This article talks about several different distressing emotions people can feel after a traumatic experience like rape, such as severe anxiety and powerlessness, and suggests ways of getting over them. It also suggests ways people can start to feel more positive about themselves and their capabilities. It goes on to give advice about ways of coping with flashbacks, nightmares and panic attacks.
It goes into detail about relaxation techniques people can do to de-stress.
It also gives advice on ways of spotting men who are likely to be abusive so relationships with such men can hopefully be avoided. Then it gives advice for friends and relatives of rape victims. It ends with several suggestions for trying to keep from sinking into depression.
Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the self-help article.
To face despair and not give in to it, that's courage.
For many years, I shut down that place inside myself that needed to rage, cry, ask questions and basically just express herself. I made a conscious choice when I put 'Me and a Gun' on the record not to stay a victim anymore.
In giving language to my experience, I hope I can make rape less 'unspeakable.' I hope to dispel at least some part of the fear and shame that has made victims mute.
--Nancy Raine, (After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back, 1998)
Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.
--F. Scott Fitzgerald
It's not the events of our lives that shpae us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.
--Tony Robbins, (Awaken the Giant Within)
The world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.
Warning: This article may trigger off bad memories that could be upsetting or cause anxiety. Watch out for signs of anxiety while you're reading this; and if any part of it begins to make you feel anxious, it might be as well to skip the bit you're reading or stop reading altogether for a while, or go to the section on relaxation techniques and try some.
Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising each time we fall.
It's reassuring that Jessica said that the feelings I'm having are common to rape victims, or survivors, as they seem to call us. I'm relieved to know that, since I felt so isolated before I found this support group, wondering if I was the only one having the feelings I have, or if everyone else could cope better than me.
This support group's making me feel a lot more positive about myself. I'm going to remember who I really am as a person.
The man who raped me has made me feel devalued and dirty. It's ruined my self-respect and self-worth. But I know I don't really deserve to feel like that, and I know I'm much more than just the object I've been treated as. I'm a person with talents, worthwhile opinions, creative imagination, and some nice personality traits.
Here's a suggestion of Jessica's I like the sound of, so I'll try it:
I'm going to imagine that a video was made of all the moments in my life when I was at my best, when I did things I can be pleased about, and I'm going to make a list of everything I can think of that would be on that video, starting when I was little, to now, having recently managed to get my own accommodation and a job.
I'm going to imagine doing all the things that showed me at my very best, as if I'm doing them again.
Then I'm going to think about each one of those things, and ask myself what it says about my character. And then I'm going to write down all the good qualities it means I have.
I'm going to imagine that the people who've liked me best in my life are watching the video, and try to think of what they'd most probably say about me if they were asked what each scene said about my character.
Then I'll think about whether I can remember any of them actually saying nice things about me, and try to remember what they said.
I could write a list of all the good things I think of, and I might even stick copies on the walls of my house for a while. And I'll keep one with me a lot of the time and read it when I feel a bit down, to remind myself that I am a decent, talented person really.
Jessica said this technique would be good for anyone to do whose self-worth is a bit low. It'll help us prove to ourselves that we don't need to feel as bad about ourselves as we do.
So I'm going to do this. I like the idea. I need to prove to myself that I'm not just the piece of junk he made me feel like. I'm just as good as anyone else.
My achievements and other things that prove I'm a worthwhile person don't have to be big things, which is just as well, because I'm sure I won't be able to think of any outstanding things about my life. The memories can just be little things, like the time a couple of people at school said they thought I was generous because I used to share my sweets with them; or the day I stood up for that small girl when she was being teased; or when it said on one of my school reports that I was caring; or that time I showed I could be confident and talented when I had the big parts in those school plays; or when my teacher praised some of my drawings and put them on the wall; or that time I worked out that mystery when my parents were still puzzling over it; or the time I was willing to miss that school trip because my friend Mandy wanted a friend around because she was upset; or the time I got those survival badges in swimming; and the way I was good at writing stories when I was little.
There have been a few big achievements though, like the way I've just recently got this place to live in and a job.
It might take a while for me to think of more things. I'll spend some time trying to think of some now, and think of more as time goes by. After I've sat down for some time now to see what I can come up with, I'll see what I can think of in the next couple of weeks, and write everything I think of down as I'm going along, and then print out the lists of things. After that, I'll make updated lists as I think of more things. I might find new things to include as I achieve more things and develop new good qualities in the coming months and years as I go through life.
No one outside ourselves can rule us inwardly. When we know this, we are truly free.
