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Trauma and You

Advocacy Services > Trauma and You

It is not uncommon for a student to wonder if they experienced abuse, stalking and/or sexual assault.  Although everyone responds to trauma differently, some common feelings that survivors experience after a trauma include:

  • Feelings of fear
  • Feeling like you have lost control
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling guilty
  • Feeling negative about yourself
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Problems in your relationships
  • Avoiding memories, feelings, people or places associated with your experience

The reason why individuals have those different responses to the trauma is because trauma is about the EXPERIENCE of the event, not the event itself.  We experience things differently because we all bring our different perspectives, feelings, and emotions to the event. 

Here are some common reactions to trauma:[1] [2] [3]

  • Fight, flight, or freeze response (there is no “right way” to respond to an assault). A survivor may have the reaction of fighting back, but we also know a lot of survivors who freeze. This means the mind may freeze preventing the individual from moving and/or speaking. A survivor’s freeze response does not mean they “wanted it,” but rather this is a survival technique. Additionally, there are instances where a survivor may have a flight response which enables escape of a dangerous situation.  
  • Hyper-vigilance is a condition of maintaining an abnormal awareness of environmental stimuli <a survivor may have a heightened startle responses and flashbacks>. Increased emotional arousal may result in difficulty sleeping, outbursts of anger or irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Survivors may find that they are constantly ‘on guard’ and on the lookout for signs of danger.
  • Emotional blunting or the blunted affect is a clinical term to define a lack of emotional reactivity (affect display) in an individual. It manifests as a failure to express feelings either verbally or non-verbally, especially when talking about issues that would normally produce emotions.

Survivors of trauma cannot “just get over it” or “move on,” and the healing after trauma is a process. It is important to remember that you are not alone and there are resources available to you. We offer support and knowledge about resources so students are able to choose the best course of action. Free and confidential resources include individual and group counseling via the VCU Counseling Services and The YWCA of Richmond.


[1] Sexual Assault: Brain, Experience & Behavior – You Have Options Training, June 2015, Jim Hopper, Ph.D.

[2] Collecting Forensic Psycho-Physiological Evidence: The Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview – Sexual Assault Victim Interviews, June 2015, Dave Markel

[3] Solution-Focused Trauma Informed Care, December 2014, Susan Green, Ph.D., Denise Krause, Ph.D.,