Is it humanly possible to survive, really survive the devastation of rape? Some of us find comfort and even resilience in these approaches to living with, through and beyond a tsunami of physical, emotional and spiritual pain.
1. Understand that your thoughts and emotions are beyond your ability to will or control.
Your thoughts and feelings — whatever the onset, range, intensity, or duration –will occur and subside. They may or may not coincide with what we wish to feel! Feelings sometimes match our circumstances and sometimes they do not. We invite a heightened sense of aggravation and powerlessness when we avoid or resent the reality of whatever we feel (as in, “I shouldn’t feel this way” or “It’s wrong or bad to feel this way.”). So what is the most practical approach to living with intense feelings after a crisis? Although we would rather experience certain emotions and avoid others, we must learn to not judge whatever we feel. Simply feel. We then know what pain is. What gratitude or relief is. What sadness is. What life is. And this latitude towards emotions enables us to more fully engage in all of life’s forms and possibilities. Because all emotions make us more “in touch” human beings.
2. Life is attention.
Rather than focusing exclusively on what the perpetrator did to you, begin to focus on what you can do, notice and experience now, in this moment. Pay attention to what helps and supports you, and seek out and create opportunities for support when you feel stuck. We cannot erase victimization, but we do get to choose how we see ourselves today, as a person who lived through and beyond the violence.
Notice how your coffee or that buttered toast tastes. Notice how many things in nature are blue. Notice how many people — strangers or friends — offer kindness each day. This process of refining attention and noticing that the world still offers moments of mercy and pleasure can teach you that life is still mostly made up of decent people and still offers moments of calm and beauty.
3. Regain control of your life in ways that matter.
We aren’t in complete control of our lives. Period. But we can pay attention to the daily stuff that also really matters: what we put in our bodies (the type and amount of food and fluids), getting enough sleep, exercising, etc. It’s essential to notice and appreciate how we care for ourselves, no matter what turmoil and upset we encounter. Overdoing or under-doing instills harm. Moderation in all aspects of living secures health and wellness.
4. Notice and Help others.
For a while your focus may be absorbed on yourself exclusively and what the perpetrator has done to you. Shifting your focus onto things you can do with and for others can provide a reprieve from the anguish of your own circumstances and thoughts. It can also make us aware of a need to shift our perspective. No matter how bad we have it, over focusing exclusively on ourselves keeps us from attending to other aspects of life. The act of helping people can also make a lasting difference for others–and that knowledge can teach us that life goes on.
5. Figure out what brings peace.
In the aftermath of sexual assault, many are stunned and numb, unable to function for awhile. Sometimes the shock changes into rage, fear, shame and blame. As individuals and as communities, we want people who commit rape to be brought to justice and that may come in many forms or not at all. Peace, however, is not something we can hitch exclusively to a particular outcome within the criminal justice system. Instead, your recovery is dependent upon continuously accommodating all the experiences we encounter in the flow of life. Peace comes from recognizing where you can make choices, and have control. Knowing what is beyond your ability to control or erase may also bring peace as you are not responsible for things over which you have no control. Peace occurs by being fully engaged with the “All” of life. Peace comes to those who practice being observant, realistic, grateful, responsible and attentive. This is how we survive the brutal events and re-experience the beautiful moments in life.
6. When you look at the past think Wabi-Sabi and the intricacy of living.
Wabi-sabi represents a powerful Japanese aesthetic centered on the tranquil acceptance of transience and imperfection. If we are noticing well, we can experience beauty and peace within the challenges of life, and embrace the natural cycles of growth, change, decline and uncertainty. The quiet magnificence of any person, any moment or any object lies in its imperfections. You can re-frame the way you see your defining experiences and what you mistakenly believe is “wrong” with yourself and the difficulties you face. When you value life’s so-called imperfections in that light, you’ll find that what makes you valuable (and human!) is everything you’ve previously believed is wrong with you.
This is how one woman describes it:
The rape I survived terrified me. For a while I felt I had to be hyper vigilant and I kept expecting a reoccurrence-because if it could happen once, what would prevent it from occurring again? But every day that passed taught me that life is largely safe and although bad things do happen, they teach me to make every day count. A point came where I simply decided not to let the perpetrator continue to be the focus of my attention and energy. And when something triggers a thought about the perpetrator, I now simply say:
‘You do not matter. I do. And one more thing: I am not your victim anymore.‘
In three words I can sum up everything
I’ve learned about life: it goes on.
