When we are victims of a crime, everything may seem surreal at first.
We know what happened and yet it is hard to believe.
Many people feel a kind of emotional emptiness and may have difficulty remembering what happened in detail.
We may find it hard to talk about the incident and to take in any information given to us.
It is at this time too that severe reactions can occur, for example, bouts of crying, or feelings of shock or of anger at the offender.
However, after a while, everything becomes clearer and it gets easier to talk about what happened.
After being subjected to a crime, some people think constantly about what happened.
For the majority of us, these symptoms disappear over time.
In some cases, memories of the incident can remain for longer, triggered by a certain image, smell or another memory, which may temporarily cause the same reactions as the crime itself.
The images may be so clear and so strong that it feels as if the crime is being committed all over again.
These recurring memories, known as flashbacks, can be very distressing.
If the crime was reported to the police and led to the prosecution and trial of the suspect, there may be quite a time gap between the crime and the trial.
Many crime victims find it distressing to have to relive the memories of the incident again when they must tell the court what happened.
If these reactions do not disappear after a few months, it is important to seek help.
Being a victim of crime can make us feel anxious and vulnerable.
Often our reactions become more obvious when we relive what happened through memories and flashbacks.
This anxiety may lead to difficulty in concentrating and being easily irritated.
For some time after a crime, many victims have difficulty in falling asleep because they lie in bed going over what happened and, even after they have fallen asleep, it is not unusual to have nightmares about the incident.
It is also common for people to wake up several times during the night.
These sleeping problems may also make us more easily irritated.
“Why me?” is a question many people ask themselves as they try to find an explanation for the crime.
Very often, victims question their own actions to avoid something similar happening in the future.
For instance, they might think:
“If I hadn’t…” “If I had done that instead…” “I should have…”
It is important to remember that the victim is never to blame for the crime.
The only person to blame for what happened is the offender.
Sometimes victims may feel extreme anger and even hatred for the person who committed the crime.
This often generates feelings of revenge, bringing out a side of ourselves that we may not even recognize.
It is important of course to distinguish between fantasy and reality, but it is also important not to blame ourselves for thinking like this.
It is a completely normal reaction which usually fades as we become more distanced from what we experienced.
It’s not unusual for victims of crime to deny or try to repress what happened as this enables them to cope with the distress they feel after being the target of a crime.
The subsequent process of starting to remember what we initially “needed to forget” is a challenging one, which may take some time.
This is why it is not unusual for people in crisis to continue to feel angry even as they are getting over the incident.
Many victims of crime feel fearful.
They may be afraid to go out, to go past the scene of the crime or to be at home alone.
Many people are afraid in situations that remind them of the circumstances in which the crime occurred.
We may also feel that our basic safety and our trust in others has been undermined, which prevents us from being able to live the way we did before.
Some people suffer from mood swings.
They can feel completely normal one minute and the next they may have a fit of rage or burst into tears.
These are completely normal reactions.
People may also suffer from different kinds of depression and anxiety.
Sometimes psychological reactions to crime can lead to physical problems too.
problems with eating, chest pain, dizziness, headaches, back and neck pain, stomach upset or cold sweats.
Sometimes people close to the victim may blame him/her for what happened.
This may be because of the fear they feel because someone close to them has been the victim of a crime and they think about how it could have happened to them.
Unfortunately, this can make the victim of the crime feel guilty or ashamed, even though there is no reason to do so.
People may even subconsciously blame the victim in order to find an explanation for the incident.