Healing takes time, and each individual recovers differently—at their own pace and in their own way. Healing is a non-linear journey. Some days you may feel overwhelmed and some days you may feel ok. Everyone's process is unique and valid. In Audre Lorde’s words, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."
Understanding your experience
All feelings and reactions to sexual or gender-based violence are valid. Know that you are not alone. There are people at McGill and in the Montréal community who are available to support you. It is okay to ask for help.
When sexual violence occurs, it may be difficult to understand why it happened. Asking yourself “What did I do to deserve this?” or “What could I have done to prevent it?” is a natural reaction, but anyone can be sexually assaulted or harassed and no one invites or deserves assault or harassment. It is not your fault.
If you are unsure whether what you have experienced is sexual violence, you can read more on our About Sexual Violence page. If you want to talk through your experience, your feelings, and/or your reactions, we are here for you.
Each person experiences sexual assault or harassment differently and in their own unique way. There is no right or wrong way to feel or cope. After an incident of sexual harassment or assault, you may experience:
- Changes in how you feel about yourself (lower self-esteem, shame, humiliation, and guilt)
- Changes in how you feel about your body (embarrassed, feeling unclean, detached from your body, wanting to harm yourself)
- Changes in your perception of safety (feeling powerless, having difficulty trusting others, fearing being alone or with others)
- Changes in physical functioning (headaches, eating and sleeping problems, stress, anxiety)
- Changes in emotional functioning (feelings of depression, grief, loss, disconnection, mood swings and anger, being emotionally withdrawn, lack of motivation, trouble concentrating)
- Changes in sexual intimacy and behaviours (an increase in risky sexual behaviours or reduced intimacy)
You may also experience no reaction at all.
Self-care can take many forms and focus on physical, emotional and/or spiritual well-being. Whether it’s activities you do solo, or reaching out to friends, family and/or community, self-care can help you cope with the short-and long-term effects of trauma. It is the process of "taking steps to feel healthy and comfortable.” (Rainn.org). Taking care of yourself will require different things at different stages in your life.
For step by step suggestions for self-care: You Feel Like Shit: An Interactive Self-Care Guide, an interactive flowchart developed by Jace Harr.
For questions to get you started on identifying self-care strategies specific to you: Self-Care after Trauma at Rainn.org.
For a colouring and journaling activity: We Believe You. A colouring book for survivors and supporters or You Are Not Alone. A colouring book for survivors and supporters at Ryerson University.
Grounding techniques can be useful self-care skills. They are exercises used when we feel distressed, to handle feelings of detachment or feeling ‘unreal’, and to reduce symptoms of anxiety and panic. Learn what works best for you and practice until they become automatic so that they can be used in moments of distress.
Sensory & cognitive grounding techniques
Below are some resources that may help you explore the healing process. If you would like to share a resource you found helpful, please svoffice [at] mcgill.ca (contact us)! We also have a variety of books available for reference at our office.
4 Ways to Overcome Self-Blame After Sexual Assault - Sian Ferguson
12 Things No One Told Me About Sex After Rape -ThoughtCatalog.com
Breaking the last silence around my sexual abuse - Anna Cote
When Forgiveness Isn't a Virtue - Ijeoma Oluo
Recognizing that intersectional oppressions are at the root of rape culture, addressing and confronting those oppressions can be an integral part of accountability and healing. Whether or not you choose to disclose your own experiences of sexual violence, you may choose to participate in initiatives which work to increase safety, transform social conditions which perpetuate violence, and make space for survivor agency. You can check out this guide by Creative Interventions about the process of transformative justice, or the Third Eye Collective, which offers healing support, advocacy, and transformative justice for black women.
Taking care of yourself is also about knowing when external support is needed. If you are ready to reach out for support, contact the OSVRSE or consult our list of campus and community resources.