You Don’t Have To Talk About Your Sexual Assault In Order To Heal From It

by Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

For sexual assault survivors, the past couple weeks have been tumultuous and overwhelming. After media mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexually assaulting or harassing over a dozen women, many sexual assault survivors began to speak out about the epidemic of sexual violence. Women, men, and non-binary folks quickly took to Twitter, and other social media platforms to disclose their experiences of sexual assault or harassment, using the hashtag “#MeToo.” The #MeToo campaign, which was originally created by activist Tarana Burke, began to trend on social media after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted it out at friend’s suggestion, saying, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted ‘Me Too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” While many of the #MeToo statuses are heartbreaking to read, the campaign serves as a blunt reminder as to just how large the sexual violence epidemic is in the United States, and in most of the world. Since Milano’s OG Tweet on October 15, thousands of survivors have collectively spoken out across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, among other social media.

Though the #MeToo campaign on social media is a powerful act of solidarity for some survivors, many have also found the trending topic to be triggering, or flat out re-traumatizing. And despite the massive amount of survivors participating in the campaign, most survivors do not report or disclose their sexual assault. In fact, rape is the most underreported crime in the U.S., which means majority of perpetrators never experience legal or personal consequences — such as being fired, or ostracized from their friend groups (which are often times shared with the survivor). While survivors have no obligation whatsoever to disclose their trauma, many do not even get a choice to speak because of the ever present power difference between most survivors and their perpetrators. But, that does not mean those who cannot speak about their assault do not deserve to heal. Below are seven therapeutic tools survivors can use in private if they are not ready to disclose their assault.

Disclose your trauma out loud in front of a mirror or pet

This may sound and feel a bit silly, but stating your truth to yourself in the mirror, or to a pet can be incredibly reaffirming. Survivors who live with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience disassociation or depersonalization symptoms, so it's crucial to their wellbeing to ground themselves. This simple but powerful exercise may be what you need to do as a survivor before you're able to publicly say "me too." The book Say It Out Loud by Roberta Dolan, a sexual abuse survivor and advocate, explores how empowering it can be for sexual assault survivors to simple break their silence, even if no one else can hear it.

Find a creative outlet such as drawing, painting, or music

Dr. Erika Martinez, a licensed psychologist and founder of Envision Wellness, tells Bustle, "Creative outlets provide a means of expression when it's difficult to wrap words around an experience like [sexual] assault. That's because the brain structures that house trauma do not deal in language, just emotions. And creativity is pure emotion." Conclusively, hobbies such as art, music, or even dance can aid sexual assault survivors in their healing process. If you can't quite find the words to speak about your trauma, try expressing yourself through creativity.

Practice Dialectical Behavioral Therapy exercises

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a form of therapy developed by Marsha Linehan in the late 1980s that focuses on mindfulness, imagery, and acceptance to help treat mental health issues. Though the treatment was originally developed for people with Borderline Personality Disorder, the coping skills DBT teaches are valuable for sexual assault survivors living with PTSD. For example, one DBT skills I have found soothing is imagining and building a "safe space" in my head that I can focus on if I'm triggered. I find this visualization technique particularly soothing if I wake up from a trauma-related nightmare, or if I feel triggered in public. The website Therapist Aid, though created for psychologists, has printable versions of different DBT exercises anyone can utilize.

Read books about trauma, therapy, and the healing process

If you are in a good enough place emotionally, reading books about trauma could prove to be therapeutic, and serve as a reminder that as a survivor, you are not alone. Dr. Martinez suggests survivors read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

Practice writing or journaling about your trauma

If you are a survivor, and not ready to verbalize or share your experience, writing it down can be cathartic. Though, you don't need to get overwhelmed and write your memoir. Dr. Martinez suggests to Bustle that, "[Journaling] doesn't have to be the 'Dear Diary, Today...' style. It can be bullet points with single words or phrases in a notebook, scrap paper, or napkin." If you need to get your story out, write it down, and then toss or burn it if you don't want to keep it.

Watch YouTube counseling videos, or listen to trauma-related podcasts

If you are in an unsafe living situation, or simply cannot afford mental health care, consider listening to free podcasts or Youtube videos that focus on trauma. "I think the most validating thing is when someone can articulate the abuse you face when you personally cannot," Talia, an 18-year-old artist and activist, tells Bustle. "Seeing someone else who has survived, who knows what you have gone through, and can show you ways to grow through trauma gives you hope for yourself." Talia suggests visiting Lisa A. Romano's Youtube channel, a certified life coach who focuses on how to heal after sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse.

Establish and self-care routine that takes care of your body

Trauma can have negative effects on physical wellness, so it is important for survivors to practice self-soothing techniques, especially during stressful events (aka, the Harvey Weinstein case). Doing something as simple as taking a bath, painting your nails, or brushing your hair can help relax survivors who are feeling triggered, and release some of the stress your body is holding onto.

If you are a survivor, and cannot or do not want to participate in the "Me Too" campaign, there are plenty of ways for you to begin healing. You are never obligated to publicly share your experience, and you have a right to heal privately— this doesn't make your trauma any less real.