Thursday, November 7, 2013

What If I'm not sure?

Most of the people I speak to in counseling have come to me because they want to confront the sexual assault and/or abuse in their past. But not all of them.
Image Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

Some of them, and maybe even some of you, think they might have been sexually abused or assaulted in the past, but don't know for sure.

This is a touchy but important concern. It's touchy, because the reputation of a person or people stands on the testament of an experience a survivor cannot say for sure has happened. But it's also important, because it's very possible that something abusive did happen to a person that they are unable, for very legitimate reasons, to remember. 

For example, a survivor may have been very young when the alleged abuse occurred. They may have flashes of memory, body memory, or uncomfortable feelings around a certain person, but not a specific recall of an abusive circumstance.

It's also possible for survivors to subconsciously block out abuse that is too painful to remember. This is one of the more controversial circumstances of lost memories, as humans are highly suggestible creatures and it has been proven that it is possible to implant false memories in another person through suggestion. This doesn't mean that every case of blocked memory is false, but it does make it harder to know even for yourself.

Finally, a survivor may have been under the influence of a date-rape drug or substance intoxication, and the effects of these chemicals have erased or altered the events in their memory.

However it happens, being unable to remember clearly  - and therefore, unable to prove or disprove the feeling that something bad happened - can be maddening to experience.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/

It seems there is no solution. Unless someone else was a witness, you have no way of knowing the truth. And that can make you feel helpless, angry, and unsure of who to trust.

Well, I can't tell you for sure whether or not something happened to you. If you, your therapist, and your law enforcement officer feel it is appropriate, by all means, investigate the situation to the best of your ability. But when you don't want to do that, or the search doesn't turn up what you want it to, there are other ways to reclaim your power and control.

Sit down and put together a "case" for and against the situation. One approach is to objectively look at the evidence, even if it's just for yourself. You may also invite a trusted friend or family member to help you look at what you know. Your decision, for or against what happened, may not hold up in a court of law, but it can give you a sense of peace.

Ask yourself, "What would it change?" If it was true, and if it was not true? Is it possible you might be afraid of one outcome or the other, and that is affecting how you look at the past? And, if it wouldn't change anything, do you really need to know?

Decide what YOU think and what that means for you. Saying it did happen, it didn't happen or you don't know are equally acceptable choices. The point is to take your power back by choosing one of these choices to be true until faced with further evidence to the contrary. This is distinguished from denial, which is a coping mechanism to avoid facing an unwelcome truth. You only truly regain control when you have thoroughly confronted all options and chosen to move ahead based on your own will.
Image Courtesy of markuso/

It is important that you know that none of these choices have legal implications...but they're not meant to. This isn't about deciding what happened for the point of justice, though that is also important. Instead, it's about finding peace and learning to set aside an old issue. 

Perhaps more importantly, it's about learning to trust yourself again. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Pain Scale

Have you ever felt like you didn't have the right to be hurt or upset about what happened to you? That other people have had it worse, so you can't possibly complain about your situation?

If so, you're not alone. Many survivors feel that they aren't justified in their feelings of rage, loss, or betrayal because your story could have been worse.

From birth, we learn that everything has a rating. It's a "good try," or "not good enough," or "perfect." We have our best friends, our enemies, and everything in between. 

It's human nature to try to make sense of things we encounter in our lives, and one way we make sense of our world is by putting things into ranked categories. 

But that doesn't work with pain, and here's why.

Pain cannot be compared. It's not an objective measurement. Two people can experience the same pain, and to one it's excruciating, and the other it's a passing irritation. 

Pain doesn't only "count" at a certain level of severity. Even if you could measure pain objectively, at which point can you declare it sufficiently valid? Who has the right to say for another person if it hurts enough? 

Fact is, pain is pain. Your hurt is just as valid as someone else's, and it matters just as much. 

Accepting the validity of your own pain...and that you have as much right to be hurt as someone else a path to healing from it.

It's easier said than done. Hearing the truth doesn't just take it away. But what does help you is to start living it.

How To Ditch The Pain Scale

Evaluate your pain on its' own terms, not compared to someone else's.

Accept that you have a right to feel what you feel based on what happened to you. 

