Understanding Reactions

Every survivor will have their own set of physical and emotional reactions. Interpersonal violence can affect many lives in many different ways. 

If you have recently experienced violence, you are probably having many different feelings or reactions. People have different ways of responding to crisis and it is important to know that this is ok! There is no right or wrong way to react. In fact, your body and your mind will respond in different ways. The following are some of the most common reactions that you may encounter:


This is a logical and healthy reaction if the anger is directed at the crime and the rapist and not oneself.  Anger can be helpful in regaining strength and control in life again.

  •  at myself for “letting it happen”
  • at my significant others for not understanding or not protecting me
  •  at society and/or the system
  •  at the assailant (may want to kill, castrate, or humiliate him)
  •  at the total disruption of my life
  • at women who think it can’t happen to them


  • “I’m a nervous wreck!”
  • “I can’t sit still”

Avoidance Reactions

  •   Avoidance of people, places, things, or conversations that are reminders of the assault/assailant.


  •  by the assailant, if it was someone trusted, however briefly
  • by my body, for the physical reactions my body had during the assault
  •  by reactions of significant others, society and/or the system

Branded Syndrome

  •  “Everyone who looks at me can tell I’ve been raped.”

Denial or Disbelief

  • Wasn’t it “just” a rape?
  • “Did it really happen?”
  • “It couldn’t have happened!”
  • “I’m fine, I can just go on as if nothing happened”
  •  “I must have wanted that to happen”


There is a sense of loss that often results from sexual assault, loss of one’s previous self, sense of optimism (hope), self-esteem, and self confidence.  With time, you can regain or even strengthen some of your self-esteem, confidence, and hope.

  •  sadness and feelings of hopelessness
  • crying
  • feeling guilty or worthless
  • losing interest in activities that I enjoyed before the assault
  •  thinking about suicide
  • wanting to drink or use drugs to escape overwhelming feelings
  • sleeping too little or too much
  •  loss of appetite or weight gain
  •  feeling tired all the time


  •  difficulty with memory and concentrating

Emotional Shock, Detachment, and Numbing: 

When emotions are too much, the body and the mind sometimes react by shutting down and becoming numb.

  •  feeling numb
  • “Why am I so calm?  Why can’t I cry?”
  • inability to experience different types/ranges of emotion
  •  less interested in participating in daily activities


  • of bodily injury and/or death during or following the assault
  • of being alone and/ or being in crowds
  • of the rapist returning
  • of places, people, things that remind me of the assault
  • of others finding out and what they will think of me
  • of men in general
  •  of having to report of go to court
  •   of my own rage
  •  of going to sleep
  •  of getting pregnant or getting a sexually transmitted disease
  • of not knowing whether I will ever want to be intimate again


  •  feel as if I did something to make this happen
  •  feel as if I should have done something
  •  for not resisting more; for resisting too much
  • for being “stupid enough” to get into that situation
  •  for all the reactions I’m having
  •  for having “engaged in sex” (cultural/religious implications)

Lack of Trust

  • of my own ability to make judgments
  •  of the opposite gender, in general

Physical Symptoms

  •  a variety of stress symptoms including muscle tension, headaches, stomach pains, nausea, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, fatigue, nervousness, skin problems
  •  gynecological symptoms include discharge, itching, burning, cramping and pain, even in the absence of a physical cause


During the attack, the rapist had complete control over the survivor and this feeling of helplessness may extend into other aspects of life for varying amounts of time.

  •  feel I’ve lost control over my body and my life
  •  feel helpless to effect change or find justice
  •  feel it will never get better
  •   feel totally victimized by the assault
  •  feel totally victimized by being a woman in society
  •  “How am I going to go on?”

Retriggering or Distressing Memories

  •  Nightmares
  • “Unwanted reminders or thoughts jump in to my mind”
  • “I keep having flashbacks.  I wish they would stop.” 

Shame and Embarrassment

  •  feel embarrassed or difficulty in talking about the assault
  •  feel “dirty”, “humiliated”, like there is something wrong with me  now
  •  worrying about what people will think or if you can tell your friends/family


For support in processing and navigating these feelings, contact the Counseling Center .