April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and although it’s coming to a close, it provide ans important time to discuss ways to prevent assaults, but also a time to offer hope and resources to those who have experienced sexual trauma. As a survivor myself, I created a consultancy called Flawed Masterpiece® focused on helping other Black women with their personal development, wellness, and self-care.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, every 68 seconds someone is raped. Sexual abuse and harassment unfortunately are common experiences for many women and people of color, but it doesn't have to be the end of the story.
During my healing journey, a concept I’ve become aware of is post-traumatic growth. It is a term used to describe positive psychological changes that can occur in survivors of traumatic events. Post-traumatic growth has been gaining traction in recent years. People are beginning to understand the power of resilience and the potential for positive change after experiencing trauma.
First identified in the mid-nineties by the psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, post-traumatic growth is when a person experiences positive changes resulting from a major life crisis. According to an article published by Dr. Tedeschi in the Harvard Business Review, “negative experiences can spur positive change, including a recognition of personal strength, the exploration of new possibilities, improved relationships, a greater appreciation for life, and spiritual growth.”
Importantly, post-traumatic growth goes beyond resilience; by actively searching for good in something terrible, a trauma survivor can proactively use adversity as a catalyst for advancing to a higher level of psychological functioning.
As a survivor of domestic violence and multiple sexual assaults, I know first-hand the long-lasting mental and emotional scars that result from experiencing repeated traumas. Having battled crippling depression that often left me feeling unable to function and struggling to maintain healthy relationships, I know on a very intimate level what it feels like to fear that your life will always be marked and defined by your past trauma.
But post-traumatic growth can lead survivors to find renewed purpose, strength, and joy in life. Personally, I emerged from my complex trauma history more resilient and passionate about making an impact on other women and girls who survived similar traumas. I gave myself permission to heal and rewrite my story and want to help others do the same.
Below are a few examples of post-traumatic growth in survivors as they continue to do the work to heal their trauma:
1. Improved relationships: Survivors may develop stronger relationships with others as they deepen their empathy, compassion, and understanding of others' experiences. They may also become more comfortable confiding in others and seeking support when needed. Connecting with peers who understand the trauma can help individuals feel less alone, while also providing a safe space to talk about their feelings and share stories of resilience. For me, I am now able to connect more deeply and authentically with other women and survivors.
2. Increased self-esteem: Survivors may develop a greater sense of self-worth and confidence as they navigate the process of healing from trauma. Learning to trust themselves and their instincts can be an empowering experience that can lead to greater self-acceptance. In my healing experience, I discovered that my self-confidence, perfectionism, and focus on achievement were all coping mechanisms that I employed to overcompensate for the unworthiness I felt as a survivor of sexual and physical abuse. Through trauma-informed therapy, which included self-compassion, inner child, and shadow work, I met the “real” Joy for the first time in my 40s.
3. Greater appreciation for life: Survivors may develop a new perspective on life after experiencing a traumatic event. They may develop a greater appreciation for the present moment, the simple pleasures of life, and the resilience of the human spirit. For me, I became better at noticing my blessings and recognizing the many strengths I already had, but often overlooked. These days my gratitude practice is a powerful tool to combat moments of depression or anxiety that periodically arise on my continued healing journey.
4. New opportunities: Survivors may find themselves pursuing new opportunities that they would not have considered prior to their traumatic experience. They may have a greater sense of purpose in their lives that fuels their desire to explore new avenues and possibilities. In my own life, post-traumatic growth offered me an opportunity to move beyond these feelings and find new meaning in life by helping me forge a unique path where my entrepreneurial and legal work intersected and informed each other in powerful and curious ways. Launching Flawed Masterpiece® and relaunching The White Legal Group was a celebration of the totality of my life’s experiences.
5. Increased resilience: Survivors may discover an inner strength that they did not know they possessed. They may develop greater coping skills that allow them to navigate life's challenges with greater ease and resilience. For me, I eventually learned that the setbacks and detours in my life were just as important to my life’s purpose as my countless accomplishments.
Healing after sexual assault is never easy, rarely straightforward, and it often involves facing very dark and raw emotions and memories, but with compassionate trauma-informed support, resources, and a commitment to healing, I truly believe survivors can find that their traumatic experiences do not define them but can drive them toward new paths of growth and fulfillment.
There are many resources available online or through local organizations that provide support for survivors of sexual abuse, including hotlines, support groups, counseling services, and more. One way to access support is through organizations like the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline (800.656.HOPE). Trained staff are available 24/7 to provide confidential assistance to anyone who has experienced sexual violence or abuse.
It's important to remember that post-traumatic growth is possible after sexual abuse or harassment, even if it may take time and effort to get there. Healing is possible. With patience and perseverance, we can find strength within ourselves even after facing difficult circumstances.
WRITTEN BYJoy White