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Trauma

What is Victim Blaming?

Victim blaming occurs when an individual questions a person’s experience, such as their actions and how they could have prevented sexual violence. Examples of victim blaming include “what were you wearing,” “why didn’t you say anything earlier,” or “you were sending mixed signals.” Victim blaming is implying that a person deserved what occurred to them, which is not okay. The reality of sexual violence is that it occurs because someone chose to take advantage and cause harm. Victim blaming discourages survivors to speak out about their experiences. Victim blaming allows perpetrators to get away with their actions. It is important to stand up to victim blaming comments. Show your support to survivors by stating that you believe them. You validate their experience and empower that individual. 

 

 RAINN provided important statistics highlighting sexual violence. 

  • Someone is sexually assaulted in America every 68 seconds. 
  • 1 out of 6 women have been the victim of attempted or completed rape. 
  • 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male. 
  • Those in Indigenous communities are twice as likely to experience rape/ sexual assault compared to all races. 
  • Sexual violence occurs in the military and often goes unreported. 
  • Sexual violence affects thousands of prisoners across the country. 

For more information, please see RAINN.org

Below I have attached a great video that provides more information and scenarios to understand victim blaming. 

 


Written by Denisse Ochoa, BA Sociology Candidate at University of Wisconsin-Parkside, ZCenter Outreach Intern 

ZCenter aims to end sexual violence, mobilize and educate the public, and support survivors of sexual assault. Our blog addresses issues related to ending oppression and violence, since all oppression and violence are intersectional with sexual violence. All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email info@zcenter.org.

 

Stress and Anxiety

Identifying stress and anxiety can help you find the necessary tools needed to stay healthy. Stress is caused by an external trigger while anxiety is the persistence of worries. Stress and anxiety are normal responses from the body to danger. The cause of stress is in response to a recognized threat. Anxiety may not always have an identifiable trigger. While stress is short-term, anxiety is a long-term experience. Sometimes stress can turn into anxiety. Stress is the body’s reaction to a threat. Anxiety is the body’s response to stress. I have attached a great chart created by Georgia Hope that provides the similarities and difference between anxiety and stress. 

Ways to help cope with stress and anxiety are: journaling, downloading relaxation apps, sticking to a regular sleep schedule, avoiding drinking caffeine, and reaching out to family or friends. Journaling can help you not only express your feelings but can help you identify when you are feeling stress or anxiety. There are great applications to help guide you to relaxation. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule can help you tackle stress. If you don’t get a good night’s sleep you are more irritable and less patient. That being said, most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Avoiding caffeine is important because when you drink caffeine you elevate your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in the body. Lastly, reach out to your family and friends. A strong support system is important as they can reduce our stress and uplift our moods. You should seek out help if you are having difficulty doing normal daily activities. 

 

For more information on stress and anxiety, please see the following resources:


 

Written by Denisse Ochoa, BA Sociology Candidate at University of Wisconsin-Parkside, ZCenter Outreach Intern 

ZCenter aims to end sexual violence, mobilize and educate the public, and support survivors of sexual assault. Our blog addresses issues related to ending oppression and violence, since all oppression and violence are intersectional with sexual violence. All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email info@zcenter.org.

 

Write Poems/Heal from Trauma

What do Maya Angelou, Mary Oliver, Fiona Apple, Lady Gaga, Mary J. Blige, Carly Simon, Missy Elliott and Rupi Kaur all have in common? Besides being some of our most beloved poets and lyricists, each one is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

Writing poems and songs can tap into a part of our brains that may be closed off by the symptoms of sexual trauma: dissociation, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, that feeling that something bad is about to happen. Especially if the trauma occurred in childhood, when our brains were still developing, we might find it helpful to soothe ourselves through the rhythm, repetition and routine of being creative.

