The impact of traumatic events vary significantly among individuals. They may include persistent fatigue, sleep disorders (insomnia), nightmares, fears of recurrence, anxiety focused on flashbacks, depression, sadness, shame and avoidance of emotions, sensations, or activities that are associated with the trauma. These may lead to difficulty with relationships…


Psychological traumas are distressing experiences and/or events, which are caused by incidents such as violent attack, childhood abuse and neglect, rape and/or sexual assault that damage an individual’s sense of security or mental health. It also overwhelms a person’s existing coping mechanisms. In other words, traumas can leave victims struggling with upsetting emotions, memories and anxiety, which result in the feeling of a diminished sense of self-worth, disgust and helplessness in a complex society such as Nigeria. It can also leave an individual feeling disconnected and unable to trust others. Undoubtedly, traumatic experiences often arouse strong, disturbing feelings that may or may not subside on their own.

The impact of traumatic events vary significantly among individuals. They may include persistent fatigue, sleep disorders (insomnia), nightmares, fears of recurrence, anxiety focused on flashbacks, depression, sadness, shame and avoidance of emotions, sensations, or activities that are associated with the trauma. These may lead to difficulty with relationships and emotional outbursts, ranging from angry arousal to appearing frozen, shut down, or disconnected from the moment.

Traumatised individuals struggle with keeping their behaviours, emotions, thoughts, and even spirituality in check. Furthermore, the effects of sexual trauma could cause victims to exhibit behaviours such as hypersexuality or promiscuity (especially in adolescence), sexual dysfunction (avoiding sex altogether), disturbed intimate relationships, depression, and susceptibility to suicide.

Normally, in most African societies when these behavioural traits manifest, it is common to unprofessionally diagnose victims, on the basis of religious or cultural beliefs. It appears that religious extremists often engage in the re-victimisation of victims, referring to them as being possessed by the devil or even witches, whereas the actual causes of their issues could be due to prolonged sexual, physical or emotional abuse by either a parent, close relative or acquaintance.

Children learn who should protect them early in life. Thus, they are usually shocked when trusted adults do not protect them, or allow them to witness or become victims of distressing events. Under these circumstances, individuals who were traumatised as children may conclude that all men are monstrous or all women are wicked. Furthermore, traumatic experiences can skew a child’s perception of the world.

As an adult, these are potential reasons why a person may be reluctant to form close relationships with his or her peers or get romantically involved with anyone. Traumatic experiences can seriously alter one’s ambition for the future, including professional aspirations and desires, as well as plans for family life. For a victim, sexual intimacy with a romantic partner or a spouse, may serve as a trauma reminder and trigger intense emotional responses.

The core experiences of psychological trauma are disempowerment and conquest or subjugation of the victim. Trauma damages an individual’s ability to enter into a trusting relationship or to have a completely positive outlook on life. Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivor.


When there is a lack of systemic structure and a process of accountability that applies harsh consequences, such as incarceration for abuse, rape and other criminal actions, the aftermath of trauma becomes more intense. Victims may come to believe that laws do not protect anyone.

In the cases of girls who were raped by their fathers, unarguably they would look to their mothers for help and protection, but would also be disappointed to hear their mothers make such comments as, “do not allow another ear to hear this. You wouldn’t want to bring shame to this family.” Or, “if it gets to external ears, nobody will marry you”. These are serious diminishing statements. They place heavy emotional burdens on the shoulders of victims.

The type of mother mentioned above is an enabler. There is something wrong with her and her social world. Perhaps, she was a victim of childhood abuse, or a battered woman with her own trauma history as well! So, the cycle is unconsciously repeated.

The child in this situation has been taught by her mother to accept a socially unacceptable behaviour and crime as the norm. Therefore, the woman would have indirectly taught her child that society is bad. The child will start suppressing her anger, which can result in an outburst towards a well-meaning partner, a spouse, a boss or any authority figure in her life.

The core experiences of psychological trauma are disempowerment and conquest or subjugation of the victim. Trauma damages an individual’s ability to enter into a trusting relationship or to have a completely positive outlook on life. Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivor.

Domestic violence and/or endangering of a minor is not a private family matter. It is a very serious crime. Rape is about violence, entitlement and opression, not sex; hence, it is a heinous crime. Children who are victims of traumatic events may only visualise a foreshortened future. For this reason therefore, they definitely need therapy.

We should note that therapy can only work if a victim is open minded about receiving help and communicating effectively. It is also important for the victim to feel emotional support from loved ones. A combination of these measures and a victim’s faith will prove positively effective.


The prevention and control of abuse and rape must involve the punishment of abusers and rapists. It is very important to educate society on the true meaning of boundaries and consent, relating to sexual engagements.

The rate of abuse and the rape pandemic in Nigeria calls for low cost or free and confidential, psychological therapies for victims of sexual violence and abuse. The Nigerian society believes in telling people to “suck it up and move on” because there is no avenue for mental health recourse available. Giving victims a chance to be heard is paramount in their healing process.

Perhaps, if the government starts paying for these services, they’d start holding the perpetrators accountable for their crimes. Therefore, making these services accessible to victims is vital to their healing.

Time does not take away the pain of trauma. Victims of such events are best served by working with trauma-focused or trauma-informed therapists, who are trained to utilise a combination of psychotherapy alternatives and therapeutic modalities.

We should note that therapy can only work if a victim is open minded about receiving help and communicating effectively. It is also important for the victim to feel emotional support from loved ones. A combination of these measures and a victim’s faith will prove positively effective.

Chinna Okoroafor, a psychotherapist, could be reached through chinnaokoroaformsw@gmail.com.