The following excerpt has been taken from “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” – created and distributed by the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. You can download the complete booklet in English, Afrikaans or isiXhosa, from their website: rapecrisis.org.za
Each person copes with trauma in a different way, depending on her or his circumstances. How long your journey to recovery takes will depend on many things, including your situation and how supportive the people around you are. If you are worried that negative feelings are lasting too long or becoming overwhelming, you might consider getting help. It’s important to remember that there are people who can help you, such as a rape counsellor, social worker, psychologist, clinic sister or even a family member or a friend you can trust.
Partners, parents or friends and family members may not know how to respond to you, and may even share some of your feelings about the rape. They can also choose to go for counselling so that they can learn to understand their own feelings and how to offer you more support.
On the other hand, people around you might need to distance themselves from what happened to you because, although it could happen to them too, they don’t want to believed that. Some people might not be supportive, because they themselves live with men who rape, or because It has happened to them and they don’t want you to remind them of their own painful experiences. The truth is that not everyone around you will be supportive, and you may feel alone in dealing with some things. However, you don’t have to be alone on your journey along the road to recovery – there are signposts that can help you on your way.
Phases of Recovery
The first signpost along the road to recovery is realising that there is a pattern to how most people progress or move through the trauma of rape. However these phases don’t follow on neatly from one to another; you may move backwards and forwards through the phases as you work through the trauma.
There is no single way to recover; your journey is unique. With good support, people can recover from rape, but many people choose not to get support and not to tell anyone about what happened. The following phases can also be seen in people who do not go for counselling:
Immediately after the rape, most survivors feel shock, dismay, fear, panic and anger. Some survivors show this by being numb or dazed, others by being openly upset. You would probably react this way in the first few hours, days and weeks after the rape, but usually not longer than two weeks afterwards. This is the first phase of the crisis. It is called the acute phase because it is so intense. Many survivors are unable to talk about the rape. You might have nightmares and feel shocked, guilty, afraid, ashamed, powerless, angry, depressed and afraid of being touched. These feelings can be overwhelming.
Outward Adjustment Phase
In this phase, most survivors try to carry on with their lives as normal. To anyone looking at you from the outside, you may seem to be coping. You might even feel this way yourself. You need to go through this phase to reassure yourself that you can cope. During this phase, you test your ability to survive the experience. You may use all kinds of different ways of coping, such as pretending the rape didn’t happen or pushing thoughts and feelings away.
In this phase, rape survivors are usually not open to coming for counselling. You tend to feel a lot less troubled than during the acute phase, but you may not want to speak about the rape very much. This can be difficult for those close to you who wish to be helpful and think they can do that by getting you to talk. They may feel frustrated if you don’t want to talk or they may put pressure on you to behave differently. You might find that during this phase what you really need is for people to let you be.
During the integration phase, the part of you that felt overwhelmed by intense emotions during the acute phase and the part of you that felt almost nothing during the outward adjustment phase come together. The intense feelings start to come back, but less overwhelming than before. You may begin to feel depressed or anxious and start thinking about the rape when you least expect to. This is the time when you might wish to talk a bit more about what happened. You might start having nightmares again and feel shocked, guilty, afraid, ashamed, powerless, angry, depressed and afraid of being touched or of being alone. You may well find that you cannot function the way you used to. You may also start to think about the rapist more.
Many survivors in this phase believe their feelings mean they have serious emotional problems or are going mad. This is a good time to go for counselling because it can give you support and comfort, with respect for what you are going through. You can also get information about what you are going through in the form of psycho-education. Psycho-education helps you and people close to you understand and deal with the feelings you have. Also, your counsellor will help you find your own strengths, resources and coping skills, so that you learn to be a part of your own recovery and contribute to your health and wellness on a long-term basis. The better the knowledge you have about what you’re going through, the better you can live with it and share it.
You begin to make sense of the trauma and to feel safer in the world. During this phase your symptoms will ease off or disappear. The memory of the rape will not have the same effect on you. You may start to feel good about life again. You may still feel emotional at times, but overall you will feel more in control and able to move forward.
Common Feelings or Reactions to Rape
During the first two phases, many people report feeling or experiencing:
- Powerlessness and a loss of control
- An inability to speak about the rape
- A fear of touching
- Grief about loss
- The desire to use drugs and alcohol
- The desire to hurt themselves, for example by cutting themselves
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings
For information on common feelings and reactions to rape please visit the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust website at: http://rapecrisis.org.za/ – alternatively download “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” booklet from http://rapecrisis.org.za/rape-in-south-africa/you-rape-booklet/
Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. (2011). Reactions to Rape. In The Road to Recovery: You and Rape (pp. 41 – 51). [Online available from: http://rapecrisis.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/you-and-rape-booklet-english.pdf [Accessed: 21 July 2015].
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