Rape and sexual assault are never the victim’s fault. It can feel that way, though. If your teen has been through sexual assault, this is an incredibly confusing and painful time for both of you.
Victims often feel alone, ashamed, and scared. They may get flashbacks or nightmares, or feel haunted by the memory of the assault. The world and everyone in it can feel threatening and untrustworthy. Anxiety, depression and PTSD are common occurrences.
These are all normal reactions to the trauma of an assault. They can be experienced by anyone of any age or gender. With time, patience and dedication, you can help your teen get back his or her control, self-worth and trust in others through the healing process. (For the sake of simplicity, female pronouns will be used for the remainder of this article, though males can also be victims of sexual assault.)
Encourage Your Teen to Take Care of Her Health
Leading a healthy lifestyle after an assault can help a victim get comfortable with her body once again. Right now, she may feel that her body is an enemy or a constant reminder of what happened. With healthy eating, exercise, and other activities that put people in tune with their bodies, it’s possible to start reversing those feelings. For a deep connection with the body, encourage your teen to meditate or try exercises that are soothing and relaxing, like yoga.
Another way to care for one’s health is to avoid performing emotional labor, which happens when a person tries to feel what she thinks is right instead of what’s natural. Common examples of this occur in fields such as nursing, when staff must maintain composure in the face of traumatic events. When emotional labor continues for a long time, burnout can occur, with physical and mental health symptoms like fatigue or insomnia, poor concentration and feelings of hopelessness.
Your teen may try to act like she’s fine on the outside while she’s actually suffering on the inside. While there are times when your teen will want to remain composed, like at school or work, your child should know that she doesn’t have to put on a brave face every second of the day.
Talk to a Trusted Parent, Friend, or Professional
Many teens opt to keep their assault a secret or, even if others know about it, not talk about it. This can be a way of avoiding the truth and the pain that comes with it. Dealing with trauma this way can make it difficult or impossible to heal, and feelings of shame can increase when everything stays bottled up inside. While it’s not a good idea to tell anyone and everyone about what happened — especially not at first — finding a handful of people who will remain empathetic and supportive is necessary to regain what was lost.
Teens should feel like they can open up to a select few people they trust, like their parents or therapist. If it’s too difficult to sit in front of someone and talk about what happened, assault crisis hotlines can provide guidance and support while letting the caller remain anonymous. Parents who are trying to help their teenager through this difficult time may want to speak to someone themselves. They may need help coping with what happened or guidance about how to support their child.
Ease Their Guilt and Fear by Explaining Consent
Even if your teen understands that it’s not her fault that she was assaulted, she may still have lingering feelings of guilt or shame for what happened to her. Helping her regain some control may help with that. You can discuss consent with her and explain how important it is to clearly agree or disagree to any type of intimate or sexual act. You can also talk about common coercion tactics that someone may use to convince potential victims to have sex even if they don’t want to.
Giving consent does not guarantee that a person will not be assaulted; an intimate scenario can change and become unwanted even after consent was given. At the same time, saying “no” does not always prevent an assault. Understanding consent and how to speak up is empowering and may help your teen feel more in control in the future. Furthermore, it will be helpful to explain what a supportive relationship looks and feels like, and how intimacy with someone new doesn’t have to be threatening even following an assault.
When healing from an assault, the best thing everyone can do is give it time. The healing process can be long and painful. It won’t be a straight line — you and your teen will go backward and forward, and sometimes you’ll all feel like you’re dealing with the same emotions and thoughts over and over.
This is the time to let yourselves feel whatever you naturally feel. If you need to scream or punch a pillow, do it (in a constructive way). Know that you’ll all get through this and that the future doesn’t have to be marred by this event, no matter how difficult it is right now.
Author Bio: Magnolia Potter is from the Pacific Northwest and writes from time to time. She prefers to cover a variety of topics and not just settle on one. When Magnolia’s not writing, you can find her outdoors or curled up with a good book. Chat with her on Twitter @MuggleMagnolia.
Image Source: Unsplash
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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