How to Recover from Rape or Sexual Abuse, for Victims, Partners, Family & Friends

This article focuses on recovering from all forms of sexual assault, but it can also help people with other forms of emotional trauma.

Being sexually abused or raped is a traumatic experience. Finding out that someone you love has been raped or sexually abused is also a traumatic experience, especially for partners and parents, who often feel responsible and feel themselves violated due to shared identity. People close to the victim will also need to go through a similar healing process as the victim themselves, this is normal and it’s a good thing because it allows them to heal together, empathize, and help each other along the way. Sharing the pain is part of the healing process and this is OK, it’s like teaming up to get the job done better.

It is 100% possible for everyone to entirely accept and let go of the experience(s) in a manner in which there is no longer any negative feelings, as if it never happened, but still having learned from the experience.

Human beings are all capable of healing from any emotional trauma and will heal naturally. If you are not healing it is because you are actively stopping yourself from healing by denial or suppression of emotions.

There are multiple levels of emotions that need to be accepted. For all of them the procedure for recovery and healing is the same:

Accept that you must do something. Trying to ignore your feelings does not and has never worked. You must do something. There is no way you can stop your feelings from subconsciously influencing your behavior in negative ways. You will continuously hurt yourself and other people if you refuse to deal with your issues. Be strong and accept that now is the time to heal, everything else can wait.

Give yourself permission to feel and express your emotions and let it out whenever it comes. You must be safe to express your emotions if you’re going to deal with this. Be OK with crying in front of people. If you are at work and get a flood of emotion and start crying, it’s OK. Your healing will be much faster if you can allow yourself to express anywhere. If that’s really not possible for you then find people who you trust and specifically make time with them, or see a counselor/therapist. Suppressing your emotions is neither strong nor is it clever, it only makes things worse. Stop with the excuses and let it all out.

Ask for help from friends and family that you trust and/or find a professional counselor/therapist. Many victims feel that it’s unfair to ask for help from others, especially if they have a low sense of self-worth or are scared of being judged. You do need to ask for help, people are not going to notice it by themselves. You would be there for your friends and family if they needed your help, and they want to be there for you. Let them be there for you like you would be for them if they needed it. If you really feel that you can’t trust any of your friends or family then go to a professional counselor or therapist, they will never judge you and have very likely dealt with far worse issues. Trusting someone enough to talk to them, especially if you fear that it might change the way they look at you, can be extremely difficult. Find someone you trust who you know to be emotionally stable, understanding and non-judgmental. Or go to a counselor or therapist, you can find them online and no one even has to know. Don’t keep it to yourself, it’s hard to talk but it’s necessary. Take the leap and talk to someone.

Look for how you honestly feel without self-judgement. Don’t suppress your feelings just because you think you shouldn’t feel that way. For example: if you feel that it’s all your fault, even though you know it’s not, allow yourself to feel that guilt and really express it. You don’t even need to know the name of the feeling; there is no need to label it, just feel it.

Think about how you would want to feel in future. Then accept that you don’t feel like that now, or that you have conflicting feelings, and continue to express the raw emotions as they come.

Don’t try to make yourself feel any particular way. You should know how you would like to feel, but always be true to yourself and feel how you actually feeling at this moment. Don’t try to reason with your feelings, just let them out as they are.

Express the feeling in different ways. There are many ways to express emotions, try different ones and see what works for you. Some good choices are: talking about it, writing a letter then burning it, drawing/painting how you feel, exercising (running, swimming, cycling, boxing & yoga are great for it), reconnecting with nature (i.e. going on a hike or camping), or just screaming at the top of your lungs. Experiencing pain sometimes helps, hence why some people self-harm, however you can have an even better effect by experiencing more controlled pain without damaging yourself, options include: holding an ice cube tight in your hand until it melts, pushing yourself with exercise past your normal limits, going for a traditional Thai massage.

Work through it! Keep on repeating the above which each new feeling as it comes. You may feel that it’ll never end, that it’s too much, or that you need to stop and get on with life — but this is not true. It will end. You will work through everything and even if you can’t see the finish line, you are getting closer to being completely healed each second of each day. It’s normal to not know how much emotion there is to work through; don’t worry if you think it’s taking too long, you are healing.

