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Why Victims of Sexual Trauma Feel Alone and Isolated

A multi-layered perspective helps explain the experience of isolation.

Sexual trauma is one of the most profoundly personal traumas, stemming from a deep sense of violation that can impact every aspect of one’s life—physical, social, psychological, sexual, and spiritual. Sexual trauma by its very nature can make victims feel alone and isolated, as this component of the trauma is embedded in every layer of the experience.

First of all, the perpetrator must typically isolate the victim in order to enact the crime, and then further isolate the victim in order to ensure their escape and avoid consequences. For example, they may say, “You better not tell anyone or else” or, “I’ll ruin your reputation/career/life if you try to say anything.”

Furthermore, friends, family, and institutions sometimes continue the process of isolation by questioning how or why this happened, implying or outright assigning blame to the victim, minimizing, ignoring, or not believing what happened is true. This puts an extra burden and hardship on the victim. Who wouldn’t feel like withdrawing from others? If people do not feel safe or welcomed to talk about what happened, they learn to be silent.

The final layer, after the sexual assault, is that people may feel anxious, unsafe, and worried about a reoccurrence. They may not trust anyone; after all, they may have trusted their perpetrator, friends, family, and institutions only to feel betrayed. They may feel depressed, have poor and disrupted sleep, and lack the energy to engage in activities. It is typical to want to withdraw from social situations, avoid the public, and not want to date or engage in intimacy, or not want to be touched at all.

Given these symptoms, many survivors want to build a cocoon around themselves as an attempt to feel safe and calm. This makes perfect sense. A cocoon is a place to heal and transform. But instead of breaking free as a butterfly, the cocoon hardens and survivors attempting to heal become trapped in their own isolation.

Some literally stay home and try to avoid as much social contact as possible. Others get out of the house, maybe hold a job, and appear to lead a regular daily life, but still, limit their social contact. Inside, they are still afraid and distrustful. They may or may not date or have any sexual intimacy. Some are perfectly content without it. Others have a relationship with or without sexual intimacy but still hold a cocoon around their hearts. Deep down they still feel a sense of isolation and loneliness. They feel like they are carrying a secret about their past and their true feelings. They may be going through the motions, but because of the shell around their heart, they just don’t feel a sense of joy and happiness anymore.

This article, and series of articles to follow, is designed to reach out—beyond the cocoon, beyond the walls of isolation. This is a call to all for those who have suffered in silence due to sexual trauma. You are not alone. You are understood, acknowledged, heard, and part of a large community. There are people out there who “get it,” who can relate, and who will validate your feelings. You are a member of a vast network of readers seeking the same peace and healing as you are. Maybe you’ll read just one thing that resonates with your heart, but that one thing can give you hope.

Challenge for today: Go outside (if you can), look around and see if you can find one thing that is a symbol of hope—maybe a flower, new leaves on a tree, a bird, a rock, something that reminds you about a bigger world of nature, a new tomorrow, and the possibility that you will feel better.