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can men recover from sexual abuse trauma?

 

Is There Any Hope for People Like Me?

Q. I have PTSD for being raped and sexually assaulted while in the Navy. The VA has told me that I am unemployable, and that I'll never be a "normal" person. 

Is there any hope for someone who has had PTSD for as long as I have 23 years to recover? Is there hope for people like me? 


A. The answer is emphatically YES. 

This is based upon one of many wrong ideas about rape and sexual assault. Donít get me wrong. Rape and sexual assault are terrible things. The people who perpetrate these acts deserve serious punishment. The experience of being raped and assaulted is atrocious. In no way do I want to minimize your experience. Youíve been injured, and you hurt. 

The wrong idea I am referring to is the thought that now you are forever damaged by your perpetrator. It is a false belief to think that you will be forced to live with the effects of your attack forever. 

Here is what I think has happened to influence your belief system. 

Many times, people see public service announcements and docudramas or read literature on abuse. The purpose of these informational pieces is a very beneficial one. Workers from many fields want everyone to know how horrendous rape and sexual assault are. This is a good thing. Hopefully, then, this can reduce the number of rapes and assaults that are done to people. 

In order to get their message out, they show you the worst effects on the victim. There is an unfortunate side effect of this image. Now people think of everyone who has ever experienced rape or sexual assault as a victim. You begin feel you will forever be damaged and forced to live with the effects of this terrible act the rest of your life. Instead, posttraumatic stress disorder is more similar to a broken arm. You set it and it heals. 

If, however, you become like a huge number of people, you want to immediately put it behind you. So you donít talk about it, and try to forget it. Sound logical. 

But it isnít. What happens instead is that your trauma festers inside you. Your mind heals over it much like the bones in a broken arm would heal over without medical treatment. The bones in your body will knit themselves together even if a physician does not set them. Only, they donít heal properly. Hold your arm out to your side with your forearm and hand hanging down. Imagine that the bones in your arm healed like that. 

Your arm would be an irritant to you and others. We could think about it as a symptom. It can be your symptom of an improperly healed broken arm. 

Old trauma that hasnít been treated, no matter how many years ago, is like that arm described above. You have symptoms of an untreated trauma. Your symptoms are painful, but very normal for an untreated trauma. 

So, please, donít give up. Seek treatment. If you are in treatment that doesnít seem to be helping you, try someone else. Keep seeking the help you need until you find it. In my previous answers, I write about appropriate PTSD treatment and how to begin. 

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