According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the scope of molestation and sexual trauma is widespread.
- 1 in every 6 American women experienced an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
- 1 in 33 of American men experienced an attempted or completed rape in his lifetime.
- From 2009 to 2013, Child Protective Services agencies across the nation indicated that 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse.
Yet, most people don’t seek therapy because they were molested or sexually assaulted.
In fact, they generally feel like they’ve been living with the memory for such a long time that they’ve learned how to cope. They maintain that it’s “not a big deal.” Or claim they just don’t want to talk about it.
Typically, they don’t want to dig up all the memories or deal with emotions they consider part of the past. Men are especially resistant.
Often, sexual assault survivors first seek therapy for alcohol or chemical dependence, depression, or anxiety. Or they want how to work out relationship problems instead.
However, as I start working with them, they often mention, “Oh yeah, and I was molested, too.”
Sexual Trauma Matters
Sexual trauma survivors are often not aware that what they’re experiencing in their lives and relationships is actually a series of symptoms born of that sexual trauma. Thus, when a survivor says, “that was a long time ago,” or “I grew up and just moved on,” or “it just happened and it’s over,” that’s not really all there is to it.
While they really believe that their wives just don’t understand them, that other people are victimizing them, or that they’re just anxious all the time, it is the molestation or assault trauma that is at the root of their problems.
They’re convinced that their life is not working, but they don’t understand why.
This can manifest in emotional dysregulation.
What Is Emotional Dysregulation?
Emotional dysregulation is demonstrated by a person’s tendency to become emotional and upset by small things. This can make them seem mentally unstable to those around them.
For people with emotional dysregulation, everything is a big deal. There’s a lot of crying. And there are a lot of extreme negative emotions.
The struggling person may pick a fight in the middle of dinner or on an otherwise enjoyable outing. This tendency, of course, is very detrimental to them, as other people will become frustrated or leave them alone altogether.
But again, all this could be a response to the sexual trauma they endured and must be approached as such.
Why is this happening?
Molestation and Sexual Assault Trauma Are Stored in the Brain
If you are struggling this way, it’s important not to blame yourself. Essentially, there is a part of your brain that is very primitive. This area is responsible for your emotion, self- protection, and survival.
Dr. Jon Connelly, founder and creator of Rapid Resolution Therapy, noted that the primitive mind is vital in decision-making regarding our survival, emotions, and stored memory. Behavior results from the way we perceive and respond to the sensations, emotions, and thoughts. We absorb data from inside and from outside of our bodies.
The trauma you experienced is also stored in that area. The brain often becomes very sensitive and triggered by small things that remind them of the trauma in the past.
For animals, the primitive part of the brain works perfectly. If a zebra is chased by a lion, its brain goes on alert and their survival instincts kick in. The incident ends and is successfully processed by the zebra’s brain completely.
For a human sexual assault survivor, though, the situation is much different. Often, the original trauma was so overwhelming that the brain did not completely process it.
The human mind stored the unresolved traumatic memory in a different way than other memories. Therefore, despite that no current rape or assault is happening, the human primitive brain will mistake circumstances of similar situations for the previous unresolved traumatic situation and become highly emotional to prepare for an attack.
Your mind and body are stuck in that incomplete response. This can happen long after the original molestation or sexual assault incident occurred.
The Consequences of Unresolved Sexual Trauma
Unfortunately, society is of little help when it comes to the way survivors see themselves. Messages from the media and legal system indeed tend to reinforce the idea that sexual assault victims are damaged. This can become increasingly detrimental to your self-image as you try to recover.
People often live a very limited life as a result of unresolved molestation or sexual assault. Perhaps you find yourself avoiding activities or situations that might trigger memories of the traumatic event.
- Do you ask why you won’t drive at night?
- Are you frustrated that you don’t feel safe alone outside?
- Have you considered what keeps you from accepting invitations to dinner and movie?
- Or why you are highly protective of your children to the point of causing them harm?
Realize that you may not be reacting this way intentionally. Your reactions are a result of the unprocessed trauma and avoidance of very uncomfortable feelings.
For example, anger and guilt are two of the most common, lingering feelings.
A complicated and challenging aspect of molestation and sexual trauma is that victims find themselves dealing with anger issues. Survivors often struggle with deep anger and resentment toward their perpetrators.
In addition, anger may be directed at family members or authority figures who did not protect them or believe their experience.
As time passes and these angry feelings are not resolved, individuals will find themselves unable to create intimate relationships in their lives. Or they may turn to destructive habits such as alcohol, eating disorders, and other addictions.
Guilt and Shame
Struggling with guilt feelings can also be a major part of living with the aftermath of trauma. Survivors may wonder if they could have prevented those events themselves. Or they wish they would have done something different.
As these uncomfortable feelings do not get resolved, the traumatic memories continue to be stored and locked in your brain and body. Sadly, these memories are usually more powerful than what is happening right now in the present.
As a result, you re-experience the trauma whenever it is triggered. Sometimes you may remember the event, sometimes you may not. Either way, you react so strongly you wish you could change your reactions, since people on the outside often don’t understand your behavior.
How can you move on?
That is something I will be discussing in my next post, “How to Move On after Sexual Trauma with Rapid Resolution Therapy.”
If you would like more information about sexual trauma recovery, please visit my Trauma Therapy specialty page.