Military life is filled with unique stresses. However, while the challenges of navigating life-threatening situations in an active warzone are incredibly difficult to overcome, there can be just as many stresses that active military personnel can experience on-base. One of the most common traumatic experiences that service members may experience on base is military sexual trauma (MST). Not only can MST cause intense emotional damage to active military personnel but these traumatic experiences can profoundly impact daily veteran life and important personal or romantic relationships.
Understanding Military Sexual Trauma
MST is any kind of unwanted sexual advances experienced while on a military base. This can be comments about a person’s body to unwanted flirting, touching, and even more harrowing experiences in sexual assault or rape. Experiencing any form of MST can be traumatic, and it is difficult for many to address and overcome its profound effects.
Those who have been a victim of MST may experience:
These signs and symptoms can persist even long after the traumatic event has transpired and can follow veterans back home and continue to impact daily life until addressed.
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Both men and women in the military can be a victim of military sexual trauma. While MST does disproportionally affect women in the military, men are not immune to this form of trauma. According to an infographic published by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), about one in three women in the military and one in 50 men have reported experiencing some form of MST while on active duty.
However, many more instances of MST often go unreported, either due to fear of repercussions, embarrassment, guilt, and more, with LGBTQ+ service members also profoundly affected. While it can be impossible to know of every instance of MST in the military, it is paramount to understand how these experiences can continue to impact the health of veterans, and especially how military sexual trauma can affect personal relationships back home.
The Effects of MST on Personal Relationships
Veterans face several challenges as they transition from military to civilian life. However, those who have experienced MST in the line of duty can find further difficulties throughout this transition as their relationships are affected. For some, this can have profound impacts on their relationships with spouses, while others may find it difficult to begin to pursue intimate relationships of any kind following these experiences for a variety of reasons.
Victims of MST can find it difficult to trust others, especially when it comes to navigating personal relationships. This does not only mean a compromised ability or willingness to trust others, but those who have experienced MST in the line of duty may also question others’ intentions when it comes to personal relationships. An inability to trust another can compromise the development of these relationships before they have even begun, and further feelings of isolation or loneliness.
Fear of Intimacy or Vulnerability
Those who have experienced MST may also find it incredibly difficult to allow oneself to feel vulnerable around another. This can result in avoiding physically intimate situations as well as emotionally intimate topics. Self-isolation and the creation of emotional barriers are common and can make it difficult to develop new relationships or continue to nurture relationships with spouses after returning from active duty.
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Compromised Sense of Self-Worth
Victims of MST may also have a compromised sense of self-worth, either blaming themselves for their traumatic experiences, or continuing to harbor intense feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame. Moreover, some may deem themselves somehow “unworthy” of these important personal relationships.
This compromised sense of self-worth can also inform the development of addiction as drugs and alcohol are used to placate these intense feelings, creating a dangerous cycle of use that demands professional care to address.
Finding Treatment for Military Sexual Trauma
There is nothing easy about addressing the emotional and traumatic impact of MST, especially when combined with substance use and any other forms of trauma that may stem from a veteran’s time in service. However, healing is always possible, and Hawaii Island Recovery is committed to helping veterans find the right route to a healthy and fulfilling civilian life.
Hawaii Island Recovery combines professional addiction recovery strategies with personal and trauma-informed approaches, along with a community of peers who have navigated their own challenges of the military. MST can be more common than many may recognize, and having a safe space like our treatment centers in Hawaii to deconstruct stigmas around MST is paramount to addressing the complexities of the situation. Utilizing effective veteran communities and taking a holistic approach that combines proven therapeutic practices with emotional and spiritual healing is necessary to address not just the effects of MST on a person’s self-worth and beliefs but also how veterans can approach established and new relationships alike in veteran life.
Military sexual trauma is incredibly difficult to address, and many veterans have difficulty not only addressing it in their own lives but also in overcoming its impact on their personal relationships. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we empower you to work alongside veteran peers to deconstruct barriers and promote the most effective approach to treatment with sympathy, understanding, and action. Our comprehensive and trauma-informed approach to each treatment program can be personalized to help you challenge the effects of military sexual trauma to facilitate the best healing in your own relationships, all while providing an opportunity to create a new community of camaraderie in recovery. For more information on our treatment centers in Hawaii, call us at (866) 390-5070.