The Shattering Impact of Trauma
anonymous Asks ...
I was raped 2 years ago. This is weird to say but I don’t know how to be myself anymore. It is never something I used to think about but I always just knew who I was – I was me. Now I’m like bits and pieces. I am certainly less confident and assured than I used to be. I feel like I have lost my sense of myself and It’s like I don’t know myself anymore and I don’t like who I have become. I can’t really explain better than this but I know it’s hard to understand. Does this make any sense to you? Is this common? Is there anything I can do to stop feeling like this and start feeling like me again?
Dr. Richard Schultz Says ...
I am so very sorry for the painful event you experienced two years ago, and for the very distressing effects this traumatic event has had on your thoughts, feelings and behavior.
What you are describing is not at all uncommon for those whose lives have been turned upside down by something as awful and upsetting as sexual assault. These symptoms are often given a diagnosis of "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder," and they commonly include unpleasant memories, nightmares or other re-experiencings of the trauma, a change in one's perceived ability to feeling loving toward others, difficulty remembering aspects of the event, a sense of fear or vigilance in otherwise harmless situations, difficulty sleeping, or a sense of numbness, as if one is not fully alive. It is therefore understandible that even just a few of these symptoms would lead you to feel very differently than you did BEFORE the rape. You have begun to question things you used to simply take for granted, such as being among a group of people or walking down the street. The fact is, you ARE different now, because you are aware that such an awful thing could actually happen to you.
The good news is that PTSD is highly treatable, and I therefore strongly recommend that you seek treatment from a qualified mental health professional immediately. Ideally, you would see someone with a specialization in treating trauma, and who uses empirically validated methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and/or EMDR. This treatment is designed to help you get back to the life you lived prior to the event, and to help you stop avoiding the people, places and situations that you may now be avoiding out of fear. This may be somewhat uncomfortable at first, but it will help you heal quickly. There are many excellent books on understand the effects of trauma on psychological and behavioral functioning, and it may help for you to do some reading as well. In particular, I would suggest "Trauma and Recovery" by Judith Lewis Herman. By reading, and working in therapy, you can move from surviving to thriving, even in the wake of something so destructive and upsetting.
Again, I extend my sympathies to you, and stronly encourage you to seek treatment. I am very glad to decided to write to me, and I hope this information has been of some use to you. Please keep me posted and don't hesitate to ask if you have additional questions or concerns.
Richard E. Schultz, Ph.D.