In poetry, we can express ourselves — our grief, our anger, our hope, our defiance — through words in an intentional, healing way. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Poems Don’t Have to Be Happy

Some survivors find relief in doing creative work that is honest and raw, not being pressured to tie the ends up nicely. Poems can help us explore all our feelings, even the ones we usually think of as negative. We can use words to capture the pain of a broken heart, the rage at a choice we didn’t get to make, the vulnerability of our worst moment. Poems don’t have to be happy to be beautiful.

Create a Sanctuary

Where to begin? Light a candle. Turn on a sound machine or some lo-fi hip hop beats. Make tea, wrap a warm blanket around your shoulders, and find a spot of sunlight on the kitchen floor. Make your creative writing time soothing for body, brain and soul.

Get Inspired

Invest in a copy of Mary Oliver’s Devotions, Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, or do a search for any of Maya Angelou’s many written creations, including this ground-shaking one. Look for performance poetry on youtube, like this, and let anything Amanda Gorman has made inspire you. Check out Wild Writing, one of many online creative writing courses that are open to anyone. There are countless ways to express ourselves through words, and through playful experimentation and a commitment to the journey, we can find our own way through.

Seeing Our Words on a Page

It can be such a confidence booster to hold something in our hands and say, “I made this.” Writing poetry isn’t about getting published. It isn’t about creating a masterpiece or getting all the words just right. The words are ours — we control them. We own them. No one can take them from us. Making our healing work into something tangible, something we can feel, touch and see, is a way to regain strength and restore agency.

Always, Always Celebrate

When you write something you realize has captured your truest heart, your deepest feelings, capture that moment! Our brains release happy chemicals, most notably dopamine, when we take note of an accomplishment. Treat yourself to a set of colored pens. Ask a loved one if you can read your poem to them. Or print your written piece on pretty paper, stick it in a frame, and put it on your bedside table. Memorialize, in some big or small way, how far you’ve come.

Work with a Trusted Professional

Trauma work is always hard work, and you won’t want to do it alone. Zacharias Center has trained counselors that work with groups and individuals, serving children, youth and adults. Or, you may already have a relationship with a therapist, spiritual director, or social worker. Ask if you can share what you’re working on. Ask if creative, expressive work can be incorporated into your sessions.

We’d also love to see you at our upcoming poem-writing workshop (3/23/22 at 12 noon), which you can register for here: Free Webinar: Writing Poems to Process Trauma — ZCenter

 


 

Written by Courtney Coates, MSW Candidate at Loyola University, ZCenter Counseling Intern.

ZCenter aims to end sexual violence, mobilize and educate the public, and support survivors of sexual assault. Our blog addresses issues related to ending oppression and violence, since all oppression and violence are intersectional with sexual violence. All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email info@zcenter.org.

 

 

Free Webinar: Writing Poems to Process Trauma

Come have a taste of what some of our clients are experiencing in the Expressive Arts Group! In this workshop, we’ll learn how creative writing can help our brains process trauma, and even write a poem of our own. No writing experience needed — just a pen, some paper, and an open mind.

 

Join us Wednesday, March 23rd

12:00pm – 1:00pm Central Time.

Register here for this free webinar.


For any questions about our free webinars or the Zacharias Education Network, please contact info@zcenter.org.

 

Self-Care during the Holidays

As the holidays are upon us, I’m sure we can all feel the stress and chaos that come with celebrating the final days of the year. This time of year is such a wonderful time to spend with family watching movies by the fireplace, playing outside in the snow, baking, engaging in craft activities, etc. The holidays can create an immense stress load on individuals, and therefore it is important that we care for ourselves. Self-care is not an activity that requires much energy, time or focus. Taking five minutes a day to focus on ourselves can prevent future burnout. Today, I will discuss possible self-care tips that we can all take part in during this stressful time. 

Meditating comes in many different forms such as guided meditation, yoga meditation, mindfulness meditation, etc. I am personally a big fan of guided meditation, specifically sleep guided meditation. According to the health coach institute, guided meditations on a range of subjects help you center yourself and keep calm through the holiday hustle and bustle”(healthcoachinstitute). There are countless apps that help provide quick, simple, and easy access to meditation sessions. One of my favorite apps to use is called Meditopia, which has different types of meditations for sleeping, relaxing, focus, self-love, releasing stress, and motivation. 

