Sexual Assault, Abuse and Mental Health
Today on our collaborative blog, we have a guest post from PMVC member Natasha Huff. In this post, Natasha discusses the relationship between sexual assault, abuse and mental health.
We would like to thank Natasha for her thoughtful discussion of sexual violence and for contributing to the Psychotherapy Matters community.
What Is Sexual Abuse & Assault?
Shame, guilt, embarrassment, sadness, disgust, fear, mistrust, anger, powerlessness and anxiety are only a few of the countless emotions that sexually abused and assaulted survivors are made to live with.
Sexual abuse and assault both involve any unwanted sexual acts that are forced upon an individual. Let’s take in the word “forced”. This means a sexual act was committed against a person’s consent. The concept of consent has been widely discussed, argued, and debated, often leaving many survivors feeling confused and invalidated. Yes, you read that right – most survivors are questioned by others, specifically, the authorities, about the validity of their abuse, their recollection of events, and their character and behaviour.
This begs the question: Why, of all people, is the survivor the one left feeling ashamed and dehumanized? Many of us know the majority of sexual assault and abuse survivors are female. Statistically, 1-in-3 women will experience sexual abuse in their lifetime. Yet, people of all genders who survive such traumatic events are often left to hide in the shadows, alone, with a whirlwind of emotions. They are stigmatized into masking this shameful secret that most would not, and often never do, dare to share with anyone. Survivors are terrified of the potential repercussions and labels that come along with sharing one’s story: How would others now see me? What does this new label say about me? Am I now weak? Damaged? Dirty or used? A liar, or an attention seeker?
The Effects of Sexual Abuse and Assault on Mental Health
Along with these fearful thoughts, survivors also suffer from a multitude of mental health disorders, including (but not limited to) depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which affect them daily.
What this looks like is someone regularly struggling with nightmares, flashbacks, feeling numb, emotion dysregulation, insecure attachments, poor self-image, and low self-esteem. Survivors mainly live in a world that protects the aggressor/abuser/perpetrator, thereby rendering their suffering as invalid yet inescapable.
Psychotherapy For Sexual Abuse and Assault Survivors
So how, as a society, can we support sexual violence survivors? Believe their experiences; remove their self-blame, validate their emotional experiences, and honour their recovery.
Therapy is a safe place for victims of sexual violence to openly express their emotions in a non-judgmental environment. Psychotherapy and trauma-informed cognitive-behavioural therapy can help individuals manage these difficult emotions in a healthier way. It is important to know that healing from sexual violence does not mean forgetting the experience and never re-experiencing the symptoms associated with such trauma. Often, healing means accepting and coping with your emotions, regaining control of your life, and letting go of the guilt and shame that so often accompanies the experience of being a victim.
Narrative therapy is used to help the survivor make sense of their experience instead of having it be a chaotic miasma of emotions, sounds and images. Through building a therapeutic relationship with clients, a therapist assists the survivor in finding a sense of empowerment and authoring a new narrative.
Survivors still live with the experience but will no longer allow it to define them.
Being a victim of sexual assault or abuse often plants seeds of self-doubt within our minds and hearts – when no one believes us, we fail to believe ourselves. The false narrative that society has written, in which the victim is blamed for being assaulted, is a particularly insidious and cruel one. Too often, this leads to overwhelming mental strife. Therapeutic intervention, however, can mitigate the secondary damage caused by such trauma, and give victims a chance to crush undeserved shame beneath their heel.
Here’s how you can find Natasha Huff
Helping to Reconnect Counselling Services is a relatively new counselling practice that began in September 2016. The practice is comprised of 11 counsellors with varying qualifications and specialties. Our mission is to provide counselling services that are personable and welcoming to everyone, with counsellors that are approachable and see clients as fellow human beings they can relate to in under to understand their experiences. We offer online counselling services across Ontario and provide in-person services in Mississauga, Oakville and Caledon. Feel free to connect with us through our social media accounts, website, or text or call us at 416-985-0925.
Psychotherapy Matters Profile: Natasha Huff
The views expressed in these blogs are the author’s own and not necessarily reflective of those of Psychotherapy Matters. Information provided here and anywhere else on PsychotherapyMatters.com is for learning purposes only and should not be used to guide the treatment of clients/patients. Copyright © 2020 PsychotherapyMatters.com