Trauma can cause sadistic personality traits

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Mag. DSA Anke Hefen

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Mag. DSA Anke Hefen

What is sexual violence

Motives for sexualised violence are not exclusively sexuality or, as is so often meant, instinct satisfaction, but the abuse of power or demonstration of superiority. Sexualized therefore means that sexual acts serve to humiliate, humiliate and oppress women and girls.

Violence begins where girls and women are restricted in their personal freedom and have to avoid situations and surroundings in order not to be offended, harassed or threatened.

The manifestations of sexual violence range from lewd, intrusive looks, unwanted comments and touches, "dirty" jokes, sexist remarks to rape and sexual abuse. Trafficking in women, forced prostitution, forced marriage, genital mutilation and the depiction of minors in pornography also fall under the concept of sexualised violence.

The common aspect of all these sexual acts of violence is that they are carried out against the will of the affected woman / girl and aim to belittle women and girls.

Rape and sexual abuse are forms of sexualized violence that are so difficult to cope with because both the physical and psychological integrity of a woman / girl is seriously damaged.

What is trauma

The term trauma comes from the Greek and means injury or wound. Trauma can be both physical and emotional.

One speaks of a traumatic event if:

The person himself or herself has been a victim or witness to an event in which his or her life or that of others was threatened or resulted in serious injury. The affected person's reaction includes feelings of intense fear, helplessness, or horror. [1; Page18]

Natural disasters and car accidents can also be events that trigger trauma responses. Particularly severe trauma reactions are to be expected if:

  • the event lasts a very long time
  • the events repeat themselves frequently
  • the victim is left with serious injuries
  • the event is difficult to understand by the victim
  • it involves interpersonal violence
  • the perpetrator is a loved one
  • the victim liked (likes) the perpetrator
  • the victim feels complicit
  • the victim's personality is not yet established or disturbed
  • sexual violence was involved
  • sadistic torture was involved
  • several perpetrators mistreated the victim
  • the victim had strong dissociations
  • no one stood by the victim immediately afterwards
  • no one spoke to the victim about it after the crime

Several of the points mentioned above usually apply to sexual violence. Experiencing sexual assault is always associated with enormous stress for those affected and brings them psychologically and physically close to death. There is an overload of stimuli. All coping mechanisms available in normal everyday life are overridden. All of this creates feelings of absolute helplessness, extreme fear, ineffectiveness and powerlessness.

Reactions immediately after traumatic events, such as after a rape, can be:

  • Narrowing of consciousness / disorientation
  • limited attention
  • Restlessness and hyperactivity
  • there may also be signs of vegetative overexcitation such as panic fear, racing heart, sweating and tremors.

These symptoms generally appear within minutes of the stressful event and also resolve within 2-3 days, and sometimes within hours. According to the international classification scheme for mental disorders, this condition is referred to as an acute stress reaction.

Specific reactions after trauma


Extreme stress events mean that incoming information is not adequately processed and stored in the brain. Traumatic experiences are stored in the brain's alarm memory in the form of experience fragments that remain isolated and are not properly classified in space and time.

These sensory fragments of experience are then the basis of so-called intrusions or flashbacks, in which the traumatic experiences keep coming back unfiltered. Thoughts, images, body sensations or fragments of words force themselves on those affected, so that the impression arises as if the trauma is really repeating itself.

These reverberation memories or flashbacks can be present as if the trauma was happening again. The associated feelings such as fear, panic, powerlessness, helplessness and terror are then experienced in a similar way to the trauma situation.

Physical reactions that were present at the time of the trauma are also relived. Flashbacks usually only last a few seconds or up to several minutes. It can happen that affected people no longer perceive reality and detach themselves from their surroundings inwardly. This condition is known as dissociation or derealization. Flashbacks are extremely stressful, and they also lead to fears of going "crazy". Flashbacks are an indication that the trauma has not yet been processed. [2; Page 24-26].


Another reaction to a traumatic event are symptoms of increased internal physical excitement (hyperarousal).

This symptom relates to a physical reaction that manifests itself in the form of an alarm reaction from the brain (actually a protective mechanism). Adrenaline and other stress hormones are released as if there was still danger. The consequences of this increased excitement can be sleep disturbances, the inability to concentrate, inappropriate anger reactions, easy irritability, difficulty concentrating and increased nervousness.