Another self-care tip is staying active through walks, runs, sport activities, etc. There are countless studies that prove staying physically active helps with cardiovascular health and improves bone health, flexibility & mobility, muscle strength, etc. On top of these benefits, during physical activities the body releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that increase pleasure and well-being all while reducing pain and discomfort. Through the pandemic, I have become a big fan of going on walks with my not-so puppy. I’ve realized that going on walks, even if it is for 15-20 minutes a day, helps reduce my stress level; as well, it allows me to take a breather. 

Sleeping! This is my all time favorite self-care activity as it does not require much from us, and is very easy to do! You might be thinking, “How does sleeping count as self-care if it is something we do on a daily basis?” The reality is that sleeping an adequate amount each night helps our bodies immensely. There are countless studies that prove the benefits of receiving the appropriate amount of sleep helps us prevent getting ill, lowers our risk of developing serious health problems, reduces stress, improves mood, allows us to think more clearly, etc. Most adults require 7-8 hours of sleep a day, while teens and children vary depending on their age ranging from 9-13 hours a day. Making a bedtime routine can aid us in getting the appropriate hours of sleep, allowing us to wake up the next day restful and ready to face challenges. 

Making time for self-care should not be an activity that requires a lot of time from us or should be something that we dread doing. During the holidays, the days seem to blend with one another, not allowing us to take a breath of fresh air. Between shopping for the perfect gifts to cooking for the family, it can become very hard to make time to schedule self-care. Making time to schedule self-care during the holidays is important as this can prevent future burnout, lower the risk of health problems, etc. I hope my tips have helped you all think about quick ideas for self-care that do not require much time, energy, or focus!

 

Happy Holidays!

 


Written by Evelyn Perez, Northeastern Illinois University BSW Student and ZCenter Intern

ZCenter aims to end sexual violence, mobilize and educate the public, and support survivors of sexual assault. Our blog addresses issues related to ending oppression and violence, since all oppression and violence are intersectional with sexual violence. All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email info@zcenter.org.

 

https://www.healthcoachinstitute.com/articles/20-tips-for-holiday-self-care/ 

https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/everyday-healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep

How does trauma affect children’s emotional well-being?

When children go through a traumatic event such as a sexual assault (SA), they must have a support system of parents and guardians there to ensure not only their physical safety but also their mental and emotional safety in the aftermath. It is not a surprise that children who experience trauma will have their world changed, but fortunately, there are things we can do to support them through this time and those changes. Trauma can occur across a variety of situations from being impacted by broad natural disasters all the way down to more personal and specific events such as SA. Trauma is a complex concept because every individual adapts and reacts differently from non-existent or acute reactions all the way to severe and chronic reactions; so viewing trauma as a sliding scale is essential in adjusting to a new normal after a traumatic event. Further, it is worth noting that two individuals can experience the same type of event or even the exact same event and still be impacted very differently, therefore different supports and approaches in healing are necessary. 

Now, to unpack how emotions in the brain are impacted by a trauma, this blog post indicates that SA is a traumatic event, and so in the aftermath of a trauma any of the upcoming information can occur. Trauma can specifically impact emotions for children by changing their ability to process and respond to emotions- which is called “emotional regulation.” All children are unique in how they experience the world, but understandably, when trauma occurs there is an added layer of difficulty for their growing brains to comprehend the world around them. The goal of this blog post is to give parents, guardians, and caretakers insight into the psychology of childhood emotional regulation and how they can support their child or any child through one of the most difficult things someone can experience. Below are some common questions one might ask in the aftermath of a trauma and when they are preparing to help a child heal. Accompanying each provided question is a response supported by trauma-informed scientific evidence that reveals what you can do to support your child through changes and challenges.

 

What happens to my child’s emotions when they experience a trauma?

