For Sexual Assault Survivors During #metoo and #ibelieveher

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The past couple of weeks have been intense. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford went head to head with her abuser Brett Kavanaugh in front of a large committee. She was forced to recount painful details of the assault she survived, and even educate others on the mechanics of the brain (well, that was pretty badass...). #ibelieveher became the cry of supports and other sexual assault victims who have hoped to shift the treatment of survivors of sexual assault. Dr. Ford’s testimony is cast in front of a larger backdrop of the #metoo movement. Many people are sharing their own stories of sexual assault and perpetrators are being called out. Needless to say, it has been a very triggering time for people who have survived sexual assault, harassment, or any kind of sexual violence.

While we are certainly seeing an exciting cultural shift, it is tough to live in the world of #metoo if you’ve experienced any type of sexual violence. If you’re finding yourself especially triggered, this post is for you.

What does it mean to be triggered?

A “trigger” refers to an event or stimulus that reminds you of a traumatic or distressing event. Being triggered can often feel like reliving that traumatic event, it can stir up symptoms of anxiety, or it can cause you to ruminate on the details of what happened. Triggering situations often bring forth feelings of guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, self-doubt, feeling unsafe, and self-hatred. Being triggered looks different for everyone and if something you’re experiencing is not listed here, it does not invalidate your experience. One-size-[does not]-fit-all when it comes to mental health. 

Being Triggered in Public

Finding yourself triggered in public is a terrifying experience. Here are a few tips of discrete ways to stay grounded when you find yourself being triggered in a public setting. 

  • Physically ground yourself. Plant both of your feet firmly on the ground, sit down if you have to, and feel your feet against the earth. Recognize where you are - you are not back where the event happened, but you are in the present in a safe space. Clamp your feet to the ground, deep breath, and notice what is around you. If you are not in a safe space, look around to see how you can get yourself to a safe space. 
  • Orient yourself to where you are. With your feet planted, take some deep breaths. What day is it? What time is it? Are you warm or cold? What colors do you see around you? What sounds do you hear? Wiggle your toes. Take a moment to bring your awareness to the present moment and remind yourself that the painful past event is not happening right now. 
  • Count your breaths. Count in for seven, inhale through your nose. Count out for five, exhale through your mouth. Focus on counting, and the sensation of breathing. Often, in states of panic, the best thing we can give our brain is oxygen. It’s science - try it! 
  • Carry two soothing objects with you. What is a soothing object? Anything small that helps you feel safe. For example, worry stones/dolls, quarters, crystals, stress balls, etc. Why carry two? You can actually create a modified EMDR experience for yourself.  Eye Movement Desentization and Reprocessing is a way to calm yourself and reprocessing troubling events. Take your two objects and squeeze it back and forth (righ hand, left hand, right hand, and so on). Try this out in private to see if it has a calming effect on you!
  • Find an exit. It is absolutely okay if you need to leave the situation you’re in.  You do not need to explain why to anybody. If you feel compelled to tell somebody you are leaving, simple say “something came up”. Needing to leave a situation does not mean you are weak, it means that you need to take care of yourself. Find a safe place to calm down and care for yourself.

Create a self-care plan.

It is so important to have a plan in place that is tailored to your needs when you’re feeling triggered. Below are some things to consider incoporating in your self-care plan. 

  • Repeat the above steps. Ground yourself, orient yourself to where you are, and count your breaths. Do this until you start to feel calm enough to take the next steps.  
  •  Physical self-care. What makes you feel better? Exercise, baths, meditation? What are some things you can do to take care of your body when you’re feeling stress? A great way to check in with your physical needs is to “HALT”. Ask yourself, “Am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?” If one of these is true, do what you can to remedy this. If you’re hungry, make yourself something to eat. If you’re tired, try taking a nap or laying down for a rest.
  • Emotional or creative self-care. Journaling, reading, painting, writing in the Notes app on your phone... All of these can help you shift the emotional energy into a creative outlet. Try something soothing. 
  • Boring self-care. This can actually be the most profound form of self-care. Here are a few examples of “boring” self-care: do the dishes, clean your room, book a doctor’s appointment, take a shower, take a nap, clear your voicemails, take something off your to-do list! It may be that you’re feeling so bad that you feel you can’t do much. Try doing something that is considered “boring” self-care, and then celebrate that.
  • Find a supportive community. It can be uncomfortable sharing about your experiences with sexual violence, especially in the light of the conversation taking place on a societal level. There are people out there who do not make it feel safe to share, that is a fact. Find people who understand your story and do not question your story. Maybe you have friends and family who talk to you about this, or maybe you need to find a group of people who have been through a similar experience. Find what works for you. If you’re looking for a group, you can Google “support group for sexual assault survivors near me”. You will likely find a list of groups to choose from. In some cases, you may be able to find an online group!
  • Take a break from people who do not support you. If you are in a situation where someone is not believing you - take a break from that person! If you are being attacked online about your experience, feel freedom to block that person. You do not have to keep these people in your life. Find people who are supportive, loving, and have your best interest in mind.
  • Determine your own sexual boundaries. Spend time reflecting on what your boundaries are can help you feel more in control. It is tough to reincorporate sex in your life after a traumatic experience. It is up to you how much of your story you want to share, and with who. You can tell your sexual partner, “I don’t want you to say this while we are having sex”. Or, “I don’t want to be in this position during sex”. You do not need to explain yourself further. This is a boundary you are drawing, and it should be respected. You can also share with your partner, “Before having sex, I need to tell you some things about my past traumatic experiences in order to feel safe during sex.” These conversations can be uncomfortable, but a quality partner will respect these boundaries. It is okay to take sex after a traumatic experience as slow or as fast as you would like. You have the right to determine your own sexual preferences and to communicate that.
  • Consider therapy. If you’re not in therapy, it might be a good time to start. Therapy can be scary -  so many people just imagine it to be an hour of crying every week. The good news is it does not have to be this way. A good therapist will meet you where you are emotionally. You should not feel pressured to share your story until you’re ready. You can take therapy at your own pace.

Being a survivor right now is hard. If you have survived sexual assault, harrassment, or violence - you are loved, you are valuable, and you are strong. If you need additional support during these times, reach out to a therapist. Schedule a free consultation  with a therapist and take your time to find a good match.

What are some ways that you have found helpful when coping with triggers? Sharing your experience can help others find new methods!