People who experience sexual abuse, assault or rape are negatively impacted by this trauma in multiple ways. It affects not only their mental health and emotional well being but also their ability to safe and secure in their relationships. Sexual trauma can change a person forever but with treatment it is possible to repair some of their issues so that they can learn to develop close connections with others.
Sexual trauma can come in many forms and can have a different impact depending on the individual encounter. Those who were repeatedly abused for years may have trouble with intimacy because of their fears of violence. They may find it hard to put themselves in the vulnerable position of being in a relationship because of their anxieties.
Abuse can damage confidence and feelings of worthiness to be loved. These negative feelings can be pervasive and cause the victim to isolate themselves because they fear rejection. Working with a therapist or receiving treatment can help victims of sexual trauma overcome their obstacles to finding intimacy.
The Impact of Abuse and Trauma
When someone is sexually abused, especially as a young child, they may carry a lot of shame about the experience. They may have kept the abuse a secret for a long time and developed the belief at a young age that sex and intimacy are wrong. These feelings can be pervasive and carry on into adulthood when they begin getting involved in close relationships.
They may feel unloved or unworthy of love, feeling that no one will ever accept them and treat them well. They might have an intense fear of rejection and even find it difficult to be touched because it causes them to relive memories of abuse. This is especially the case when the person was abused by a close relative which can cause them to have more sexual problems as an adult.
Sexual trauma and abuse can cause the victim to completely avoid sex and sexual thoughts even when they are in a relationship. They may make excuses about physical intimacy and find ways to avoid it as much as possible. Sexual experiences can bring up too many negative feelings and it becomes easier to cope with the anxiety through avoidance.
Dating after a Traumatic Experience
It can be challenging for victims of sexual trauma to go through the different aspects of dating whether they experienced their abuse as a child or later on in adulthood. They might even avoid dating or rarely put themselves in romantic situations because of their feelings about it. Victims may have a lot of guilt and self-blame that interferes with their ability to feel comfortable in possibly intimate relationships.
Dating and sexual situations can bring up feelings of humiliation, exploitation, danger, secretiveness and shame for victims. Even emotional closeness can become frightening and uncomfortable for a survivor who may fear that they will be betrayed or hurt again. Fears and memories of sexual assault can be triggered by many different aspects of dating even if they feel they can trust their current partner.
It can take a lot of work to get through dealing with some of the associations that a survivor has with sexual and physically intimate experiences. It is important for their partner to be aware of their past and have an understanding of their triggers so that they can help prevent the person from feeling uncomfortable, afraid or ashamed.
Treatment and Recovery
Although many sexual trauma victims may fear relationships, a positive and close connection with an intimate partner that they trust can ultimately be healing. Working with a therapist and talking through the experiences they have while dating can help them better understand why they have certain triggers and what they can do when difficult emotions come up. Their therapist can help them work on strategies to get through their fears of intimacy and even work with their partner to maintain the relationship.
The more a survivor of sexual abuse understands about their own trauma, the better they will be able to cope with their issues and discuss them with their partner. Going through the process of a relationship and confronting the challenges head on can allow them to overcome the fear and anxiety that prevented them from dating in the past. Developing trust and security in a close partner again may take a long time but it is possible to have healthy and strong relationships again.
Finding treatment or an individual therapist can be one of the best ways to work through sexual trauma. Finding a partner who understands your past and is willing to help you work through your issues can be one of most positive ways to overcome intimacy fears. Recovery from abuse and trauma is possible with time and patience and most importantly, the right resources.