A certain part of the brain called the amygdala can be impacted for those who experience trauma. The amygdala is responsible for emotional intensity including how we perceive and react emotionally. This can mean that children who undergo trauma have a greater experience of emotion compared to their peers, and that may be a lot for their body to handle since their brain hasn’t finished developing or understanding emotions yet. Further, scientists have studied the brain and the amygdala to reveal that there can be a decrease in brain activity in the amygdala which in turn can impact emotional regulation (Thomason et al., 2015). What this means is that structurally there will be some changes in the brain for your child after a trauma; so, as parents and guardians taking the time to work through emotions manually with a child can be very beneficial for the child to lighten the load of the emotional material they are working to process, since it can be too overwhelming to handle themselves. Of course, it is always important to recognize that not all children will feel comfortable expressing their emotions in a timeline you might expect, so as someone supporting them, we need to respect and understand their boundaries and decisions while continuing to make sure they have access to support.

 

How do I know if my child is struggling with healthy emotional regulation?

Children process emotions around the trauma and in day-to-day life as the event can impact pre-existing healthy emotional regulation because the child may soon experience emotional dysregulation which would not be considered healthy. To see if your child is struggling, there are certain signs that you can look for to indicate if dysregulation is happening. A child may experience prolonged states of sadness, they may lose interest in activities they typically love, or they may withdraw from peers or family in a social setting. These examples can all reflect symptoms of depression, indicating that healthy emotional regulation is not happening. Depression can specifically stem from struggling to “reappraise emotions” meaning that it impacts our ability to understand something from a different or more positive perspective (Skymba et al., 2020). Children especially can struggle in coping with negative emotions regardless of experiencing trauma because they tend to “ruminate” or replay their thoughts and emotions in their minds which further intensifies their feelings. We can support an individual through this by seeing a licensed therapist that can help them unpack these thoughts/emotions and give them the space to positively reappraise emotions, which in turn can decrease depression and set the child up to practice healthier emotional reappraisal and regulation techniques.

 

What are other ways trauma can affect a child? 

It is not uncommon for other health issues to occur aside from depression, so it is important to be in tune with what may be going on in your child’s head and what you can look for to help them. Aside from ensuring that the child is physically safe after a trauma, we need to make sure they are mentally safe as well. There is evidence of not only depression but also anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurring in individuals who experience trauma (Ford et al., 2018). While this is no guarantee that your child will or will not experience these types of mental health struggles at any point following trauma, parents and guardians need to be aware that these things can and do happen. It is also important to understand that not everyone reacts to trauma the same way, and so the ways we support someone and the emotions they experience need to be adjusted to meet them where they are at and not where you want them to be. You can expect some changes in your child before and after experiencing a trauma, but you should closely monitor for instances of great emotional intensity, instances of muted emotional intensity, or instances that demonstrate incoherent emotions and be able to respond accordingly in those situations. 

Furthermore, because trauma can impact the way children process and respond to emotions since their brains are doing more processing than normal in the wake of a trauma, a child could potentially experience impact to both existing and developing friendships. Because a child can experience hardship in understanding and processing the emotions of others, play can be difficult because the interactions may be frustrating or confusing in the aftermath of trauma. Friendships are an important support system for children and for younger children play is very positive for growth and development, so as a caretaker it is important to support your child through these now potentially difficult experiences by providing them resources and support.

 

Are these effects long-term?

As mentioned above, certain brain structures and certain emotional processes are impacted by trauma. However, these impacts are typically not a forever-state and rather will result in a delayed development instead before resuming processes as they were before a trauma. When a child (or anyone for that matter) has experienced a trauma, their body and brain are working overtime to maintain “normalcy” and make sure they are okay. Because time and energy may be devoted so long to other areas, there is a trend of delayed development for children specifically in the processes that allow them to understand the emotions of others during their emotional regulation. Limited research exists to assess how the brain functions before and after trauma since trauma is unpredictable, but the general agreement amongst psychologists is that wherever the current emotional developments are they will pause in response to trauma. This is not meant to be alarming, but rather to let us know that a child is going to need extra support and understanding when dealing with not only their own emotions but when interacting with the emotions of others as well (Van Schie, 2017). Further, it is important to know that specifically, reappraisal does not develop linearly through childhood and adolescence, but rather it is a workable skill (even for adults!), so having a delayed development is not detrimental so long as we continue to work with and support children in building this skill (McRae et al., 2012).

