Updated: Jul 31, 2021
I believe going through an assault is one of the most horrific things anyone could experience. Everyone is different and will react to a trauma in various ways. However, there are a few generic things I wish someone had told me after I had been assaulted.
1. It’s normal to dissociate during the event.
In other words, it’s normal to “go somewhere else” when the trauma happens. There’s a moment for a lot of survivors when your mind realizes what’s happening, and you become immobilized during the event. Your mind, in a way, leaves your body behind as your brain desperately tries to protect itself from what is taking place.
2. Being numb afterwards is OK.
Some survivors after the assault will become emotionally numb. In your head you may say, “Oh that happened, and it’s not a big deal.” During this period, it’s common to experience crying spells while still not fully comprehending what has happened. It was traumatic, and your brain is still trying to figure it out.
3. It might not feel real.
Being numb can last days, weeks or even months. There’s no set time line. A lot of it comes from the trauma not seeming real, or feeling like it was not “that bad.” Maybe it felt like it happened to someone else, or possibly a dream. There comes a moment when most people realize, “I was assaulted.” The realization will click in your brain and the emotions can overwhelm you as it begins to sink in.
4. It’s important to admit it to yourself.
I believe it’s important to get to the point when you realize what took place is terrifying. Saying “I was assaulted” will be scary and difficult. You might choke on the words, but when you finally get them out, I believe you’ll feel a weight being lifted. Whether you admit them to yourself or to a trusted individual, admitting it is the first step to healing.
5. It was a big deal.
This is part of admitting what happened. What happened to you was a big deal, and accepting that is difficult. Once you get there, you can start to move on.
6. Healing can be roller coaster.
It’s perfectly normal to feel yourself doing well for awhile. You’ll think you’re over it, and then the bad days will come again. This is OK. It’s normal. There’s no set calendar for healing from trauma, and it may come in bits and pieces. Your brain wants to protect you, and when you may think you’ve felt all of it, it might sneak up on you again.
7. You may re-experience the trauma.
This isn’t just limited to flashbacks. You might have nightmares. You might feel panicked about situations that didn’t bother you before. All of these things are normal and do not mean you are weak.
8. Talking about it can help.
Being assaulted is difficult, but there’s something I’ve found to be just as difficult — talking about it. Finding a trusted individual to talk to can be really helpful This person could be family, a friend or a professional. There’s no rush, and you don’t need to talk about it until you feel ready. Maybe you may never feel ready, and that’s OK. For me, talking about it forced me to admit it’s real, and in my experience, it really did feel like a weight had been lifted. Don't force yourself to talk about it though because that could be re-traumatizing. There is no rule book and no coping mechanism that works for everyone.
9. Feelings of shame and self-blame are normal.
Most survivors blame themselves. Though there’s nothing that can really fix this, it’s important to try and remember it’s not your fault. What another person did to you is not your fault. They should feel ashamed, not you.
10. Struggling does not mean you’re weak.
The fact you survived such an event means the exact opposite. You are strong, no matter how you feel. It is OK to ask for help.
11. You don’t have to try and be the person you were before.
In my experience, it’ll only frustrate and exhaust you. It’s OK if your trauma has changed you.
Everyone is different, and everything said here might not apply in all situations. Just know that whatever you feel is valid. There’s no set rule book for dealing with a trauma. There’s no quick fix. It’ll be hard, but try and remember you survived the trauma. You can survive the healing.