--Coral Anika Theill
Jessica said that one thing that helped her on her way to recovery was an idea she got from someone else, which was to think of her personality as having four aspects to it, a victim side, an aggressor side, a well-adjusted side, and another aspect made up of all her genetic coding that's been passed down over thousands of years from generation to generation, until it got into the combination that made her, that contains genetic memories of having been a part of her ancestors.
Well OK, genetic coding probably isn't too much a part of the personality really and can't talk, obviously, and doesn't contain real memories. But it's nice to just imagine it can sometimes, because it can make this support thing extra good.
She imagines it can talk about the memories it has about things that happened ages ago.
She said that the personalities of everyone in the world have several sides to them, and different sides show themselves more or less strongly depending on what circumstances we're in. I mean, if we're annoyed, the side of our personality that can get annoyed will be showing itself much more than the fearful side will be at that time, for instance. She said we can imagine that the sides of our personality can communicate with each other, to reassure and comfort each other. Or one of them can reason with the others, to persuade them to improve their behaviour sometimes or encourage them. For instance, if the fearful side of us is getting a bit out of hand one day before we've got an exam at college, we could imagine our angry side's encouraging it by saying something like, "Don't let this scare you! We deserve to get something out of life after what's happened to us, and I'm going to make sure we get it!" And the anger can make us feel more bold and confident.
We can think about how much of each of the good and bad characteristics that often make up a personality we have in our own personality. But since we have other qualities that could balance them out, we don't have to let any bad characteristic rule us. We can try to imagine that other qualities we have can reason with any unfortunate ones we have whenever they seem to be influencing us more than we'd like them to. So this is how the good and bad qualities are split up into the sides of a personality that we can imagine are characters that can talk to each other:
She said the person who gave her the idea said that victim sides and aggressor sides both have their own good and bad qualities. The bad qualities can be quite damaging, but the good qualities can be valuable in helping us through life. We won't all have all the qualities, but we'll all probably have some. So we can just imagine that each of our own characters that represent the parts of our personality have the ones of these that we personally have. And when we imagine we're being one side of our personality reassuring and encouraging another one, we can always imagine it's the best side of their nature talking.
She could probably explain all this better than me. But I think I've got the idea.
Victim sides can have some bad qualities as well as good ones: They can be fearful, feel helpless, and crave sympathy and being looked after, to the point where it's unhealthy. They can hungrily demand people's attention, and feel abandoned when it isn't given. Not everyone's victim sides will be that bad, but some people's will be.
But on the other hand, they can be caring and sympathetic. They can do the looking after sometimes.
Aggressor sides can have several bad qualities as well as the good ones: They can be unpleasant to be around, taking anger out on people who don't deserve it, or turning it inwards and making us want to do self-destructive things like take drugs or drink, or self-harm or commit suicide. They can tell us horrible things about ourselves that they've been made to believe, like making us think we're inferior or worthless, or that we don't deserve anything nice. They can accidentally get us into relationships where we'll be abused again, because they'll make us think we like a person who turns out to be abusive, because we're attracted to them because they remind us of someone we were close to as a child because they were nice to us sometimes even though they abused us.
But aggressor sides can be bold and strong, standing up for our rights and getting us through difficult situations. So they can be good to have around sometimes.
The well-adjusted side is the side of our personality that helps us make sensible plans and decisions, and reasons things through in a sensible way.
The accumulated genetic coding that contributes to our personalities and has been passed down by our ancestors is called Knowledge of Ages. It can sometimes accidentally make things worse for us by making us more susceptible to things like panic attacks, because it inherited genes that made us more likely to get them. But it will always try to be encouraging and reassuring towards the victim side and the aggressor side, reminding them that their ancestors came through difficult times, so they can.
When the well-adjusted side notices we're feeling fearful or powerless, or we want to go out and drown our sorrows by getting drunk, it will stop us short and reflect, "This is Victim Side!" or "This is aggressor side." And then it can ask what the other sides would say to reassure the side that's upset or wants to do something bad, or to persuade it not to do what it wants to do.
I'm going to try imagining that things are like that. I might even draw those aspects of my personality as characters.
Victim Side can be a figure with a sad face, or looking scared.
Aggressor Side can look a bit angry;
Well-Adjusted side can look confident or contented;
and Knowledge of Ages can look like a wise older person, or someone from a by-gone era.
Then, when I feel sure that I'm being influenced by Victim Side or Aggressor Side, I'll imagine all the characters standing together and ask myself what the others would say to reassure or comfort the one who's causing the feeling I'm getting, or to dissuade them from doing something bad.
