How Sexual Trauma Impacts the Survivor in Relationships:
1. Triggers During Sexual Intimacy
Survivors of sexual trauma may at times engage in sex but then during physical intimacy, they may start showing signs of sexual trauma as a result of a trigger that they may or may not be aware of. Sex is very intimate so it can bring out not only sexual trauma stored in the body, but also any other kind of trauma that victim has undergone.
Most of the time the trigger has nothing to do with you as a partner but it can seem directed at you. This can be very disturbing for the partner. As a bodyworker, I work with a lot of clients who have undergone some sort of trauma, especially sexual trauma in their life.
Sometimes trauma can be so strong and deeply rooted that in spite of having worked through it for years, it can still be seated in the body.
2. Lack of Trust in Relationships
Lack of trust in relationships is quite common for sexual assault survivors. After all, they have experienced a violation of their most intimate selves on many levels. For women who were violated by a man, for example, this may manifest as a general distrust or unease around men in general, even outside of intimate relationships: Men are not trustworthy. I don’t feel safe around men. I don’t know what happens to me when I am around men. All men are sexual predators.
In relationships, survivors of sexual assault may exhibit trust issues, conflict avoidance, and seemingly irrational fears, triggers to anger, and other seemingly drastic responses to certain triggers that they may or may not be aware of. Many of these ultimately come back to issues of trust due to the deep violation they have experienced.
3. The Body Stores Trauma
We often associate safety with physical boundaries but safety also happens at all of the layers of the body, including the mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual layers of the body. However, the physical body can store these other layers of trauma, keeping them locked up in the physical body, creating energy blockages and preventing full emotional healing.
Through deep bodywork this stored trauma can be accessed and released, and the lost self can be re-engaged. In my bodywork with clients who have experienced sexual trauma I help in releasing the trapped negative emotions which have been accumulated in the cellular memory and muscles and help them fill those with positive emotions. When negativity leaves the body, space becomes free and if such space is filled with positive emotions, it tends to start bringing change in the body and overall well-being of the person.
4. Trauma is Not Just in the Head
We have to understand that the impact of trauma isn’t just in the head. Quite often in relationships, we have a tendency to process verbally and intellectually. When we are using words, we are trying to create an impact by rationalizing.
In order to recover from sexual trauma, survivors need to go beyond the cognitive and into the energetic, emotional, physical, and spiritual layers of their body for more complete healing. While we can help survivors feel loved, cared for, and safe, this will only help to a certain extent because this will not allow the deeply rooted trauma to be touched, come to the surface, and be released.
“Trauma memory is as much in the sensory receptors, in the skin and in the muscles as it is in the brain.”Alan Fogel, Body Sense
Tune in tomorrow for part three, “Helping a Trauma Survivor.”