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18 Atypical Trauma Symptoms I Experience As a Sexual Abuse Survivor

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

As a survivor of long-term incest/sexual abuse from a young age, I exhibit a lot of symptoms. But there are a lot of things I experienced for a long time, and continue to experience, that I couldn’t explain and didn’t recognize as part of the abuse I experienced. I hope to help other survivors connect the dots with this article.

• What is PTSD?

1. Lack of body awareness.

One might describe this as being very uncoordinated or unaware of their space. Sometimes, I will just run into people because I have no body awareness. As a former athlete, I was involved in many accidents and subsequent injuries because I simply did not understand where my body was, or anticipate the effects of how it would move. 

2. Autoimmune tendencies.

With the diagnosis of an autoimmune disorder, and tendencies towards inflammation, I did not learn for a long time that these are extremely common in trauma survivors. Additionally, the internal process of an autoimmune disorder is extremely similar to mental processes of trauma survivors. The body attacks the internal organs when it mistakenly views them as a threat. Sound familiar?

3. Loss of body parts.

Not literally, but simply I had parts of me that were abused, that for a long time could not function properly. Particularly my mouth, I could not suck a popsicle for the longest time because I simply just couldn’t; it was like the neurons in my brain were misfiring. Additionally, I had long-term articulation difficulties and spent years in speech therapy. I also lacked sexual development and just never had any feelings of the sort, sensation or connection to my female anatomy.

4. Unfamiliarity with one’s body.

To put it simply, I do not feel connected to my body, and often cannot feel touch. Physically, I do not recognize it.

5. Difficulty getting dressed.

As someone with dissociative identity disorder (DID) — granted a less severe case — my parts are extremely opinionated when it comes to getting dressed in the morning. If I am more childlike that day, wearing something that does not honor that part will be very distressing and mess with my mood all day long.

6. Difficulty with uniforms.

Any clothes assignment — being told what to do with my body, like how to dress that day — both upsets my parts if someone wants to dress a certain way that day, and makes me feel triggered.

7. Difficulty cutting my hair.

I haven’t cut my hair in probably 5 years. Every time I have in the past, I have been reduced to a puddle of tears and a complete breakdown. Having a part of you taken away from you, being physically changed, like a lion losing its mane, is at the root of my trauma and very triggering.

8. Fear of new things and places.

For me, being exposed to sex at such a young age made me very fearful of other new things as well. If it were up to me, my days would consist of only things that I knew. I was told of how when I first rode a bike, I was terrified the whole time and wouldn’t stop screaming and crying.

9. Extreme separation anxiety.

Up to my early teens, I was terrified of leaving home, which ironically was where my abuse was occurring. But I could not leave my mother, I struggled to go to school, or friends’ houses, or sleepovers, or camp, or virtually anything that wasn’t with my mother.

10. Lack of sexuality.

I never wanted sex, not really. I never went through the typical developmental stages of having crushes or wanting to have sex, or teenage lust.

11. Having sex or crushes for revenge.

While I didn’t want to have sex, not really, I would to get back at my abuser. I even went so far as to have sex with someone else at one of his favorite places. I would also have revenge crushes on older men who were in positions of power over me. 

12. Fear of marriage and having children.

I’ve always been expected to do these things, never have, but I fear once again having to be “tied” to someone.

13. Thinking the abuse is happening again.

When in relationships, feeling the same abuse dynamic happening again in your mind (but not in reality). For example, sometimes the gender roles would really confuse me as I was used to being a little girl with a much older man.

14. Biggest fears.

Lying, making something up, having something be all your fault; I was always terrified of these things, and could always see every situation spiraling into them. These were tactics of my abuser to keep himself from being locked up. This led to me being a perfectionist who never did anything wrong to avoid being blamed.

15. Emetophobia.

Known as the fear of vomiting, whenever someone else would get sick I would be terrified. I was always terrified of getting sick, and absolutely miserable when I did. I think it has something to do with losing control of your body, and interacting with bodily fluids.

16. Age distortion.

As someone in my 20s, I do not feel like that. Often, because of my DID and also just my altered development, I feel a lot younger. And other times, I feel a lot more mature than those my age.

17. Fear of children.

For a long time, I was a babysitter, but upon beginning to uncover my childhood trauma, I became terrified of children. Even holding their hand became a terrifying thing, so I had to quit babysitting.

18. Body difficulties.

How I’ve presented myself has changed drastically. For example, now I can’t wear tight-fitting clothing, or wear anything except a sports bra, or I feel very uncomfortable and exposed.

If you’ve made it this far in reading all this, thank you! And I hope you’ve found something useful here. If so, share it in the comments!

Photo by Alonso Moreno on Unsplash

Originally published: February 16, 2021
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