If you've experienced rape or sexual violence, you might be going through lots of different feelings or emotions.
You might feel:
- Strong emotions like anger, sadness or fear.
- Unclear about something or unsure what you're feeling.
- Overwhelmed by feelings.
- Like it's hard to cope with day-to-day life.
- Something in your stomach or an uneasiness in your chest.
- Numb or detached.
Common emotions after sexual violence
It can be hard to untangle the range of complicated emotions we feel. It can be helpful to explore your feelings, and identify each one. From here you can start to work through your feelings and begin to heal.
Some common emotions you might experience are:
Anger: you might be feeling angry, irritable or short-tempered with those close to you.
Anxiety: you might feel intense panic, worry or a sense that something is wrong.
Blame: you might feel that you are responsible or to blame for what happened.
Embarrassment: you might feel embarrassed, humiliated and like you don't want anyone to know.
Fear: you might be afraid of people, of places, or of being on your own.
Loneliness: you might feel isolated and alone, like you're the only person who's ever been through this or like you're different from everyone else.
Numbness: you might feel empty or unable to feel anything.
Shame: you might feel 'dirty' or ashamed about what's happened.
Worthlessness: you might feel worthless or even like you hate yourself.
Lots of these feelings might be hard to talk about. But they are common response to sexual violence, and you are not alone.
Releasing control of your emotions and allowing yourself to experience them can be hard. If you feel overwhelmed, stop, remind yourself you are safe and do something comforting or relaxing.
Identifying your feelings
Allowing yourself to feel your emotions somewhere safe can help you identify them.
- Try to relax. Go somewhere you feel safe and comfortable. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and try to relax.
- Pay attention to your body. You might be expressing your emotions physically. This can help you understand what emotion you're feeling. For example, If your heart is beating fast and your breathing is shallow, that might suggest fear or panic. If your muscles are tense, you might be angry.
- Turn your attention inwards and try to focus on how you feel. Try not to pass judgement on your emotions, just allow them to be. If you can, try to name your feelings.
- How strong are your feelings? You might find it helpful to rate your emotions out of ten. For example, how much out of ten are you feeling anger? Sadness? Fear?
Emotions are complicated and we rarely feel just one emotion at a time. You might be feeling a mix of emotions that change throughout the day.
Understanding your feelings
Once you've identified a feeling it can be helpful to know why you're experiencing it.
Take time to ask yourself, 'Why do I feel this way?' This can help you identify thoughts or beliefs at the root of your feelings.
You can then start to challenge these thoughts and beliefs if they're negative or unhelpful. Learn more about challenging unhelpful thoughts.
Art can help us express how we feel when we don't have the words or don't want to use them. There are lots of different ways to use art as self-expression. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Collage: Cut pictures from magazines and newspapers that click with you and reflect with how you feel. Stick them onto paper or card to create a mood-collage.
- Draw a tree: Draw how you feel as a tree. Think about whether it's tall, evergreen, has fruit or flowers etc.
- Mandala: Mandala is Sanskrit for circle. These are Hindu and Buddhist symbols for the universe and are often used in meditation. Colouring in mandalas can help you relax and you can use colour to express how you feel. You can find free templates online or draw your own.
Writing in a journal
Journals are a great way of recording our feelings, concerns or goals. You don't have to write everyday, just when you feel like it.
You can write at any time of the day. You can write as much or as little as you want, even using bullet points to jot down your feelings if you prefer. You can write by hand or type your journal if you find that easier - it's up to you.
Creative writing is a powerful way to express our emotions. You could try writing poetry, a short story or even a play. You could set aside some time each week, or however often you like, to write whatever comes to you.
Type or use a pen or pencil, delete or destroy it after, or keep it to look back at - it's up to you. We've created a list of prompts to help get you started.
Recording your mood can help you identify patterns and keep track of changes. There different ways you can try:
- Rank how you feel on a scale of 1 to 10 and record it every day.
- Colour a segment of a circle or one square in a grid. Use a colour that represents how you feel. Fill in the circle/grid over a month and you'll have a visual picture of your feelings over that time.
- Use an app. There are lots of mood tracker apps available. Be aware some might not be free.
Write a letter
Not for sending, just for you.
You might write to your old or future self, a loved one, or you might not address it to anyone. You might choose to address it to your perpetrator.
Writing a letter can be a way to say things you'd never say in person, aren't ready to say out loud, or haven't had the chance to say to anyone yet. Sometimes we feel we need to say something to someone but we don't always need them to hear it.
Once it's written, you might put your letter away somewhere or destroy it.