Woman and therapist discuss PTSD triggers

Battling PTSD Triggers: The Effects of Sexual Assault

Anyone who survives a serious traumatic event can potentially develop symptoms of the mental health condition called post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. However, research shows that survivors of sexual assault have especially strong chances of eventually qualifying for a PTSD diagnosis. If you have the disorder, you may involuntarily relive or re-experience the source of your trauma if you’re exposed to anything that triggers memories of that trauma. Fortunately, PTSD treatment centers can help you overcome your sexual assault-related PTSD triggers.

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs when you develop four types of symptoms in the aftermath of a traumatic event. Broadly speaking, these symptoms include:

  • Unwanted re-experiencing or reliving of a traumatic event, which may or may not be the result of exposure to specific triggers
  • A compelling urge to avoid anything that could serve as a trauma trigger
  • Hypersensitivity or hyperarousal of your nervous system caused by loss of control over your fight-or-flight response
  • Negative changes in your everyday mood or ability to think clearly

PTSD symptoms can begin to appear shortly after your exposure to a traumatic event. However, doctors only diagnose these symptoms as post-traumatic stress disorder 30 days or more after such an event. In the 30 days immediately following trauma exposure, you may qualify for a diagnosis of a closely related condition called acute stress disorder (ASD), which can morph into PTSD.

PTSD and Sexual Assault

Many people who live through major trauma don’t develop PTSD. Unfortunately, survivors of sexual assault and rape have particularly high chances of experiencing symptoms of the disorder. In fact, the overwhelming majority of rape victims experience at least some PTSD symptoms within just two weeks, even though they can’t receive an official diagnosis in such a brief span of time. Almost a third of all women continue to experience their symptoms nine months after being raped. Overall, more than two-thirds of all victims of sexual assault and rape develop stress reactions that qualify as moderate or severe.

Sexual Assault and PTSD Triggers

PTSD triggers can be anything that causes a person with post-traumatic stress disorder to experience a flare-up of symptoms. The types of triggers that provoke such a reaction can vary widely from person to person. However, they commonly include such things as:

  • Witnessing an event or situation that reminds you of the source of your trauma
  • Seeing images that remind you of your traumatic experience
  • Visiting places that remind you of your traumatic experience
  • Hearing words or phrases that act as trauma reminders

Why do these triggers cause symptoms to flare up? Researchers believe that the memory of your traumatic experience is stored in a different way than other types of memories. When you’re exposed to a trigger, it can cause your brain to misfire, so to speak. As a result, you may involuntarily relive the source of your trauma or experience other symptoms of PTSD.

Battling PTSD Triggers

Survivors of sexual assault and other forms of serious trauma are often able to recover from PTSD with the help of a form of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). One approach, called exposure therapy, teaches you to defuse your trauma reactions by safely, gradually exposing yourself to situations, places, images, etc., known to trigger your symptoms. The second approach, called cognitive restructuring, helps you understand triggering memories and view them in a new, health-supporting context. Other forms of psychotherapy may also help you overcome the effects of PTSD in the aftermath of a sexual assault.

Learn More About PTSD Treatment from The Ranch TN

At The Ranch TN, you’ll find a caring, professional staff ready to provide the tools you need to heal from sexual assault and any other form of serious trauma. Our program includes a wide range of therapeutic approaches, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, trauma-focused therapy, and other types of evidence-based treatment. Contact us at 1.844.876.7680 or connect with us online to learn more.

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