When the News is Triggering: Self-Care Tips for Survivors of Sexual Trauma

Anyone who has been paying attention to social media for the past month is aware of the increase in the conversation happening online about sexual assault, abuse, and harassment. It all started with the revelations that movie producer Harvey Weinstein had been threatening and assaulting women for decades. Since then, many more women and men have stepped forward and shared their stories of abuse and coercion at the hands of powerful men in Hollywood. The list of public figures who have been named as abusers grows longer each day.

In response to these revelations, the hashtag #metoo went viral across multiple forms of social media, as people shared their own stories to bring attention and awareness to the prevalence of sexual abuse and harassment. “If all women who have been sexual harassed or assaulted wrote “me too” as a status,” the viral campaign stated, “we might be able to give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

These conversations are so important, and they need to be happening. Sexual assault and harassment are incredibly common, and yet so often these painful experiences are shrouded in shame and secrecy. Survivors of sexual trauma are afraid to tell their stories for many reasons– that they won’t be believed, that they will jeopardize their careers, that they will create family discord, that they will be blamed for what happened to them. They may suffer in silence for years, believing that they are alone in what happened to them– and for many, these recent conversations have been an important step toward healing. For others, however, it’s a different story.

It is almost impossible to escape the constant updates, as news stories are shared and circulated on Facebook and Twitter. With each new headline that floods their social media feed, survivors of sexual trauma are at risk of being triggered and retraumatized. The graphic details of abusive and coercive sexual encounters that are being discussed in the news can serve as painful reminders of their own experiences. And, as with any survivor of trauma, these encounters have the potential to trigger distressing memories, intrusive thoughts, and unpleasant feelings and body sensations.

Even the solidarity expressed by the #metoo movement has the potential to be problematic for some survivors. Although it is validating to hear that you are not alone in your experiences, being faced with the sheer magnititude that is the prevalence of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment can be overwhelming. Also, some survivors may find themselves feeling pressured to  participate by “outing” themselves, even though they may not feel safe doing so.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, assault, or harassment, and if you have been finding the recent barrage of news stories overwhelming to deal with, know that you aren’t the only one. Here are a few things that you can do to restore some balance to your mind and body.

  • Know when to switch off. Pay attention to how your consumption of the news and social media is affecting your well-being, and know when it is time to step away. Try focusing on other forms of entertainment and distraction for a while, and don’t feel guilty for knowing when you need to take a break.
  • Practice self-care. When we become overwhelmed, it is easy to lose track of our self-care. Don’t forget the basics: eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep. But also try to incorporate one or two new things into your daily routine that bring you peace, comfort, or joy.
  • Get back into your body.Triggering situations can make you feel disconnected from yourself and from reality. Take steps to ground yourself and get back into your body. Look around the room and name all the colors you can see. Activate your senses by sniffing something with a strong smell. Sit comfortably and notice the sensation of your body making contact with your chair and the ground.
  • Talk to someone. If you have a friend or family member who knows your story and you feel safe talking to, reach out them. Another option is to call a sexual abuse and assault hotline, for someone who can listen while protecting your privacy. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24 hours a day, every day, at 1-800-656-HOPE.
  • Reach out for help. If you are experiencing distressing thoughts, feelings, body sensations, or memories, and no longer feel like you are able to manage them on your own, it may be time to seek professional help. Working with a therapist who is skilled in treating trauma can help you regain a sense of control over your life again. If you feel like it is time to talk about your experiences, please contact me to find out more about setting up an appointment.
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