 

What can I do?

It is important to know that as a parent or guardian, you are very important for helping a child heal, but it is also important to know that support systems look different for each individual. One important thing in healing from trauma is knowing that there is no “right way” to do things, rather finding your own way is the best option and making sure that you meet your child at their level of needs. Support can take the form of group therapy, individual therapy, having a family support system, attending family therapy, partaking in art or play therapy, and so forth to make sure an individual has the necessary resources to heal. There is evidence that being in these types of therapy settings and focusing on positive emotions in those such environments rather than ruminating or focusing on the past can decrease symptoms of depression in children in the aftermath of the trauma (Thomas et al., 2011). Further, parents should choose not to focus on the stress of the situation, but rather on the wellbeing of their child; it creates an environment that allows for positive emotions to flourish later in life for the child which is important for the healing process as it does not provide an environment for rumination to occur (Langevin et al., 2016). Parents can practice mindfulness in approaching this situation and play a part in decreasing the negative thoughts a child replays in their mind, since you are modeling healthy emotional behavior as well by doing so. Because parenting styles can easily be changed to adapt to our children, we must take the steps to support the child and adapt to their needs as they grow (Moreira et al., 2018). Mindfulness is another topic on its own, but for some parents/guardians it may be worth looking into as a way to personally cope and process while supporting a child through a trauma.

 

What happens now?

Ultimately, all of this information demonstrates that trauma such as SA can impact a child, but as a parent, by taking part in their social support system we can help the child in better understanding their emotions and coping not only day-to-day but long-term as well. It is important to understand that having this information is a good step in moving forward and supporting children every day through one of the most challenging things someone can go through by having these questions answered, but we cannot forget that recovery is a process and not a destination. The Zacharias Center offers free counseling services that can be done in group therapy or individual therapy format to support that process. The phone number to reach the Z Center 24-hour support line is (847)872-7799, and this line is available to support survivors as well as their loved ones who are experiencing the trauma with them. As humans we really are resilient, and so recovery and healing will continue to be the desired outcome for those impacted by a trauma because through work it is attainable. Providing resources, reducing rumination and worrying, giving support to build coping and reappraisal skills, and ensuring that individuals have the specific mental tools to cope are all wonderful ways to foster resilience. The assistance of professionals or therapists who can help a child to discover those tools and resources also provide wonderful support options and pathways to help a child heal in the aftermath of a trauma.

 


Written by Haley Wold, ZCenter Volunteer from Lake Forest College.

ZCenter aims to end sexual violence, mobilize and educate the public, and support survivors of sexual assault. Our blog addresses issues related to ending oppression and violence, since all oppression and violence are intersectional with sexual violence. All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

References

 

Ford, Brett Q., Sandy J. Lwi, Amy L. Gentzler, Benjamin Hankin, and Iris B. Mauss. 2018. “The Cost of Believing Emotions Are Uncontrollable: Youths’ Beliefs about Emotion Predict Emotion Regulation and Depressive Symptoms.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 147 (8): 1170–90. doi:10.1037/xge0000396.supp (Supplemental).

Langevin, Rachel, Martine Hébert, Dansereau, Claire Allard, and Bonnin, Anne‐Claude Bernard. 2016. “Emotion Regulation in Sexually Abused Preschoolers: The Contribution of Parental Factors.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 29 (2): 180–84. doi:10.1002/jts.22082.

McRae, Kateri, James J. Gross, Jochen Weber, Elaine R. Robertson, Peter Sokol-Hessner, Rebecca D. Ray, John D. E. Gabrieli, and Kevin N. Ochsner. 2012. “The Development of Emotion Regulation: An FMRI Study of Cognitive Reappraisal in Children, Adolescents and Young Adults.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 7 (1): 11–22. doi:10.1093/scan/nsr093.

