Mental Health

The Long-Term Effects of Sexual Assault

I write today’s blog post with a heavy heart, broken by all the recent news involving instances of sexual assault and abuse. Since a teen this topic has burdened me greatly. I recall going to my mom around age 16 because 3 of my close friends disclosed to me that they were molested by male babysitters, their mom’s boyfriend, and even their biological grandfather. I could only imagine the heartache and fear my friends experienced. I intuitively knew this would continue to hurt them even after their predator was gone. This information was too much grief for me to cope with alone. I remember my mom commenting that I was a good friend because I cared for them. But the injustice of it all still plagued me.

18 years later and it still breaks my heart. What I intuitively knew about how my friends would struggle with their abuse for years was actually true according to science. Now that I know how the brain works I can only hope to reach more people who have been victims of sexual abuse. I also know it is our duty as women to stand up together against assaults.

Today’s blog is a two part discussion, with a follow up blog to come. Part 1: The effects of trauma on the brain. Part 2 is how to be an assertive woman.

Part 1: Our brain is designed to keep us safe.

When a threat comes our way and we have a fight or flight reaction as the amygdala is activated. This helps keep score to the safe and unsafe things in our world. It is a small but mighty part of the brain. Ironically, it is located right next to the hippocampus which is responsible for long term potentiation of memory. When stressful events occur the amygdala is activated and helps facilitate the storage of the event in the long term memory. This is is why trauma is difficult to shake.

More over, when we are stressed out the hippocampus will actually increase in cortisol receptions which makes everything feel more stressful. Cortisol is the stress hormone. The right dosage of cortisol keeps us active, too much keeps us paralyzed. When people experience traumas our brain physiologically changes. And newer research is even more clear that the more stress we experience as children the worse our  long-term health outcomes will be. In high doses it contributes to heart disease, diabetes, STD’s, addictions, and a shorter lifespan.

Finally, sexual abuse is worse. It is the most intimate and vulnerable way a woman’s body can be harmed. Sexual abuse is a heart wrenching matter to cope with. It also has the potential to taint every other sexual experience a woman might otherwise have enjoyed. Be that as it may, your brain can be rewired through trauma through focused treatment, daily mediation, healthy sleep patterns, clean eating, and daily exercise.

Part 2: We ARE survivors.

Women are truly the toughest beings I know. Men might have more muscle mass but women have a higher degree of resiliency. That’s why the second part of this blog post is not only about survival, but resiliency and overcoming the worse thing that have ever happened to you.

We can do this by getting treatment and speaking out — whether if it’s at home or in the workplace. We will no longer be silent to these injustices. I am not inviting women to be aggressive but rather assertive. Speaking up for what is right for our bodies. If you feel too paralyzed by your experience have a trusted friend help you along the way to getting help and reporting what happened. Remind your friend your journey is not over because you reported what happened. At this point you are just beginning your journey to healing.

A therapist can be a wonderful resource for you too! They are trained in reporting abuse and can schedule to see you frequently.  I have said this before on this blog but we need each other. Women are better together. We can practice being assertive in little moments throughout the day, speaking up for our needs, and refuting kindly what we do not want. If we practice this daily we can tackle these larger concerns such as sexual assault.

I highly recommend if you have experienced sexual abuse to seek treatment from a licensed mental health provider who specializes in trauma. 

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