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ASK THE THERAPISTS: Sexual assault victim angry, scared to tell friends

A sexual assault survivor asks for help in telling friends and family.
A sexual assault survivor asks for help in telling friends and family. - 123RF Stock Photo

I don’t know how to end my silence

Last year, I took a shortcut through the woods to get home with one of my best buddies. Part way through, without any warning, he turned on me and sexually assaulted me. I have been keeping this to myself out of fear that our mutual friends will think I’m lying and not believe me. I am filled with anger which I’m directing it at the people in my life who don’t deserve it. What should I do?


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Blair

My heart goes out to you for the pain that you’ve endured. I’ll repeat a teaching that I’ve shared in previous columns; secrets bind you to shame and shame lowers your self-esteem, and I imagine that your self-esteem has taken quite a beating. The first thing I would suggest is to remove the charge from your secret by giving it voice. You can do this by seeking out a professional, who can help you deal with this one step at a time, within a confidential context.

That said, you need to know what support is available to you. Regardless of your status or income, the province of Nova Scotia has made legal advice for sexual assault survivors available, to provide adult survivors of sexual assault, such as yourself, with proper care and support. With no obligation to share details about the incident, you can simply call 211 to arrange for a two-hour consultation with a lawyer. Additionally, Avalon Sexual Assault Centre provides support services for women in these situations.

Should you decide to share this incident with friends, I encourage you to be careful with whom you share it. You don’t need your experience being leaked out to your whole circle of friends and attract negative attention or drama. However, you need to be prepared for the reality that you may lose some friendships. When things like this happen, people inevitably take sides based on what they believe to be true with the biases they have. The only thing you can do is live your own truth and cherish those who show up for you.

You have most certainly experienced trauma, which affects every part of life, including mental and physical wellbeing. Trauma decimates people’s confidence, so you need to go to work on rebuilding your sense of power. You may want to consider a movement practice such as yoga, which can help you return to your breath and your body in a gentle, compassionate way.

Jenny

For those of us who have been sexually violated, this question may illicit a strong reaction as we recall our own painful memories, so let’s all go gently through this one. First, I applaud your willingness to face this painful experience. Not only were you sexually assaulted, but you were betrayed by one of your best friends. Experiences like this can impact us in deep and lasting ways, affecting our ability to forge intimate connections in the future.

Let’s be clear, you’re totally entitled to feel angry about what happened. Many women have very difficult relationships with anger, as we are conditioned to believe it’s unfeminine to feel anger or rage. Anger is not morally wrong, it’s just not an emotional state you want to linger in long-term because it’s one of the most toxic emotions. So, you definitely need to address it. And as you said, anger tends to seep into your relationships, including the connection you have with yourself.

In my 20s I spent some important time with my anger, letting myself express a lifetime of repressed emotion. Once I let myself release the surface tension, I realized beneath my anger was sadness, fear and shame — all the feelings that I really didn’t want to feel. Anger for me had become safe, almost empowering, which was a welcome feeling after surviving similarly dis-empowering experiences as you. But my angry state wasn’t healthy, and it was adversely affecting my interpersonal relationships.

One thing you could do to mobilize your emotion is to write a letter to your former friend. It’s a great opportunity to get it all out and share what you want him to know, like how betrayed you felt and how much it’s affected your life since. Then, you can choose to burn the letter or keep it in case you choose to take legal action in the future.

One thing is for sure, darling, is that you are not to blame. We tend to reflect on all the ways we caused him to behave in such a way. “I shouldn’t have trusted him so much,” or “I shouldn’t have made eye contact with him” or “I should have been wearing something different.” Everyone is responsible for their own behaviour and the consequences that follow. This one is his to own.

Finally, the toughest thing you might ever do is reflect on the gifts that have come from enduring this difficult experience. For me, I know that without my own traumatic past, I wouldn’t have chosen Blair as my life partner, I wouldn’t be helping others find their breath if I hadn’t lost my own, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to relate to other women the way I can now.

Perhaps for you, you’ll develop a sharp instinct for who you can trust and who you can’t, or you’ll receive the blessing of new and more authentic relationships. It doesn’t matter what your answers are, what matters is that you open your heart to life’s blessings. When this happens, you can heal and step into your future with a new sense of wholeness.

Blair Abbass and Jenny Kierstead are certified therapists, award-winning educators and partners in life and business. They are the co-founders of Breathing Space Yoga Studio/Teacher Training, Yoga in Schools and Girl on Fire. They have been married for 17 years, but who’s counting.


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