There is no standard for reacting to sexual assault. It is a traumatic, life-changing event. The emotions and behaviors an abuse victim experiences are unique to them. The most important thing to remember is your reactions are not abnormal, and that you are not alone (Baerg 2011). Listed below are some common ways victims deal with their abuse. These are helpful for family or friends who are suspicious someone they know is being abused. Hearing about how other abuse sufferers have dealt with their trauma can also be helpful for victims who feel alone or abnormal. I have included healthy responses and tools that can be used for each of these common reactions to abuse. You may struggle with being reluctant to talk about your experience. I will also address this because of the healing power and importance of counseling for victims of experienced sexual abuse.
Common feelings and healthy responses to abuse:
Guilt, Shame, Self-Blame:
No one deserves to be abused. If you have been, take time several times a day to remind yourself it was not your fault. Perhaps write it on an index card and tape it to your fridge or bathroom mirror. Being abused does not make you a bad person.You are courageous for taking a step toward your own recovery; to connect with a God who loves you, and can bring ultimate healing.
Be aware of your triggers. Certain places, relationships, and situations can bring back memories or painful emotions associated with abuse. Make an effort to become more in-tune with yourself,and what makes you feel unsafe.
Journaling when you feel angry or triggered by certain situations or events is a therapeutic and healthy way to work through intense emotions. Exploring feelings of anger or rage within a safe counseling environment is equally helpful and important. Remember, although these feelings may be difficult to handle, that does not mean they are unnatural. You can achieve great healing by establishing a safe and trusting Christian counseling relationship. Counseling will help you understand these feelings and work through them.
Loss of Control:
When you are abused, your power is taken from you. A counselor cannot impart power, but they can help people explore and embrace the power they have within them. Many clients find the choices and support they receive during counseling help them find their way through their hurt. This process helps bring a sense of control back into an abuse victim’s life.
Re-Experiencing the Trauma:
The curse of trauma is that it does not end with the incident. Emotions and memories of abuse often revisit victims even after the abuse has stopped.
Although these responses are scary, they are normal and can be dealt with through therapeutic treatment. For example, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy targets the intrusive thoughts that disturb your emotions and behavior after trauma.
Abuse sufferers often become hypervigilant, constantly on the alert for unseen threats. This is a normal physiological reaction to trauma. Learning how to moderate your anxiety and practice “self-care” (taking time for yourself, relaxing activities, etc.) is another tool therapy offers. Controlled breathing, as well as progressive muscle relaxation, can soothe clients going through heightened arousal.
Self-Image and Views of the World:
When we are sinned against by others, especially in the form of abuse, it is common to ask questions like, “Why would God allow this?” Or, for victims to believe things such as, “If I wouldn’t have been so stupid, this wouldn’t have happened.” Learning to trust again and find peace in these questions will take time. Asking these types of questions and exploring feelings are the first steps toward a better understanding of yourself after trauma.
Talking About the Attack vs. Keeping the Secret:
Some victims may feel compelled to share about their abuse with others while some may keep it hidden because of shame or fear. It is okay to choose not to tell or to ask for a supportive person, such as a counselor, to help you work through your abuse. Surrounding yourself with supportive people will help you avoid keeping the hurt inside. Open up at your own pace.
Healing takes time.Sexual trauma creates a variety of concerns, even when you’ve moved on to a loving, romantic relationship. Couples counseling helps abuse victims and their supportive partners learn how to tailor the relationship to their particular needs.
What is the value of Christian counseling?
We live in a broken culture that does not always know how to respond to tragedy. Numbing our pain in different ways, not asking for help, or avoiding difficult subjects leads to a life of silence, shame, and avoidance. This traps victims in a life void of joy and the true purpose God has waiting for them. Entering into the hurt created by abuse opens the door for healing and renewal. Establishing a safe space through Christian counseling,where you can explore your feelings and work through your trauma, is a courageous step toward recovery and renewal.
Christian counselors want to help you find the comfort that comes with a better understand of yourself and God’s affection for you. Working through immense pain can feel lonely and unbearable. Find someone who will work with you as you work toward healing and wholeness in Christ.
cc: freedigitalphotos.com -“Sad Woman Sitting Alone In Room” by FrameAngel
“Beautiful Hispanic Woman With A Very Sad Expression” by Sira Anamwong
Baerg, S. (2011). Coping with Sexual Assault. Retrieved
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