7 Reasons Why Rape Trauma Is Like Experiencing the Death of a Loved One

7 Aug

Grieving for Bimini (courtesy of BahamasUncensored.com)

I lost two people that were very close to me in the past 9 years of my life. Before them, I had never had any experience with death.

In the past 3 years of my life, I’ve been raped by two men that were once very close to me. Before them, I had never had any experience with sexual abuse. Emotional, physical, sure – but maybe that’s content for another post someday.

I’m no authority on either subject, but I’ve found that it’s especially hard for most people to wrap their heads around the overwhelming devastation of rape if they’ve never lived through it. I know I was like that, and I don’t blame you if you’re reading this as one of “most people”. I’m writing this entry today hoping to serve two audiences: victims who know and can relate, and others who have never known but are open-minded enough to want to understand and maybe sympathize. Maybe if you’re in the victim category, you’ve felt as though no one took your pain seriously enough at times. Maybe you’ve felt brushed aside or patronized, or even abandoned because the pain you showed to others was too much, or too strange for them to handle. On the other hand, if you’re in the observing category, maybe you don’t get why some victims seem to take ages to move on from an incident that happened to them years ago and just tuck themselves back into society. That’s fair. I’ll try to mediate a little between the sides by offering a comparison.

I think we can all appreciate how awful it is to experience the death of a loved one, which I think is the closest match to suffering a rape. You could say dying yourself is worse, but rape isn’t like that: you keep living after the assault is over and therefore keep feeling, just as you do when a parent or spouse dies. Some other reasons why I liken the two are:

1) Rape and the death of a loved one both usually come unexpected.

The only exception I can think of is when you’re in the terrible position of having to choose when to take someone off of life support. Even when you know the person you love is terminally sick and has been for years (as was the case, for example, with my stepfather), you can’t pinpoint the moment when that person’s heart will give out, lungs will fail, die in their sleep. You don’t know when a sibling is going to be hit by a drunk driver – you never know. In the same way, with rape it’s sudden even if the surrounding circumstances are known. You could be running to catch the last bus off campus after class and be jumped out of nowhere. Or making out with a boyfriend, and suddenly he chooses to forget that you’re saving yourself for marriage.

2) When death and rape hit, they put you into shock.

You may have wept uncontrollably at the news that a loved one had passed away, or maybe you knew it was coming but find yourself drinking away the rest of the night. Maybe when you heard the news, you kept denying it, wanted to find out for yourself, made a bunch of calls to mutual friends and family asking for details, or couldn’t stop talking about how much of a surprise it was. The point I’m trying to make is, you acted completely out of the norm for your usual behavior, because you were in shock. With rape, you can have any one of those reactions and more. In my previous post I confessed that I refused to acknowledge I had been raped, and carried on as if everything was business as usual when it wasn’t, at least on the inside. For some victims, climbing into bed with a box of Kleenex felt like the only thing to do, or writing death wishes over and over in a journal, or sitting in the shower until the hot water ran out – all signs that there was a heavy blow to their psychological system.

3) Just like with news of death, rape victims go through the 5 stages of grief.

If you’ve never heard of them before, do a quick Google search on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler’s theory, but I’ll explain them as best as I can here. The first stage that people dealing with grief usually go through is denial, which is when you feel numb, that life has no meaning, that it’s a struggle to get up in the morning and complete the day because of what you have lost. (I’ll get to what the rape victim loses as my last point.) It’s not so much denial as in, “I refuse to accept that this is happening”, although that kind of reaction is part of it. Next you experience anger, when you may begin to blame others for what has happened – doctors for not saving your loved one, police for not catching the criminal, yourself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or God. After that comes bargaining ( “if only I had never gone to that party”, “if God would bring my mother back”, “if someone/something could just take this pain away”), depression (withdrawing from life and the things you used to enjoy, feeling as though your sadness and pain will last forever), and finally acceptance. Acceptance isn’t that you’re “okay” with what’s happened, but rather that you’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s happened and recognize that it can’t be changed, but you’re learning to live even though a chunk of your comfortable past is gone.

