“Before I started, this was something I had put in the past. I had buried it deep down in a locked box. Only in the last year or two did I realised how much it was impacting me. Counselling made it all very real again. Now I’m living with much more awareness of having been abused. I have a creeping sense of injustice. But with that awareness comes a lot more control on how it affects my life.” – Client
Sexual abuse, assault and rape can have a range of different impacts on men and boys. No matter how you feel, there is no ‘wrong’ way to respond to unwanted sexual experiences. This section explores some of the common issues men talk with us about.
“(I’m) getting back memories. Before I saw this as a curse, it would plague me. Now I recognise it’s because I’m healing. Now I’m learning how to park it if it comes to me in an unwelcome moment. I park it and come back to it and deal with it later.” – Client
First Step can help
If you’re struggling with any of these issues and live in Leicester, Leicestershire or Rutland you are can access our counselling service. We are experienced in supporting men through their journey of recovery. If you live outside of our area, check out our resources section to find other sources of support. You do not have to go through this alone.
Sometimes memories of a past traumatic event are so vivid that they feel as if they are taking place in the present. Some people see, hear, smell or sense aspects of their traumatic experiences. At other times people might simply have an overwhelming feeling that is connected with the traumatic experience that seems to come ‘out of the blue’. These flashbacks can be triggered by everyday experiences that may have some connection to the trauma itself (e.g. a certain tone of voice, a feeling, a place, a time of day/night or a particular smell).
During traumatic situations many people describe having a ‘freeze’ response, which is an understandable reaction to being in a situation that is beyond your control. In the weeks, months and years after a trauma some people describe feeling numb, empty and emotionless. These feelings can impact on someone’s relationships, making it hard to connect. They can also affect how someone feels about their job, education and life’s direction. These feelings can be episodic, perhaps in response to a trigger, or more long lasting.
Many people describe a sense of being on red alert after a trauma. This is known as hypervigillance – a state of being extremely aware of one’s surroundings and unable to relax. It can be understood as our body and mind’s way of protecting us from further attacks, however it can be exhausting and make it difficult to switch off and rest. It can leave people feeling irritable and make it hard to concentrate. Sometimes this state is triggered by something in connection with the trauma. Sometimes it can be longer lasting and feel like someone’s ‘new normal’.
Anxiety & Panic Attacks
Whilst anxiety is a natural response to stress, if it’s particularly intense or long lasting it can begin to cause problems. Some people find that they feel anxiety in their body, with symptoms such as stomach problems, a fast pulse, dizziness, aches, restlessness and/or. nausea. Some find that anxiety affects the way that they think and feel. They might feel overwhelmed with worries, feel like others are looking at them, worry that they are going ‘crazy’ or that they are dying. Some people have intense periods of panic, called ‘panic attack’.
Guilt & Shame
Many survivors of sexual abuse, assault or rape describe struggling with guilt and shame. Sometimes these feelings can leave people feeling like they did something to deserve what happened to them, that their natural physical responses were a sign they really ‘wanted it’ or that they didn’t say ‘no’ loud enough or fight back. These feelings can make it hard to talk about what happened with loved ones, leaving the survivor isolated. Some survivors find that the guilt and shame make it hard for them to accept kindness or love.
Abuse can have many different impacts on people’s relationships. For some, it can feel like a major issue to trust another person and let them get close. Others might find it easy to make friends, but struggle with romantic and sexual relationships. Some may have built close and loving relationships, but feel like they’re hiding part of themselves and worry that things are going to break down. Some may find themselves in relationships with people who treat them badly. This doesn’t have to be the case. Men who have been abused can, and do, have meaningful and close relationships. But, if you’re struggling – you’re not alone.
Many survivors have at least some times when they struggle with sleep. They might find it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep or find that they sleep much more than usual. Some find that they are kept awake by memories, worries or nightmares that are hard to shake off. Often issues that might feel manageable in the daytime are more challenging to cope with at night, when everyone else is asleep. So, if you’re struggling with sleep, you’re not alone.
Alcohol & Drugs
Some people use alcohol and/or recreational drugs as a way of dealing with unwelcome thoughts and feelings. Unsurprisingly, survivors might use these substances for a similar reason. Whilst this can feel helpful in the short term, often these strategies can end up causing additional problems. This is especially the case if someone begins to feel out of control of their substance use and/or it feeds a cycle of shame. If you’re struggling with your use of alcohol and drugs, you’re not on your own. Reach out.
Self Harm & Suicidal Thoughts
Some survivors may find themselves thinking about harming themselves in order to release overwhelming emotions, express pain, punish themselves or feel something/anything. Some survivors may go through times where it feels as if they can no longer live in this world. They may feel hopeless and as if suicide is the only option. If you feel like this, please reach out. You are not alone and there are always other options.