Possible reactions in this adjustment stage:
In this stage you will be trying to get back to ‘normal’, you will begin to feel that you are regaining control of your life again. This may include your blocking out thoughts of what happened and developing other coping strategies.
Denial – you may not feel any great emotional trauma at all. You may live your daily life much as normal. Occasionally the experience of the attack may come back to you unexpectedly and strongly in such ways as:
Flashbacks – sometimes you may be reminded very suddenly and unexpectedly about the attack. This may be triggered by something that is said, seeing something on TV, in a newspaper, or perhaps by a smell, maybe the same aftershave used by the attacker. At other times you may not be aware of where the flashback has come from.
Exaggerated startle reactions - things that previously would not have bothered you can make you extremely jumpy, you may experience panic attacks, perhaps by people approaching you from behind, or appearing suddenly, or noises around your home that previously would not have bothered you.
Experiencing hyper-vigilance – the state of being constantly alert and watchful, constantly checking for signs of possible threat or danger around you. You may find it hard to relax, needing to be on your guard at all times.
Panic Attacks – can be very frightening and feel overwhelming. If you experience panic attacks remember they are part of the normal range of responses to trauma, and usually decrease over time. By trying to understand what causes the panic attack and what is happening physically in your body, the more in control you will be.
Dependency – you may experience feelings of powerlessness and a lack of self worth following the assault. You may feel that you can’t live your life as normal and need to lean on other people. You may feel that you can’t go out alone, or stay in alone, you may have fears that the attacker may return, and you may also have fears that your family or friends may reject you because of the assault.
Pre-existing difficulties – because of having the crisis of the assault to deal with, you may find it more difficult to deal with other problems at the same time. The assault may also magnify already existing problems, such as relationships with family and friends.
A need to make changes - it is very common for a person to make changes, possibly drastic changes in their life following an assault, especially if you knew your attacker. Possible changes might be: your telephone number, address, job, sexual relationships, or possibly changing your appearance, for instance, by altering your hair colour or style or your way of dressing.
Change of temperament or personality - other people may notice this more than you do. You may become more withdrawn or more irritable with people, or you may stop usual social activities.
Other experiences you may have can include:
Feeling very alone
Feelings of humiliation shame or self-blame
Loss of a sense of security - finding it hard to leave the house, or not wanting to be at home. Anywhere can feel unsafe, no matter where the assault happened.
Generalized fears and anxieties – you may not know how to describe your feelings. You might just feel completely empty, numb, confused and exhausted.
Intrusive memories and thoughts – unwanted thoughts and images about the assault can keep running over and over in your mind and you may feel that you can’t stop them. You may search for answers as to why the assault happened, asking yourself ‘why?’, or ‘why me?’ In the struggle to understand and regain control you may also think such things as, ‘if only I hadn’t’, or ‘if only I had done something else’.
Alternating between needing to be alone and needing people around you.
Difficulty in resuming sexual intimacy – although this is not always the case, sexual contact could cause a flashback of the assault. You may need to take time to rebuild a sense of trust with your intimate partner. It is helpful if your partner understands this and supports you as you recover from the assault.
Rejection by family and friends – perhaps because of the assault or because of the reactions described, some people may find it hard to understand you. They may not know how best to help and so avoid you. They may feel that your behaviour since the assault is unreasonable, especially if you are irritable, snappy or withdrawn. They may expect that you should get over it, or be over it by now, but of course it takes each person a different period of time to recover.
General feelings of fear and anxiety – you may not know how to describe your feelings. You might just feel completely empty, numb and absolutely exhausted. When your trauma has been caused by the actions of another person and previously held beliefs about the world being a safe place or people being trustworthy can be shattered. This disruption in your belief systems can be very confusing. If you are male, you may experience concern about your sexuality, or how other people might perceive your sexuality, if they know about the assault.
If you are a gay man, whether or not you are used anal sex does not mean that what happened to you was any less wrong or could have been any less painful and traumatic.
In the process of regaining control over your own life you may try to control other people and things that are not really possible to control at all. This is because at the time of the assault your ability to be in control of what was happening was taken away from you, now you are struggling to recover a sense of your personal power.
Your emotional difficulties may continue for varying lengths of time while you gradually adjust to accommodate what has happened. You may manage to get your life back in order, or you may become stuck at certain points and need help to move on. This time scale can vary from person to person, the assault may cause changes in your life on top of life’s other problems – allow yourself time to adjust.