Jessica said that this might not be a good thing to do for people who hear voices or see hallucinations, because the voices of the characters might take over in their heads, or in case they start thinking they can see them and get scared. And it wouldn't be good for people to do if they think the idea of parts of themselves talking to each other is a bit spooky. And she said that people shouldn't do this if they'll be tempted to think of the sides of their personality as personalities in their own right, and start imagining they are them, as if they've got multiple personalities.
Well, I should be allright.
I'll think through all the horrible feelings I get, and decide which one's being caused by which side of my personality.
I think my fear of going out's being caused by Victim Side. So I'll ask myself what the others would say to reassure her.
I can imagine aggressor side saying,
"Come on, Victim Side, don't be so scared. I can take care of you. You know I can stand up for us, don't you. Remember when our boyfriend wasn't sympathetic after we got this anxiety after what happened to us and he started asking personal questions. I let him know what he could do if he wasn't going to stand by us, didn't I! OK, maybe I went over the top. But I've proved that I can stand up for us, haven't I. Come on, just stick with me. I'll look after you."
And Knowledge of Ages could say to Victim Side in an encouraging and friendly way,
"Your ancestors had to cope with fears like yours. Some of us faced wild beasts that we had to kill to survive. Sometimes, other people wanted to attack us. But we came through. We faced the same kinds of fears as you sometimes when we'd been scared by harmful things, so we sympathise with you. But we managed to survive. It wasn't always easy, and we know it isn't easy for you. But you're proof that we made it. You're here today because we made it and passed down our genes. And you're made of the same stuff as us. It must be strong stuff to have survived all that time. And if we could be strong enough, you can be strong enough. And we're all supporting you. If we could make it, you can make it."
Well-Adjusted Side could say encouragingly,
"Come on, Victim Side, what's the worst that might happen to us if we go out, apart from having a flashback or a panic attack? OK, they're really nasty, but if we can convince ourself that we're probably not in real danger, hopefully we'll have less of them.
How likely are we to be in danger from another attacker? We must have been out thousands of times in our lives and been allright. And when we were attacked those times, we weren't even outside. We know how to look after ourself in most situations.
Here's something you could do maybe: How about writing a list of the things you're worried will happen, and then estimate how likely you think each one is to happen on a scale of 0 to 10, especially in broad daylight. With the things that turn out to be fairly low on the scale after all, write lists of all the reasons why each one's low on the scale, which will be reasons why the things you're afraid of aren't that likely to happen really. I mean, they could be things like, "It's not that common for strangers to do that, especially in public places in daylight." That'll reassure you that you don't need to worry as much as you think.
Then, we could take the lists out with us, and read them every time you get a bit anxious, to calm you down.
So, for instance, if one of the things you're afraid of is that we'll be attacked, but we decide that there's really only a fairly low possibility of that happening, we could write a list with the heading, "Reasons Why We're Not That Likely to be Attacked", and list reasons under it like,
"There'll be lots of people around, so people probably wouldn't dare do anything that serious even if they wanted to, because so many people would see them";
"We can't think of any reason why they'd choose to pick on us rather than one of all those other people";
"The area we're going to's known for being quite safe".
We'll list as many reasons as we can think of for each one, to reassure you as much as we can.
And here's another idea: Let's take a bit of time to close our eyes and imagine going out every time before we have to do it for real, imagining feeling confident and happy as we walk down the street smiling at people we recognise. That might give us more confidence for when we have to go out for real.
And I'll tell you what: If we do see someone who looks like our attacker, I'll say to your thoughts of horror, 'Stop!' and then reflect immediately that he isn't really our attacker, and he might not behave like that at all. That will hopefully calm down your anxious thoughts as well.
But let's find out where we can buy an attack alarm, so if anyone does try anything, we can put them off."
When I'm feeling scared to be alone, and I'm desperate to find someone who'll come and stay with me for a while, even though I'm fairly sure no one will, my well-adjusted side can stop what's happening and think,
"This is Victim Side influencing me again. What can the others say to reassure and comfort her?"
Knowledge of Ages could say comfortingly,
"Don't get so afraid. Remember some of your ancestors had to face the same fears as you. Some of us not only had to face being alone and scared, but we had to face freezing winters with not enough firewood or coal to keep us warm sometimes. We had to face the fear that if we got sick, no one was around with enough expertise to get us better, and we wouldn't be able to work, and since no one else was there to support us, we might starve. We faced times when we were really scared about the future. But we made it through. And if we could make it, you can make it. We want you to make it."
Well-Adjusted Side could say in a friendly way to Victim Side,
"Don't get too upset. You know you're safer here than you were at home. And you can always shut all the windows and lock the doors at night if you want. I know being alone is giving you time to think of scary things, but you're not really in any more danger than anyone else is any more. And we're not really any less capable of dealing with things than anyone else is around here.