When you feel the urge to rate your pain, ask yourself why it's important that your pain be lesser than someone else's. 

Have you ever written off your hurt by saying "someone else had it worse?" Was that helpful to you or not? 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I can't hate him.

Have you ever heard this?

"You must hate him [her] for what he [she] did to you."

"Don't you just want to see them go to jail?"

"I'd like to kill that person for hurting you." 

93% of juvenile sexual assault survivors know their attackers.  85-90% of adult survivors already have some kind of acquaintance with the person who assaulted them

Words cannot describe the betrayal you feel when someone you knew and possibly even trusted sexually assaults you. 

It is common for those that surround you (family members, loved ones, friends) to receive the news of your assault with threats of violence to the attacker, or to want to help you prosecute him or her. It's a fairly predictable response, and we can all understand it. When someone hurts a person we love, we want that person stopped. 

But when it comes to sexual assault by an acquaintance, the situation simply isn't that easy.

An "acquaintance" doesn't begin to describe who this person is to the survivor. It might be his or her parent. Next door neighbor. Another student at their university or high school. A teacher, sibling, or pastor. The father of their child. 

Such relationships don't come in only one dimension.

Outside of the sexual assault, you have had interactions with this person - without a doubt at least some of them positive. If this person is a member of your family, you have other family members' feelings to consider. The uncle who molested you is also your favorite cousin's father. Your ex-boyfriend gave you your child. Your neighbor babysat for you. 

Good memories get mixed in with the bad. You've always thought of a sexual assault being perpetrated by some stranger in the bushes. Not your friend. Not your family.

How can this person that did this horrible thing to you be, at the same time, someone you once liked? Maybe even still have some feelings for? Does that mean there's something wrong with you? 

Absolutely not. Fact is, nobody is all good or all bad. It's just not that simple. If people went around wearing devil horns and red body paint, it would be easier to spot them. But they don't. 

We know there are complexities to people's moral character: after all, "good people do bad things sometimes." However, it's a harder trick than you might think to apply that knowledge to your everyday life. 

We want people to fit an either/or, when it comes down to it. We want to say they're good, or they're bad, and when we can't fully define them as evil, we want to turn it around on us. This terrible thing happened, and if I can't hate them...maybe it was me. 

That's a logical leap you don't want to make, because the consequences are devastating. 

So don't assume that it has to be either/or, black or white. You may choose to see it instead in a number of different ways. 

  • Good people do bad things. 
  • Bad people do good things. 
  • Or perhaps, that none of us is all good or all bad, but we make choices everyday to serve our highest self - or to serve our highest selfishness

Are you tempted to put people into opposite categories? Why do you think it's hard for you to allow a person to be more than one thing at a time?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reclaiming Yourself

One of the most common things that I hear from survivors of sexual assault is they feel like they lost control of themselves. While this was true for a time physically, as the assault happened, it doesn't have to be true on an ongoing basis. 

Have you thought about taking a step to reclaim the emotional and physical control you lost during the assault? I know, that's more complicated than it sounds. In order to reclaim what was lost in the assault, a necessary step is to acknowledge to some degree that a sexual assault was committed. That you were victimized (though you do not have to be, by any means, a victim.) 

That's a harsh reality for anyone to face, and I wouldn't recommend doing it without the support of a licensed counselor trained in sexual assault recovery. 

Once you have connected with a counselor who gets you, you can work with him or her on ways to reclaim your body and mind.

Here are a few ideas to discuss with your sexual assault recovery therapist:

Journaling: When done purposefully, journaling can help you release and explore ideas you've held onto about the assault that are no longer serving you.

Body therapy: In wanting to reclaim ownership of your body, many men and women have explored ideas such as tattoos, piercings, improving physical fitness, makeovers, and more. When done with the attitude of celebrating your physical self and not self-harm, they can be quite restorative. 

Symbolic destruction of the past: (Safe) burning or burying of written declarations of past misconceptions such as self-blame, guilt, and shame. The destruction of these past thoughts represents that you are getting rid of the old to move forward with a healthier worldview. (You may even find it helpful to start with journaling therapy, and then move onto destruction of that journal later on.)

