Believe Survivors, Including Yourself

Today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings have been hard for many, but especially those who have a history of sexual abuse or assault. Whether or not you watched the proceedings, it was hard to avoid hearing about them on the news and on every social media outlet.

Some people are only now realizing that some of their own experiences were abuse or assault. Others are experiencing renewed rawness of emotions that they thought were long past. Many are sad, anxious, outraged, depressed.

For many survivors, it’s not only whatever abuse or assault may have occurred. It’s also about the reactions of others, the important others and even loved ones who trivialized, dismissed, or minimized the trauma. Those who told survivors in one way or another,

“Who cares if you were upset then or now. It’s in the past! Get over it! Snap out of it! You’re making a big deal out of nothing. You weren’t actually hurt. This was nothing compared to [someone else’s painful experience]. I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way. He wouldn’t do that to someone so unattractive! He didn’t really do that much. Quit playing the victim! You’re always so dramatic! Be strong! Deep down he’s really a good guy. It was your own fault for being there. For drinking. For wearing that outfit. For trusting someone. For being friendly. For being bitchy. For being vulnerable. For acting tough. For not saying ‘no’ the right way. Why can’t you just be cool about it? You’re lucky he showed you attention. He only does that to girls he likes.”

It can be hard to reject the destructive, victim-blaming messages we may have internalized for years. Seeing someone else go through that process can be very upsetting. But it can also be an opportunity to recognize that while there are those who minimized or disbelieved or just didn’t care, it still wasn’t your fault. Just as you can see that it was not the fault of other survivors, it was also not your fault. It was always the fault of the assailant, no matter how powerful, successful, “nice,” or well-looked-upon.

Teen Vogue has some concrete suggestions for keeping yourself together during social crises that are PTSD triggers. Take care of yourself; you are worthy of care.

 

 

shattered_flowers_before

Stopping the Cycle Matters, and It’s Hard

For those who are taking on the life’s work of recovering from any kind of childhood abuse, what you are doing really, really matters. You are blocking the spread of abuse with your own body and heart.

It takes an enormous effort to put something positive out into the world, or to pass something better on to your own or others’ children, when you weren’t even given enough resources yourself to begin with.

Being the one to stop the damage from propagating further means you are spending energy repairing your own injuries while also spending energy moving forward and putting good into the world. You are working twice as hard with fewer resources and while healing from your injuries. In a way, you are repairing the past, present, and future all at once.

No wonder changing the world is so exhausting!

G’mar Tov

For those who observe Yom Kippur, may you have an easy fast.

Click through for a thread from Rabbi Ruti Regan in Bethesda, MD:

 

 

Trauma Survivors and Assault in the News

If you are a survivor of abuse or assault, it may at times be very difficult dealing with the news cycle on a day-to-day basis. Not only may we hear and read about details of experiences that mirror our own, we also hear a great deal of public discourse around those kinds of traumatic and personal events. In some ways this may be even worse.

Hearing public figures and people in authority expressing doubt, denial, and minimization of survivors’ experiences is often a rerun of the kinds of responses we may have experienced ourselves when we tried to tell parents, friends, family members, or others we hoped would help us. People in our present lives may also be expressing disbelief or minimization about other survivors’ accounts in a way that re-opens our own past wounds and invalidates our experiences.

The lack of support or even belief around assault is in some ways as injurious to survivors as the actual assault was. The underlying message we may internalize is “I’m not important enough to protect or believe.”

You may find you are having trauma symptoms without recognizing them for what they are. It’s common to see increased insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, depression and anxiety symptoms generally (OCD, GAD, panic, etc.), irritability, difficulty concentrating, hopelessness, and so forth. Always pay attention to an increase in your symptoms–it’s a sign that whatever the reason, you need to make sure you are giving yourself more support, flexibility, and care.

What can I do?

Limit your exposure to triggering material: we certainly want to be informed about the world around us, but it’s easy to get sucked into obsessively monitoring the radio, social media, or TV for news that goes over and over the same points. If you need to, give yourself a specific window of time to take in the material. But make it short, and recognize that you may need to account for how it may affect your functioning afterwards. If others insist on discussing it, it is okay to say you need to not hear about it for a while.

Be around supportive others: if you have friends or family who are especially minimizing, it will be harmful for you to be around them all the time with no validating voices to neutralize them. Spend some time in person, on the phone, or even online with people you know are supportive and trustworthy. Maybe friends, your therapist, a relative, or your clergy. (If no one you know is available when you really need to talk, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline [800-656-4673].) For those lucky folks who have a pet, hug an animal companion. They are often our most ardent and nonjudgmental supporters!

Take care of yourself. If you tend to dissociate from your symptoms, you may not even realize how stressed you are feeling. Re-visit how to do self-care if you have allowed it to slide a bit. If you have worked on your recovery before, now is a good time to re-visit interventions that have worked for you before. If you have not worked on your recovery, now is the time to start!

For a general overview of how PTSD affects survivors of sexual assault, here is a short article.

 

Segregation In Living Memory

The experiences of Soledad O’Brien and Ruby Bridges remind us how shallow the skin of time in “post-racial” America really is. And how vigilant we need to be in order to avoid sliding back instead of continuing our hard-won progress.