Our society is fascinated with sexual based trauma. Just think about the popularity of TV shows like Law and Order. There is always celebration when they catch the perpetrator. The show ends and for us, that is the end of the story. For the victim, however, the story is just beginning. A powerful, invasive, and harmful darkness now marks their life. If we really took the time to consider the devastating impact the abuse had on the victim, I don’t think we would sleep well after watching the show.
What It Is
This type of sexual abuse is overt, scary, often aggressive, and against your will. You know you didn’t want it. After the incident, you have to deal with feelings of being unsafe, out of control, etc.
What Happens in the Brain
A sexually based traumatic event causes the brain to be flooded with adrenaline, thus creating deep neurological pathways. These pathways affect everything about how we think, feel, react, trust, understand and so much more. For example, if a rape happened outside of McDonalds, it might take the victim years before they could be in proximity to the restaurant without having severe anxiety. It carves pathways.
Your body reacts to stimuli whether you want it to or not. With sexual abuse, the victim carries strong feelings of betrayal by their body. Often, people are able to talk about the pain, horror, and disgust of the experience. Rarely do people deal with the pleasure that their body felt. This can be a difficult area to process, as the body and the mind seem disconnected.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
These new carved pathways cause PTSD symptoms that play out in subtle ways.
- Not allowing people to get emotionally close, even a spouse
- Feeling physically numb
- Not able to become sexually aroused when appropriate, or becoming sexually aroused when not appropriate
- Having anxiety, anger, fear, or strong aversions to sex
- Feelings of hatred towards the body
When violence is involved in sexual abuse, the meaning of sex often changes. For example, a woman is assaulted in her late teenage years and feels like she has emotionally dealt with the abuse. However, when she gets married she cannot be aroused, she is not physically interested in her husband, and she avoids sex. In a basic level, she feels uncomfortable exposing herself. If something comes too close to what happened during the abuse, the pathways created during the trauma trigger her body with adrenaline and a “fight or flight” reaction. If there is any hint of pressure – even from her loving husband – to have sex, she reacts with a flood of emotion that she does not understand.
Sometimes, the anxiety over the situation causes more pain than the incident. At times, the event of the trauma revisits the victim in nightmares or with substantial fears. Thoughts of, “My room will never be safe again,” or “Men are not safe, even my spouse.” This shows the impact of the trauma that took place. This is why it is so important to recognize that dealing with an emotional and physical wound is difficult, and most often, we need help to heal from it.
Untangling the Brain
Healing from overt sexual abuse is difficult as it presents symptoms of Post traumatic Stress disorder. Christian Counseling helps. Sexual abuse is not something that you simply “get over it,” and move on with your life. Your brain doesn’t let you. Healing requires processing what happened and understanding it outside of the trauma. Imagine this as a tangle of yarn, where all of your emotions, thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations got tangled up into a huge mess. In order to sort out the tangle, you have to work at it from a space that is calm, grounded, clear and safe. It takes patience and a lot of work to move on and untangle what took place during the abuse. Quality Christian counseling can be especially powerful for working through sexual abuse.
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