How PTSD can haunt sexual abuse survivors

On Behalf of | Mar 30, 2023 | Survivors - Resources & Help

It’s no question that sexual abuse can leave survivors in distress. Sadly, many still live with their trauma, even when they’re no longer in danger. The trauma survivors experience, whether they were abused one time or 100 times, can be so intense that some develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result.

The condition can negatively affect multiple aspects of a person’s life, even if all they want is to move on. According to one study, 45% of survivors displayed symptoms of PTSD.

PTSD can make life more challenging for survivors

PTSD from sexual abuse can lead to physical, emotional and mental symptoms that can cause issues in their daily lives. Those can include:

  • Traumatic flashbacks to encounters with their abuser
  • Nightmares about the abuse or the abuser
  • Insomnia
  • Intrusive thoughts about the abuser
  • Difficulty concentrating at work, school or home
  • Intense triggers fueled by smells, tastes, touches or sounds that remind them of the abuse
  • Constant hypervigilance
  • Strong emotional outbursts (random fits of anger or crying)
  • Extreme fear or distrust of others, including loved ones
  • Head/body aches
  • Avoidant behaviors

According to VeryWell Health, some survivors with PTSD may engage in various coping mechanisms. While no survivor handles their trauma similarly, some methods can be unhealthy or present themselves in opposite extremes. For example, they say some survivors may avoid sex entirely while others engage in frequent or risky sexual encounters. They also say survivors with PTSD may abuse substances to numb their symptoms.

Is there help available for survivors with PTSD?

As the link between sexual abuse and PTSD becomes more apparent, more resources and therapies are available to survivors. Health care professionals say there is no cure for PTSD, but that survivors can treat it if they find effective care from a licensed professional. If your loved one is a survivor with PTSD, your support and encouragement are crucial. Providing an open ear and offering help when they want it can go a long way.

Living a fulfilling life is still possible after abuse

PTSD can stay with survivors long-term. However, they can still lead enjoyable and meaningful lives while addressing their past trauma. Whether that includes PTSD treatment or getting their day in court, survivors deserve compassion and assistance from the people they love most.