Trigger Warning: Please note that we will be discussing sexual assault and trauma and the content may be sensitive to some of our readers. Please visit RAINN for more information and support.
In the era of the #MeToo movement of viral hashtags and televised Supreme Court hearings, it’s important to remember that sexual assault survivors don’t have to share their wounds with the world to heal. While we commend those who have found their voice and spoken out against their perpetrators, we acknowledge that there are many who haven’t—whether that be by choice or not.
But the constant media coverage can also be exhausting and triggering, and it’s time to steer the conversation away from trauma and begin to reflect on the healing process.
Sexual trauma creates a profound loss of control over one’s body, which can often manifest in negative thoughts about oneself. This is commonly referred to as negative self-talk, which is the inner dialogue you have with yourself that limits your ability to believe in yourself, diminishes your confidence, and prevents you from making positive changes. Or rather, it keeps you from believing in your ability to do so.
“None of us are perfect, and once we go through trauma, the way that we see ourselves through our own eyes may have changed,” sexual assault and trauma expert Jimanekia Eborn explains. “No matter if there is any physical change, the mental aspect of us has changed.”
An integral part of healing from sexual trauma is restoring one’s sense of self while practicing kindness toward your mind and body aka self love. This often comes later in a survivor’s recovery process, once they have had time to process the trauma, begin to make sense of it, and understand the impact it’s had on their lives.
Jimanekia, who has been working in the mental health space for over a decade, finds mirror work to be the most challenging, yet rewarding self-care practice that can help a survivor confront their insecurities and perceived inabilities head on while reclaiming a healthy sense of self-worth.
“There are many things that go into self-acceptance besides just accepting one's behavior. We are also looking at the way you see yourself and see yourself—the way you set your boundaries, the feelings and emotions that are strong within you, the things that may be weaker within you. Your feelings of worth are entangled within this as well as your feelings of self-satisfaction.”
Mirror work is the physical act of looking at yourself, your body, your beauty and imperfections through your own eyes. You are in control of what you need to see in you.
With a few suggestions for creating a simple mirror work routine, Jimanekia helps us gain better insight into how the physical act of looking in a mirror and seeing yourself, your body, your beauty and imperfections through your own eyes can help you truly see yourself, without filters, both real and imagined.
Read on to better understand how this simple yet profoundly moving act of self love can help survivors of sexual trauma reclaim their bodies (and their thoughts) as their own.
Jimanekia suggests starting small, in short segments of time, when beginning mirror exercises. “We are giving ourselves grace; self-acceptance can look like rebuilding a new muscle.” You wouldn’t try to run a marathon the first time you put on jogging shoes, so you shouldn’t expect to be able to quiet your mind for an extended period of time without practice either.
“Set a timer for 3 minutes and look in the mirror. Look at all the things that you normally avoid; you can focus on specific areas, you can do body scans—it is totally up to you because you are in control of what you need to see in you.”
Move your fingers, wiggle your toes, shake out your limbs—do whatever you feel you need in the moment to feel present and alive.
Create a Routine
Once you get used to getting to know yourself (again) and grow familiar with the “you” few people only have the privilege to see, you can gradually increase this time to however long you need.
Adding breath work can transform your mirror exercise into a meditative practice. The combination of breathing and mindfulness is a gentle, grounding experience that can help trauma survivors reconnect with their bodies and emotions in the present.
It doesn't matter if mirror work is the first thing you do after waking up or the last thing before bed. Gradually integrating mirror work into your daily life helps create and maintain a routine, which can promote stability, centeredness, and independence. Making a commitment with yourself also helps you regain trust in your thoughts and abilities, so that you can intuitively nourish your capacity to heal, survive, and thrive.
Add Positive Affirmations
As you grow more comfortable and gradually increase the amount of time in front of your mirror, you can add positive verbal affirmations.
Survivors often feel silenced, both during the assault and often years after, which is why it’s so important to find your voice and advocate for yourself. Speaking out loud, even if it’s in private, gives you the opportunity to take back the power that was taken and implement your rediscovered voice in the world.
We’d like to reiterate that while survivors have no obligation whatsoever to disclose their trauma, many aren’t even given the choice to speak because of the imbalance of power difference between survivors and their perpetrators. It’s important to remember that this is no way means those who cannot, or choose not to speak about their assault do not deserve to heal, and it certainly doesn’t make the trauma any less real.
“Spend a little time with those quotes or words and be intentional with them,” suggests Jimanekia. “Tap into the things you wish others told you. We are taking the control back and telling ourselves these things.”
Some examples of affirmations Jimanekia recommends are:
I am enough.
I am doing my best.
I am strong.
I am beautiful.
Speaking from the “I” perspective gives you agency, and can help mitigate feelings of dissociation and depersonalization, which are both common defense mechanisms the brain may use to cope with the trauma of sexual violence. Speaking from the first person is an intimate, authentic perspective that can help you connect with your thoughts on a deeper level while grounding you in reality.
You can also write these words of affirmation on your mirror with dry-erase markers so they’ll easily wipe off. You can change the phrase based on what you need to hear that day or week and you’ll get a friendly reminder every time you walk past or use the mirror!
Take Your Time
Mirror work isn’t a magic cure for healing from past trauma; it might help, and it might not. You might not have the energy, or interest to do mirror exercises, and that’s okay. It might not always feel this way, but wherever you are in your healing process is the right place to be; you have every right to heal on your own terms.
“It may take time to figure out what feels best for you,” Jimanekia reassures. “Take some time to figure out which feels best for you. And remember you deserve to see what others see: a beautiful, strong human. Do what feels good for you in a way that you feel good in your own skin.”
Meet Jimanekia Eborn
Jimanekia Eborn is a Queer Media Consultant, Comprehensive Sex Educator, and Sexual Assault & Trauma Expert. She is the host of Trauma Queen, a podcast mini-series for survivors of assault and our allies that focuses on uplifting voices in all communities and explores the collective journey to healing.
Jimanekia is also the founder of Tending The Garden, a retreat for survivors focused on femmes of color.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can get free, 24/7 confidential support from a trained staff member at the National Sexual Assault Hotline by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673).