Many people who have experienced trauma have also become more sensitive to noises, for example when the phone rings or a door is suddenly opened.
Having experienced a trauma and not yet integrated it leads to constant stress. Traumatized people see potential dangers everywhere, worry a lot and feel the need to control everything. This often leads to complete exhaustion. [2]


Avoidance behaviors are an important coping mechanism for avoiding triggers for overexcitation and flashbacks. People who have experienced trauma try to avoid situations that are reminiscent of the trauma.

This avoidance behavior initially represents a sensible protective reaction. However, if the fear spreads (generalized) to all possible situations, it restricts normal everyday life enormously and impairs the quality of life.

Another possible reaction to a trauma can also be to switch off internally in order to feel as little as possible of the traumatization and the associated sensations and feelings. Some people also use narcotics (alcohol, drugs, medication, etc.) to protect themselves from the high internal stress, tension and overflowing feelings.

Specific consequences of trauma can usually be viewed well by those affected in connection with the underlying traumatic event. In contrast, unspecific consequences of trauma are often not associated with a traumatic event. In the case of sexual abuse experiences in childhood in particular, the memories are either nonexistent or only very vague. Complaints as described below are therefore often not recognized as the consequences of trauma, but can be traced back to traumatic events.

Nonspecific consequences of trauma

sleep disorders

Traumatized people very often suffer from insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, difficulty sleeping through the night). Often times, the trauma event repeats itself in the form of dreams / nightmares during the night. The physical and psychological recovery during sleep is massively impaired as a result.

Physical reactions and pain

Physical complaints that were actually experienced during the trauma can be stored as physical memories. Symptoms such as accelerated heartbeat, increased breathing, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, sweating, or pain that cannot be found to have any physical cause can often be traced back to these body memories. If a victim has suffered physical injuries as a result of an assault, the pain can persist and become chronic, even after the injuries have long healed. Women who have experienced sexual violence often suffer from abdominal problems for which no medical indication can be found.

Selfharming behaviour

Pronounced flashbacks or dissociative states can lead to self-harming behavior. Injury to yourself - by cutting, scratching, or burning - is believed to be the most effective way to end dissociative states. It thus serves as a remedy against loss of control and helps to regain self-control. This behavior can also be an expression of a state of mind that the person concerned cannot yet put into words. This behavior is often found in people who were sexually abused for a long time in childhood. Eating disorders (bulimia and anorexia) can also indicate that the person is traumatized. [2]


After trauma caused by experiences of sexual violence, women may suffer from depression. Depression is characterized by feelings of hopelessness, lack of interest, and joylessness. Depressed people have little drive and have given up on things that were loved to do before the trauma. Loss of appetite, insomnia, and loss of libido are other hallmarks of depression.

First aid after trauma

Every injury, every wound needs to be taken care of. Good care is just as important for traumatic experiences as it is for physical injuries.

Physical and mental stabilization

After the acute event, it is primarily a matter of physical and mental stabilization.

Physical means, in addition to medical care for physical wounds, ensuring enough sleep and relief, eating a balanced diet and avoiding harmful substances (e.g. alcohol, drugs, but also increased consumption of coffee and / or nicotine). Under certain circumstances, medical support can also be useful to prevent a prolonged stress reaction.

Mental stabilization includes the opportunity to talk about what has happened and to place the events in an overall context. Answering the questions: What happened? What did i feel What did i think How did I react? can help.
The aim is to be able to orientate yourself in the present with the certainty that the traumatic event is over.

Internal and external security

Another goal after trauma is to regain a feeling of security and security.

In the beginning it is often only possible to create external security, to make one's own environment safe, to accept the help of a trusted person. It is much more difficult to regain a feeling of inner security. This process takes time, a stable environment and, if necessary, professional support in the form of advice or trauma therapy. [1]

Trauma therapy

Sexual violence is one of the most massive forms of trauma and aims to destroy the victim's personality. For example, only a quarter of women recover from rape on their own. [1]

If symptoms follow-up to dreams such as reliving, increased irritability, avoidance, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, substance abuse etc. are already evident, you should seek professional support.

The aim of trauma therapy is that the trauma experiences can be classified (spatially and temporally) and thus an integration of both the physical and the emotional parts is achieved.

Involuntary memories and triggers (key stimuli) should become controllable, the feeling of control should be rebuilt. It is important to regain trust in one's own competence to act. The trauma has to be experienced as part of the individual story, as part of one's own life, but as a part that belongs to the past. This healing process takes time!

Many women experienced sexual assault in childhood, but can or do not want to come to terms with these experiences until they reach adulthood. It's never too late for that !!!

Mag. DSA Anke Hefen, graduate social worker and dipl. Music therapist and since 2013 managing director of the women's advice center TARA, Graz, Styria