What You Should Stop Blaming Yourself For
Eliza Sophie | Contributor
The #MeToo movement helped usher in an age of empowered women — and a lot of men as well — united against sexual abuse. With the use of a simple hashtag, millions of courageous survivors were given a voice to share their stories online. Amidst the growing visibility of this crucial issue, however, many survivors might still be living in the shadows as their harrowing accounts could potentially trigger difficult memories from their own ordeals.
One key aspect of abuse that many survivors have to live with is shame. John-Michael Lander shared that it can be difficult at times to look at our own reflection, and notice the cracks and stains that no one else sees. But there is a quiet strength reflected in that mirror, if you look hard enough, and one day you will accept your fragmented parts to become whole again. So if this sounds like something you or someone you know is going through, here are some things survivors of sexual abuse often mistakenly blame themselves for, but never should.
Maybe it’s the clothes I wore? Maybe I was being too friendly? Or maybe I should’ve simply said, “no!”
Sadly, these are just a few of the common things survivors tell themselves when they play the self-blame game. Additionally, an investigation published in the Journal of Basic and Social Psychology found that survivors blamed themselves for the abuse, as they believed their attackers were legally allowed to engage in "non-consensual sex" — which doesn't exist — with them.
However, survivors must realize that it wasn't because of what they wore. It wasn't because they were being kind. It wasn't because they didn't fight back. And more importantly, it wasn't because it was legal. It essentially comes down to this — an individual is sexually abused because somebody else decided to. So, please be kind to yourself, and remember that the only person who should be blamed for what happened is the abuser.
Mental Health Struggles
Researchers from Rutgers University have found that the trauma from a sexual assault can still haunt survivors decades later with vivid memories. This, in turn, often results in the development of mental health illnesses such a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. It can present a two-fold problem for survivors, who will not only blame themselves for the abuse, but also for their mental health troubles in the years that follow, as well.
But survivors should not blame themselves for having a mental illness and its effects on their everyday lives. This is a natural reaction to what they’ve encountered. Experts at Maryville University note how psychology as a discipline has grown considerably, exploring the link between mental health and success in school or the workplace, and what these might mean for people who have undergone traumatic events. A clear understanding of these findings can help you be more mindful of how the abuse affects your daily life and can pinpoint destructive behaviors like self-blame as soon as they start. Moreover, having a better grasp of your experience can help you become both mentally and emotionally stronger. After all, you can only grow through what you go through.
RAINN, or the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, has found that only 7 out of every 10 sexual violence survivors report their case to the police in America. This statistic is a testament as to how many survivors choose to blame themselves, instead of their abusers. Additionally, research posted on PLoS One notes that survivors would rather be quiet about their ordeal because they are afraid of being blamed or not believed. Despite offering protection from negative reactions at the start, staying silent can later develop a domino effect, which will only increase the guilt factor, especially if a survivor decides to share his or her story in the future.
From the regret that will come with not reporting the incident right away to the police, to feeling worried that people close to you won't believe you, survivors should take a deep breath and understand that there's never a perfect time to talk about their abuse. Also, not publicly declaring your encounter will not invalidate your experience. What truly matters is that you know your truth, and that you have a trustworthy support system that will listen and help you build your strength as you heal.
Exclusively written for TheArmyOfSurvivors.Org
By: Eliza Sophie