if you are:
- Having trouble functioning at home or work
- Suffering from severe fear, anxiety, or depression
- Unable to form close, satisfying relationships
- Experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
- Avoiding more and more things which remind you of the trauma
- Emotionally numb and disconnected from others
- Using alcohol or drugs to feel better
- Self-harming to feel better
What you can do: self-care tips for survivors
There are things you can do to help you manage the difficult feelings and reactions:
- Avoid isolating yourself. It is natural to want to cut off but this can make things worse. Try to connect with people you trust and enjoy being with. Think about getting support from a service like rape crisis where you are safe to speak without fear of being judged or disbelieved. Support can be individual or in a group if you would like to meet other survivors with similar experiences.
- Keep yourself ‘grounded’. It can help if you stick to a daily routine, with regular times for getting up, going to bed, eating and relaxing. Do things that make you feel better and keep your mind occupied (such as reading, sport, doing a class). This may help to distract you from focusing too much on the traumatic experience.
- Look after yourself physically. Try to get plenty of sleep. Have a routine. Exercise every day as this also helps you feel better and to sleep better. Eat a well-balanced diet. Eating little and often may help you to avoid over- or under-eating. Reduce or avoid using alcohol and drugs. They may help you feel better in the short-term but can lead to long-term problems.
- Be kind to yourself. Many survivors judge themselves for what happened or for how they are affected. For example, ‘If only I hadn’t done that’ or ‘Why am I not over it by now?’ Remember your needs are important and how you speak to yourself can affect your recovery.
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