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How to Take Care of Yourself After a Sexual Assault

Emotions/Feelings you may experience:

  • Shock, disbelief, numbness
  • Confusion, disorientation
  • Self-blame, shame, guilt
  • Fearfulness, insecurity, nervousness
  • Nightmares, flashbacks
  • Feeling differently about your body
  • Tearfulness, sadness, loss
  • Feelings of powerlessness, helplessness and/or loss of control
  • Anxiety, panic
  • Loss of trust in self and others
  • Changes in sexuality
  • Depression
  • Anger, feeling betrayed

Sexual violence may create emotional and physical health difficulties in your life. If you are able to express your feelings in a supportive, safe environment, these concerns will lessen over time.

Many survivors never disclose their abuse. Some seek support through self-help books. Some choose to become politically active to try and make a change in our society.

There is no "right" way to cope with the trauma. Remember, you did not cause the sexual assault. Sexual assault is a crime, not a shame.

Some physical reactions you may experience are:

  • Change in eating patterns (nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach pains or over-eating).
  • Disrupted sleeping (insomnia, nightmares, early morning waking).
  • Tension headaches and fatigue.
  • Possible symptoms of sexually transmitted infections (discharge, burning, itchiness).
  • General body pain (soreness, backache, bruising).
  • Older women are more likely to be injured in a sexual assault.
  • A disabled person with cerebral palsy may develop even more unclear speech or spasms; a person with diabetes may go into insulin shock; someone with epilepsy may have a seizure.

(adapted from Sexual Violence-A Handbook For Survivors and Their Supports, Peel Committee on Sexual Assault, 1997)

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Tips on Dealing with Anxiety and Stress

  • There may be times when you feel your heart start to palpitate, your breathing becomes more shallow, you may perspire and you feel like you are losing control of your emotions.
  • These are signs of anxiety, panic and stress.
  • It is OK and normal to feel any or all of these symptoms.

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Try the following tips:

  • Breathe- Deep breaths through your nose, using your abdomen to help the air flow get to your lungs, will help decrease your heart rate and panic reaction. Exhale slowly through your mouth.
  • Talk to someone who is supportive.
  • Have a hot shower or bath.
  • Pamper yourself.
  • Have a warm, soothing beverage such as herbal tea.
  • Pet your cat or dog.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Go for a walk, jog or bike ride.
  • Go to the gym.
  • Punch or yell into a pillow.
  • Throw ice cubes into the bathtub.
  • Watch an old movie.
  • Read a novel.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Pray or meditate.
  • Go to a place where you feel comfortable (your favourite room, chair, a friend's house).
  • Read affirmations or write them out (i.e. I am safe, I am not to blame, I am a good person).

(Adapted from: Bass, Ellen and Laura Davis. "The Courage to Heal: A Guide For Women Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse", Third Edition. New York: Harper&Row, 1994, pg.212)

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