Ways to Cope With Sexual Abuse Trending On Social Media

Stories of sexual abuse have been flooding social and mainstream media since the alleged sexual assaults of Harvey Weinstein.  They come from all types of workplaces including offices, government, motion pictures, television, the recording industry and sports to name a few. Both male and female victims have stepped forward.

Olympic gymnast Ali Raisman was in Sarasota, Florida today.  She gave an interview on ABC 7 Suncoast News.  She talked about how sexual abuse and sexual assault affects the victims.

“She stated that it’s not just the moment in which the abuse occurs, but it’s also the other moments. The moments where you’re getting gifts or being treated nicely by someone who has power and who has worked to gain your trust.

It is those moments when you have to deal with other people saying that this person is nice and deal with the fact that it’s not OK for the perpetrator to be abusing his or her power in that way.”

She also stated that each victims deals with the effects of sexual abuse differently. She asked that we not judge them for not stepping forward. Support those that do report and support the ones who do not feel strong enough to step forward about the abuse. Everybody needs help and everybody heals in their own way.

“Know That It’s OK to Need Help…the need for self compassion is essential,” say Bryant-Davis. “And some people will be very hard on themselves and say, ‘I thought I was over it,’ but there’s an additional layer of pain in not just being reminded of it but also in seeing the lack of response that other people received.” -from Deb Schwartz’s article

My patients have been expressing feelings of anger, fear, distrust, disillusionment and disappointment. Some voiced anger towards the women who don’t speak up or the people in authority and bystanders who don’t step up to stop the abuse.

Debbie Schwartz’s article on Life Hacker titled how to cope with recent news events about sexual abuse has good pointers for victims of abuse. Of particular interest is the fact that not everybody has to come forward. If you have not started a journey of healing in therapy, you may not be ready to assume an activist role or offer support to others. She highlights the different feelings that may arise related to recent news events: irritability, anger, despair, anxiety, and depression. Some people may withdraw and others may be acting out more. Some people may find it difficult to focus on their work or their activities of daily living.

Some suggestions I give my patients are to limit social media viewing. If you have notifications on your phone for various social media apps turned them off or agree to only look at those notifications during a certain time of the day for a brief period of time. Don’t watch the news 24 hours a day. Limit your news viewing. The article suggested turning of notifications of “trending topics”. In addition, If family or friends or coworkers are bringing up the subject try to change the subject or say that you would prefer not to discuss that subject right now or that you had enough of the discussion on that subject right now. Also recommend it were some self soothing exercises. You could engage in some relaxed breathing or diaphragmatic breathing to get your pulse and heart rate back under control. You could engage in meditation. You could also do some physical activities such as walking or tai chi. You could also engage a psychotherapist again.

The article also recommended that victims recognize what their triggers are. Some of my patients have been re-triggered by the news events.

The article also discussed posttraumatic triggers that may occur due to these experiences.

“Being triggered is really about when our body is detecting some kind of threat around us and then moving into the fight, flight or freeze response as a way to protect us from that threat.” As humans, we are built to respond to real threats to our safety (say, an animal or human attacking us) in the moment by fighting, running away, or freezing. But Appio and many other mental health professionals agree that certain stimuli that take place only in the mind—for example, hearing or reading about sexual abuse—can trip or trigger false alarms in the mind and body that set off those same fight/flight/freeze responses, even when the danger isn’t physically present.

The symptoms are just as distressing whether or not the stimuli is physically present. Psychotherapists help victims differentiate between past trauma and current situations that trigger the same symptoms as the original abuse. Further, they also help victims learn to manage their PTSD symptoms.

I would recommend other ways to think about ensuring your safety or increase over the likelihood of your safety and certain situations. Each situation is individual and with a therapist you can individualize your approach to ensuring yours safety.

If you or a family member have experience sexual abuse, help is available. There are legal avenues as well as counseling for the effects of the abuse. We are here to help at the Bradenton Counseling Center.  You may also find a local chapter of RAINN in your area for support group sessions or check out the group sessions offered in your area. Group counseling may be more affordable than individual therapy for some. Here in Sarasota County, you may check the Women’s Redource Center or The Jewish Family Counseling Services.

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