- Any relationship which involves someone seeming to have more power than you, e.g. work or therapy.
- Anniversaries, such as the death of the abuser.
- If you get assaulted or abused again.
In the early stages of remembering the abuse these triggers and the resulting distress can be the main feature of the crisis.
Sexual abuse is a terrifying experience. As a boy you may have felt bewildered, powerless and completely alone. Boys are not supposed to feel like this so you may have tried to hide it and appear strong, independent, and capable. You had to survive. It would have been hard to go on, feeling scared and without support. But hidden feelings don’t just disappear. As you get older triggers remind you of the abuse and the pain breaks through into awareness. This explains experiences of panic, flashbacks and sudden, distressing sensations and memories.
Self-help for panic and sudden distress
- Make sure you have someone you can talk to; friends, a counsellor, or a support group. Sharing your feelings helps to reduce panic and distress over time.
- Try not to fight against it. You may just get more tense. Whilst it’s unpleasant, panic and distress are a part of recovery and tend to get less over time.
- Try to avoid situations of overwhelming anxiety, e.g. contact with your abuser, or major life changes. It’s not always possible. In a crisis it’s important not to put yourself through more terror than you have to. Dealing with unpredictable memories is hard enough without adding more stress.
- Avoid alcohol and non-prescribed drugs. Whilst they will calm you down they could lead to more problems, like addiction.
- Avoid quick decisions. It isn’t possible to think straight when you’re in distress. Wait until you calm down.
- Avoid driving until you’ve calmed down.
- Don’t hurt yourself or anyone else.
- Avoid caffeine. It’s a stimulant and may make you feel more hyped up.
- Develop a plan with your G.P. about how you will use prescribed medication to help. It can be useful in the short-term, but carries dangers of addiction. It’s not the long-term answer to dealing with abuse.
- Try to become aware as early as you can that you’re experiencing a panic attack/flashback/sudden memory/strange sensation. Stop whatever it is you’re doing.
- Calm yourself. Breathe slowly and deeply.
- Check out reality. You could say your name, your age, the date and the place you’re at now. Plant your feet firmly on the ground and hang onto something – like the arms of a chair. Anything to get the message that the abuse is not happening now.
- Decide what to do next. You could:
- Leave the situation causing the trigger
- Change the situation causing the trigger
- Continue what you’re doing slowly, breathing deeply, reassuring yourself, and trying to relax.
- Accept what is happening and experience the feelings.
- Afterwards try to work out what happened. What was the trigger? How did you feel? Did you learn anything new about your abuse? Share this information with a member of your Support Team as soon as you can.