Am I A Trauma Survivor?

By Sherry Atanasio, LMSW

(Warning: please proceed with caution if you are a trauma survivor)

This piece is not about throwing blame at a certain presidential candidate or even about influencing your political decisions in any way. It is about how (as of now), 11 women have dared to step forward to disclose details of their sexual assault and the widespread impact of this event. There has been immediate backlash in terms of invalidating these women’s experiences and their decisions to come forward. I’m hearing things such as, “Why now?” “Why wait so long?” and “That’s not even rape"— as if some violations are more okay than others, or that reporting such a distressing event should happen immediately in order for it to be true. The bottom line is that no one deserves to be assaulted, no matter the circumstances or what others might say.

The media coverage of this election has been incredibly triggering not only for those 11 women, but for anyone who has experienced sexual assault in their lifetime. What does “being triggered” mean? It is a psychological and physiological response to surviving a dangerous, near death, or violating experience. It can also happen to people who are close with someone who have experienced such an event. Here are some forms it can take:

  • Difficulty in controlling intrusive thoughts of the event, feeling as though the trauma is happening again, or recurring nightmares

  • Feeling easily startled, fearful, unsafe, “on edge”, numb, agitated, or even angrier than usual

  • Physiological symptoms of stress such as heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, lightheadedness, cold sweats, etc.

  • An urge to avoid people, objects and places that cause or intensify the above symptoms

  • Guilt, shame, self-blame, isolation, and decreased concentration

It takes courage to disclose trauma, and resilience to commit to one’s recovery.  Each person’s process of healing and owning trauma is different, and there is no “correct” way to do it. Every survivor deserves to have a voice and a chance to heal.

Sherry Atanasio, LMSW is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy.  If you are a trauma survivor and are looking for support, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn how therapy might be able to help.