For sexual assault survivors, tips

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 30 Sep 2018

FOR victims of sexual assault, the news this week of allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh and the sentencing of comedian Bill Cosby can trigger painful memories.

Clinical psychologist Jim Hopper, a teaching associate at Harvard Medical School who specialises in trauma says certain cues or contexts can trigger memories of sexual assault. It could be “revisiting the college you went to and walked by frat row, or undergoing cancer treatment and feeling vulnerable as you did when you were a kid who was abused,” says the Sexual Assault and the Brain blog writer for Psychology Today.

The opposite can be true as well.

If you feel “safe in a relationship, your brain is less likely to put in the effort to keep things out,” he says. “That’s why people first start talking about things in therapy.”

For one 50-something California woman, it was taking sanitary napkins off a grocery store shelf for her middle school daughter this summer that triggered a 40-year-old memory of an attempted sexual assault.

She cried uncontrollably in the car as she recalled how her older, teenage male attackers backed off only when they saw she had her period. In a way, the woman says, she has found the news this week to be healing, because so many people have have condemned sexual assault. Still, the news had triggered her once-suppressed memories.

Here are ways experts recommend soothing triggered bodies and minds:

Ground yourself

Different people are soothed or become more grounded in different ways, Hopper says. For some, he says, it could be “spending more time petting the cat.” For others, it’s simply “feeling your feet on the floor and your seat on the chair”.

Activate senses

Take a walk in nature and really notice the trees and surroundings. Or try warm blankets, hot baths and lavender oil.

Share ... with the sympathetic

Talk to people “who know your story and care for you”.

Focus on what you can control

Remind yourself of the things you can influence in your life, and that you aren’t in the painful situation anymore. Saying kind things to yourself can replace negative memories with more compassionate ones.

Don’t make any major decisions

When painful memories are triggered, it can be tempting to make rash decisions – changing a job or a partner. But it’s not the time to make such moves.

Take care of your body

Eat well and get more sleep. Your body is a foundation – taking care of it will help to keep you from spiraling out of control. – Tribune News Service

– USA Today/Tribune News Service

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