Rebuilding Your Life After Rape

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Becoming Whole Again: Rediscovering Life After Rape

Published Apr 9, 2014

Rape is one of the worst violations a person can suffer, and the scars can be everlasting — but you can reclaim your life.

More than 17 million women and 2.78 million men in the United States have been victims of rape, according to the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The pain and trauma of rape are indescribable because rape robs you of your sense of safety, your sense of being in control, and your authority over your own body. Coming back from this place of deep hurt and rage will be very difficult. It is possible to heal after rape and to survive sexual assault with your heart and spirit intact, but the journey of healing will take time, strength, and determination.

Many people compare rape to a sort of death. Your whole life becomes split in two: Life before rape and life after rape. The person you were before the rape might feel distant, unreal, and unreachable. A new person has emerged and may not be someone you even recognize because this new individual is anxious, mistrusting, angry, lost, and in constant pain.

Millions of rape survivors must work through similar distress. A survivor has to sort out her identity and make sense of the trauma. Reaching a place of strength and hope after rape will take time and effort. The healing won’t happen overnight. There are certain feelings that many rape survivors share: You will likely feel shut off from much of your past life.

You might lose interest in things you once enjoyed, and you might discover that you have a whole new set of goals and priorities. You might reevaluate your friendships or relationships with people around you, and you might even decide that you want to move or make another life change. All of these are normal, healthy measures of healing, but it’s important to make sure that you don’t make decisions in haste. It is also crucial to surround yourself with a strong support system and healing activities.

  • Friends and family can help you stay connected to your true self and keep you from losing sight of the person you used to be, and therapy can help you work through your new fears and anxieties as you rebuild your life.
  • Volunteering can also be a wonderful way for you to rediscover a sense of purpose and control. By doing good in the world around you, you can help to combat those feelings of sadness and loss. You might volunteer at a local crisis center or a women’s shelter, or you might volunteer in a field unrelated to your attack, such as an animal shelter or a soup kitchen. By bringing joy and hope to other people, you can help to bring joy and hope back to yourself, and these feel-good emotions will keep depression and anxiety at bay.
  • Exercise is another crucial part of the healing process. Even if you aren’t one for sweating it out at the gym, there is no denying the power of exercise. It is healing to the mind, body, and spirit, and it can help you reconnect with your body and your inner strength in a way that is physical and real to the touch. By pushing your body and finding willpower and strength you didn’t even know you had, you can start to reconstruct your identity and regain control over your destiny. But you don’t have to run on the treadmill or do a boring workout video. Instead, find an exercise that you enjoy on a physical and emotional level, whether that is swimming, softball, dancing, walking, etc. Don’t focus on weight loss; instead, put your focus on strength and personal growth. With each mile you run or each pound you lift, remember that you are in control. And that can feel amazing and empowering.
  • Lastly, make sure to give voice to your personal story. Don’t hide your rape or force down your emotions. Every step you take on your healing journey is an important one and that includes crying. Talking about your rape will help you work through these emotions and give meaning to your story. It is also an opportunity to help others who are suffering through similar circumstances.

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