Come on, let's think of things we can do to occupy our mind so we'll get absorbed in something and you'll feel better for a while. "
I'll ask how aggressor Side would like to reassure Victim Side, and she might say,
"Don't worry so much, Victim Side. I can protect you from a lot of things. Remember that time when that salesman came to the door and didn't want to go away? I stood up for us then, didn't I! OK, so I was a bit rude, but at least I didn't let him walk over us, did I! So I've proved that I can stand up for us. I'll support you. And I know you're thinking of horrible memories, but let's feel defiant instead and say in our mind to our abuser, 'You've ruined enough of my life! I refuse to ruin today as well by thinking of you and the way you made me feel!' And then we can try and get on with something we enjoy doing."
When I'm feeling powerless, Victim Side could be causing those feelings. I'll imagine what the others could say to reassure her.
Well-Adjusted Side could say encouragingly,
"Come on, Victim Side, we're not really powerless. OK, in a battle of physical strength with someone stronger, we might not come out of it too well. But think of everything else we've got going for us. We've proved that we can stand up for ourself and make good decisions, like when we sorted things out so we could move into this house and arranged for ourself to get a job. And now we're not being disturbed by someone who wants to harm us, we're free to develop our life the way we want it, and to develop new talents and new friendships, and to be in control of our life."
Aggressor Side could agree, saying,
"Don't feel helpless, Victim Side. I'll help you. You know I've stood up for us before. Remember when we left home. It took courage to branch out on our own, didn't it. But we made a success of it. I helped you then, didn't I. I made sure we didn't get pushed around. So we've got more going for us than we think. Just stick with me. I'll take care of you.
Tell you what: Let's walk around in a confident, 'Don't mess with me' pose.
And I know: whenever we hear a good song with lyrics about being strong and hopeful about coping in the future and defiant to someone who's done something bad, let's buy the record, and make ourself feel stronger and more powerful and confident and determined not to give in by singing the words and dancing to it a lot. I can think of a couple of songs like that. For one, there's that Destiny's Child one called Survivor isn't there, that goes:
[You] thought that I would self destruct, but I'm still here
Even in my years to come, I'm still gonna be here
I'm a survivor
I'm not gon' give up
I'm not gon' stop
I'm gon' work harder
I'm a survivor
I'm gonna make it
I will survive
Keep on survivin'"
Knowledge of Ages would say encouragingly,
"Try not to feel powerless, Victim Side. Remember your ancestors where your genetic coding lived before you. We sometimes felt helpless, but we made it through. There were times when some of us were struggling to raise a dozen children, wondering how to make the food go around. We worked long hours for low wages, or to plant grain that wouldn't be ready to eat for months. Sometimes, the harvests failed, and we had to use all our powers of ingenuity to keep our families alive. It was difficult, and we were tempted to give in sometimes. Not everyone survived. But we made it. We somehow got through, and we want you to know we want you to make it as well. We're supporting you. If we were strong, you can be strong. If we survived, you can survive."
As for the thoughts I get that make me feel inferior and worthless, or disgusted with myself, it must be Aggressor Side that's causing those, at least the ones that make me feel disgusted with myself. I'll think about what the others would say to change her attitude.
Victim Side would say,
"Don't be like that, Aggressor Side. You'll only make me feel worse. Remember how you encouraged me to feel better. Be strong and bold for me still."
Well-Adjusted side would try to reason, saying,
"You know we're not inferior. What evidence do you have that we are?
OK, write down any things that make you feel you're justified in making us think we're inferior. Then we'll convince you and reassure you that we're not, by challenging all the evidence and proving it isn't that good. Not that we want to belittle your ideas. We just think you're mistaken, that's all, and that you'd feel better if you came to believe it. So for instance, if you tell us we're not very good at coping with life, we'll tell you all the things we've done well, like getting this house, getting and keeping a job, surviving despite all our horrible feelings, and everything else we can think of. We'll prove that we're not inferior. That'll make you feel better. You don't need to believe we're inferior.
Tell you what: Tell us what skills we should have that we haven't got. If we haven't got them, what makes you think we can't go out and learn to have them?
Just because that man managed to get power over us when he abused us, why should that make us feel inferior? It doesn't make us inferior or worthless; it just makes him a criminal! If we went out and knocked a child off his bike, would that make the child inferior because we were demonstrating that we had power over him and he couldn't stand up to us? Or would it rather make us guilty of assault and him worthy of sympathy? You know it wouldn't mean he was a contemptible weakling, but that we were nasty.
