Doncaster Rape & Sexual Abuse Counselling Service

Emotional First Aid

In the weeks, months of even years after a person has experienced sexual abuse, assault or rape it can be common to experience things like panic attacks, feeling emotionally overwhelmed or even feeling numb and separate from any emotion; sometimes to an extent it may not feel like you’re in your own body. These feelings might last for short amounts of time but can feel very scary when they happen. As with all feelings, they will eventually subside and pass. Emotional first aid at these times can give you some tools to try and bring you back to a more comfortable and connected place. They may help you to feel more in control again both physically and emotionally. Before looking at some emotional first aid techniques, let’s think about why this happens to you.

Your brain’s response to danger

You may have heard of the Flight-Flight-Freeze response. These are different behaviours that the brain makes happen when a person feels frightened or under threat. The brain tells the body that they need to fight against danger (fight), run away (flight) or become still and unnoticeable (freeze) to survive. These are very powerful instincts that are built into the brain and body. Sometimes when a person has experienced sexual abuse the brain is on hyper alert to recognize danger. The brain may initiate the Fight-Flight-Freeze response when a situation isn’t dangerous but may have similar sounds, images, smells or even feelings. Your brain is trying to recognize danger and keep you safe. This may be when a panics attack, feeling emotionally overwhelmed or separating completely from your emotions can happen. At these times, your brain needs some help to calm and register that there isn’t any danger around. Emotional first aid can help do this.

Techniques to try

We call the following Grounding Techniques. There isn’t a right or wrong way of doing these techniques. Once you get the hang of them, you might like to explore finding your own techniques that work.

Controlled Breathing The 5 Senses The Alphabet Game Sensory Play

Guilt & Shame

Feelings of guilt and shame can be a common experience for people (or their families) who have been sexually abused or assaulted. Often, they can be the most challenging feelings to overcome. Perhaps because they have a lot to do with how a person thinks about themselves and others. Many people use the terms guilt and shame to describe the same thing. However, they do have subtle but important differences.

Recognizing Shame

“I don’t like myself” “I don’t like letting people in”

“I hate it when everyone is looking at me” “I feel exposed”

“I don’t want to burden others with my feelings” “I don’t deserve…”

“I don’t want to talk about it” “I’m angry all the time”

“I’m – or the things I do – aren’t good enough” “Shame makes me feel vulnerable”

“I am bad, wrong, not good enough, disgusting because of what happened to me”

Shame can be difficult to recognize because it can be so hidden. It can sit behind may other parts of a person that make them who they are. For example, a person may feel shame about how their mind thinks, how their body looks or feels, achievement, status, their gender, or their sexual self or the abuse that happened to them. They may feel shame about their sense of self (who they are), their values, relationships, their culture, and their age or how they are aging.

Developing Pride to Help Heal

Therapy is a safe way of gently unravelling how unhealthy shame may be preventing you from having a better relationship with your ‘self’ and therefore living a more fulfilling life. This can take time, patience, and a lot of healing. One of the key things that can help heal unhealthy shame is pride. Learning to develop pride in your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and experiences.

A whole person is not just made up of the impact of the abuse they experienced. A person is a rich, complicated, deep, and vast infusion of many different parts. Finding pride and holding onto it can help uncover all these other parts of who you are.

How do I know I’m ready for Therapy?

The ingredients to knowing whether you’re ready for therapy can be different for everyone. Only you can decide this. However, there are some common indicators amongst people that have found therapy helpful.

  • Do you need some help? Recognizing you need help is important. Is the impact of the sexual abuse you (or someone you care for) have experienced causing you emotional distress?
  • Do you want change? Are you unhappy enough with how you feel, think or behaviour that you want to change that?
  • Do you feel emotionally robust enough? Therapy can be challenging. It isn’t always easy to work on yourself. We appreciate your probably feeling low and exhausted by the distress you’ve been experiencing. When we say robust ‘enough’ we mean that your mental health can cope, even though it’s a struggle.

