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December 13, 2011

From victim to survivor:

The way a person handles a stressful situation, such as a domestic violence attack or rape, can vary from person to person. However, the emotions expressed tend to be similar in nature. The following is a list of emotions and feelings that tend to be present after abuse has taken place.

The emotions of the abuse survivor:


Very often, survivors will recall particular situations and make statements like "I should have known…." Or "If only I hadn't…." Sometimes, it is easier to blame their own behavior, then to admit that their abuser was truly to blame.

Shock and Disbelief:

Sometimes, the survivor will have an incredibly hard time facing the fact that the abuse has taken place. Often, the survivor will make excuses for their abusers behavior.

Lack of Control:

During the attack, the victim was entirely without control. This fear of helplessness may extend into other aspects of their lives, for varying amounts of time.


Fear is the biggest tool used by an abuser to receive and maintain control. This fear is not only of bodily injury but of death as well. Many survivors say that the reason they didn't fight back, or did not receive help right away because they were fearful that their abuser would injure or even kill them


The survivor may feel dirty and ashamed, especially in cases where sexual abuse has taken place. Many things that took place during the abuse can be hard, or embarrassing to talk about.

Branded Syndrome:

The victim may feel that everyone around him/her can tell that they have been abused. In cases of male victims, the abuse itself is not nearly as bad as the fear of other people finding out about the abuse.


Anger is a common feeling that develops after an attack. Anger is a healthy and common reaction for a survivor, as long as the anger is not aimed at themselves. Anger can be a helpful tool for regaining the strength and the courage needed to get back control of their life.

Physical symptoms:

Aside from the symptoms associated with the abuse itself, some other physical symptoms will develop that are directly caused by the emotional stress. Some common physical symptoms are: muscle tension, headaches, stomach pains, nausea, appetite loss, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and nervousness.

Feelings most frequently experienced following a sexual assault


Of being alone

Of the rapist returning

Of places and people that remind of the assault

Of others finding out

Of men, or women, in general

Of having to report the crime, or of going to court

Of their own anger

Of going to sleep


For having "caused the rape"

For not fighting more

For being "stupid" enough to get into that situation

For all the feelings they feel


At society and the legal system

At significant others for not understanding

At the abuser

At the disruption in their life

Shame, embarrassment

The feeling that everyone can tell, just by looking at them, that they were the victim of an assault


By abuser

By significant others

Lack of trust

In their own ability to make judgments

Powerlessness and depression

Feeling as if things will not get better

Feeling totally victimized

Feeling helpless

Tools for coping

*Be gentle with your own healing process: You, and only you, know how you are feeling and how you are coping with the aftermath of the abuse. Allow yourself to feel however you need to feel, whether it is feeling angry, sad, or regretful. These feelings are all perfectly normal for abuse survivors.

*Give yourself time for healing: The pain and the emotional turmoil, following abuse, does not go away overnight. Instead, it is a long and hard process all survivors must go through in order to heal and move on with their lives.

*Try to understand and express your feelings: Your mind, body, and soul are all going to have certain ways of coping with the abuse. Taking a moment every now and then to acknowledge these feelings and behaviors is a good idea for coping.

*Listen to your body: If your body needs a break, make sure to take one. The human body is a strong and resilient machine, but in order for it to be at its absolute best, it needs to be taken care of. Taking a few minutes in your day to do something you enjoy, or just taking a minute to relax, can make a world of difference in your recovery process.

*Identify your support network: Try to be aware of supportive people in your life. Knowing whom you can, and cannot talk to, will allow you the opportunity to share feelings-a necessary part of recovery.

*Express feelings through writing or art: Capturing your feelings at a particular moment can make it easier to get the most out of therapy or counseling. Often, a person will go in to see their therapist or their counselor, and be unable to explain the feelings they were having before. Writing these feelings down, or expressing them through artwork can really help you heal, as well as help your mental health care provider offer the best and most effective treatment.

Victim survivor rights

*You have the right to decide what happens in your life at any time

*You have the right to decide what you want to do about the abuse. People can give you options, but the decision is entirely yours

*You have the right to decide whether or not you will report the crime to the police and how you want to report it

*You have the right to decide who will know about the abuse and when.

*You have the right to be informed at any time by the police and/or the district attorney as to the progress of your case at any time

*You have the right to have a support person with you at all times, and you have a right to choose who that person will be.

*You have the right not to be a "victim" for the rest of your life. You were a victim, but now you are a survivor.


* Content taken from the YWCA rape crisis counselor training manual.

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