As for feeling disgusted with ourself, our body wasn't the guilty party. It's the things that were done to it that were disgusting, not it. If we went and abused a child, no matter what his body did in response to what we were doing, would it make him disgusting, or us?
Come on, aggressor side, we can think these things through and realise we shouldn't feel like that after all.
And one other thing about you making us think we're dirty: The body renews itself all the time, with dead skin being got rid of and new skin growing. So maybe the skin our abuser touched has been totally replaced by now anyway."
Knowledge of Ages would say soothingly,
"It won't do you any good feeling inferior and worthless, or disgusted with yourself. It'll just stop you getting on with life.
Your ancestors had to cope with feelings like that sometimes. They had to learn not to take too much notice of them. Some were hurt by being looked down on by people of other classes who thought they were inferior. Some had to do dirty jobs that were very hard work, but that made people with better, easier jobs look down on them. But they worked hard to provide a better life for their descendants. They wanted the people who came after them like you to enjoy life more than they did. They'd like you to succeed, and to benefit from the fact that they carried on despite the unpleasantness of their work and the things people thought about them. Some had to live with people who made them feel inferior and worthless by the abusive things they said. But they struggled on. Many of them didn't think it was fair that they were thought of as inferior or worthless, and it wasn't, just as you're not being fair on yourself by feeling as if you're inferior or worthless. You have so many more opportunities to make something of your life than most of your ancestors did. Don't waste them. They'd want you to do well. You can make a better life for yourself than they could. You've been taught more skills. You have a better education. There are more opportunities for people to develop their talents now. There are better employment opportunities. You can go out and achieve things that they'd love to have done, and be proud of yourself. And they'd be proud of you too. They'd be supporting and encouraging you if they could. They'd like you to Make the most of all the opportunities and talents that you can think of that you can use to brighten up your future."
As for my nightmares and flashbacks, I suppose it must be Victim Side causing those. I'll think about what the others would say to help soothe her.
Well-Adjusted side could say,
"I expect people have discovered ways to cope with these things. We just need to find out what they recommend. There might be some very effective techniques of getting rid of them out there."
I think Jessica's sent me an email about dealing with flashbacks and nightmares. So I'll read that later.
Aggressor Side would say,
"Come on, I'm blowed if I'm going to let these things ruin our life. Let's still enjoy our life as much as we can, and not let these things intimidate us. There are still several parts of our life that aren't being affected by these things. Let's not give in to worry that the flashbacks and nightmares will get worse or anything. Lousy things! We won't let them rule us!"
Knowledge of Ages would say encouragingly,
"You'll find ways to cope. You'll get through it. Many of your ancestors had to cope with trauma. Some had very nasty things done to them in war by enemy soldiers. Some wanted to commit suicide because of that. Some were in abusive relationships. But they carried on. They learned how to cope and made it through, and they want you to know that you can make it. They're supporting you. They survived, so they feel sure you can. You'll find a way. They had to learn how to make it without the benefits of modern therapeutic techniques and research into the best ways to get over these things. They're glad you've got such things available to you. They hoped their descendants would have a better life than they did. They'd like you to get better and then live as full a life as you want to, making the most of all the freedom you have to make a good life for yourself that they didn't have. They're glad you have it. Go and take advantage of every good thing you can find that'll show you how to heal and live life to the full."
The thing is, I hate myself, and I don't think I deserve to do well in life. I think I committed one of the worst crimes there is by murdering my baby when I had that abortion. I feel so guilty. I don't think I'll ever forgive myself. And I hate and despise myself for not stopping what happened when I was raped as well. And I feel so guilty for not going to the police afterwards, knowing he might attack other people.
But maybe it's aggressor side making me feel like this. I wonder what the others would say.
I think Victim Side would be sensitive. I think she'd really come into her own here and provide some good counsel. I think she'd say,
"Don't feel so bad, Aggressor Side. We don't deserve all the blame. Remember the amount of stress we were under when we made the decision to have the baby aborted. When people are stressed, they do what's best for them in the short-term.
Remember how scared we were that we wouldn't be able to look after it. After all, we were only 15. We still needed looking after ourself.
And remember how scared we were that we were becoming so emotionally messed up that we just wouldn't be able to cope, especially if we were attacked again.
Remember how scared we were that our parents wouldn't believe we'd been raped, and they'd think we'd been sleeping around and throw us out of the house.
Remember how scared we were that if the man owned up that it was his child, he'd want to take it away and then abuse it.
Remember how horrified we were at the thought of carrying a rapist's baby. We thought it might grow up to be like him.
Remember how distressed we were at the thought of having to look after a rapist's child for years. We worried that it would remind us of him all our life.