Investing in yourself: By this I mean investing time, energy or money in creating an even-better you! Have you always wanted to go back to college? Why not now? Have you thought about running a marathon? Maybe it's the time to hire a personal trainer to help you learn the physical discipline needed to complete a race of that magnitude. Whatever it is, I want you to know that it's okay to something positive for yourself. 

If you were to reclaim yourself today, what steps would be meaningful to you? How would you take back who you are and move forward? Comment below.

If you live in Dallas or Texas, you can contact me about sexual assault recovery therapy & counseling in Dallas or online. Find out more about my practice.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Who's In Charge?

When you've been through a traumatic assault, it can feel like you've lost all control. I've had people say to me that they feel like they can't even have their feelings or reactions because that is a result of the assault. "He's still controlling me," they say. 

I deeply empathize with how that feels. But it's an illusion. You are still in control, no matter what you feel your attacker is still taking from you.

Here's a few things you're in control of:

  • Your story.
  • Who you tell.
  • Your reactions.
  • Your outlook.
  • Your management of your pain.
  • Your choices.
  • Your future.
  • Your life.
He/She (the Attacker) can only have as much control as you give them. So don't give them any. 

They don't deserve it.

You are in control.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How do YOU see yourself?

Have you ever worried that if you told someone what happened: your best friend, your cousin, your significant other - that it would change the way they saw you? 
All of the sudden, you'd no longer be the person they see movies with, or a close family member, or someone who is romantically desirable, but the "person who was sexually abused," or the "person who was raped." It's not an attractive idea. Who would want to change from being thought of as fun, friendly, or sexy to the proverbial victim?

No one I've ever met. In fact, most men and women I've worked with have deeply resisted the idea of being characterized by their assault...and in so doing kept their pain nestled close to their heart, an invisible barrier keeping themselves closed off to people they love. 

Recently I wrote about your assault being your story to tell. I still believe that. It's no one's right but your own to tell others what happened to you. 

But here I'm not talking about your right to tell your story...I'm talking about when you want to tell your story, but are afraid it will change how others see you. Even more than that, when you are afraid that your story will come to define you. 

That's a very different scenario from simply choosing when and with whom to share your story, because it isn't based in feeling obligated and choosing what to do about it, but instead is based in shame. 

And that's the major problem. When we look at the word shame, we're seeing the meaning being, "a painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another."

It's normal to feel shame after assault. But "normal" doesn't always mean appropriate.

Appropriate, meaning suitable, fitting, or proper

It is normal, but not suitable, fitting or proper for you to feel shame after an assault. Because it is not your fault that happened. It doesn't mean anything is wrong with you - at all. It doesn't say anything about your character, your capability, or indeed, who you are, at all!

You worry about others defining you by the assault. But what you don't often see is that you worry about that because on some level you are defining yourself by the assault. People pick up what you project. If you project self-acceptance, they will too. But if you're stuck in shame and guilt, they may well assume there is something you should feel shame and guilt over...though this could not be farther from the truth.

So how do you get past this? You broaden your perspective. Right now, I challenge you to take out a piece of paper and start writing things down about who you are.

Check out this example characteristics sheet from Second Blooming to help you get started. You'll notice one major thing about it right off the bat. Nowhere does it describe an event as a defining characteristic of who you are. Because an event isn't you. It just happened to you. 

Big difference. :) 

I'd love to hear from any of you about what characteristics describe you! Comment below or send me an email, at survivorisaverb at

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

If It Worked, I'd Leave You Alone.

From the time you realized what had happened to you had, in fact, happened, I'd wager your first instinct has been to ignore it.

Call it what you like. Maybe it's denial.

But more likely, you have another word or phrase for it.

"Moving on."

"Putting it behind me."

"Not letting it affect me."

"Keeping it in the past."

Does any of that sound familiar to you?

It's common to want to move past bad things. Whether the "bad thing" is abuse or assault, or some other source of shame, you just want to forget it happened and return back to your normal life. There are several reasons why this seems to be the solution when faced with a situation like that.

1. When you're going through something terrible, the way you get through it is by focusing on "getting back to normal." Whatever is happening right now, there's that ray of hope that someday you will be able to separate from it and return to how you felt before. You want to feel happy and free again.

