Shock and Disbelief:
Immediately after an assault, many people are in a state of shock. Some will act as if nothing has happened, trying to make life seem normal. Others find themselves in daze or have difficulty focusing.
There may also be periods when a person is preoccupied with thoughts and feelings about the assault. The person may have unwanted memories, flashbacks or nightmares. There may be times of re-experiencing some of the sensations and feelings that happened during the assault.
Difficulty Controlling Emotions:
While some experience an overwhelming amount of emotions immediately after an assault, others find that days, months or even years may pass before feelings surface. Emotions can change rapidly. Sometimes they start crying uncontrollably or laughing nervously.
Self-blame and or Shame:
Many survivors are blamed by individuals they tell about the incident. These reactions are fueled by society’s myths about abuse and assault. Survivors may also feel that the rape/abuse/ assault was their fault or that they could have done something to prevent it. These feelings can make it difficult to get help, as a person may feel that others won’t believe them or will judge them. No one deserves to be assaulted, and being assaulted does not make you a bad person.
Difficulty in Relationships:
Sexual assault and or abuse impacts a person’s ability to trust others. People may feel alone in their experience and that no one can understand. Withdrawing from others or changes in relationships are common. People who have been assaulted may feel irritable or angry with the people in their lives. Sexual intimacy may be difficult and could bring up painful memories or a fear of losing control.
Concern for the Assailant:
Some survivors express concern about what will happen to the assailant if the attack is reported or prosecuted. Others express a concern that an assailant is sick or ill and needs psychiatric care more than prison. It is human to show concern for others, especially those who are troubled, destructive, and confused. Some of these attitudes may be the result of the survivor’s effort to understand what happened, particularly if there was a previous relationship.
Emotional or Psychological Effects:
Many emotions or changes in feelings may occur over time. Some of these may include but not be limited to:
- Hopelessness or Powerlessness
- Loneliness or Isolation
- Numb, detached or empty
- Impaired memory
- Loss of appetite
- Thoughts of suicide and death
- Substance abuse
- Loss of control
- Feeling that others can tell that they have been sexually assaulted just by looking at them