But don’t overwhelm yourself. It’s not a race. While you should keep working through it, don’t try to work through too much in one sitting. The same applies to the people helping you. If you or they feel overwhelmed then take a break and come back to it in a day or two. Yes, it’s time for healing, but not only healing. You should be spending at least as much time appreciating life and doing things that you love, especially doing outdoor activities. Talk about the normal stuff too, life goes on!

The following barriers exist to healing, which you will need to understand or you’ll get stuck on them:

Barrier #1: Cultural Shame

Especially for rape and sexual abuse, there is so much cultural shame its stupid. Would you tell someone you just met that you or your partner was raped or abused? No? Then you are ashamed of it. Shame is a type of self-judgement that is conditioned into us by society in the form of expected behavior and it is massively destructive because we are usually so used to it that we don’t see it. This is a serious roadblock to healing.

First accept that you do feel shame. You may think that you don’t need to be ashamed, but that doesn’t change whether you feel ashamed or not. Admit it. Admit that you’re ashamed of what happened. Admit that you wouldn’t want people to know. Feel it, feel ashamed and everything that comes with that. Don’t try to stop your emotions, just feel the shame and own it.

Realize that the source of this shame is not how you truly feel, but something that culture is telling you to feel. The logic that your brain uses subconsciously is that if no one talks openly about rape or sexual abuse then that must mean that you can’t mention it, which must mean that someone who has been raped or sexually abused has themselves done something wrong. Identify the madness of society. Admit that you are affected by this cultural shame, even though you know that it doesn’t make sense.

Also understand that ‘rape’ and ‘abuse’ are only words. You don’t need to identify with these words, they’re broad and conjure up culturally-programmed concepts, none of which are exactly the same as what happened to you. Your experiences happened to you and you don’t need to apply a label to understand them, unless that helps you.

Barrier #2: Unfair

It’s easy to get caught up on thinking about how unfair something was. This can block your healing because it removes the responsibility for healing from you. It’s like saying “it’s not my responsibility to heal from this because it should not have happened in the first place.”

To get over this first admit that you feel it’s unfair and really feel the unfairness of it. Be angry with the world. Be angry with God.

Then remember this: neither fair nor unfair really exist. These are imagined concepts. ‘Fair’ comes from a sense of entitlement, it’s something that you think you have a right to; a way that the world is supposed to be. ‘Unfair’ is when something happens that goes against your perceived right to be happy, your right to be safe, your right to be respected, or the world is just not meant to be that way. This is bullshit. There are no rights in life, there never have been and there never will be; everything just is how it is. You do not have a God-given right to be happy, safe or respected; and neither does that ant that I burnt with a magnifying glass when I was 7, neither does that chicken you ate last night, or that cockroach that you killed horribly with bug spray and watched die. Shit happens. It’s up to you to make yourself happy, keep yourself safe and demand respect — but obviously no one is going to understand that they must make themselves happy until they’re sad, no one will make themselves safe until they feel unsafe, and no one will think to demand respect until they see someone treat them without it. We have to learn this stuff. It’s not unfair, it’s just that life is not easy and it’s not supposed to be easy.

So feel the unfair, truly. But know that it’s bullshit. Then be grateful for what you have: you can read, you’re alive, you’re not living naked locked in a cage, you’re on the road to healing, and sooner or later you’re going to be OK again. At least you’re not that cockroach.

Barrier #3: Guilt & Blame

There is often a high level of guilt and blame surrounding traumas. For the victim, partner, family and friends, it is normal to feel guilt that you were unable to protect this person or yourself. This is a natural feeling that you should let out. It is OK to feel the guilt and blame, there is no need to suppress it.

A victim or rape or sexual abuse often feels that they didn’t make it clear enough that it’s not what they wanted. They think that if they’d have made more of a fight, or been more careful about who they trusted, or told someone about it earlier on, then they might have got away. It’s very, very common to feel that you didn’t object fast or loudly or forcefully enough, but that does not make it in any way your fault — they knew that you didn’t want it, they just didn’t care. Feel the guilt. Feel the anger.