Moreira, Helena, and Maria Cristina Canavarro. 2018. “The Association between Self-Critical Rumination and Parenting Stress: The Mediating Role of Mindful Parenting.” Journal of Child and Family Studies 27 (7): 2265–75. doi:10.1007/s10826-018-1072-x.

Skymba, Haley V., Wendy Troop-Gordon, Haina H. Modi, Megan M. Davis, Anne L. Weldon, Yan Xia, Wendy Heller, and Karen D. Rudolph. 2020. “Emotion Mindsets and Depressive Symptoms in Adolescence: The Role of Emotion Regulation Competence.” Emotion, December. doi:10.1037/emo0000902.

Thomas, Renu, David DiLillo, Kate Walsh, and Melissa A. Polusny. 2011. “Pathways from Child Sexual Abuse to Adult Depression: The Role of Parental Socialization of Emotions and Alexithymia.” Psychology of Violence 1 (2): 121–35. doi:10.1037/a0022469.

Thomason, Moriah E., Hilary A. Marusak, Maria A. Tocco, Angela M. Vila, Olivia McGarragle, and David R. Rosenberg. 2015. “Altered Amygdala Connectivity in Urban Youth Exposed to Trauma.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 10 (11): 1460–68. doi:10.1093/scan/nsv030.

Van Schie, Charlotte C., Anne-Laura van Harmelen, Kirsten Hauber, Albert Boon, Eveline A. Crone, and Bernet M. Elzinga. 2017. “The Neural Correlates of Childhood Maltreatment and the Ability to Understand Mental States of Others.” European Journal of Psychotraumatology 8 (1). doi:10.1080/20008198.2016.1272788.

Chicago Blackhawks: Sexual Assault and What We Have Learned

Chicagoland is reeling from the news of sexual assault allegations within the Chicago Blackhawks. One of the team’s coaches assaulted a player and leadership of the team ignored the allegations for years. This horrific news shows us that professional athletes respond to sexual trauma just as anyone else does.

“The perpetrator was celebrated, paraded around. It made me feel like nothing… like I wasn’t important.” –Kyle Beach

Sean Black, Chief Projects Officer with the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) described that the trust that you had in a person is completely broken. Recovering from that is a long process. He also shared characteristics we are seeing that are similar to many other sexual assault cases:

  • Institutions tend to cover it up.
  • Most people don’t believe the survivor.
  • Retraumatization is common.
  • It’s common for the survivor not to come forward until later.
  • The perpetrator is often someone known and/or someone who holds power over the other.
  • The fact that this assault happened between two individuals who identify as male is not uncommon. Sexual assault can happen to anyone.
  • Sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator (rapist).

At ZCenter, we use the simple guidelines of Believe, Validate, and Empower. 

Believe when someone discloses their experience of sexual abuse to you. Validate their words and feelings. Empower them by giving them choices.

 

Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center (ZCenter) is a certified ICASA center. For more information about the interview with Sean Black from ICASA, see the video here.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, please know that your local rape crisis center is here for you. In Lake County and Northern Cook County, please feel free to call our Crisis Support Line if you are in crisis after experience sexual assault. 

 

Crisis Support Line: 847-872-7799

 


Written by Kristin Jones, PhD, EdM, Outreach Supervisor

Photo by Sarah Brennan, MSW, Activism and Volunteer Coordinator

 

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Sex Positivity Post Trauma

A Sexual Society

Sex is everywhere. It is in the ads on TV and on social media, the conversations had among family and friends, and as an integral part of intimate human connection. Recent data shows that the average partnered female-identifying person between the ages of 25 and 59 is having some form of sexual contact weekly (What Is the “Normal” Frequency of Sex?, 2015). These numbers may, to many, indicate that we as a society have decent sex lives. Conversely, Carnegie Mellon took these numbers and examined them further. The International Society for Sexual Medicine (2015) described this study as taking 64 couples and instructing half to increase sexual frequency and the other half to continue as they were. The couples rated amount of sexual activity and happiness with the results showing that those having more sex were not, in fact, happier. According to Mollen & Abbott (2021), sexual wellbeing, including medically accurate education, is integral to positive sexual expression and satisfaction. However, they noted that comprehensive education has steadily declined since 1995, especially for women, persons of color, and those of low socioeconomic status. With this lack of education, how are people as intimate beings supposed to really know about sex? Better yet, how does one distinguish sex? Bad sex? Good sex? Great sex? Hell, was it even truly consensual?

