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Lets be open about sexual trauma it is the only way we can overcome it

Posted on 20 April 2018

At last we have started to be open about it. One silver lining to the truly horrible cloud of constant news about sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape has been that the serious work being done to heal and help people who have suffered is at last getting some publicity.

One thing that has caught my eye is that, at last, all forms of unwelcome sexual attention are getting a hearing. This is of particular interest to me as I often see clients who feel that their experience was somehow not serious enough to merit the feelings and problems which they are experiencing. Yet there is research out there which firmly slams the idea that some sexual harassment is not serious, or something we should ‘get over’.

This piece of serious academic research about sexual harassment at work shows that sexual harassment early in a career can cause long-term damage for some people, with symptoms of depression persisting, possibly for years.

I see many clients who have been on this sorry path and I do notice that the effects can be devastating even though, to an outside eye, the original event might have seemed not too terrible.

People often come to me for hypnotherapy in Harley Street and confess to being quite mystified about what is happening to them. They and say things like: “Yes, he was a real pest, but it was a long time ago, so why do I keep thinking about it?”  If we don’t take our own feelings seriously and allow ourselves to process what has happened, then it can ‘get stuck’, and this can have terrible consequences for our health both emotionally and physically. I have a mantra for my clients: ‘Stop thinking that it wasn’t that serious or didn’t matter that much. If it is still affecting your life it was serious and it did matter.”

These clients of mine know that what happened is somehow causing them damage and want to do something about it. In a way this is easier than another group of clients I see.

This other group of clients are having a different experience. Quite a few of them have suffered some sort of sexual trauma, yet come to me for something else entirely. The problem they think they have is not the real issue. Sometimes these clients are referred to me after medical professionals have been unable to help with a persistent physical issue, such as headaches or pain.

The American website, NBC news, covered this in an excellent piece. It quoted Dr Nekisha Hammond who said that denial of what has happened after an unwanted sexual incident, can overwhelm the body and lead to physical symptoms. She says:

“Sometimes sexual harassment registers as a trauma, and it's difficult for the [patient] to deal with it, so what literally happens is the body starts to become overwhelmed . . . We call it somatizing: the mental health becomes so overwhelming one can’t process it to the point of saying ‘I have been traumatized’ or ‘I am depressed.’ Essentially, it’s a kind of denial that when experienced for a long state can turn into physical symptoms.”

I see so many of the symptoms she mentions, headaches and pain are very common. There are also other longer-term issues such as high blood pressure or blood sugar levels which are off the scale. Dr Hammond says that, in the long term, if the issues are not addressed things as serious as heart problems can occur.

Our bodies tell the story

What happens to us affects us. There is nothing mystical or new-age about this, it is based on hard science.

If we suffer a sexual trauma we are almost certain to experience stress (research suggests over 90 percent of people who suffer a sexual assault, experience serious symptoms of acute stress in the immediate aftermath). If this continues and is not dealt with, then a longer-term problem with post-traumatic stress disorder can arise. And it is not only those who have suffered a violent sexual assault who can experience this, for certain people, in certain circumstances, any unwanted sexual attention can have disastrous effects.

So, what happens when we suffer trauma? When we are stressed, we release hormones, such as cortisol, into our bodies. Such hormones are absolutely essential in short bursts, but very harmful if they are constantly coursing around our bodies. Stress affects our whole bio-system. When we are stressed our bodies behave as if they are consistently under threat, this means diverting blood supply away from all but essential bodily functions. Our systems are hyped-up, so they are running at high speeds. Again, this is useful if we are facing an actual physical threat, but if it goes on week after week, month after month, or even year after year, it damages us. It wears us out.

So, that is the direct effect, but I see something else as well, that is the indirect physical effect of living with these increased stress levels. What I mean by this is if you are carrying around such a burden it becomes hard to live your life in a healthy and balanced way and this has an impact. I see this in all sorts of ways, often a client’s coping mechanisms can be doing them damage.

People come to me for hypnotherapy in Harley Street with a whole range of symptoms, comfort eating, drinking too much alcohol, and reliance on prescription drugs for example. These are all common coping mechanisms and ways of self medicating which at the end of the day do not help. Then there are signs of the body’s systems not working as they should, common problems here can be insomnia, panic attacks, or feeling out of control of your emotions (crying a lot for example).

I am so pleased when clients come to me to deal with these issues and I know that the manifestation is not the problem, that lies deeper. Carrying unresolved hurt and trauma within us means we are not living the healthy lives, both physically and mentally, which we deserve.

To sum up, I am pleased to see that the effects of sexual trauma are now being taken seriously. Mental trauma and physical health are most definitely linked. So, please don’t dismiss your feelings if you have suffered unwanted sexual attention of any sort.

Come to someone like me who can help you clear that trauma and put it in its place, which is firmly behind you, so you can get on with your life. I run a clinic to deal with the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) following sexual assault or sexual harassment in Henley-on-Thames and in Harley Street. Give me a call and let’s get this sorted out now.


Fiona Nicolson on Google+

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