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.