If this is your first glance at Unshame.org, and if you haven’t visited our Facebook page, I welcome you to a wall of words that offer hope, support and the beginning of a shift. A positive, purposeful shift away from any shame you felt was directed at you or shame internalized in the aftermath of rape, toward building and redirecting the focus of your life. Here at Unshame.org you will find information that fosters living well. The goal is to encourage you to embrace life in the midst of any reality following the crime of rape–no matter what feelings or situation you are experiencing now.
“What is it about me? Why would a stranger, friend, family member, or acquaintance commit such a painful betrayal on me?”
Our Unshame Campaign is critically needed because shame frequently and profoundly effects many women, men and children who have endured sexual assault. Shame impacts the decision to disclose, report, and seek counseling and support. Shame has been studied, defined and summarized from a variety of cultural perspectives. It has been viewed as a social mechanism to control behavior (Brene Brown’s TED talk, “Listening to Shame”) as well as the means for processing stress into self-punishment.
Perhaps, the starting place for Unshame.org is to address the notion of what IS shameful behavior. I can tell you what shame isn’t: Shame is not the hemline of a dress, the inexperience of a person who trusts someone, or the choice to consume alcohol. The behavior that is rightfully shameful is arrogant, selfish and predatory behavior directed at a victim to force a sexual encounter.
“I think, therefore I am.”
“Having been raped, therefore I am not?”
~a Survivor of Sexual Battery
At first, the shock of rape may be too much to accept. Many victims feel a profound sense of disbelief. Some even question whether the rape really happened. Feeling numb and disconnected for a period of time is not uncommon. It is natural to feel dazed and uncertain about “what is normal” and what you should do or feel in the aftermath. People understand something most powerfully through direct experience.
Having experienced rape, you are familiar with how it has impacted your mind, body and spirit. The experience of being raped can also deeply wound your self-perception. You may strive to feel better afterwards — to feel in control, confident or enthusiastic. Yet, emotional upheavals and feelings of powerlessness may arise unexpectedly despite your intentions. Recurring thoughts about shame and the accompanying anxiety and stress can deprive and disrupt sleeping, eating, socializing and concentration. Because rape is the most horrific form of human betrayal, for some people detaching from and disconnecting from life is a natural response to experiencing and reliving rape.
A sense of powerlessness combined with the emotional upheaval that follows can shake your confidence. Emotions can be intense and unpredictable and may fluctuate, resurfacing when triggered by reminders of the rape or perpetrator. Experiencing something this traumatic can depress your “life force”– the natural energy and desire we all possesses to live full and engaging lives. However, our life force and desire for life is still present. We demonstrate and direct this “innate energy” in our efforts to protect our psychological selves and our bodies.
Our life force, perhaps damaged, is also present in our endeavors to be involved in meaningful relationships throughout life. Surviving a rape is a life-changing event. The ensuing emotional and physical reactions are erroneously considered” controllable” when in fact the only control you have over thoughts or feelings is how, when, where and with whom you express them. Your feelings though, whatever the onset, range, intensity, or duration, will occur and subside. They may or may not coincide with what we wish to feel! Feelings sometimes match our circumstances and sometimes they do not.
So what is the most practical approach to living with intense feelings? Although we would rather experience certain emotions and avoid others, we must learn to not judge whatever we feel. We then know what pain is. What love is. What sadness is. What life is. And this latitude towards emotions enables us to more fully engage in life in all of its forms and possibilities… because all emotions make us more “in touch” human beings. By being fully engaged we survive the brutal and re-experience the beautiful moments in life.
Life is merciful because “now” changes.
For weeks or months after being raped, your daily life may “look” normal to an outsider, but you may feel anything but normal. It may be marked by a heightened sense of vulnerability, fear, shame, anger or hopelessness.
Our feelings and thoughts signal what we are paying attention to. Recovering from rape does not happen with avoidance, retreat, prayer or wishful thinking alone. The optimal approach begins with accepting a painful reality: You were raped. With practice and effort, you can refocus your attention away from the exclusive and hurtful actions of the perpetrator and direct your attention and energy towards attending to and meeting the responsibilities that reflect your life goals now. Living without over-attaching to a painful past is possible.
Where does the guidance for living well presented on Unshame.org come from?
The focus of the guidance that is offered at Unshame.org is drawn from many sources. Morita Therapy, a therapy and life way designed by Dr. Shoma Morita (1874-1938) and the articles and books written by Dr. Brian Ogawa (Walking on Eggshells, A River to Live by) are the two primary sources of guidance for the Unshame movement. Unshame is both grateful and honored to share the lifelong contributions and work of Dr.Ogawa in its postings. For additional information on Morita Therapy, the books and articles by Brian Ogawa and Peg Levine listed here are most helpful.