Rape and sexual assault can have a significant emotional impact. If you have experienced sexual violence there are lots of different ways you might feel, many of which are very common. However you feel after rape or sexual assault is valid, and there is no right or wrong way to feel. Some feelings can last a long time, whereas others may come and go quite quickly. Sometimes feelings and reactions can be delayed by weeks, months or years. The following are some common responses to being raped or assaulted; you might experience some or all of them:
- Feeling different or strange
- Feeling guilty or responsible (this may be because the perpetrator told you it was your fault, but this is never true)
- Feeling lonely or isolated
- Feeling like this has never happened to anyone else (but it has, and you are not alone)
- Having difficulty sleeping or having nightmares
- Experiencing flashbacks of the event; this can be triggered by sounds, situations or smells, and can be very frightening.
- Losing confidence, trust in yourself and others
- Feeling angry with your attacker and others too
- Feeling confused (especially if the perpetrator is a family member or friend; you may still care about him or her, which is ok)
- Feeling depressed, upset and/or tearful a lot of the time, sometimes even suicidal
- Finding it difficult to cope with day-to-day life
- Feeling worthless, dirty or ashamed (though you have nothing to be ashamed of)
- Feeling afraid of some or all people, certain places, or of being alone
- Having relationship or sexual difficulties
If you don’t feel any these things, that’s fine too. There’s no ‘correct’ way to feel after a rape or assault.
For some people, sexual violence can also have a serious and/or long-term impact on their mental health. This can include mental health problems such as depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, or personality disorders. These can all make day-to-day life more difficult, and can make coping with rape or sexual assault even harder.
Sometimes experiencing symptoms of these can be confusing or distressing, but try to remember that lots of people experience mental health problems at some point in their lives, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of.
There is more information about mental health, and living with mental health problems on the Mind website, or you can call them on 0300 123 3393.