This is the first in a series of posts by professional therapists and clinical researchers on their observations of the long-term impacts that sexual assault can have to the lives it affects.
What Happened to You and How It Impacted Your Life Matters
by Emily Lapolice
As a trauma therapist, it is clear to me that one of the most common experiences shared by sexual assault survivors, regardless of the details of their particular experience is the sense of feeling invalidated, dismissed, or blamed for what happened to them. The minimizing and diminishing response that so many survivors are met with when they try to tell their story or seek help speaks to the collective silencing that has taken place in our society. Personal experiences of trauma are denied and even attempted to be erased. It can leave survivors feeling like their experience doesn’t matter or didn’t count – it vanishes. And so often, the survivor vanishes along with their experience.
Deep feelings of shame and isolation can be common experiences for many. It’s also very common to be filled with doubt, guilt, and confusion. Memories of the event, sometimes only available in visceral snapshots (colors, images, smells, sensations) can feel all consuming and painfully clear, and at the same time beg to be forgotten and fade into the deep recesses of one’s mind and body.
But no matter how much one may want to erase the memories, thoughts, images and feelings or push them as far down as possible, the body remembers. Many of the clients I have worked with who have experienced sexual assault have struggled with the notion that their experience might not have been “as bad” as other experiences. For many, this belief may have prevented them from sharing their story or naming what happened to them. Of course there is a range and spectrum of experiences – but at the core of trauma, regardless of the specific context exists a shared experience: that something was done to, forced upon, or taken from someone without their consent (or ability to consent) and beyond their control. Choice was lost…or never provided.
The Impact Project could be a small step in taking back some of the choice and control that was lost during experiences of trauma. Naming what happened, sharing your story, and contributing to a collective voice could be part your healing journey – early on or farther along the way. We are listening, and you are not alone.