Remember how scared we were that when he found out that we were pregnant, he'd laugh and gloat, and think he was even more powerful than he probably did already, and we'd feel even more humiliated.
People don't think clearly under stress. They take what seems at the time to be the easiest way out. It wasn't as if we sat down in the cold light of day and made a cool, calculated decision to get rid of the baby because we were too heartless to want it. Think of the pressure we were under.
And as for feeling guilty and ashamed that we didn't fight back more in the first place, remember what we were thinking then. We were scared. We didn't know what he might do if we fought back more. It was I, Victim Side, that stopped us fighting back. I was scared he'd get more violent if we did. And he might have done, for all we know. I was doing what I thought was most sensible at the time. And just remember how shocked we were. We were so surprised and panicked, at least the first time, that we just couldn't think what to do. And the other times, he made so many threats about what he'd tell our parents if we shouted out or told them, and other things he might do, like attack us some more, that we just decided to put up with it. It wasn't as if we had time to think through the best way of dealing with him. We couldn't have known it would result in a pregnancy we'd feel as if we needed to have aborted. When people are under attack, they don't think that far ahead. And afterwards, we just hoped it would never happen again.
But just remember what happened in the end. Despite all the threats he'd made, we still had the courage to tell our parents what was happening, didn't we, even though we thought they might be annoyed because he's their friend! I know we were upset because they didn't believe us. But at least we had the courage to try to stop what was happening, despite his threats.
And there were times when we managed to pick up things to defend ourself with and it put him off assaulting us some more. You did that, remember?
And it wasn't as if we ever encouraged his attacks. We may have been dressed in a sexy way once, but that's how most teenagers dress, and it wasn't as if it meant we were saying to him, 'You're welcome to have sex with me'. Some people talk about being treated like a piece of meat, but even if someone goes into a person's home and sees a piece of meat on a plate, they're not at liberty to just take it. So how much more should he have been careful about the way he behaved with a person with feelings! He was treating us worse!
There's no way we could have foreseen that he would do what he did. If we'd been more experienced, maybe we could have noticed some tell-tale signs in his behaviour that would have made us realise something wasn't right. But we weren't experienced. We couldn't have been expected to know. He was responsible for his behaviour, not us.
And as for not going to the police, remember how scared we were at the time that they wouldn't believe us, or if they did, they'd investigate, and our parents would be angry and not believe us, and we didn't know what they'd do if he was sent to prison, since he was a good friend of theirs. And what would the man have done to us if he was investigated but then the police didn't bother taking it any further? That was another thing we were scared about. And we were scared that if the case did get to court, we would be humiliated by the cross-examination, being asked all kinds of really personal questions. And he might have claimed that we seduced him, and then our parents might have been really angry with us, and he might not even have been convicted, and what would he have done to us if he wasn't! We were so scared of things like that. We can't blame ourself for not going to the police. Again, it wasn't as if we sat down in a cool, calm and collected way, and decided we couldn't be bothered. Just remember the way we felt at the time when we thought about it!"
Well-Adjusted Side would agree with everything Victim Side said, and say,
"Yes, think of how you were feeling at the time. People often stop living up to their highest values when they're stressed, because they just want to do what they think will relieve their stress in the shortest time.
Anyway, think of what happened afterwards. We made up our mind that we weren't going to allow this to happen again and moved out. I think we can be proud of ourself for doing that, because it wasn't easy finding alternative accommodation. It took courage to even try branching out on our own, not knowing we'd find somewhere permanent, especially while we were so young."
Knowledge of Ages would say,
"Throughout the centuries, many of your ancestors have made decisions under stress that they regretted later. Some of them even went to war because their families were hungry and they thought it would earn them good money and it would be a break from the monotonous hardship of their lives. But they ended up killing and injuring people, some of whom were civilians, and afterwards, they were distressed at what they'd done. Would you judge them harshly for not having the foresight to realise the full horror of what they were getting themselves into? They should have known better, but faced with children crying for food and a lack of employment opportunities elsewhere, they went to war, making a decision they regretted all their lives. Some of them felt more guilty than you do.
Some of your other ancestors did things under stress that they deeply regretted later. Stress changes the way people think temporarily. That's part of the human condition.
It's good that you have high enough moral values to have cared enough about the baby you were carrying to have been upset about what you did. It shows you in a good light that you've got moral values that are high enough for you to find what you did unacceptable. But don't be too hard on yourself. You're no worse than anyone else. Most people faced with the stresses you were under at the time would probably have done the same things as you did."
