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"One year ago, I locked my door and went to sleep; like we all do on any given night. Unfortunately, this night was like no other before and was one I will never be able to forget. I woke up that night to a co-worker who had undressed himself, crawled into my bed and raped me. "
Kathleen, rape survivor

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       Anxiety is reported by most survivors of sexual trauma. Many survivors feel constantly jittery and "on-guard", as if expecting another assault at any moment. Others report panic, or anxiety attacks in which they experience discrete periods of overwhelming fear accompanied by physical symptoms including heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and perspiration. Anxiety can feel debilitating. When you feel an impending panic attack, or are suffering from constant feelings of anxiety, focus on your thoughts and attend to the negative messages that may be playing in your head. Breathe deeply and tell yourself you are okay, and you are safe. Send positive, self-soothing messages to yourself. Focus on your major muscle groups and relax them one at a time. Call a trusted friend/family member and ask him/her to sit with you until the anxiety subsides. Construct a "safe place" in your mind (complete with peaceful images, sounds, and smells) that you can access when you are feeling panicky.


       Perhaps you are having headaches, stomach pain, and/or nausea. You may feel very fatigued, but unable to sleep. Restful sleep requires relaxation and a feeling of safety and security. It is understandable that you may experience sleep difficulties in the aftermath of your trauma, especially if you are having nightmares or were assaulted in your own home. Maybe eating or the thought of eating makes you feel nauseous. Sleep and appetite disturbance, headaches, nausea and other physiological symptoms are expectable responses to extreme stress. Such symptoms may be present for a time until your body regains its balance and you feel safe again. However, if trauma-related symptoms persist without relief, you should consult a physician for an evaluation.


       Angry outbursts and/or persistent irritability are commonly reported by survivors of rape, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. You have a right be angry as no one had the right to violate your mind and body. Many survivors also report feeling angry toward themselves, as they feel they could have or should have done something to prevent what happened. Anger can be frightening, and make you feel as if you're losing control. It can be also triggering if you were brought up in an environment surrounded by violence.

  • Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling.
  • Anger is an emotion that is as deserving of your attention as any other feeling.
  • Express your anger in a way that is not harmful to yourself or others.
  • Exercise is an excellent way to release anger.
  • Deep, abdominal breathing encourages a general feeling of relaxation, thus reducing the tension that accompanies angry feelings.
  • Do not blame yourself for what has happened; it was not your fault.
  • Sorting out angry feelings will help you shift the blame from yourself to your perpetrator. This can be difficult and may take a while, so nurture yourself and give yourself plenty of time to heal.

       In the aftermath of a trauma, you may fear the perpetrator will attack you again, or you may feel afraid of being around men. You may have fear of being alone or going outdoors for fear of being attacked. Perhaps starting a journal and writing about your fears may help you to face them and get through them. Allow yourself time to heal and begin to trust again.

Safe Tips

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Guilt & Shame

       At some point, the majority of survivors have feelings of self-blame, guilt and shame. Guilt has to do with feeling that there's something that you could have done to prevent the attack.
Shame has to do with feeling that you deserved it because you are a bad person or having thoughts of feeling "dirty". Blaming yourself in the assault serves a couple of negative functions.
  • Blaming yourself robs you of a very important resource of help in your recovery-- YOU, the survivor. Shame and guilt can deepen your trauma.
  • Guilt and shame maintain your victim hood and allow your perpetrator more power and control.
  • It perpetuates the myth that the victim is responsible for the perpetrator's behavior.

       It does not matter what you were wearing. It does not matter if you had been drinking. It does not matter that you invited him in after your date. You did not do anything to cause/contribute to what happened to you.

       You may struggle with feelings of shame and guilt for a while, so please find someone to talk to about how you are feeling. Consider writing down all the things you feel guilty/ashamed of, followed by a list of things you feel you did right, and a list of your positive qualities. This is a way for you to confront your feelings and nurture yourself.

Coping with flashbacks
  • Tell yourself you are having a flashback and that this is normal for survivors. Tell yourself that you are safe now.
  • Stomp your feet. If you are sitting, feel the chair. Feel your body and listen to the sounds around you.
  • Breathe slowly; count to five.
  • Call a friend, a loved one or someone who can be supportive and you feel comfortable talking to.
  • Take a warm soothing bath, light lavender scented candles around the room, play soft music.
  • Write your thoughts down in a journal. It always helps to go back and remind ourselves how we got through it.

© 2007 After Silence - This article may not be reprinted or reproduced without express permission.


This site is offered for support of other rape and sexual abuse survivors. It is not meant to be a substitute for any kind of professional help.
If you are in a crisis situation we urge to contact your local rape crisis center or health care professional.

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