2. You feel like what happened can't be undone or fixed. So why focus on it? It seems like the better choice to just ignore it.

3. You've tried dealing with it before, and haven't gotten the results you hoped for. You may have even been hurt more than you ever have before, just from facing this one time. Therefore, you "got smart" and decided to never go there again.

Any of these reasons makes perfect sense to me. I can imagine easily making the same choices in any of those scenarios. But that brings me back to the title of this article:

If any of that worked, I'd leave you alone.

If you could erase it from your memory and have it never impact you again, then I'd be thrilled for you. If you really felt relief when you stopped allowing it to come to mind, then I'd shut my mouth

But that's the problem. While I'd love it if that happened, I've never seen it done successfully before. Ever.

Without fail, every time I've seen someone try to ignore a pain it just gets worse, not better. Inevitably, the hurt multiples.

And the bigger the hurt, the more painful it is when you ignore it.

I know it feels like denial is the solution.

I know it feels like you have to hold out and hold on. That if you don't, you might not make it.

You may even feel like if you open that door, that you won't be able to close it again. That if you face your pain, you won't be able to handle it, and you'll simply melt into a bottomless depth of misery.

This is a very real fear for many people. It is not manufactured, it is not exaggerated. It's terrifying to contemplate. Absolutely terrifying.

But it's a false fear. No matter how strong before, and how painful during, I have never encountered a client who honestly confronted their hurt in therapy and regretted doing so. Instead, most (if not all) of the people I've met have expressed their sense of relief at finally releasing the pain. They feel free again. They have hope.

It's not easy, and it can't be rushed. But I encourage you today to recognize that in dealing with your past, there is another possibility outside of shame and misery. There is the possibility of peace and healing.

I encourage you to ask yourself this, and ask yourself what it would take to get you there. What's holding yourself back from giving yourself healing?

You hold the key to setting yourself free from your pain. I know it's been a long, hard journey but there are people out there who want to help. Right now there is someone waiting to tell you about the services available to help you heal. There is someone there to help you whether:

  • It just happened to you or it was many years ago.
  • You are male or female.
  • You reported the incident or not.
  • You identify as gay or straight.
Whoever you are, you are not alone, and it CAN get better for you. Call this number:


for the National Sexual Assault Hotline or click here to go to the Online Hotline right now

Getting help works. Which is why I won't leave you alone about it. 

Let me know about your experience reaching out for help, or why you've been hesitating to do so, by commenting below.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How Do I Tell People What Happened To Me?

Has this ever happened to you? You're on a date with someone new, it's going well, and you're just about to order dessert when the thought crosses your mind.

"How will they react when they know what happened to me?"

Suddenly, it becomes like this big weight on your chest. Do I tell them now? Do I not tell them now? What if I tell them and they freak out? What if I don't tell them and they feel like I lied to them?

What a mess! At that point, it can feel like it's just easier to avoid the dating thing altogether. And it's not just dating that brings up this problem: it's meeting anyone new. Who do you tell? How much do you tell?

This inner conflict is caused in a large part by the worry over "doing the right thing." You worry what's fair to the other person.

But the question you're not asking yourself is, "What's fair to me?"

Though it might not feel that way at the time, that is an important question. In fact, it's the most important question. After all, no one is impacted more about telling your story than you. The person you tell will feel for you, naturally, but it didn't happen to them. It happened to you.

And that makes it your story to tell.

So here's what you do. Instead of worrying how other people will react, ask yourself how you feel about telling another person your story.

Will it help you grow in your relationship with that person?

Will it help you find out if they are someone you can trust to appropriately handle sensitive topics?

Will it be a good exercise for you to practice sharing something like this?


Will it set you back in your journey?

Are you unprepared to handle a negative reaction?

Are you still working on relinquishing your own negative feelings about the story?

If you answered affirmatively to any of the last few questions, you may wish to talk to your therapist or a trusted friend before sharing. It's an emotionally charged story, and there's nothing wrong with taking time to prepare yourself.