One thing I do that I know I shouldn't is go out on drinking binges. I feel better when I start drinking, but then I just want more and more, and I know when I'm drunk I'm more vulnerable, and I can get hurt because I can get into fights. That's one time when I do make stupid decisions about things, and I regret them the next day when I'm sober. And sometimes, the alcohol just makes me more miserable. I think it's true that whatever mood we're in when we start drinking, the alcohol will accentuate it, so if I'm a bit angry or depressed to start with, I'll get worse.
I think Aggressor Side must be responsible for this behaviour. I'll think about what the others would say.
Knowledge of Ages would say,
"When you drink too much, you're devaluing your inheritance. I'm your inheritance, your genetic encoding, with all the genetic memories passed down to you through your ancestors. You risk damaging the body I've given you when you drink. Is that fair? You're not being fair to yourself. Your body's a wonderful thing, and I'd appreciate it if you could do your part to keep it that way.
Think about how complex your body is. You can be proud of it and marvel at it. You're an incredible thing.
Think about the brain for a start. Think of all the types of intelligent thoughts it enables you to have. It's such a shame to risk damaging it by drinking too much. Think of the amount of memories it can store throughout your life. Think of the variety of things it can give you the skill to do! Think of all your skills, everything you know you do well. Even something as simple as tying shoelaces, or even standing up and walking around, or scratching your head, is a complex action when you think about all the movements the brain has to tell the rest of your body to do. And it must tell your body to do actions as complex as that thousands of times a day. And it has all the movements in its memory, so you don't have to think through step-by-step instructions every time you do something like stand up or get out of bed. You can do them without your conscious mind thinking through what to do. You can do many things without even having to think with your conscious mind how to do them. Your brain's learned to do them so well that you just think of them as routine. Don't take those skills for granted. You should marvel at them.
And to think that while your brain's telling one part of your body to walk along the street, it can be processing information from other parts of it, so you can hear the cars going past, and see what's in shop windows, and be thinking about what to have for dinner, all at the same time.
And the more you train it to help you do something you're good at, the better it becomes at helping you. Your brain's a wonderful thing.
And what about your digestive system? To think that you can eat something containing all kinds of nutrients along with things that aren't healthy, and your digestive system sorts everything out, taking the nutrients it needs and sending them on their way to where they'll do the body good, and getting rid of things it doesn't need.
And think of the way your blood circulates around your body, carrying all the nutrients to where they're needed.
And all this can be going on while you're doing other things, because of the wonderful way your body's made.
Think of the complexity and wonder of your eyes and ears.
It's awe-inspiring that the body is made in such a complex way that you can do all kinds of things.
Think of the variety of things your taste buds can enable you to enjoy eating.
Think of your ability to talk. You can sing, and it can be easy to program your brain to know how to give your hands instructions in such a way that they can play musical instruments, and some people get really skilled on them. Some people are very skilled at doing all kinds of creative things.
Think of the way your bones are structured, in such a way that you can bend down to pick things up, reach over to get a bit of food that you can move around to put in your mouth, walk, swim, and do all kinds of things.
Even the parts of your body that you think are the most vulnerable or that you have the least regard for are still cleverly designed, and you can tell that especially when they're not being assaulted, but they're working in the way they were always designed to do.
Think of the way your body can heal little cuts, and the way it tries to fight off infections. You don't even get ill with many of the infections around, because your immune system deals with them before your conscious mind notices you've got them. And with the help of vaccination, invented by someone's brain, it can do much better.
You can develop your brain's capabilities so it can help you do even more than it does. With your brain in control, your body can do all kinds of wonderful things for you. I know not everyone's bodies work as well as they should. But people's bodies were designed to function properly. And even the bodies of people who can't do one or two of those things can still do many more awesome things. You really are amazing!
And just think of the way you can avoid injuring yourself or be alerted to the fact that you've hurt yourself and need to do something to heal yourself by your pain receptors. They're so clever! You can touch something that's too hot, and as long as you're not being forced to touch it or making yourself touch it, you'll instantly pull away so you don't get hurt more, before you've even had time to think about it consciously. That's how clever your brain is. It can respond within a split second. Think of how quickly your nerves must send signals to your brain for it to be able to do that! Your system of pain detection is really a good way of protecting you from the more serious injuries you'd get if it didn't work, so you could do harmful things like carrying really hot things without realising you were being burned by them. And when you get a minor injury or an infection, the place where it is will hurt when you touch it or move it awkwardly, as a warning to you to be careful with it. That's your body's clever way of protecting itself further. The only time that system's a disadvantage is when your body's telling you something's wrong, and you've heard the message loud and clear, but there's nothing you can do about it. It's unfortunate when that happens.