With sexual assault it is common for the victim to put up no actual fight (the ‘freeze’ response), this is a normal reaction in some people to traumatic experiences; the mind freezes to protect you from permanent harm. Don’t kid yourself, the abuser knew exactly what they were doing, and they knew you did not want to go along with it. Feel the guilt at yourself truly, and then let it go.

The rapists themselves will often make some attempt to justify their actions because of their own guilt, usually by trying to blame you. They might say it’s because you secretly wanted it, you dressed provocatively, you teased them, you misled them, you were giving mixed signals, you owe them, or anything else they can use to shift the blame onto you. Again, don’t believe this. They knew what they were doing. Reanalyze what happened based on what you know now; you may have been living with a belief that you did something wrong when actually this was a lie the whole time, invented to make the rapist feel better about themselves.

To return to the rapist and have sex with them again willingly is also a normal response. It’s an attempt to undo what happened, a type of denial, it’s you telling yourself “I wasn’t raped. I wanted it really, see!?” Don’t judge yourself or others on this, it’s common. Be angry about it and experience the full range of emotions you have, but at the end of the day know that it’s just a failed coping mechanism, you were trying to undo what happened, and it’s easily forgiven.

Becoming extremely promiscuous, i.e. sleeping around a lot, following rape or sexual abuse, often for years, is also common. Understand that this again is a coping mechanism. If you let other people treat you badly willingly then you can maybe kid yourself that it’s not such a bad thing… it doesn’t work but it was a nice try. Don’t judge yourself or others harshly, someone who does this is just trying and failing to cope with their emotional trauma, and that’s OK. Instead give yourself permission to express your feelings, blame yourself, and then realize that it was not your fault.

Partners and parents often feel a high degree of guilt. One may wish he/she could go back in time and save his/her partner from what happened as he/she feels in some way responsible for not being there to protect him/her. This barrier can be logically addressed by understanding that going back in time to undo it is impossible. Then address the emotions by feeling them and letting them overwhelm you: the failure to protect and any guilt that goes along with that.

And the truth at the end of this? You did the best you could given what you knew and could do at the time. If you knew then what you knew now then maybe you could have done something different, but you didn’t know then what you know now. That’s the point: you did the best you could with what you had. There was no other way, so don’t stress about the impossible. Admit your feelings and express them, but know you did the best you could at the time (if it happened again it’d be different.)

Barrier #4: Losing Innocence / Possessiveness

Victims often feel that something, perhaps their ‘innocence’, was taken from them, or a general feeling that they are no longer a complete person.

For partners, possessiveness in the form of jealousy comes into play here for the same reason. This is something many partners try to suppress as they don’t think it’s appropriate to feel jealous of rape or sexual abuse. However, it’s not jealousy as wanting to do the same thing, but possessiveness as a feeling that your partner has had something of themselves taken by someone else, and therefore you can never have all of them.

Logically this is insanity. Emotionally it makes perfect sense. It’s a very bad idea to deny your feelings as you’ll never get past it and you won’t heal. As always you should begin by giving yourself permission to feel your raw emotions and really feel them. If you feel jealous then feel it and be OK with that. If you are the victim and you feel that something has been taken from you, that you have lost innocence, or become ‘impure’, then feel it and be angry and sad about it.

This feeling is another form of cultural conditioning and shaming. ‘Innocence’ does not exist, it’s a cultural invention creating an unspoken agreement that everybody pretends to children that sex doesn’t exist. The innocence is the lie. It’s just hiding sex from children and calling that normal. Then when a child finds out that sex does exist, like discovering there’s no Santa Claus, we call that abnormal. Actually the ‘innocent’ children are just naïve and the abused child technically has discovered a truth about the world. The way they found it out is sad, but it’s a truth nonetheless; we all have to find out one day that there’s no Santa Claus. Nothing is lost, it’s the naïve ones that are missing something. (Incidentally, there is nothing wrong with sex and we don’t need to pretend to children that it doesn’t exist, doing so is a big part of the problem as it creates cultural shame.)

Adult/teen rapes have the same issue, but this time it’s even crazier because one cannot even pinpoint the thing that is supposed to have been taken away. Pure cultural shame and conditioning. It’s the same innocence that has supposedly been taken, it just makes even less sense now. All lies, nothing was taken. All that happened was that you gained an experience about how the world can be a mean place, and some people should not be trusted, which is true. (It can also be a happy place if you make it so!)

