The Stages of Sexual Trauma: Everything You Need to Know

Woman with sexual trauma

April 29, 2021

Recovering from sexual trauma can be incredibly hard.

It can take time for you to feel like yourself again and even longer for you to be able to rid yourself of the fear your trauma has caused. But, it’s not impossible.

Unfortunately, there are countless stories of sexual trauma, but they do show that recovery is possible. You don’t have to live the rest of your life dictated by this experience, and there is always hope. One of the first things to recovery is simply understanding the feelings you might be having.

To help you learn more, we’ve put together a look at some of the different stages of emotions after a sexual trauma and how to cope with them.

What to Know About the Stages of Sexual Trauma

Before getting into the emotional stages you might feel after your experience, let’s take a look more at sexual trauma as a whole. A simple sexual trauma definition would be the response to a sexual assault, and it can involve both physical and mental reactions. For example, you might feel anxious, which would be a mental reaction, or you may experience hair loss, which would be a physical reaction triggered by your stress.

Everyone’s sexual trauma symptoms are different and no response is wrong. You’re a unique person and your response will be unique, too.

However, there are some emotions you might experience that are more common. These don’t follow any specific order and you may feel these at any time during the aftermath of your assault and during your sexual trauma recovery. Just remember that it’s normal to struggle and always ask for help when you need to.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the stages so that you can become more trauma-informed and cope with your emotions.

Guilt and Shame

One of the most common symptoms of sexual abuse trauma is guilt and feelings of shame. Whether thisWoman with sexual trauma comes from an external source, such as someone telling you to stay quiet because of what others may say, or is simply how you’re feeling, you need to know that there is nothing to be ashamed of. You did not do this and you are not at fault in any way.

If you find yourself thinking of all the ways you could have prevented it, what others might think, or feeling ashamed it happened to you, know that that’s normal. But, that doesn’t mean they’re valid thoughts – absolutely not! Part of your sexual trauma therapy will involve preventing these thoughts and helping you realize you’re not to blame and you have done nothing wrong.

Anger Towards Yourself

Along with guilt and shame often comes anger. You might feel angry at yourself that this happened to you, and turn your feelings against yourself. You might even start to blame yourself and feel worthy of being punished.

Here, you need to really understand that you’re not to blame. Again, you’re a victim here and you did absolutely nothing wrong. You didn’t intend to be assaulted.

When it comes to how to heal from sexual trauma, dealing with this anger is essential. Shifting your point of blame from yourself to the perpetrator is crucial to recovery, and not allowing yourself to internalize your anger and become nothing but rage. Again, sexual trauma therapy will help with, as will talking to someone you trust to help you find a new perspective and rationalize your feelings.

Grieving and Mourning

Part of your recovery will involve a period of grieving and mourning. While these might be uncomfortable feelings and you’ll want to rush through them, it’s important you don’t. The thing with feelings is that they need to be felt, and they won’t go away until they are!

You might be grieving for the loss of childhood, the loss of innocence, the loss of feeling safe or whatever else has shifted after the abuse. Feel this. You’ll be unpacking a lot of emotions and letting your body and mind react as they should, which is a good thing.

No one is going to feel absolutely fine after trauma and we can’t stress enough how important it is to let yourself grieve. If you’re struggling to cope with the emotions, make sure to talk to someone. Having a support system to help you mourn and let you fall back a little is important during this time.

Anxiety and Emptiness

Once you’ve worked through all of those intense, negative feelings, you probably won’t feel instantly okay. That’s normal. In fact, you may never feel 100% okay, but you’ll rebuild your life and learn to live, love, and trust again.

However, before you get there you may feel a sense of fear and emptiness. You’ve had all of these feelings to process and now they’re gone, what do you do? This is when you learn to fill that space within you with good things and happiness.

You’ll work on building new relationships or working on those you have, finding things to fill your days that bring you joy, and discovering your independence. It’s important you push yourself at this time to do things and not succumb to anxiety and retrain your negative thought patterns into positive ones. Small daily goals can help with this, and a bigger plan with larger goals will give you something to focus on and work towards, filling that empty space.

Make Sure You Have Sexual Trauma Therapy

Sexual trauma is a complex response to a situation that not everyone will understand, and you’re going to need help to work through it. That’s exactly why we’re here; you’re not alone!

Our team at Be Well Therapy Group offer therapy for survivors of sexual abuse and assault, helping you to go through your own stages on your road to recovery. If you would like help, be sure to reach out today. We’re understanding, compassionate, and want to help you to reclaim your life.

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