CONTROLLING PANIC AND SUDDEN DISTRESS

Starting to remember and deal with your abuse can lead to distressing feelings. These include:

These distressing experiences may recur throughout your recovery, but they can be a particular feature of crisis. When you experience them you can feel out of control. They appear to come out of the blue - but usually there is something which has triggered them. A trigger can be anything that reminds you of the abuse, for instance:

In the early stages of remembering the abuse these triggers and the resulting distress can be the main feature of the crisis.

Sexual abuse is a terrifying experience. As a boy you may have felt bewildered, powerless, and completely alone. Boys are not supposed to feel like this so you may have tried to hide it and appear strong, independent, and capable. You had to survive. It would have been hard to go on, feeling scared and without support. But hidden feelings don't just disappear. As you get older triggers remind you of the abuse and the pain breaks through into awareness. This explains experiences of panic, flashbacks, and sudden, distressing sensations and memories.

Self-help for Panic and Sudden Distress

Expect to feel vulnerable afterwards. You have had a scary experience. Get what support and comfort you need.

Remember that all of this is part of recovery. Many Survivors have had these experiences, got through them and got control. It doesn't mean you're going crazy.

We can take a more detailed look at each area, adding further tips to the ideas above.

Panic Attacks

Panic is a feeling of extreme anxiety. When you're having a panic attack your body may seem to be out of control:

Panic attacks are hard to get rid of completely, partly because there are so many possible triggers. But you can learn to get through them safely.

Here's some tips:

Sudden Memories

Sometimes memories of your abuse can pop into your head all of a sudden. There's nearly always a trigger. Often the trigger is sex or touch.

You might get pictures in your head of what happened to you. People or things in the picture might seem frozen in time. Usually, you are aware it's a memory. It's still scary, but you know that it isn't something that's happening to you now.

Consider the advice under 'Self-help for Panic and Sudden Distress.' In addition:

Flashbacks

A flashback is a sudden memory of abuse that is so strong it actually seems that it's happening now. Something usually triggers the flashback and it's often touch or sex.

Again you can get pictures in your head. But they seem much more real. You may experience the actual sounds, smells, tastes, emotions that you did at the time of the abuse. You may feel terrified, shocked, numb, in a rage or filled with disgust - depending what you felt then. You may get the same physical sensations in your body. These sensations are sometimes in your genitals or bum. It's like you're back being abused again as a boy.

It all seems so real it's hard to keep track of what's actually happening in the real world. You may feel completely out of control.

Flashbacks are very scary. But you can get through them and get some control. Some Survivors have later described them as a way. of retrieving useful information about the abuse they suffered as a boy.

Consider advice under 'Self-help for Panic and Sudden Distress' , and the additional advice on coping with sudden memories. Also:

Develop a good idea about which triggers cause you to flashback. You won't be able to avoid them all. It probably wouldn't be good to anyway as they're part of recovery. And some you may not want to avoid because they're an everyday part of your life or very enjoyable - like making love. But there may be some that you can avoid. Decide which triggers you will avoid. This will give you some control over the amount of flashbacks and distress you experience.

Coping with panic, memories and sudden distress is very hard and there are no easy answers. But many Survivors have experienced them, come through them, and established some control. Over time, and with support they've seen this distress reduce. As a boy you actually survived the abuse. Then you may have been all on your own. Now, as a man, you can get support and survive the memories of abuse too.

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