But, if you feel like you are prepared to claim your story and all possible negative and positive reactions, and this is a person you believe you can trust, then you might be ready. If so, you can use the reaction you get to your story to help you continue your healing process.

If they blame or judge, you can remind yourself that they didn't experience it, so they don't have the right to weigh in on it.

If they say, "I'm so sorry," you can remind them that while you appreciate their concern, you don't need anyone to feel sorry for you. You're a survivor, and you are strong.

If they say, "wow, that happened to me too," then you've opened up the door for them to share their story with someone who gets it and will support!

Bottom line? The only person who has the right to share your story is you. And there's more than one right way to do it.

If you have shared your story before, what let you know you were ready to do so? If not, what healing level would you like to reach before you share your story with others?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I Should Have Reported

I should have reported. 

I wish I'd told someone. 

Sound familiar? Two, four, even ten or more years down the line, I hear survivors express their regret over not reporting their assault to the police or at least telling someone it was happening. 

I understand that. By the time I meet most survivors, they have had some distance from the assault or abuse. With adulthood, or with time, they see that what was done was not their fault and they feel the desire to protect others from what happened to them. It seems that once they reach a place where they've acknowledged what happened and started the healing process, they want to see the perpetrator be held accountable for his or her crime. 

It's wonderful when survivors feel ready to confront their perpetrators, one way or another, though it's not always a necessary step in healing. What can be dangerous, though, is the guilt that survivors can take on at this time.

Some survivors blame themselves for not prosecuting sooner. They feel angry that they've spent years "allowing" the perpetrator to roam free, hurting other girls or boys. It hurts because they've suffered and the perpetrator did not. Or, maybe, the statute of limitations has expired and they can't report the crime now, but could have earlier. 

That's a heavy burden to carry. With one regret - the wish that you had pursued charges against your attacker earlier - you take on the responsibility for other survivors he/she has hurt, the responsibility to punish your perpetrator, and a possible life-altering opportunity that was not taken. 

No wonder I see so many survivors beating themselves up over not reporting. I would, too, if I carried all that responsibility around with me. But it's a responsibility that isn't yours to carry. 

You are a different person now than you were then. Time and experience gave you a perspective on your situation now that you couldn't have possibly had before. You can't expect yourself to know something then that you only discovered now. 

It is common for survivors to go through a period of shock and denial when the assault or abuse first happens. How can a person who is struggling to even admit something happened possibly be able to report it right then? Give yourself a break. There is no instruction manual for this. 

Perpetrators create situations that make it extremely difficult for someone to report. The whole point of their crime is that they want to do it and continue doing it. Therefore, they make sure their target has a lot to drink. Or, they tell a small child that they will hurt his or her parents if they tell anyone. They seek out people that society is prejudiced against. The deck is stacked against you. That's what these predators count on.

No matter what, you are not responsible for the perpetrator's other crimes. Whether the perpetrator assaulted someone else before, after or during his/her assault of you does not make you in any way at fault for those crimes. Period. Which leads into...

It's not your job to punish the perpetrator. You can choose to report. But you cannot take on the burden of punishing the person who did this to you - no matter how much they deserve it.  Why? Because your job is taking care of you. Nothing else. It's wonderful if you want to crusade for other survivors, write a victim impact statement for court, complete a rape kit and tell the police about what happened to you. But what matters the most is that you heal. If you can do that and report the crime, then in many cases that's the best option.

But not all. Ultimately, whatever you have to do to heal, as long as it doesn't hurt you or others, is OKAY. Because...

Who is to say but YOU whether or not reporting is the right choice for you? Is it always the right choice to report? Honestly, I don't know. If we had a perfect judicial system, maybe...but we don't. For some it may impede their healing to report and all that goes along with that. For other survivors, the only way to heal is to report, whatever the outcome. The important thing is to realize that it's an individual choice, and to not judge anyone (including yourself) for those choices. 

Have you ever felt guilty over not reporting/not telling about your assault? How did you deal with it?

If you need more help sorting through these and other questions, check out the Survivor Is A Verb Bookstore

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

It's My Fault, Part Two. Why It Sticks.

While I hope you have taken what I said in the previous letter to heart, I know it's not a mindset shift that lends itself to easy change. More often, the shift from "it's my fault" to "the perpetrator is to blame" clings harder than one day's talk can shake loose.

