I found this article and it's very educational and serves as an excellent reminder of the healing process.
The Effects of Rape
No two survivors of sexual assault react in exactly the same way, or feel the same emotions at the same time, or heal in exactly the same way. Every survivor deals with the assault in a way that addresses her particular situation. While every survivor should feel encouraged to seek a healing path that works for her or him, there are some commonalities among most, if not all, sexual assault survivors. Remember, these are not “rules” for a “normal” reaction to sexual assault, but rather some of the many emotions and experiences you may have as a survivor. It is important to know that you are not alone in your pain or experience.
Common Reactions to Sexual Assault
Emotional Shock. Initially, many survivors are in a state of shock in which they feel numb to the situation and may question their lack of emotions. Shock is the result of natural defense mechanisms in the brain that seek to protect us from severe stress and emotional overload. “Why am I so calm?” “Why can’t I cry?”
Disbelief. After a severe trauma like sexual assault occurs, it may be difficult to believe that it really happened. This is not a sign of “mental problems” but rather a common reaction to traumas of all kinds. “Did it really happen?” “Why me?”
Fear. Some survivors are fearful because of threats made by the rapist during or after the assault. Fear of society’s reaction if the rape is reported is also a fear of survivors. Given that survivors often seem to be blamed for the assault, it is not surprising that they would be fearful of social reprisals or accusations. Many fear that they won’t be believed by friends or family. Others may feel a generalized fear of all men or certain situations, because of the trauma endured during the assault. “I’m afraid of so many things—will I get pregnant, contract an STD . . . will I ever be able to be intimate again?”
Embarrassment. Talking about the rape or describing the physical details to strangers (police, medical staff, advocates, courts, etc.) can be very difficult and may produce a feeling of embarrassment for some survivors. Because sex and bodies are thought of to be private and somewhat shameful, it can be emotionally painful to recount the assault or even to inform friends and family. “What will people think?” “How can I tell a room full of strangers what happened?”
Guilt. Many times survivors internalize the myth that rape is somehow the victim’s fault. They may feel they could have prevented it if only they had fought harder or done something differently. If you knew your attacker, you may feel that you should have known he wasn’t as he appeared, or you may think you somehow provoked the rape. However, if you’d been with him on previous occasions there is no reason to suspect an assault will occur. It is vital to remember that you are not the cause of the assault, and that making it through a sexual assault with your life is nothing to feel guilty about. “I must have done something wrong. If only I . . .”
REMEMBER: YOU DID NOT “LET” THE ASSAULT HAPPEN. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT! YOU SURVIVED-- WHICH MEANS YOU DID THE RIGHT THING.
Shame. This is another common reaction to rape for much the same reasons as embarrassment—people mistakenly are taught to believe that they did something wrong and caused the rape, or that the rape has made them “bad” and suspect. “I feel so ashamed and dirty . . . I want to take showers constantly.”
Depression. Some amount of depression can be expected after any major trauma or emotionally charged event. Dealing with the memory of the assault as well as the things that follow (the police, the courts, the medical exams, etc.) can be extremely draining physically and mentally. “How am I going to go on?” “I feel so tired and hopeless.”
Anger. Many survivors experience intense feelings of rage at their attacker, friends, family, or life in general. They may be angry at the treatment they received after the rape, or because they feel powerless. While anger can be a difficult emotion to deal with , anger directed at the perpetrator can play an important role in the healing process. “I just want to kill him!” “How dare the police, courts, doctors, etc. treat me like that!”
All of the feelings above are valid and are a normal reaction to an abnormal and traumatic event. No one can tell you how long you will feel these feelings or when you should start to heal. However, if you are consumed by these feelings for a prolonged period and are suffering excessive fear, excessive anxiety, frustration, sleeplessness, an inability to concentrate, an inability to be around others, difficulty completing tasks, a loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, etc., you should seek professional help. A counselor or therapist can be very helpful for all people trying to cope with and process a traumatic event and therapy is essential for anyone having difficulty dealing with trauma.
REMEMBER: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ASKING FOR HELP. SEXUAL ASSAULT IS AN UNTHINKABLE ACT THAT IS VERY HARD TO LEARN TO LIVE WITH. YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO THROUGH IT ALONE. PLEASE ASK FOR HELP AND ACCEPT HELP FROM PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT YOU AND FROM PEOPLE WHO ARE PROFESSIONALS IN DEALING WITH SEXUAL ASSAULT.
Rape Trauma Syndrome
The cluster of symptoms which sexual assault victims describe has been defined as “rape trauma syndrome.” This syndrome has two stages, the immediate/acute phase and the long-term process. Rape trauma syndrome includes physical, emotional, and behavioral stress reactions that result from facing a life-threatening, violent, and/or traumatic event.
Stage One: The Acute Phase or Disorganization
The Immediate Impact Reaction. The two main styles of emotional response immediately following the assault are called expressed and controlled. In the expressed style emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger are displayed whereas in the controlled style, emotional shock and numbness masks the feelings of the survivor.
Physical Reactions. Survivors experience a wide range of physical symptoms including: sleep pattern disturbances (such as insomnia and nightmares), eating pattern disturbances (usually a marked decrease in appetite and stomach pains), and symptoms specific to the parts of the body that were the focus of the attack. Survivors may also feel like sleeping all the time, eating all the time, etc. Physical symptoms vary according to each person. If you are doing things you never used to do, then it is probably related to the assault.
Emotional Reactions. During this time survivors are prone to mood swings due to the intensity and wide range of emotions they feel. These include humiliation, degradation, fear, embarrassment, anger, revenge, and shame. A survivor may go over the assault again and again in her thoughts trying to make sense of what happened, or she may try to block it out altogether. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO FEEL ALL OF THESE FEELINGS! THAT IS ESSENTIAL TO THE HEALING PROCESS.
Stage Two: The Long-term Process of Reorganization
Changes in Lifestyle. A sexual assault disturbs the survivor’s normal routine of living and many aspects of one’s life. There is often a strong need to get away; many survivors change residences after the assault, although some may only change their telephone number. Your priority should be to feel safe. Do whatever you need to do to get back those feelings of security and safety. Get a guard dog, install extra outside lights, leave interior lights on, get an alarm system, have someone escort you to your car whenever you want, invite friends or family members to sleep over, buy self-defense products like mace, hand held alarms, etc. It is not silly to want to protect yourself. Do what makes you feel comfortable and safe.
Dreams and Nightmares. These symptoms occur both during the acute phase and the long-term process. Two types of nightmares are reported most frequently: dreams of being in a similar situation to the rape and unable to get away and later on dreams in which the survivor is able to assert control. These latter dreams may consist of the survivor doing violence to other people. As unpleasant as nightmares are, they are a primary way in which our minds process events that have happened. Even if you try to shut out the event, your mind will not let you. Just remember the nightmares will gradually fade and eventually cease. As you heal emotionally and physically the nightmares will lessen, and the stronger you feel, the less frightening your nightmares will seem. Don’t be afraid to talk about your nightmares with your therapist of friends and family. Talking about them will make them less powerful and scary.
Phobias. Fears and phobias are common psychological defenses. Some survivors may develop a fear of crowds, of being alone, of having sex, or they may feel a general paranoia.
REMEMBER: IF THESE FEARS BEGIN TO CONTROL YOUR LIFE YOU NEED TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP.
Information adapted from “You are Not Alone” compiled by Women’s Resource Center staff.