As a ‘survivor’ of incest and abuse, I’ve been through the whole gamut of grief, mourning my life. It started out with denial and isolation – telling myself that nothing happened, or just pushing it to the back of my mind, and not wanting anyone to know my ‘shame’.
From denial I moved to anger, and you can bet your bottom dollar I was angry. I hated that my control and choice had been taken from me. I despised the weakness and shame I felt, and the guilt over a crime I wasn’t guilty of committing.
When it came to the bargaining end of things, it’s a little different when it comes to rape. Sure, you want to go back in time and keep it from happening, but it’s not quite the same thing as the bargaining people do when a loved one dies. You are trying to get your innocence back. You want to be the person you were supposed to be, before someone murdered your psyche. The grief you feel is for yourself – the person you were supposed to be and become, but who has now supposedly been killed by someone’s selfish, and sexually twisted, gratification. In other words, “If only I hadn’t gone into that room with my grandfather when I was seven,” or, “If only I hadn’t sat in his lap,” then, “Maybe he wouldn’t have touched me like that.” Those are the bargains that swim around in your brain if you’ve ever been in such a situation.
Once I realized I probably wasn’t going to be able to continue on as the person I should have been, all of the emotions I felt were overwhelming and overpowering. When that happens, it’s human instinct to repress them. That’s where the depression comes from. Depression is not sadness. It’s not being unhappy; it’s a state where you feel nothing at all. Depression comes from the repression of your emotions, to the point where you are completely numb, which is a painful state, in and of itself.
At some point I discovered that I honestly didn’t care about anything, and suddenly I felt something about that; I felt alarmed. It struck me as particularly terrifying that I was so frozen inside that it no longer mattered whether I lived or died. This was the beginning of the end when it came to my depressed state, and was also the start of a new stage of my grief – acceptance. The survival instinct isn’t really an emotion per se. It’s a part of our lower-brain function. Even without emotion we know enough to wear a coat when it’s freezing outside, or eat when we’re hungry. Those are necessary things to our survival. So, too, is our need to care about what happens to us. When we truly don’t care, our survival instincts recognize this as a danger sign to our personal continuity.
On that note, it was at this point that I recognized the danger I was in because of my depressive state. I started to dig deeply into the emotions I had switched off. Rather than merely react to certain stimuli, I would question each of my reactions, turning and twisting the emotions until I had wrung all meaning from them. I had to know exactly why I felt the way I did…about everything. I went from extreme lack of caring to extreme self-analysis. The self-analysis actually became so habitual that even when I no longer needed to do it, I was still over-analyzing every aspect of my life.
Over-analysis can be very harmful, and it’s a stage a lot of people get stuck in who have experienced trauma of some sort. They get through the grieving process okay, and accept what has happened to them, but the obsessive need to pick apart every little thought can cause more harm than good at this point.
You see, the human brain is a rather miraculous organism. People can literally talk themselves into (and out of) anything at all. It’s not necessarily talking to yourself out loud either. It’s that little voice in your head that can send you all kinds of nasty messages, about you and everyone else. It can tell you that you’re ugly, or that your boyfriend is acting suspiciously. The trick is to be able to figure out the truth of those statements. Sometimes your brain is giving you a much-needed message, and you need to go with your gut on it, such as with the case of the suspicious behaviour from your significant other. There may be good reason you’re picking up on something.
So, how do you determine what is truth? Well, to start, figure out whether there’s any basis in reality there, or whether it’s just a standard-issue insult. Self-talk can be very eroding to our self-esteem, and most of the time it comes from ridiculous societal norms. Ignore those messages entirely, or better yet, give yourself a positive message every time you’re mean to yourself. In the case of your suspicions about your partner, try to figure out what the trigger was for your concerns. Is there a valid occurrence that made you start worrying? Has your partner started staying out all the time, or stopped showing interest in you?
Once you get your self-analysis under control, rather than allowing your thoughts to circle endlessly, you can start to live a real life. Healing has truly begun to take place. Something that has become my pet peeve, or two ‘somethings’ if you like, are perpetuated by most of society, and in particular those in the realm of professional therapy and sociology. First, they’ll tell victims that they’ll never truly get over it. Second, when you do heal they won’t believe you.
Modern psychotherapy tells us, “Once a victim, always a victim.” They may not phrase it that way, but it is what they base their therapeutic techniques and practices on. For now we’ll ignore the fact that they’re hoping to bring in repeat customers who will never be healthy enough to live without therapy.
The thing is, it’s more than merely possible for someone to heal from personal trauma. We’re extremely resilient as a species, and to label victims of assault as ‘survivors’ is more than a little silly. Every human being that’s alive is a survivor – if they weren’t, they’d be dead. People don’t like to use the word ‘victim’ to describe anyone who has been victimized. Well, that’s kind of stupid, too. Anyone who has been victimized by someone, was, in fact, a victim at that point in time. It doesn’t mean we have to retain a victim mentality. It’s actually dangerous for us to do so, since that mentality leaves us vulnerable to future victimization just from the way we carry ourselves. We start to look like easy prey to the predators out there.
You can heal from rape, abuse and incest. You can get better. You can live a normal, happy life, and be sexually healthy. You can get past the damage that was done. The worst thing you can do is convince yourself that you will never heal completely. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not going to be okay. Not only can you regain your former self, but you can add to that person with your new-found strength. You can be even more that you were before the attack.
I’m not trying to minimize the pain of that sort of trauma. I know from experience how it feels to have people tell me, “Just get over it!” That’s not how it works. You move through it, absorb the shocks and pain, and get beyond it. You do it in your own time, using the methods that work best for you. However, if you’re only striving for survival, that’s the only life you will build for yourself. If you tell yourself you’re going to be free of your pain, and that you’re going to live a full and complete life, that’s the kind of healing you will eventually achieve.
“Our only limitations are those we set up in our own minds.” ~ Napoleon Hill
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