I hope you feel freer after reading the previous letter. But it's possible you still have some doubts. Maybe you think, "She just doesn't know my situation. If she knew, she'd get why it's my fault."

You may also want to let it go, but the blame still creeps back in. You go to sleep feeling good, and then at two a.m. you're wide awake thinking of all you could have done differently.

If that's the case, let me assure you, you're not the only one.

As much as I'd like it to be easier, it's very common to hold onto the self-blame longer than is necessary. I've found two reasons why that seems to happen.

First, you're in the minority. Sad as it is, and as common as sexual assault is, at the time of this writing more people than not will blame the victim for their assault. I hope and pray that at some time in the future I can take out this sentence, but for now, I can't. To little is understood about the nature of sexual assault, and too many survivors are caught up in blame themselves right now, for most people to accept blamelessness for being assaulted.

The first time you tell someone of your assault, the first questions are, "why" and "how," leading to the assumption that you made critical errors in judgment to lead you to this unfortunate circumstance.

Huffington Post: Click For Story
After Steubenville, Sandusky, and countless others, the public outcry is against the poor accused perpetrators, and seeks to defame the survivors at any cost. Despite the fact that false reports for assault are as low or lower than other crimes. Despite the fact that perpetrators quite often plan to be public figures with plausible deniability in case this kind of thing were to happen. And, despite the fact that not many people would put themselves through that kind of media hell if they were telling a lie. 

This is the ongoing battle of surviving: reminding yourself everyday, despite well-meaning or harshly-meant criticism of your character, that this is not your fault. That until you contribute to the solution by freeing yourself from unjustified guilt, the system will not change.

It's not fair.

Jerry Sandusky Trial: Click for Story
But you can do it for yourself.

As challenging as that is, however, the second reason is far more difficult than even the first. It has to do with that v-word. No, not that one. The other one. Victim. Another major reason survivors cling to self-blame is because not to do so is to invite utter chaos. If it wasn't their fault - if it wasn't your fault - then it was wholly outside of your control.

That's the WORST feeling in the world, especially to a survivor, who has already had so much control taken away. As destructive as it is, you may be tempted to hold onto that self-blame as a security blanket against the empty uncertainty of not having any power whatsoever. They're both terrible, but one feels far worse.

But is it, really? I know it's horrible to feel out of control. Every adult deserves a healthy level of self-control. It's a basic human right.

But, is this the kind of control you want to have? Do you really want to hold onto this control when it means villianizing yourself in the process.

I know it's terrifying. But keep in mind, letting go of this control doesn't mean you have no control. No matter what, you always have control over your own mind. No one can take that away from you, no matter how awful.  

Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist in Austria during the beginning of the Holocaust. He could have escaped after the Nazi invasion in 1939, but stayed to take care of his patients, including falsifying records to protect those under his care from being euthanized for being unfit. Eventually he, his parents, his brother, and his wife were all forced into camps. He was the only one of that group who survived, having lost his family, his practice, and his life's work.

Still, after all that, he said this:

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

No one can take all control away from you, though they can abuse it terribly. Who you are and who you will be is your absolute possession, today and every day.

Do you ever blame yourself as a way to keep control of the situation? What’s another, healthier way you might regain control of the situation instead?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

It's My Fault

It's my fault. Have you ever thought that? Before you answer, let me give you some variations on that theme:

I went to his house. 

I agreed to the go out with him.

I was drinking.

I was thinking about hooking up with him.

I was wearing my shortest skirt.

What is the common thread in all of these statements? The word I. That one simple little word leads to one major conclusion in your mind:

I went to his house…so it's my fault.

I agreed to the go out with him…so it's my fault.

I was drinking…so it's my fault.

I was thinking about hooking up with him…so it's my fault.

I was wearing my shortest skirt…so it's my fault.

And that's the problem. A crime was perpetrated upon YOU…but somehow you've made it your fault.

It's not a new problem. It's called blaming the victim, and sexual assault is the only crime in which blaming the victim is not just accepted, it's encouraged. But the worst offender is not the media, or your parents, or your friends…though to be fair they're often a problem too. It's you.

