Separation and Loneliness – The Impact of Sexual Trauma and How to Fight It
Trauma can affect you in many ways. Some can be identified with noticeable cues, while others are more subtle and difficult to recognize.
In my clinical experience, one of the most daunting consequences of sexual trauma is the feeling of loneliness that lingers even after the abuse is over. Some people refer to this feeling of loneliness as “the void,” an emotional vault that no matter what they do, stays… empty.
Sexual abuse is a very personal experience, so personal that it can cause the abused to feel as if “I am so alone” and “No one could possibly know how I feel.” This belief can discourage you from reaching out and sharing your story with others. It can cause you to create a wall to separate yourself from anyone whose experience is different from yours because “They will never understand what it’s like to be me.”
When you experience trauma, isolation can find a way to creep into your daily life. What used to be “normal” and enjoyable conversations with family and friends can easily become a trigger. Because of this experience, you may separate yourself from others, including those who love you, as it is easier to avoid than to explain yourself and hope that someone will eventually get it. Over time, this coping mechanism can create feelings of loneliness or emptiness that can’t seem to be filled.
Here are a few things that you may be doing when you’re in emotional pain:
Engage in conversations with others without really sharing anything because you’re afraid of letting them in
Try to deny or avoid talking about the abuse
Push people who care about you away
Change relationships quickly due to fear of commitment
Act out so that people will not like you or leave you alone
Pretend to be someone else rather than yourself
It is easy to numb your pain by cutting yourself off from your loved ones, seeking unhealthy distractions, and/or avoiding talking about the abuse. However, real healing starts when you allow yourself to:
Accept that it’s okay to ask for and receive help.
Hear from people who have been through similar experiences (i.e. attending group therapy).
Let your positive-influence family members and friends in. Leave the negative ones out.
Learn to assert yourself so you can express your needs with your family and friends.
Seek counseling and choose a proper treatment (e.g. EMDR therapy, Trauma-Focused CBT, etc.)
It’s not uncommon for an abuse survivor to believe that sharing their emotions with others will not create the solution to their problem, and as such, “Why bother?”
The answer to this question can be lengthy, but I like to make it simple by sharing with you what I’ve learned from psychotherapy work: when you guard your feelings by locking them away, odds are that isolation and depression will develop.
I know it can be difficult to trust others while you experience intrusive thoughts such as:
“Do my friends and family care enough to support me?”
“Does he/she still love me after learning about what happened to me?”
“Are they trustworthy for me to share how I feel without fear of being judged?”
“Can I trust that my partner would not look at me differently if I told them that I was sexually abused?”
I can also empathize with your fear that sharing your feelings may not create the solution you want, and it is possible that you won’t. But those who find the courage to share their stories often feel empowered to battle the abuse. You become stronger when you realize that you’re not the only one who struggles. So get off the island and go find yourself some help!