 

Sex as trauma

Based on this information, it appears that society may have become one of double-entendres and sexual banter, without the actual knowledge base to back it up. This includes having real conversations with our intimate partners around the pros and cons of the sex it appears we are all having. Now, couple this information we just discussed and introduce the intricacies of sexual violence. The most recent statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center show that 81% of women and 43% of men will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes (The Facts behind the #metoo Movement, n.d.). If it is already hard enough for people to discuss sexuality with those that they are engaging in the act with, what does this mean for those that are sexually traumatized?  To further complicate these already large numbers, 51% of these reported incidences are by people they know. This makes future intimacy complex because the reality of sexual experiences directly ties back to a trauma. This can look like dissociation during sex, hypervigilance, or hypersexuality as a means to control the sexual narrative (Maltz, 2012). These things have become much more commonly known, however, it is still very difficult to know how to navigate the changes that take place mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

 

Tips for Post-Trauma Intimacy

The old adage that knowledge is power really matters when it comes to journeying through sexual trauma either as a survivor, or as a significant other of those who have faced sexual violence. These tips can provide some starting points for the journey toward post-trauma intimacy and connection.

 

1.Talk about intimacy. 

Knowing that we as a society do not have a grounded base in sexual health, means that intimacy is not something that many people discuss. How do people feel loved? What are the ways that each person expresses their love, care, and concern for others? Intimacy does not automatically equal sex. The definition of intimacy is closeness, and after trauma, closeness is avoided because that is how that person was hurt. Defining safety, acts of love, etc. is key to building trust and a more close relationship. 

 

2. Learn about PTSD. 

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is unique to each person and presents with different symptoms. Knowing what your partner is experiencing, or knowing what you as a survivor is experiencing, is integral to understanding what triggers you. Once triggers are identified, they will no longer be unknown and can therefore be managed appropriately without as many surprises. 

 

3. Create positive sexual experiences.

Using consent as a guide, exploration of comfort around sexual interaction can begin to reframe sexuality as a positive instead of something to be feared or avoided. After trauma, the brain wants to keep us as safe as possible, and that includes staying far away from anything resembling the traumatic experience. In order to orient ourselves to sex as a positive interaction, work slowly, by yourself or with a partner to introduce positive sexual interactions using all senses to build a good foundation for sex and intimate connection. 

 

4. COMMUNICATION

Discussing how to work through these difficult experiences is beneficial in two ways. Communicating feelings about trauma allows the survivor and/or their partner to express happiness, sadness, frustration, etc. so it is no longer bottled up inside causing its own set of symptoms.  It also allows people to express likes and dislikes around sex so there is a clearly defined understanding about boundaries and that the survivor is able to regain control in a sexual environment. 

 

Maltz, W. (2012). The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse, 3rd Edition (3rd Revised, Updated ed. edition). William Morrow Paperbacks.

Mollen, D., & Abbott, D. M. (2021). Sexuality as a competency: Advancing training to serve the public. Training and Education in Professional Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tep0000378

The facts behind the #metoo movement: A national study on sexual harassment and assault. (n.d.). National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from https://www.nsvrc.org/resource/facts-behind-metoo-movement-national-study-sexual-harassment-and-assault

What is the “normal” frequency of sex? (2015, October 20). ISSM. https://www.issm.info/sexual-health-qa/what-is-the-normal-frequency-of-sex/


Written by Christine Berry, LPC, NCC, Doctoral Candidate, Director of Services.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

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