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psychological trauma and flashback triggers

Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
I have a question about psychological trauma and flashback triggers.

I am a girl who was badly sexually assaulted by another girl and possibly a male simultaneously about a year ago. I say possibly a male as well because I don’t remember the actual incident, but there was semen on me afterwards.
My eyes were sore for some reason (maybe eye gauging) and it was almost too painful to walk for more than 30 seconds at a time that day. I had no idea why either, I felt numb, like I was becoming part of my surroundings. It was as if I was on drugs. But I hadn’t taken anything.

The fact that I don’t remember this incident indicates to me that I suffered from psychological trauma. When I was bullied about what happened a few weeks later I experienced what I think was a flashback (these bullies, the absolute cunts, were there taking pictures at the time). One boy pulled a face at me which was similar to the face that the girl was pulling while she was assaulting me. This gave me a hallucination of her face. I had a rush of intense anxiety as if I was back in that situation again. They were imitating the way I said “no, no, please don’t” exc. And they were making signs at me which referred to being fisted. (Also, after the accounting lesson we were in they shoved me on the floor and urinated on my arm).
It felt like I had been brain damaged, while parts of the memory were coming back to me I had a head ache. I couldn’t stop thinking about it over and over, trying to work out what actually happened, trying to remember it so I could process it, heal and move on.
I couldn’t believe this had happened to me, I could feel I was going crazy, like permanent damage had been deliberately inflicted on me, just for the sake of making me suffer. Like there was a leach in my mind, sucking the energy and sanity out of me. I couldn’t understand the point of what they did, how could people be like that? So pointlessly horrible, everyone knows rape is not just unwanted sex.

Anyway, their excuse for doing this to me was because I had said a bad word to the girl involved… I suffer from Asperger’s syndrome; a doctor explained to me that about 15% of people with this condition also have symptoms of tourettes syndrome. I happen to be one of those people. What happened was this girl somehow knew that I could speak a bit of basic Japanese and initiated a Japanese conversation with me. Then my tourettes syndrome took hold and I involuntarily said the word “gook”.. About seven times… I was absolutley mortified, she was angry. She said she would get me for that, that I’m going to wish I was never born, and then stormed off…

To get to the point of my question, I also have to say that I had strong feelings for this girl. I thought about her most of the time, and every time she looked at me my jaw would drop, I thought she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever even seen.
She also showed some interest in me too which completely blew my mind. And I still think about her all the time…

Now I live in university accommodation and there is another girl I find attractive, she lives in the room next to me. There was a time it really seemed as if she was flirting with me. I felt really strange, I could feel a panic attack coming on and my memory of our conversation is not so good. I’m not sure whether I had another flashback but I think I was seeing traces of the green hallway I was in when the incident happened, and I had the same feelings of intense anxiety. Before this incident flirting didn’t have this effect on me, it made me nervous but I still enjoyed it.
I am worried that I have come to associate physical attraction with this incident, and that the feelings that come with attraction are now a flashback trigger for me.
This is the first girl I have found attractive in about a year since it happened, this is unusual for me as I used to like almost every pretty girl I met. Now I don’t seem to have the capacity to develop feelings for anyone anymore, I am worried I’ve lost it and won’t be able to form romantic relationships in the future (because of my loss of interest in them). I don’t really look forward to a lifetime of having no feelings of romance, I feel life is boring and mundane without it, I really miss it.

Some people say this is normal when you have been really hurt by someone and it will get better with time. But I am unsure it will.
My feelings towards friends has changed as well. Although I was never great at it, I used to really enjoy socialising and making friends. Now I feel I have lost interest in people altogether.

I still want to be a fighter, I believe that being a winner is not about not having problems, but in how you deal with them and overcome them. However I don’t know how to deal with this particular problem.
I see socialising, friends and relationships as the most important thing in life, and my view of other people has been damaged such that I am unable to like them the way I did before. I don’t want to die, but this girl certainly succeeded in making me wish I was never born. I don’t see a particularly bright future for myself If I don’t overcome this.

My question is, is it possible that flirting and attraction is now a flashback trigger for me? And will my view of other people return to the way it was over time, or will it always be slightly damaged?

Is there anyone here who has experianced psychological trauma and do you also have flashback tirggers?


  • C FunkC Funk Deactivated Posts: 163 Helping Hand
    Hey stringtheory,

    I?m very sorry to hear what you?ve been through.

    Sexual assaults have a very real and lasting effect on many victims. These can be both physical and psychological. It sounds like you are suffering from some kind of post-traumatic shock from your assault.

    Firstly I would say that if you haven?t already reported the assault, you should do so as soon possible. Any kind of sexual assault is unforgivable and you should not let these people get away with what they did to you.

    I would also recommend asking your GP to put you in contact with a good counsellor or a psychologist. They will be able to help you talk through what you have been through and help you move on with your life.

    If you don't feel comfortable speaking to anyone face to face you can call Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling (RASAC). They provide a confidential listening and support service for women and men who have been raped and/or sexually abused at any time in their lives, or for anyone who wants to talk about the effects of any unwanted sexual encounter. You can call them on 08451 221 331.

    Have a look at our article on surviving sexual assault for more information and people you can speak to.

    Hope this helps

  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Hello, I'm sorry to hear you've been through such hell.

    It sounds to me like you have PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) which as you said is a normal response. Anything can act as a trigger and some people can't even pin point what they are, but it can be anything from a smell, to a colour, a word or a feeling, so yes its more than possible that flirting and attraction could be a trigger for you.

