How We Cope – PART 7

Image of Souyenne Dathorne
PROSAF — Surviving Sexual Abuse In The Caribbean By Souyenne Hackshaw

HAVING to constantly pretend is exhausting. It takes more out of you than you realise, which often leaves you running from situations that may be emotionally exhausting. In this week’s article, we will focus on the ways in which we create barriers to conserve the energy we have left, to keep people at arm’s length in order to protect ourselves.

This week’s article delves into avoiding people, avoiding intimacy, and avoiding sex. If you are a survivor of sexual violence, or any kind of abuse, I will continue to reiterate that there will be parts of this article that will resonate with you more than others. The past few articles have explored ways in which many survivors try to cope – avoidance is also a coping mechanism.

Coping becomes second nature for many who have survived a traumatic experience. The behaviours we choose become part of our daily routines, so much so that we don’t give them a second thought. Our patterns for self-protection and self-preservation have evolved over the years seamlessly. As survivors of traumatic experiences, we have learnt to become highly adaptable in an effort to cope.

Coping mechanisms are a means of survival for victims of traumatic experiences including sexual abuse.

The three types of coping mechanisms we will discuss today all relate to ways we try to avoid situations that we deem potentially dangerous to our psyches or too draining. We will start by discussing: 1) Avoiding People: Survivors of traumatic experiences may think that being by themselves is the best way forward. They may feel damaged, or that no one will understand what they have been through. There is also the fact that so many who have been through a traumatic experience have been isolated for so long that they are unsure of how to reach out and make connections with others. At the time, avoiding people seems like the best way to cope. 2) Avoiding Intimacy: When we speak of intimacy here, we are referring to the ways in which we interact with all relationships; friendships, familial relationships, not specifically sexually intimate ones. As survivors of traumatic experiences we have convinced ourselves that the only way to be safe is to remain closed off… to keep to ourselves and keep everyone at arm’s length. Many survivors are able to disengage from friendships without thinking twice. It is a coping mechanism to help them feel more in control… to help keep them safe. Many survivors of traumatic experiences are able to mask their feelings, they are able to share small things about themselves but never truly let anyone get to know them. Many survivors of sexual violence have found it easier to exist on their own, because when they tried to reach out to others they were blamed, they were not believed or supported, or they were told it was their fault that someone chose to assault them. Lastly, we will discuss 3) Avoiding Sex: Survivors of traumatic sexual experiences find being sexually intimate terrifying. They may chose partners who are equally averse to sexual intimacy, or they may find that they numb themselves during sexually intimate experiences. Being sexually intimate can be a huge trigger for a survivor of sexual violence. You are not damaged if you choose to cope in any of the ways we have discussed thus far, you are protecting yourself… you did what you thought was best for you, no one can fault you for that.

If you are using any of the coping mechanisms we have discussed in this article, it may be your way of trying to regain control. There is nothing wrong with you. Understanding how you have been affected will help you feel a bit more in control as you begin to or continue to heal. We are not here to judge any of you for how you chose to cope. We are here to hopefully educate and validate what you are feeling, what you are going through and how you are dealing with it on a daily basis. Each of us copes in the best way we know how. Each of us is doing what we can to get through the day, to get out of bed.

Next week we will look at a few more. Should there be a specific topic you would like us to cover please feel free to email or text us.

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