Through my experiences working with rape survivors here on HelpingTeens, my own experience has taken on new meaning. We all feel that, if we can just forget about what happened to us, we will be fine. Unfortunately, it is not like forgetting a bad date or a relationship that was painful, or a time when we were hurt physically in some way. It is not as easy as that, and we fool ourselves believing that it is.
As with what I see on HelpingTeens and dealing with rape myself, I see the damage inflicted on survivors by family members, friends, the legal system, and the media. People often minimize the experience by saying, "You're young, you'll get over it," or, "Time heals all," or, "You have to get this guy before he does this to someone else," or, my favorite, "Don't you think that sometimes women ask for it?" It is up to all of us survivors to educate and explain the extent to which those kinds of comments demean and degrade us and our experience. Everyone needs to know the extent to which we felt powerless and confused, and the lengths to which we went to justify our actions and feelings about ourselves.
The healing process can be long and hard. For those of us who didn't think it was rape, the realization that it was can be devastating. Many people would say that, if we didn't know, then how could it be rape, and why should it be bothering us now? It's hard to answer these questions without defending my right to feel the way it do, which is often painful and insulting at the same time. Can you ever think of a time when someone told you something and you believed him and made decisions based on that information, only to find out later that it was not true? Magnify that feeling a billion times and maybe then you can come close to the feelings of betrayal, stupidity, responsibility and mistrust that one will feel after realizing what really happened.
For those that are very clear about what happened, there are still the questions and the judgments that can cause even the most survivors to waver in the belief of their innocence. The "what ifs," the "if only's," and the "I should have knowns." These self-defeating comments are often repeated with family members and friends nodding their heads in silent support of the victim's shared responsibility for the assault. Others in society would like to make victims responsible for their assaults, because then there is something that all of us can do to prevent the possibility: "I won't wear clothes like that; I won't date men like that; it can't happen to me because I'm careful; I can take care of myself."
I have learned many ways to cope with traumas in my life (including my rape from my grandfather and uncles) and many coping mechanisms are negative and only cause more harm. Are the self-defeating behaviors such as always expecting the worst, not accepting constructive feedback because it seems so personal, not asking for what we want or deserve because we feel that somehow we would be disappointed, caused by the assault? Of course not! They are, however, magnified by an assault experience, and are often left behind because of the lack of self-confidence and control we feel after an assault. How we look at the world changes, too. We no longer trust so easily, awareness can make us feel paranoid and cynical for a while. These feelings will pass if you talk with someone, especially someone who will listen, without judgment, and with empathy.
There are things that we can do for ourselves that will be important to our healing. Take care of what is important: our health, both physical and mental, and our relationships, improving and cultivating positive interactions in our lives. We need to examine who we are, and if we don't know, we need to find out. Most of all, we need to be gentle with ourselves and remember that there is only one of us, and how truly special and important we are. We must not let what happened to us in an instant dictate what happens for the rest of our lives. The below statement we, as survivors, should read every day:
"People say, what is the sense of our small effort. They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless. There's too much work to do." - Dorothy Day.
Please realize you did NOTHING wrong!