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Common Feelings & Effects That Survivors Experience

Below are some of the feelings survivors often experience whether in the direct aftermath of an assault or for many years after sexual abuse.

These lists are not all-inclusive or exhaustive. Everyone reacts to sexual abuse in different ways.

Common feelings

  • Emotional Shock – I feel numb. How can I be so calm? Why can’t I cry?
  • Disbelief and/or Denial – Did it really happen? Why me? Maybe I just imagined it. It’s not important.
  • Embarrassment – What will people think? I can’t tell my family or friends.
  • Shame– I feel filthy, disgusting, like there’s something wrong with me. I can’t get clean.
  • Guilt – I feel as if it’s my fault, or I should’ve been able to stop it. If only I had done…
  • Depression – How am I going to get through the day? I’m so tired! I feel hopeless. What’s the point of going on?
  • Powerlessness – Will I ever feel in control again?
  • Disorientation – I don’t even know what day it is, or where I’m supposed to be. I keep forgetting things.
  • Flashbacks – I’m reliving what happened. I keep seeing, hearing and smelling things that bring it right back and I feel like it’s happening all over again.
  • Fear – I’m scared of everything. What if I have an STI or HIV? I can’t sleep because I’ll have nightmares. I’m afraid to go out. I’m afraid to be alone.
  • Anxiety – I’m having panic attacks. I can’t breathe. I can’t stop shaking. I feel overwhelmed.
  • Anger – I feel like hurting the person who attacked me or lashing out at the world.
  • Physical Stress – My stomach (or head or back) aches all the time. I feel jittery and don’t want to eat.

Effects of male sexual abuse

The long-term consequences of sexual abuse are extremely varied, and again there are no definitive effects that all survivors will experience. The documented effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Difficulties managing feelings and relationships, sometimes leading to a diagnosis of Borderline personality disorder
  • Difficulties with sleep (too much, too little, nightmares)
  • Eating disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Grief
  • Post-traumatic reactions
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Difficulties in creating and maintaining relationships / friendships / social connection
  • Poor self worth
  • Difficulties in education and employment
  • A range of physical symptoms
  • A number of mental health diagnoses have been associated with a history of childhood sexual abuse
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