Would you ask a survivor of homicide why they pissed off the murderer? No, you wouldn't. Because nobody survives a homicide. You survived your crime.

If a lock was broken on someone's car door, and they neglected to fix it, would it be their fault that their car got stolen? No, because any level of neglect doesn't justify a crime.

Instinctively, we know it's insane it blame a murder victim, or someone whose possessions were stolen. But survivors blame themselves - you blame yourself - for a crime against you as a matter of course.

The situation is no different if you were a survivor of childhood sexual abuse or stranger rape. Children say to themselves, "If I wasn't pretty my daddy wouldn't have hurt me." Adults say to themselves, "I should have been more careful." Listen, how long do you have to do this before you turn the blame on the person who deserves it?

Someone should be able to stand in front of someone else buck naked and not get raped. If anyone else was telling you their story of assault or abuse, you wouldn't blame them.

So why blame yourself?

Your challenge today is to shift your thinking.

I went to his house…but I didn't ask to be sexually assaulted.

I agreed to the go out with him…but not to get raped.

I was drinking…so I couldn't give consent.

I was thinking about hooking up with him…but I'm allowed to change my mind.

I was wearing my shortest skirt…so what?

I was a pretty child…but no one deserves abuse.

I should have been more careful…the perpetrator should not have done what they did.

Your turn. What blaming questions have you asked yourself?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Will I Ever Get Over This?

Have you ever asked that question? Most survivors do. Whether you ask the question in a counseling session, of a fellow survivor, or simply to yourself, it’s probably on your mind.

Unless the abuse or assault started from your earliest memories (which can happen) you probably remember a time before. It can take on a mythical quality. That time before the assault, when you were free from this pain.




Rape is an aggressive word. So is assault. Accurately so, for they are physically aggressive acts. But they are also emotionally aggressive too. An assault takes things away from you on a personal level.

The time before becomes the time you were whole. The time after becomes the time you were broken. Robbed.

“He took everything from me!” I’ve heard survivors say. And I know to them it is quite true. But I caution them, and all of you, to avoid thinking of it in such closed terms.

Can you ever get over this? The simple answer is no.

But the true answer is you can transcend this circumstance and take back the control that was taken from you.

I think we focus on the wrong thing when we say that we need to get “over” sexual assault. What most survivors, in my experience at least, really mean by that statement  is that they want to get free of it. And that is something I wholeheartedly believe in.

How does someone get free of a history of assault? I cannot give a comprehensive, universal answer to that question, but I can tell you what components I commonly see in someone who is free of their abusive past.

They know who they are outside of the assault. They are not defined by it. They have their own goals, their own identity, untainted by the abuse. (Yes, it is possible to have that in the future if you’re not there now. Hang in there.)

They have a firm grasp of their “story.” They can recount the assault to safe people and not experience flashbacks. They have stripped from their story false guilt and blame and placed the wrongdoing squarely on the perpetrator’s shoulders, where it belongs.

They have found a way to grow from it. Please don’t misunderstand me in thinking I expect anyone to EVER be grateful for the assault. If you are, I applaud the courage in that, but I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with always wishing you hadn’t gone through it. BUT survivors who have gotten free have reclaimed SOMETHING about their assault or abuse that is theirs. They became sexual assault advocates. They wrote a book. They created art.  They protected someone else. They didn’t get to choose what happened to them, but they chose what came out of it.

They have boundaries. They don’t allow unsafe people into their lives, and they don’t let anyone walk all over them. They challenge themselves, but don’t push beyond their limits. They take care of themselves on a regular basis. They do not do anything sexually they do not want to, and they do not have sex out of the idea that they owe someone sex.

When someone asks me in counseling, “How can I get over this” these are the goals I keep in mind for them. In my time working with survivors, these factors go along with survivors feeling free.

So when you ask me, survivor, whether you can ever get over it, you know my answer.

Freedom is possible. Your old self is gone. But your new self is waiting.

Don’t give up. It’s possible.

Please share with us how you’ve known you were healed from an aspect of your assault, or what goals you have for yourself to know when you’re free. We’d love to support you.