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?

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