Giving Yourself Time to Feel

Feelings. We all experience them, even when we don’t want to deal with them. Wouldn’t it be great if the only thing we could feel was happiness all the time? Or at the very least, we could wave a magic wand and make all those feelings we don’t like go away? No sadness, no anger, no guilt, no worry, no disgust. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. Believe it or not, it’s actually good when we face our emotions. They are what remind us we are human beings experiencing all that life has to offer.

Feelings associated with sexual trauma work a little bit differently than those who haven’t experienced trauma. Typically, survivors of sexual assault experience difficult emotions in a heightened manner. Sadness may feel like depression, anger may feel like rage, guilt may feel like shame, worry turns into anxiety or panic. Those feelings are usually created by what we call “misbeliefs,” or beliefs survivors have created about the traumatic event that aren’t entirely accurate, or even accurate at all. An example of this may be if a survivor believes the assault was his or her fault because he or she was intoxicated at the time. This is a misbelief because an assault is always the assailant’s fault, and the survivor has the right to drink alcohol without being sexually assaulted. Nonetheless, the misbelief may lead the survivor to have increased feelings of shame about the assault as well as heightened anxiety around others while drinking.

Sometimes these feelings end up being too much to handle and our false friend “avoidance” comes into play. It keeps us from feeling those emotions we don’t want to feel. Avoidance can come in many forms. You may push your emotional thoughts away by thinking about something else. You may drink or use drugs to numb the pain. You may overeat to get temporary relief from pain. You may even throw yourself into an overly packed schedule to prevent yourself from having time to think about the trauma. The hard truth is that by avoiding those feelings, we keep stuffing those emotions back inside and they never actually go away; they creep back up when we least expect it. Ultimately, this is what keeps survivors stuck in their healing process.

Taking the time to embrace your emotions is a very important part of the healing process. In the counseling world, we call this the “splinter analogy.” When you get a splinter, you want to avoid pulling it out because you know it will hurt. If you leave the splinter there, it will fester and become infected, making the original problem much worse. So you decide to face the pain for just a little bit to prevent creating a greater problem down the road. That’s exactly what counseling is like. Survivors face their feelings about the trauma for a small amount of time to prevent that pain from further affecting their lives in the long run.

It’s okay to feel emotions. I like to think of them as being similar to waves in the ocean. If we fight against them, they make situations much worse and end up causing us to feel like we are drowning. But if we embrace them, we are able to manage our healing process, and ultimately our lives, much more effectively. The best part is that eventually those emotions will subside. Give yourself a break; it’s okay to feel the pain of experiencing trauma. You are brave. You are strong. You can do this. You aren’t alone. Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands is here to support you.

 

Amanda Davis

As STSM's Community Advocate Counselor, Amanda provides individual counseling and crisis intervention in Lexington County. She also provides counseling in schools for children who aren't able to be seen in our office.

Amanda received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Human Resource Management and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of South Carolina in August 2010. In May 2015, Amanda received her Master of Social Work from the University of South Carolina and became a Licensed Master of Social Work. She loves working at STSM and being a part of a survivor’s healing process.