Q: Susan, I was raped at a party when I was 16. I was drugged, and then raped, though I still remember flashes of what happened. I didn’t remember the parties involved and at that time wasn’t totally certain what exactly had happened, but knew something did. This was decades ago, but I still carry baggage from it. For instance, I am petrified of the dentist office because they put me in a reclined chair and the doctor hovers over me. I tolerate it, but really it freaks me out. There are other situations when I am really uncomfortable, but I know where my fear comes from so I try to keep that perspective and relax. I’ll do the best I can. I’m ok with sex with my partner because I know that I am safe and I trust him with my entire soul. For those other situations, do you have any suggestions as to what I could do to help me not have flashbacks and discomfort?
A: Firstly, be kind and gentle with yourself the same way you would to a hurt, crying toddler. It is not just the woman you are who has been hurt – your inner child is hurt and frightened too and needs to heal.
The concept of the inner child comes from transactional analysis which in simple terms says we all have the ability to go into child mode, be our normal adult persona and a parent mode which can be caring (or punitive depending on your role model of a mother). We are all three people in one body is symbolism that can be useful as a way of sorting out our feelings.
Write a journal of your emotions. This does not have to be in a fancy book. I can be on scraps of paper as long as you can keep your writing private so that it is safe to tell it like it really is. This allows your mind to get the thoughts and feelings out and on to paper so that your mind does not have to hold it all inside. It is a good thing to do on a daily basis and then a couple of months later go back and read it and see how things have changed.
If you have the money or insurance coverage go and see a therapist (female I suggest) or counsellor as the ‘talking therapies’ is a way of getting your thoughts and feelings out and helps to make you feel lighter the more you get it all ‘off your chest’. Expressing your anger, fear and general distress about what has happened to you is cathartic.
It is your inner child who needs to know, that the grown woman you are now, can take care of her. Wrap your arms around yourself regularly so that you give yourself lots of hugs every day. Find a trusted friend who will give you non-sexual hugs as they help to heal about any situation.
You have been through a terrible ordeal. REMEMBER IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT. No ifs, ands, or buts – rape is the responsibility of the man who chose to do it. Regardless of any messages from your past, comments now or attitudes you have encountered YOU DID NOT MAKE THE RAPE HAPPEN.
It is totally ‘normal’ and understandable to struggle with dentistry when you have been raped or if there has been child abuse that meant oral sexual contact of any kind. The chair makes a woman feel vulnerable and then particularly if the dentist is a man, having to open your mouth for an invasive process replicates a penis entering you. It is useful to learn deep breathing techniques in order to slow your breathing and thus control your anxiety. Try to keep your eyes open (wear dark glasses if not supplied so that you can cope with the bright lights). Being able to see where you are helps to make your mind focus on the day – you are at the dentist. Think about locating a female dentist. Do you feel you could explain to your dentist the high level of anxiety even if you do not want to disclose why?
Generally reducing stress and anxiety is a way of starting to reduce/manage flashbacks. Remember, you have Post Traumatic Stress…just like soldiers coming back from war. Rape is trauma whether you were drugged or not.
Use a lot of lavender oil around your home and workplace as it has healing properties and is not overly expensive usually.
If you can find them (try the internet) use Bach Flower Remedies – particularly Mimulus for fear.
Get massage therapy preferably by a female, experienced professional. If you feel you can say then do tell the therapist what has happened to you. Reflexology is working on your hands or feet and you do not take your clothes off. Try an Indian Head Massage as there again you do not take your clothes off. Massage is positive, non-sexual touch and very healing. You can get a partner to do this too as long as you feel totally safe and they are capable of making it a non-sexual experience. It is important that boundaries are kept. My recommendation is daily or weekly massage until you feel you can cope with life better.
Have you checked that you are not actually depressed? It would be totally understandable as a result of the rape. Take a look at http://www.DepressionAlliance.org and/or go to see your doctor to see what help is offered. Have you told your doctor? If not, why not? If you do not feel they are safe then change doctor. You need a medical doctor you trust because you may need medical procedures that could create flashbacks or re-traumatise you and they need to understand your anxiety or reactions.
Look for information about a local support group for survivors of rape. Make sure you think of yourself as a survivor and not a victim. You have survived…well done. Be proud of having achieved that even though it is totally unfair to have had to survive rape.
Use positive, first person statements (affirmations) like those you can find in the books of Louise Hay – drown out any negative thoughts with positive ones. They may not feel true initially – they will become true if you work at them. The foundation one that I use is “I deserve to matter”. You deserve to matter, too.
Forgiveness is about not holding bitterness inside you as that can lead to physical health issues for you and why let the rapist do that to you? Now I am not saying forgive the rape. The formula I found from an author who I have long since forgotten is that you forgive them for not being the way you wanted them to be not for the deed. Forgive yourself for not being the way you wanted yourself to be if there is something that you have been beating yourself up about. REMEMBER NO MATTER WHERE OR WHAT YOU DID OR WORE THE RAPE WAS NOT YOUR FAULT.
Rapists are meeting their own internal emotional needs for power, control, domination and humiliation of another person to make themselves feel better about themselves. Yes, that is totally inappropriate thinking. Check out my words about rapists in my self help eBook “Rape Not Sexual Assault” selling on Amazon.
If you had known who raped you I would be suggesting not only criminal prosecution (even with all its difficulties) AND instigating a civil action – suing for money to compensate for your distress. Yes, the money won’t undo what has been done, you could use it for therapy, and most importantly I think suing is a good way to get publicity about what it is not ok to do to another person!
If you have further questions about what I have said or other aspects of your life do ASK SUSAN.
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