Since reading South of Forgiveness and watching Thordis Alva and Tom Stranger’s Ted Talk I have reached a clarity regarding my own recovery I thought impossible. I know now I need to forgive myself in order to find peace. Unless I forgive myself for the atrocities committed against me I will never be at peace and without being at peace I will not stop harming myself and attempting suicide.
Forgiveness is central to recovery. Without healing does not nor cannot take place.
Fear: A Common Response
Rape and sexual assault are no less violent and terrifying than any other form of attack or bullying. Even an assault by coercion, rather than physical force, involves fear and defeat for the victim. The emotions are intense, fully justified, and hard to shake off. For many, fear can become an ongoing issue. PTS (post-traumatic stress) expands on that fear, entrenches it, and connects it to unexpected triggers. Coping with that fear can mean the difference between a life well led and a life on the edge. Reclaiming courage, however, is brutally difficult.
A trained counselor can provide the skills and techniques to allow a victim to manage the justifiable fear that can carry over into post-trauma life. He or she will also have a profound understanding of the nature of that fear, and the right a victim has to experience it. Rather than adding guilt to existing stress, a good counselor can help console a victim, and absolve guilt for feelings that are natural and appropriate.
Escape from Guilt
Survivors of violence, and particularly survivors of rape and sexual assault, often feel guilt and lowered self-esteem. In spite of having been blameless victims, there is a human tendency to assume fault when bad things happen in our lives. Rape and sexual assault are further complicated by the cultural blame still associated with being attacked. Finally, there is sense of shame and guilt in having been found worthy only of being an object for use and abuse. It’s an unfortunate but true fact that the human heart accepts negative judgment and negative treatment easily and deeply.
It takes courage and commitment on the part of the victim to find a way past this common reaction. This courage is often easier to find and maintain in the care of a counselor who is aware of the human capacity to absorb guilt and shame and can provide a steady, rational and impersonal counter-pressure, while helping a victim slowly unravel the binding threads that trap them in a guilt and shame response.
Once a rape or sexual assault victim has found a way past guilt, they must go still further to forgive themselves. On some level, many of us expect to be able to cope beyond all reason, and forgiving ourselves for mere mortal vulnerability is difficult.
Whether you or a loved one pursues help can make a great difference in how the natural guilt and shame reflex are processed. Whether the victim comes to terms with ordinary, human lack of superpowers or lives life forever shamed that he or she wasn’t able to prevail against a greater force can depend on timely and competent treatment.
Living a Whole Life
The goal of therapy after rape and sexual assault is healing – healing that will allow a former victim to experience life as a full, whole human being again. The past can’t be changed, but the ways we interpret ourselves after rape and assault can be changed: rather than feeling broken, defeated, shamed, and used, a former victim can learn to see herself as a strong and capable survivor. By finding counseling and strength, life becomes all of a piece again, and the future becomes a promise, not a threat.
I am burdened by profound and deep guilt and shame that I just can’t reconcile. On one level I know I was only a child and had no control over the adults that raped me or my parents for organising the paedophile ring but the grooming techniques employed by them all were so expert all the blame was apportioned to me. They made me believe that I was responsible for their actions. The Priests, Politicians, Farmers, Landlords, Fishermen, Teachers and even my own father all succeeded in making me believe that what had happened to me from the age of four to eighteen was all my fault and I and I alone was to blame. So now at the age of fifty-five I still believe that. My resulting Complex PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder have culminated in long periods of self-harm and suicide attempts due to the self-loathing.
As I have said the path forward is through self forgiveness. This I am attempting to do through psychotherapy and EMDR. I am making progress. It’s a slow, painful journey but one I am determined to make. I have a wonderful supportive family and a gifted therapist so am very, very lucky. A few good friends have remained and recently and old friend has re-appeared which is heartening. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
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