Phases of Recovery
Each person copes with trauma in a different way, depending on their circumstances. We cannot tell you exactly how you will or should feel if you have been raped, but we can tell you what we have learnt from other rape survivors. By describing their feelings and coping mechanisms, we hope to offer you strength and help you understand what you might be going through.
How long your journey to recovery takes will depend on your situation and how supportive the people around you are. If you are worried about negative feelings, seek help. It’s important to remember that there are people who can and will help you. People such as rape counsellors, social workers, psychologists, clinic sisters or even a family member or a friend that you can trust are there to help you.
The following phases of recovery are guidelines and they do not necessarily follow on from one another chronologically; different people may move backwards, forwards or between phases as they work through the trauma.
Immediately after the rape, most survivors feel shock, dismay, fear, panic and/or anger. Some survivors show this by appearing numb or dazed, others will be openly upset. As a rape survivor, you are likely to react this way in the first few hours, days and/or weeks after the rape. This phase, known as the acute phase, will usually not last longer than two weeks after the incident. Another element of the acute phase is being unable to talk about the rape. You may have nightmares and feel shocked, guilty, afraid, ashamed, powerless, angry, depressed and/or afraid of being touched.
Outward adjustment phase
During this phase, most survivors will try to carry on with their lives as normal to try and assure themselves that they can cope; they’re testing their ability to survive the experience. Means of coping may include pretending the incident didn’t happen or ignoring thoughts and feelings related to the incident.
During this phase, you may not feel open to counselling. You may feel less troubled than during the acute phase, but you may find that you don’t want to speak about the rape very much. Be aware that this might be difficult for those close to you who wish to be helpful. They may feel frustrated by your unwillingness to discuss the incident or they may put pressure on you to behave differently. You might find that during this phase what you really want is for people to ‘let you be’.
During the integration phase, rape survivors may feel depressed or anxious or they may wish to talk. The nightmares and feelings of shock, guilt, fear, shame, powerlessness, anger, depression and fear of being touched characterised by the acute phase may return. Many survivors in this phase believe that their feelings mean they have serious emotional problems or that they are going mad. Survivors may find they cannot function as they used to and they may begin to think about the rapist more. This is a good time to go for counselling, because this is where and when you as a rape survivor will be most receptive to support and reassurance.
This is the time when you will probably begin to make sense of the trauma and you will begin to feel safer in the world. During this phase, your symptoms should ease off or even disappear. The memory of the rape will not have the same effect on you. You will probably start to feel good about life again. You may still feel emotional at times, but overall you will feel more in control and able to move forward.
Our helpline operates twenty hour hours a day, seven days a week, offering counselling and advice about the next step. Call and make an appointment. Contact 021 447 9762