Coping with reminders of trauma when sexual assault and
harassment stories dominate in media
Megan Hennessey, LMSW, Clinical Services Supervisor
Center for Women in Transition
Since early October it has been impossible to listen to the news, view one’s social media feed or even talk with friends without hearing about another breaking headline or exposé about how another powerful man in Hollywood, sports, politics, etc. has sexually abused and/or harassed a person or has historical pattern of sexually abusive behavior. An increase of people feeling safe, empowered and emboldened by other people’s similar disclosures have led to a time where there are an unprecedented amount of disclosures of sexual abuse and harassment from celebrities, anonymous sources and friends of social media with the #metoo hashtag.
Many survivors of sexual abuse have identified that seeing these brave people come forward has made them feel less alone. They certainly aren’t alone. According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, 1 out of every 6 American women and 1 out of every 33 men have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, and this statistic does not include other kinds of sexual violence or sexual harassment.
Hearing these stories can also serve as reminders of one’s own abuse, which can come with varying levels of difficulty and challenges. Trauma reminders can make people, especially those who are experiencing levels of post-traumatic stress, feel stressed, anxious or even as terrified as they did during the original traumatic event(s).
If you are experiencing any difficulty with reminders of your own sexual abuse, please consider the following:
Your story is yours
You are under no obligation or time table to share your story with your social media friends if you don’t want to and if it doesn’t add to your own mental health and well-being. Many CWIT clients have shared feelings of guilt for not posting their own #metoo status on social media, or not being a “good survivor”. Telling more people about what happened to you can possibly be healing, bring closure, help you feel empowered, and help people understand how personal and pervasive this issue is. But only you get to decide when and with whom you would like to share and if the answers to these questions aren’t “right now” and “with every one of my social media connections”, that’s okay.
Take care of your body
The stress response that often happens when people are reminded of traumatic events in their life can disrupt their nervous system. Focus on calming your body down with relaxation techniques like deep breathing or stretching. Exercise also helps release the buildup of stress in your body and encourages deep breathing, so you can also try going for a brisk walk.
If a reminder sets you into a flashback, makes you feel like you’re not in the present time or not in your own body, you can ground yourself by getting in touch with your five senses. List five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
Reach out to people you trust
You don’t necessarily need to go into detail about the traumatic event you’re remembering to gain the benefits of social support. Consider letting a friend or family member know you’re having a difficult time, and what they could do to help you. Include the Center for Women in Transition staff in the list of people to whom you could reach out.
This blog is not exhaustive and not meant to take the place of speaking with a licensed mental health professional. If you’re interested in learning coping skills or discussing any of the above in more detail, please reach out to the Center for Women in Transition at 800-848-5991 and ask for a referral for trauma therapy. All services at the Center for Women in Transition are available to Allegan and Ottawa County residents free of charge.