Here’s some ideas of what clients who have been ready for therapy have said they’d would like to work on:
“Finding peace” “Closure”
“To not feel consumed by the worry and anxiety” “To heal”
“To go out and not fear bumping into them” “To be believed”
“A space to talk about what’s in my head” “To understand why they did what they did”
“Ideas on how to cope when I’m feeling anxious or having a panic attack”
“To not feel it’s my fault” “To understand why I’m so angry”

Feeling agitated, apprehensive, or even frightened is very common when considering therapy. Its an important step and natural to feel a range of emotions. This doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t ready to work on yourself. Your therapist will want to hear how you’re feeling about starting therapy and will help you put you at ease as best they can.

When you’re not being ready for therapy

Everyone has their own unique reasons as to why they may not be ready for therapy. Some common ideas are below to help you decide how you feel.

  • You are sure you don’t want to talk about how you’re feeling. Not everyone is comfortable talking about their feelings. There may be other forms of help and support that might help you.
  • You strictly don’t believe in counselling and therapy. Many people feel strongly that therapy doesn’t work. That’s ok, your beliefs are your own. If this is the case therapy may not be for you. (However, if you’re not sure therapy could help but willing to give it a try, therapy could still be helpful).
  • Others are pressuring you to experience therapy but you don’t want to. A person has to want to give therapy a try for it to be effective.
  • Substance misuse or your mental health is the priority right now. This means struggling with substance misuse or your mental health to an extent where it prevents you from being able to understand or engage with the ideas you talk about with your therapist. Or if you were gathering materials to complete suicide. Specialized support for your mental health may be most urgent. If you are experiencing this please call the Doncaster Mental Health Access Team on: 01302 566999. Therapy could still be an option in the future.

All therapy starts with an assessment. This is a meeting with a therapist to gain an understanding of what you’d like help with and whether therapy is the best way for you at this time. Its your opportunity to gain more information to help you decide if you’re ready for therapy or not.

What to Expect from Therapy?

Whether you have had therapy before or whether it’s a new experience for you, it can be natural to feel a little apprehensive about what to expect. You may be feeling worried about what the counsellor may ask you; feel scared that you may get upset or overwhelmed or talking about what happened to you. Knowing what to expect in therapy can help put you at ease, which is why we’ve tried to do that here.

Who is the therapist?

Your therapist is someone who has been specially trained to help support others with their emotions and help them facilitative change. They have experience in and participate in ongoing training around helping people who have experienced issues around sexual abuse. They are an empathic individual who has a great capacity to care for others. They are something who wants to listen, understand, and support you at your own pace. They know how to tailor their approach to match the pace you would like to go. They are also open to hearing how you’d like to work, and your thoughts on what they can do to help support you as best they can. They will use questions to help you explore your thoughts and gently challenge the way you might see things, to help create new vision.

What is the process of therapy?

The process of therapy is unique to every individual. This is because every individual experience’s their distress differently, and because therapy can have many different faces. This is why your therapist can adapt their approach to suit your needs. At one end of the spectrum the process of therapy may be very much about expressing and making sense of the emotions you are feeling. At the other end it can be about learning new information about how emotions – and the mind and body – work so that you can develop strategies to help support yourself. Useful therapy can be judged on its ability to facilitate change for the person experiencing it. Its aim is to help a person make sense of things in their mind by unlocking emotions and shifting their perspectives. A bit like the videogame Tetris. You must twist and turn the pieces to get them to slot together. As you do this, chunks of blocks disappear, and a different understanding is formed.

DRASACS offer an initial appointment with a therapist to help decide if therapy is the best form of support for you right now. Followed by up to 20 sessions of therapy: each lasting up to 50 minutes. Sessions may include short wellbeing questionnaires to help to give your therapist some detail about how you’re doing each time they meet with you. It is common for therapists to review how the work is going with you in blocks of 6 sessions.

What’s expected of you?

You may have heard the phrase a ‘Talking Therapy’. This is a useful description as one of the key ingredients to therapy is that you feel ready to talk. If talking feels difficult – but you are ready for change – your therapist will be able to help. Talk about what you want to talk about. If you do not want to talk about the details of what happened during sexual abuse, you don’t have to. If you want to talk about it; that is also ok. It’s important to feel comfortable with your therapist as useful therapy relies on a trusting relationship between you. Be open to trying new ways of looking at things and explore how they look and feel to you. Try to be brave and share when you don’t understand something or can’t make sense of it. Let your therapist know if something doesn’t work for you. Be patient and kind with yourself. Feeling stuck can feel frustrating, therefore so can the process of trying to change it.

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