4) Grieving people and rape victims can sometimes be easily irritated by others who just want to help, at least in the beginning.

Sometimes, someone will express their condolences and you feel like screaming “You never even knew my best friend!” just because the pain is so overwhelming, you feel as if you’re the only person in the world under that cloud. When a rape victim gets calls from, let’s say, their principal to check and in see how they’re doing after it gets out that he or she was raped on school property, it can fill the victim up with humiliation and resentment (for the other person not being in the same suffering) that manifests itself as rage.

5) Both sides may deal with feeling like a charity case, or that you have to be treated with kid gloves because of what you’ve been through.

Again, you may feel like others are treating you different – and they are, but it probably isn’t for the reason a grieving person or a victim would think. People genuinely feel sorry in tough traumatic situations, but don’t know what to do or say most of the time to help and sometimes take the overly cautious route for consideration of your fragile feelings. A grieving person or a rape victim, on the other hand, has their emotions thrown all out of whack, and may go back and forth between desperately wanting the kind of comfort from others that would make life easier, and wanting to be treated like everyone else to confirm for themselves that they’re still “like everyone else”. Losing a loved one and being raped both make you feel terribly alienated from the world.

6) Rape and the death of a loved one can cause a dramatic makeover on your personal identity.

Have you ever known someone who, after going through a death in the family, moved to another city a few months later? Or maybe that someone switched from a previously outgoing personality into a more introverted one. They may have dropped their careers and taken up something new, or made entirely new friends, started dressing different. I think the reason why a lot of people react that way is because they want to feel like they’re starting over, especially if they feel that they can’t continue living the way they used to without their loved one as a part of their life. Maybe going back to that same person wouldn’t feel authentic to them, or they just can’t remember who that person was. A rape victim can also act in the same way. I moved out of the city and dropped my church. You might have dyed your hair, took up new interests, or started partying when you used to be a homebody. You needed a new lease on life.

7) Lastly, both traumas mean a loss.

I alluded to this in one of the points before. For a grieving person, the loss is obvious – a person they cared about deeply is gone, never to return. But what does a rape victim lose? In some cases it can be extreme, like physical or mental function. But whether or not the attack left physical scars, I think enough rape victims would agree that they lost faith in the order of the world.

My list isn’t exhaustive, and as I said, I’m no psychologist. But I hope my observations help somebody other there to put themselves in a rape victim’s shoes, just for a minute. What do you think?

3 Responses to “7 Reasons Why Rape Trauma Is Like Experiencing the Death of a Loved One”

  1. MsMyrrhmaid July 7, 2016 at 5:48 am #

    Thank you so much for writing this, I think you just helped me understand a few things, being a rape survivor myself and having heard the stories of many others through my work, I can confirm that pretty much everything you have written is accurate for most survivors. That is the shift that must take place if you have not yet shifted from seeing yourself as a victim but a survivor then my dear friend, please start that journey. I know the road we walk is messy, confusing and sometimes feels unbearable, but these are all marks of the fact that little by little we are getting passed it. You are not alone, even though sometimes it feels like it because people just don’t get it, no matter how many books they read on the subject. Studying it is not the same as experiencing it and every survivor reacts differently. Even many years later, it can feel like it’s all over and done with and then those pesky flashbacks start again and it’s really easy to fall back into old ways, just to deal with the pain. I assure you though, there is beauty beneath the scars of all the pain you have encountered due to these experiences.There is always, always hope. Thank you for sharing yours with the world. Thank you so much for your bravery and all the little sacrifices no one sees, that you had to make in order to make and maintain this site.
    – Love Hayley xXx

  2. male sexual problems October 26, 2016 at 2:56 am #

    Hello, I check your blpog like every week. Your story-telling style is awesome, keep
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  3. Bethany November 14, 2016 at 11:20 am #

    This is exceptionally well-written! Thank you.

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