PTSD and Sexual Abuse

It’s Not a Person, It’s PTSD : PTSD and Sexual Abuse

One of the things that stood out to me as I looked back at my whole healing process, was the way understanding PTSD and mental health disorders really opened the door for me to overcome the negative thoughts and feelings that followed sexual abuse. 

Understanding PTSD and how it affects you after sexual abuse can be a vital part of your own road to forgiveness and healing.

Audio version:

In case you missed the rest of the Healing From Sexual Abuse series:

What is PTSD?

PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It is a mental illness that affects people who have experienced some sort of trauma.

Often, the acronym conjures references to TV shows about military personnel who come back from combat. This is because society doesn’t always connect it to the very real people who suffer from PTSD.

I did a little research for this post, and found an article by the Mayo Clinic that provided a thorough overview of the condition. 

Mayo Clinic on PTSD

Military and first responders are definitely among those affected, but one of the other causes referenced a few times in the article was sexual violence and abuse. 

As I scrolled through the list of symptoms, I could easily relate to every one.

The categories included:

  • Intrusive Memories
  • Avoidance
  • Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood
  • Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions

PTSD ties to other conditions, like anxiety and depression. Panic attacks are a common symptom, often triggered by the intrusive memories.

The condition can last years if left untreated.

The Seriousness of PTSD

That means years of panic attacks, years of deep depression and loneliness, years of living in terror every waking moment, years of not being able to sleep. It all adds up to a mind, body, and soul so stressed and tormented that a once shining individual crumples into collapse.

PTSD can lead to thoughts of suicide. It can lead to worse.

This condition should not be taken lightly. It calls for attention and remediation.

The problem is, if you don’t recognize the condition in yourself, it goes untreated. Collapse becomes inevitable.

It’s Not a Person

So, maybe you recognize that PTSD is something you’re dealing with. How does that help you?

Well for one thing, it puts the power back in your hands. If you are stuck living in hurt and fear, you’re probably blaming all of that on your attacker.

You feel like if that person had made better choices, if they hadn’t touched you, if they hadn’t manipulated and used you, you wouldn’t feel all of the anxiety and hopelessness you’re feeling now.

You have every reason to blame this person. Your human rights were violated.

Now listen, because this is where it becomes important to make a distinction between the person and the PTSD.

That person hurt you, and is at fault for all the pain you felt while the event was happening.

However, every time since then, when you have been gripped by anguish in the memory of what happened, every time you relive the event, it is actually your own brain causing you pain.

If you are no longer caught in the cycle of abuse (and if you are stuck in it I plead with you to find a way out NOW), then your attacker holds no more power over you.

You are your own person. It is up to you to determine the way you will react to what is placed before you.

PTSD After Sexual Abuse

A Slave to the Stress Response

PTSD is caused by the body’s stress response. We are wired to release certain chemicals and hormones when we are threatened. So when our brain latches on to a threat, and our body is forced to release those chemicals over and over again, our whole makeup is altered. We become slaves to the stress response.

The only way to overcome this is to consciously recognize the response and the reaction. When you see what your body is doing, you can establish different coping mechanisms to achieve different results. You can learn your triggers and catch yourself before full panic sets in.

It takes hard work, but with time and perseverance, it becomes easier to manage.

Finding Help

This is where it is helpful to find someone you trust, whether that is a loved one or a mental health professional or both, who can help you develop coping strategies, and who can support you as you work to rewire your brain.

One resource that really helped me when I first recognized my mental health issues was the non-profit, To Write Love On Her Arms. TWLOHA first emerged from a written true story. The basis in writing was something I connected to immediately, and the more I read and learned, the more I became inspired to take steps towards my own healing.

Taking Action

Everyone’s journey is going to look different. That’s because everyone’s PTSD is going to look different. The steps you take will depend on your own situation.

For me, that involved allowing myself to truly rest. I had to clean up my relationship with food and with my body. Along with that, I had to learn how to embrace my sexuality in a positive way. I also had to learn how to navigate relationships, and how to open my heart to people and to trust.

It wasn’t until I really cleaned up my health, physically and emotionally, that I could I clearly identify my feelings as trauma related stress. It was then that I was able to let go and move on.

If you are on this journey, know that you can handle it. You will make it to a day full of healing and happiness.

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