As unfortunate as it is to say, institutional sexual abuse is more common in America than it should be. In the past few years alone, high-profile organizations, including U.S.A. Gymnastics and the Boy Scouts of America, have dealt with allegations of institutional sexual abuse. Of course, it isn’t just the big organizations that can engage in abusive behavior; this type of trauma can happen on much smaller scales, and with local groups, as well.
If you have been the victim of sexual abuse, you likely experience ongoing personal strife due to the trauma. It is important to know that what you are feeling is perfectly normal under the circumstances and that there are things you can do to help feel more like yourself again.
Common Emotions Experienced After Sexual Abuse
You’ve undoubtedly been feeling a whirlwind of emotion in the wake of the trauma of sexual abuse. While some of these emotions may seem expected, others may surprise you. You might be feeling:
- Sadness – In the wake of a traumatic experience, it is perfectly natural to feel sad over the harm that has come to you. It is important to take the time to acknowledge that sadness so that you can work through it. Forcing a smile and pushing your emotions aside will only prolong their negative impact.
- Shame – Many victims mistakenly believe that the abuse was somehow their fault. We can assure you this is not the case. Your abuser made the decision to do what they did, and there was nothing you could do to change that.
- Anger – Anger at your abuser is another trauma response that is completely natural. This person did harm to you, so it is understandable that you might want to enact revenge or otherwise see that person punished. You always have legal options available to you if you wish to press criminal or civil charges against your abuser and the institution he or she represents.
- Anxiety – After a traumatic experience like sexual abuse, it is common to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. It is normal to feel anxious after trauma, but if your anxiety is so crippling that it interferes dramatically with your daily life, you may wish to seek the assistance of a mental health professional. Look for a therapist with experience working with sexual abuse trauma victims.
- Apathy – You might also find yourself not feeling much at all, and this is normal too. Following a traumatic experience, your brain and emotions may shut down to some extent in an effort to avoid processing the trauma. Your brain has this defense mechanism to protect itself in situations like this. However, the emotions will creep back in eventually, so it is important to do your best to work through the trauma, so you can move on with your life.
Of course, there are many other emotions you might be feeling in addition to the few listed here. Fortunately, there are ways you can help yourself along the road to recovery.
Help for Processing Trauma
Sharing your experience with others can help remind you that you are not alone. Look for support groups in your area, or ask a mental health professional for a recommendation. If you are seeing a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, that individual may even provide group sessions where you can meet others in similar situations. By talking about your experience or simply listening to others as they share theirs, you’ll gain insights that can help you get through the aftermath of the sexual trauma.
Taking up a hobby is a great way to take your mind off things and help you get back in touch with yourself. Creative pastimes like painting or writing can be especially effective, as can physical practices like running or yoga. Experiment with different activities to find something you truly enjoy.
If you prefer to take more direct action, bringing a lawsuit against your abuser and their institution can help to prevent others from having to go through the same trauma you did. It can also help to bring you closure so that you can begin to move forward. We understand this is a sensitive situation and we’ll do everything in our power to bring justice to your case when you’re ready.