Restoring Intimacy: 5 Ways to Overcome Sexual Trauma
Sexual trauma can leave lasting scars on an individual and relationships can be damaged as a result of it. Intimacy can seem like an impossible goal, but it is not. There are ways to mend the broken bonds of intimacy and restore relationships. For too many women, sexual trauma can have a lasting impact on their lives. You may feel scared or uncomfortable during intimate moments, unable to truly open up and share yourself with an understanding partner. It's important to remember that you are not alone in this struggle - there is hope for restoring intimacy after sexual trauma. We'll explore 5 practical ways for overcoming the hurdles of past experiences so that you can find healing and begin reconnecting with those closest to you. It won't be easy but by making small changes each step of the way, together we will take back the power to reclaim your own body and restore your sense of desire. Relationship therapist and crisis counselor, Tamara Thompson, LMFT in New York City breaks down the 5 ways you can start reclaiming your power.
Acknowledge your feelings and practice self-love - take time to identify and honor your emotions
Self-love requires dedication, commitment, and compassion. When people first begin to familiarize themselves with the term self-love and/or decide they want to practice self-love, many believe it is the execution of self-care. Self-care is indeed an expression of self-love, it is an action. Self-love encompasses the acceptance of all parts of ourselves, including the things we do not like, the parts of ourselves we think are unlovable and/or shameful, the feelings that we do not want to have, and what Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist, and psychologist referred to as, our shadow self, the self we try to hide, even from ourselves. To exist in self-love, we must learn to acknowledge and accept all of who we are and what we feel. Brene Brown, professor, podcast host, and author's latest book titled, Atlas of the Heart, names and defines emotions. This book is an extremely helpful resource as it teaches us to identify emotions in a way that most of us did not learn how to do growing up. Once you can acknowledge feeling an uncomfortable emotion, being able to name it will support you with managing it. You owe it to yourself to validate your emotions and you do this by reminding yourself that all feelings are valid and deserve to be processed. A simple method to remember this is to listen to your body. Usually, when we are triggered or experience uncomfortable emotions we will feel it in our bodies. Perhaps it will feel like tightness in your chest or stomach, tension in your neck or shoulders, a knot or rumbling in your stomach, an immediate headache, or shortness of breath. Take the time to listen to your body and breath through it. Next, you want to ask yourself, “how do I feel?” When you identify and acknowledge how you feel, the next step is to ask yourself, “what do I need?” We honor ourselves when we take the time to stop and notice how we feel, take a breath, validate the emotion, identify what we need, and then execute on providing ourselves with what we need. We get to remember that we are worth being cared for, listened to, and be emotionally “held.” When we learn to do this regularly we show ourselves that we know how to keep ourselves safe and remind ourselves that our feelings have value, because we have value.
Talk to a trusted friend or family member about what you’re going through
It is important to have people close to you that can be a source of comfort and support when life gets hard. Talking to a trusted family member or friend is one of the best ways to deal with difficult emotions and challenging experiences. You don't have to go through anything alone - talking with someone you trust and respect can help you gain clarity and new perspectives on your situation. When the going gets tough, don’t be afraid to ask those around you for advice and encouragement.
Find support groups and counselors who are experienced in helping people with sexual trauma
Seeking support groups and counselors in your area who specialize in trauma recovery is an excellent way to start rebuilding your life after a traumatic experience. These professional support networks can provide invaluable comfort and advice—helping you work through your emotions, understand how to protect yourself from further harm, and even (in time) heal past wounds so that they no longer control your life. Taking this step may feel intimidating at first, but it is an essential part of reclaiming and reinforcing one's sense of self. "The first thing to do is get support. A therapist or counselor can support an individual who has experienced sexual trauma and discuss the various healing techniques they may want to explore." Tamara shares. Support groups are usually beneficial and can be attended alongside individual therapy. Many people find that they feel safer in a group setting initially and then opt for individual therapy once they feel more comfortable. Others find their place of worship to be a huge support, as they feel safe in their “community” and lean into their faith. The most important thing it to get support.
Some places to seek help are:
Psychology Today and search by sexual trauma or one of the modalities you are interested in.
National Sexual Assault hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673)
Nami.org/help (to chat) Call: 800-950-NAMI (6264) Text: 62640 Email: Helpline@nami.orgNational Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) Website: http://www.nsvrc.org/
Educate yourself on healthy boundaries and learn how to communicate them with your partner
Setting healthy boundaries in a relationship is essential for both parties to feel safe and respected. It can help keep arguments from escalating, prevent hurt feelings, and ensure both people have a voice. However, it often takes practice to understand what boundaries you need in a relationship, learn how to communicate those boundaries to your partner, and then employ them effectively. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available that can be used to educate yourself on the subject. That way you can both find the balance between trusting intimately and keeping a healthy emotional distance in your relationship. Understanding how to set boundaries can often make the difference between success and failure in any kind of partnership.
In my latest workbook, After the Breakup, a Self-Love workbook I share that “Boundaries are ground rules that you set to protect and honor yourself. Boundaries are important because they protect your emotional well-being, values, comfort, and safety. They are a foundational component of self-love and let others know how you expect to be treated. How do you know when you need them? If you feel violated, drained, taken advantage of, unseen, ignored, undervalued, overextended, used, or any other unpleasant emotion, it is an indication that something needs to change. The more you pay attention to how interactions make you feel, the more you will notice when a boundary should be put into place. When you have recognized that a boundary is needed, it is imperative that you communicate your need for a boundary with your partner. Boundaries get to be stated clearly and compassionately. Reminding your partner that the boundary is not about them, but rather something that you are putting into place because you need it as a form of self-care and self-love. Remember, if a boundary is shared, especially for the first time, your partner deserves to know and understand the reason why.
These three steps can be helpful:
1. Identify what makes you feel uncomfortable and why.
2. Share what will make you feel more comfortable.
3. Clearly express the boundary that you are creating/putting in place.
It can be helpful to carve out time for a discussion that allows your partner to ask questions and share their thoughts and feelings about your new boundary. Both partners' perspectives and feelings get to be acknowledged and validated. This does not mean that you have to bend or not execute your boundaries. It means that if you are in a relationship, you both get to feel heard and validated. Letting your partner know that the way they can show you love, and support is by honoring your boundary. Once shared, if the partner’s boundaries are violated, a discussion gets to be had around what the consequences are/what needs to happen moving forward because constant boundary-crossing means the boundary is ineffective and can feel disempowering and emotionally harmful. We all deserve to feel safe in our relationships both physically and emotionally. If someone does not feel safe in their relationship, they should seek out immediate support and take action steps to rectify the situation.
Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, to help reduce stress levels
Stress can feel unavoidable in the modern world, but it doesn't have to control you. Finding healthy ways to reduce your stress levels is essential for mental and physical well-being. Practicing simple relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, can be a great way to help gain better control over stressful feelings. Deep breathing helps you to regain calm by focusing on the breath and easing worry through mindful thinking. On the other hand, meditation helps relax both body and mind by training attention and awareness, allowing you truly step out of busy thoughts and worries. Even if just for a few moments each day, practicing these techniques can make a big difference in overall stress levels and bring peace into your life. Ultimately, it is important to remember that healing from sexual trauma is a journey and a process – it takes time and will likely involve relapses and difficult moments. While the current conditions may not be ideal for dealing with such issues, it's possible to cope in constructive ways. Remember, you are stronger than the trauma; it does not define who you are and need not dictate your life ahead. Seek out those in your circle of friends, family, or professionals who can support you in an informed and loving way. Take one day at a time, practice self-care and self-compassion, learn as much as you can about healthy boundaries—and most of all trust that things can get better over time.