Everything is OK, nothing was taken away; you are still pure and whole. The truth is that the world is not perfect and never was and just because everyone else wants to pretend does not make anything wrong with you — they’re the ones who are confused.

Barrier #5: Physical vs. Emotional

Often people assume that the physical event itself is the issue. It’s not. The feelings and emotions about the event are the problem. The physical experience itself has no meaning; how you feel about it gives it meaning. No physical experience has any meaning in and of itself; meaning is something we give to events and experiences ourselves.

This means that it really doesn’t matter what happened to you. The important thing is how you feel about it, and how you feel about it is something that can be changed from what you are feeling now to how you want to feel about it by being honest with yourself about your current feelings and breaking through the cultural taboos.

Likewise, different people can feel very differently about the same thing. That’s why there’s no point comparing one person’s experience to another person, because two people can feel very differently about the same thing. For this reason never tell yourself “I should be fine because other people have had worse things happen to them.” It doesn’t matter what happened to them or what happened to you, what matters is how you feel.

This includes abuse and manipulation from friends, coworkers, or within supposedly loving relationships. It’s unbelievably common. Probably all women and men have had at least one sexually abusive experience to some degree, such as being coerced into doing something they don’t feel comfortable with, or had someone touch them inappropriately. But we think that it doesn’t ‘count’ as abuse so we just deny our feelings on it. The label, whether it counts or not, whether it was technically illegal in this or that country or not… none of this matters; if you feel bad about it then you need to address your feelings on it. It’s like that.

Advice for when you’re talking to people.

When talking about your experiences give all the relevant detail. Giving too little detail stops people from helping you because they won’t understand exactly what happened, so they can’t properly understand and empathize, and it forces them to fill in gaps with their imagination, which restricts their own healing. If you start explaining then you should finish explaining, and be prepared to answer questions — but you should do so only at a pace you’re comfortable with. Expect questions and answer them at your own pace.

Too much detail is when you are saying things that are irrelevant, things that aren’t important to understanding what happened. If you want to say it then say it; if you don’t want to say it because of shame but you know it’s important then say it; but if you don’t want to say it and its not relevant then don’t say it.

Jealousy from Barrier #4 can cause a partner to want unnecessary details. Whether to go along with this or not depends on both people, how they cope and the consequences of going into too much detail based on their personalities. For some people this will help them accept it, for others it will make it more difficult to accept. The best thing in this case is if the partner realizes the reasons why they want the detail and accepts that they might be feeling jealous instead of trying to help.

If someone responds badly to you attempting to talk to them then that means that they themselves are too affected by to help you right now. It’s not their fault, culture has conditioned them to be like this; they just don’t have the life experience to help you and you should direct them to this article. If this person is important to you then you can help them accept it, but in that case treat them as if it happened to them; they’re going through similar emotions based on cultural shame, unfairness, etc. Find someone else to help you; there are countless people who can help, and just because you found one person who couldn’t that doesn’t mean the next person won’t help.

One final taboo to break.

With most, probably all, men and women going through some form of sexual abuse, let’s admit that that means most men and women have also been an abuser.

Think if there was a time that you didn’t ask permission for something because deep down you knew it’d be a “no”, whether you touched someone because you wanted to and didn’t think about whether they would like it or not, or whether you have ever made anyone else feel guilty for not performing sexually to your satisfaction.

Yes, there is a grey area, but the grey area is easy to navigate: if you respect and consider the other person and they believe that you respect and consider them, then you’re good; otherwise not.

Identify times when you have been the abuser. Feel guilty. Be angry at yourself. Know that you didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Forgive yourself. Think in future about the consequences of your actions on other people. Treat everyone with respect; everyone wants respect, some people just don’t know how to ask for it.

If this helped you I recommend that you share this article with your partner, family and friends.

☯ Magician ⚔ Sorcerer ☀ Shaman ☤ Alchemist ♚ Baron of Blackness

☯ Magician ⚔ Sorcerer ☀ Shaman ☤ Alchemist ♚ Baron of Blackness