    I am no expert nor have I (thankfully) been there myself, I don't believe that people can just "get over" something like that happening to them, but I do believe with help and support things can become easier.There is a lot of advice out there on ways to try and help with flashbacks, I used to have a good document on it but can't seem to find it right now but it had things in like wearing an elastic band on your wrist, if you feel a flashback starting to "ping" the band to try and focus you on the here and now, or stamping your feet to keep yourself grounded, another technique is (copied from another site)

    * Name 5 things you can see.
    * Name 5 things you can hear.

    * Name 5 things you can feel.

    * Name 4 things that you see.

    * Name 4 things you can hear.

    * Name 4 things you can feel.

    * Name 3 things you can see

    * Name 2 things you can see.

    * Name 1 thing you can see...

    Each time you identify something that you see, hear or feel, say "I see …, I see ..., I see ..., I see ..., I see ..., I hear ..., I hear ..., I hear …

    This rhythmic repetition is very relaxing and calming.

    The same object, sound or feeling can be named constantly until you feel relaxed enough to rest a while.

    This can be done in silence or said aloud. It can be repeated as often as necessary. If you lose your place in the exercise; just begin again where you think you left off.

    This technique works best if you are sitting down or stationary, though you can also do at work, home or when outside. It can also be done in busy or quiet surroundings.

    As I said, short and simple. but it grounds you into the "here and now".

    Its not uncommon for people to assulted by people they know compaired to what we normally think of when we think attacker- maybe some big man lurking in a dark alley. Its ok to have feelings for her before and since as things must feel so confusing right now for you.

    The above poster put some advice on where you can get help from, I hope you feel able to get that help and so they can help you work through this and keeping you fighting (like you already are by posting this post).

    Take care, Viks
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Hello stringtheory,

    I wanted to say *hugs* to you, I'm sorry to hear of your experience.

    I experienced sexual violence myself some years ago and didn't tell anyone about it until last year. I could sort of remember the incident but I had convinced myself that it was normal, that it was consensual or an accident and didn't really understand the extent of the abuse until I was a fair bit older. In some ways I blocked it out altogether. I only faced the reality when I was directly questioned about it last year. At the time I just went back to school (despite having a lot of pain walking like you did).

    Now I still have a lot of flashbacks which so far is made worse by talking about it. I'm told that flashbacks occur when your mind hasn't processed a painful memory fully so it feels as if the incident is occuring in the present when really it is over and only exists in the past. In theory (but not my own experience so far) talking about it with a professional like a counsellor or a therapist is the best way to come to terms with things to stop the flashbacks happening. Also I take some medication to help with the panic attacks that I get along side the flashbacks.

    A helpsheet I have found useful is this one from the Bristol Crisis Service for Women:

    Ideas for coping with flashbacks
    1. Tell yourself you are having a flashback and that this is okay and very normal
    in people who were traumatised as children (or as adults).
    2. Remind yourself that the worst is over - it happened in the past, but it is not
    happening now. The 'child' inside you who was abused is giving you these memories to
    use in your healing and, however terrible you feel, you survived the awfulness then,
    which means you can survive and get through what you are remembering now.
    3. Call on the 'adult' part of yourself to tell your 'child' that she is not alone, not in any
    danger now and that you will help her to get through this. Let your child self know it's
    okay to remember and to feel what she feels and that this will help her in healing from
    what has happened to her. However hard it is for you, she is communicating in the only
    way she can.
    4. Try some of these ways of 'grounding' yourself and becoming more aware of the
    • stamp your feet, grind them around on the floor to remind yourself where you are
    • look around the room, noticing the colours, the people, the shapes of things
    • listen to the sounds around you: the traffic, voices, the washing machine, etc.
    • feel your body, the boundary of your skin, your clothes, the chair or floor
    supporting you
    • have an elastic band to hand - you can 'ping' it against your wrist and feel it on
    your skin
    • tell yourself that feeling is in the now, the things you are re-experiencing were in
    the past
    5. Take care of your breathing: breathe deeply down to your diaphragm; put your hand
    there (just above your navel) and breathe so that your hand gets pushed up and down.
    Count slowly to 5 as you breathe. When we get scared we breathe too quickly and
    shallowly and our body panics. This causes dizziness, shakiness and more panic.
    Breathing slowly and deeply will stop the panic.
    6. If you have lost a sense of where you end and the rest of the world begins, rub your
    body so you can feel its edges, the boundary of you. Wrap yourself in a blanket, feel it
    round you.
    7. Get support if you would like it. Let people close to you know about flashbacks so
    they can help if you want them to. That might mean holding you, talking to you, helping
    you to reconnect with the present, to remember you are safe and cared for now.
    8. Flashbacks are powerful experiences which drain your energy. Take time to look after
    yourself when you have had a flashback. You could have a warm, relaxing bath or a
    sleep, a warm drink, play some soothing music or just take some quiet time for yourself.
    Your 'child' and you deserve being taken care of, given all you went through in the past.
    9. When you feel ready, write down all you can remember about the flashback and how
    you got through it. This will help you to remember information for your healing and to
    remind you that you did get through it (and can again).
    10. Remember you are not crazy - flashbacks are normal and you are healing.

    I find that sitting on the floor helps me to feels "grounded" when having a flashback.

    Also you mention triggers and flirting and attraction. I personally find it really horrid when most people flirt with me and the thought of physical affection disgusts me. I hope that this will change with time and the right help.

    Your attitude towards your problems is really positive and make me confident that you will be able to get the right help and overcome this :)

    Take care,

    Randomgirl x
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    :( I dont have any advice but I just wanted to send a hug.

    I hope some of the advice others have given helps you. It sounds like such a difficult horrible time for you.
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