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Article. Published on May 10, 2018.

Trauma and Abuse in Women

trauma

Few can say that the recent cases of sexual assaults and rape, that have occurred in India, have left them unscathed. While it is important for the citizens of this country to push for justice and see the offenders punished by law, it is vital to understand that these incidents can have a profound psychological impact on the survivor and their family. It is, therefore, crucial to provide them with adequate support to deal with the aftermath of violence and abuse.

Understanding Trauma and Abuse

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), traumatic events include physical, psychological and sexual abuse, among others. For the purpose of this article, we will be focussing on the trauma caused by violence perpetrated against women. In 2015, 3,27,394 women registered cases under the banner of “Crime Against Women”, which includes only the crimes which are directed specifically against women, such as rape, attempted rape, “assault on woman with intent to outrage her modesty”, “cruelty by husband or his family”, sexual harassment, dowry deaths and other traumatic events. As a number of these events are inflicted by people known to the survivor, it is reasonable to assume that a large percentage of traumatic incidents go unreported. This implies that the actual number of such events is considerably higher.


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Effects of Trauma on Survivors

Individuals who endure trauma are likely to experience distress that can affect their day to day functioning, for a long time. In about 8% of these circumstances, it can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In most cases, the symptoms develop in the first month after the event. The most common symptom of PTSD is known as “Reexperiencing”, which manifests in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, repetitive and distressing sensations, and experiences of pain, sweating, nausea or trembling. Another key symptom is Avoidance, wherein the survivor avoids people or places that remind them of the trauma. Many people with PTSD tend to overwork or distract themselves with hobbies. Some survivors also resort to emotional numbing which could result in their isolation and withdrawal.

People with PTSD are also likely to suffer from extreme anxiety, in the form of hyperarousal, which could lead to irritability, anger, insomnia and difficulty in concentrating. Survivors may also suffer from depression and phobias. They might engage in self harming or destructive behaviour. In some individuals, PTSD may be exhibited through physical symptoms such as stomach aches, dizziness, chest pains and headaches.

Support for People with PTSD

While experiencing distress after a traumatic event is common, if symptoms persist for a longer period of time, it might help to visit a therapist. Some of the most common therapies used to treat people with PTSD are as follows:
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on the relationship between thought, feelings, and behaviour, and helps survivors understand their symptoms and learn about how they can change their thought patterns.
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) helps individuals process and reshape unhealthy beliefs about their trauma.
  • Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR): here, the survivor is made to relive the incident for a short period of time while they experience stimulation of eye movement. This helps in reducing the vividness and intensity with which the event is remembered.
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: In this type of therapy, the survivor is taught to gradually approach the trauma memory. By doing so in a safe environment, the individual learns that the memories aren’t dangerous and cannot hold power over them
These therapies are often recommended by mental health professionals in combination with medication, prescribed by a psychiatrist.
For family and friends of survivors and victims, it might help for you to visit a mental health professional as well. Doing so will help you understand how to best support your loved one. Is it important to be patient and understanding when experiencing difficulty interacting with the survivor. If you or your loved one have experienced trauma and need support to cope with it, please find here a list of our partner helplines, and here a list of therapists across India.
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