Overcoming Rape Trauma
Expanding the Realm of Reality
Truthfulness is the key to recovery. This includes embracing all of the emotions that resulted from the rape, working through them, and finally resolving them. During the recovery process, there are many obstacles that a rape victim encounters. One of the major barriers can be the victim’s failure or inability to accept the events and the resulting emotions for what they really are. Instead of acknowledging the situation, some victims buy into the false notion that the attacker’s actions were prompted by “misguided love” or they attempt to block the most embarrassing emotions. Although the mere suggestion that a rape victim might try to attach ideations of love (or romance) to the attack might seem preposterous at first, this section describes how and why this phenomenon sometimes occurs.
Outside the Victim’s Realm of Reality:
Have you ever read a newspaper article about a horrific crime only to shake your head in disbelief? After reading the story, you might even stop to ponder how someone could do such a thing. If you can’t think of such a situation, consider the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer and cannibal. For most of us, we can only wonder what could possibly have been going through the mind of such a sick and depraved person. If you have no answer for why such acts were committed, it is probably because these acts were outside your “realm of reality”. In other words, the situation is beyond your ability to imagine, comprehend, and understand. In fact, you probably could not have imagined such an event had it not been for the press coverage. In these types of situations, the event that occurred was outside our “realm of reality.”
For rape victims, especially those who were sexually assaulted by someone who “loved” them, such as a father, mother, brother, stepfather, husband, boyfriend, or an uncle, it becomes extremely hard to understand how a “loving” person could be so vile, hideous, predatory, and void of a soul. Because of the difficulty comprehending such things, it becomes much easier to search for and accept a false answer. Unfortunately, one of the more common “false answers” that is utilized is the one of misplaced or misdirected “love.” For many victims, as well as society in general, it is much easier to deny the dark side of someone’s personality than it is to try to understand the attacker’s motivation. Because of the inherent difficulty comprehending the attacker’s motivation, some victims develop an answer, such as the notion of misdirected love, to fit into their realm of reality.
The tragedy is that this answer — blaming it on some sort of “twisted love”- is not the correct answer. Rape, molestation, and sexual assault are never about misplaced love, misdirected love, or any other form of love. Crimes of violation are always about power, control, hate, and violence. In addition, incestuous acts and sexual crimes perpetrated by caretakers (such as a parent, teacher, the clergy, or and older sibling) also involve betrayal because an established bond of trust has been broken. Living with the pretense that the act was somehow connected to love will only hinder recovery, and more than likely, maintain the bond that the victim has with her abuser. If the victim does not accept the fact that her trust has been betrayed, she will continue to trust her attacker. Likewise, if the victim was raped by someone she knew (e.g. date rape) and she blames the attack on misguided love, she will have a greater inclination to “fix the relationship” or excuse her attacker’s actions. In order to break the bond with her attacker, she must first see the situation for what it really is — a vile act. Healing cannot truly begin with false answers and answers designed to comfortably fit into one’s realm of reality. Instead, true healing can only be found by expanding one’s realm of reality to accept true reality.
Whether it is rape, sexual assault, or molestation, I have yet to meet a person who feels good, clean, and refreshed about what happened. No matter what occurred, the victim always feels most, if not all, of the following feelings: dirty, tense, confused, exploited, violated, damaged, guilty, powerless, hollow inside, in emotional turmoil, terrorized, shocked, enraged, sick, detached, a feeling of loss, the presence of the attacker, and a strong desire to run or escape from everything. It goes without saying that because of these emotions; the victim has a strong and natural desire to rid herself of these extremely unpleasant feelings.
Although there are many reasons why the victim cannot accept the emotional burden resulting from the rape (sexual assault), some of the more over-riding reasons are because of guilt, embarrassment (shame), and conflict. Even though the victim might talk about her ordeal with close friends or a therapist later on, she is much less inclined to reveal any information about the pleasurable aspects of her attack (if any): especially if incest was involved. For most victims, the dirtiest secret of them all is if they were sexually stimulated during the forced sexual encounter. For most victims, experiencing sexual stimulation during the attack is outside their realm of reality.
Over the centuries, and especially in the industrialized nations, people have learned to empathize with the victim’s terrible ordeal. Unfortunately, society, as a whole, has yet to acknowledge the conflict that arises when normal sexual responses (arousal) occur during a forced sexual attack. For most people, victims included, the concept that some aspect of rape can be sexually stimulating is outside their realm of reality. The victim, to save herself from feelings of guilt, embarrassment (shame), self-loathing, and mental conflict, might attempt to “re-write” the attack by romanticizing some aspects of her attack. In other words, the victim might incorrectly account for normal physical responses by concluding that there was some element of love or romance involved during the attack. Keeping in mind that most victims are unaware that being sexually aroused during an attack is uncontrollable, normal, and that it occurs much more frequently than most people aware of, the victim is much more prone to feelings of shame, guilt, self-loathing, and extreme mental conflict.
Regardless of why the sexual assault was romanticized (i.e. feelings of guilt, instances of incest, internal embarrassment, internal shame, etc.), the only way for the victim to recover is to address the resulting emotional turmoil honestly, with the determination to overcome the pain, and by expanding her realm of reality. In other words, the victim must view and accept the situation (attack) for what it really was, an act of control, hate, violence, and/or betrayal, not an unplanned romantic encounter. If the brutality of the attack is not accepted, then the underlying emotions cannot be fully and truthfully recognized and resolved.