If you or someone you care about has experienced an unhealthy relationship, violence of any kind, or a sexual assault, it may be helpful to understand some of the common responses to these experiences and ways of healing. Whether you consider yourself a survivor or not, this information may still be helpful.
You may worry that your life will never be the same. While such experiences are rarely forgotten, you can and will regain happiness by healing from painful feelings, memories, and thoughts. The process of recovery can take time while you work through conflicting feelings and emotions.
- Shame or guilt. You may be blaming yourself, wondering “What did I do wrong?” or “I shouldn’t have dated him/her.” You may feel guilty about how your experience has impacted those you care about. These feelings can be made worse because society often blames the victim.
- Withdrawal from friends and loved ones. You may feel that no one else can understand your experience, and so avoid spending time or talking with loved ones about it. Feelings of shame may increase your desire to be alone.
- Trouble trusting others. Being in a hurtful relationship or being assaulted can shatter your trust in all relationships. You may find it hard to trust anyone afterward, even those you trusted before. Engaging in new, healthy romantic relationships may feel impossible.
- Depression or low self-esteem. Feelings of powerlessness and loss of control are common reactions. If you are feeling this way, it can contribute to depression or low self-esteem, especially when combined with feelings of shame and guilt.
- Changes in sexual desire or functioning. Even if you have not been hurt sexually, you may find it difficult to engage in any sexual activity, or you may find yourself engaging in more or different types of sexual activity than usual. These changes may be a response to painful feelings and memories that have not yet healed.
- Anger. You may find that you are increasingly angry with yourself or with others, even loved ones. Alternatively, you may find yourself struggling to feel anger at all.
- Disruptive memories or feelings. You may experience flashbacks, which are unexpected painful memories, feelings, or thoughts about a traumatic experience that “stop you in your tracks.” In addition, you may worry about being hurt again when beginning new relationships. These feelings can influence your ability to be vulnerable and open with others.
You do not have go through recovery alone.
Although your family and friends can offer valuable support, you may find it helpful to connect with a professional counselor or a group of others with similar experiences during their recovery process. Some good resources for professional support include:
- Bentley Counseling Center (781.891.2274 for support, counseling and referral)
- Fenway Community Health for LGBTQ survivors (for counseling and information)
- Loveisrespect.org (online chat and toll-free hotline)
- Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC)
- Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)
Although every situation is unique, recovery begins when you are ready to address your feelings. This can begin right away or many years later. There is no “right” time to begin the recovery process.
The Healing Process
- Healing shame and guilt. Knowing that this is not your fault is a crucial step. No matter what others or society tells you, you are never responsible for being hurt.
- Building strong, supportive relationships. Part of recovery involves fostering healthy and emotionally supportive relationships. You may find that relationships change as you recover, usually for the better as you let healthy, open, and supportive relationships thrive and let go of unhealthy relationships.
- Regaining strong self-esteem. You may find pride in having survived — and recovered. During recovery, you will learn new skills and build on existing strengths.
- Engaging in enjoyable and healthy sexuality. As feelings and memories become less painful, you will regain a sense of enjoyment and control over your sexuality, especially as you let go of unhealthy relationships and foster new, healthy ones.
- Learning to trust others. As you learn to trust and honor yourself, you will find it easier to trust others and develop healthy relationships with friends and romantic partners.
- Directing healthy anger. Anger is a healthy response to being hurt, assaulted or abused. Allowing yourself to feel angry will help you recover. As a way to cope with anger, you may find it helpful to engage in violence prevention or recovery efforts in your community.
- Healing from any traumatic memories. If you have memories that are disturbing to you or interfering with your life, speaking with a professional counselor can help. When you have worked through your most painful memories, you are able to view them as a part of your history that has changed you but no longer defines or limits you.
Bentley is a caring community. Help is available.