Getting drunk dulls the pain receptors, so you can do harmful things without being so aware of it. And it makes your reactions a bit slower, so you won't be so quick to pull away from anything harmful. That's another reason why when you're drunk, you're more likely to get hurt. Your brain's at its maximum potential when you're sober. And you're in a better position to appreciate all the things it can do.
Just think of how clever it is to be able to distinguish the difference between pressure and pain, hot and cold. If you pick something up, the signals your nerves send to your brain let it communicate to you how tightly you're holding it. If you take hold of one hand with the other and squeeze it, your brain will tell you you're only putting pressure on it, not hurting it, but it will let you know at precisely what point it begins to become uncomfortable. And if you pick something up, your body parts will instantly send signals to each other which will let you know how heavy it is. You're very sophisticated. You really have got a lot going for you.
I made you like that. I'm your genetic inheritance that was passed down over thousands of years from one generation of your ancestors to another, till it made the combination that formed you. I've done my best for you. I've been mistreated enough by the person who attacked you. I want things to go well in the future. I'd like you to respect me by valuing your body, the environment where I developed. I'd appreciate it if you could treat it kindly, keeping it healthy to the best of your abilities. When you think about all the things it enables you to do, you have to agree about how precious it is. It's a thing of great value. It's a wonder of nature. You're amazing.
OK, so bodies get worn out and stop functioning properly when they get old, and then they die. But if they didn't die, just think of the over-population problem the world would have. And genes don't wear out and die. They can be passed down from generation to generation and be just as good as ever. But it helps to keep them healthy if you look after yourself.
With every movement you make for a while, and everything you see or hear, how about thinking about how amazing your body is to be able to do things like that.
Think about how awesome your body is. It doesn't deserve to be damaged by too much alcohol or drugs or smoking, or by self-harm. You ought to treasure yourself. I want to be treated with kindness from now on. I know you can treat me well. Thank you for all the times you've looked after me in the past by doing things like eating healthy food and giving your body the care it needs. I'm grateful for that. Your body deserves to be treated with respect. It could do so much more for you if you keep it healthy. You could have a new life just waiting to begin. You could have talents you barely know about, but which could blossom and make you really pleased with yourself.
But you could be spoiling things for yourself by drinking too much, because it could damage your brain and liver, and maybe other parts of you. And you know it makes you more vulnerable to getting into other situations where you could be damaged, like fights, or unwise sexual activity with strangers who take advantage of your drunken state. Please don't put me through that. The more I'm mistreated, the more likely I am to accidentally develop genetic faults and pass them on to future generations. Please respect yourself more and be nice to me."
Victim Side would say,
"Aggressor Side, please don't make us drink too much. You know we're more likely to get hurt when you do. It lowers our defences. It makes us more likely to make bad decisions. It makes us vulnerable. I don't want to risk being hurt. I want you to protect me like you said you would before. I want to be pampered. Let's do something that's more likely to be safe instead, like cooking our favourite meal, finding a funny video to watch, or trying to get absorbed in a good book."
Well-Adjusted Side could say,
"We could have so much going for us if we put our mind to it. Wouldn't it be horrible to risk ending up in the gutter, an alcoholic who lost all hope in life. Even if we don't get that bad, we could still be lessening our chances of future success by risking damaging our brain and liver. Come on, let's find something else to do that we enjoy, instead of drinking. Perhaps we could find out if any activities are going on in the local area that we could get involved in."
One thing I don't like myself for is my anger problem. I know I get irritable with people I like, and I don't want to, but I can't seem to change. I could cut down the number of times I'm tempted to have angry outbursts by not drinking. But I still get more angry than I should sometimes when I'm sober. It must be Aggressor Side that's causing this. I'll think about what the others would say:
Victim Side would say,
"Aggressor Side, please don't behave angrily and irritably. You know we're more likely to get hurt if you do, either physically, because we're fighting, or the person we're angry with hits us because they're annoyed with us, or emotionally, because we'll realise someone we like has been upset by what we've said, or they reject us, because they don't want to put up with our behaviour any more. Please try to be nice."
Knowledge of Ages would say,
"Some of your ancestors went through great hardships, but they still learned to live in harmony with each other. They learned that they had less troubled lives when they didn't make themselves and other people miserable by behaving angrily. And they knew that if they could learn to do it, their descendants could. They want you to succeed. They don't want you to make the mistakes they made before they learned those lessons. Some of them suffered because they let their anger get them into difficulties. They don't want that to happen to you. They want your life to be less troubled than theirs were. They know you can find a way."
Well-Adjusted Side would say,
"There must be ways we could learn to control our temper better and stop taking our anger out on people. Let's investigate the advice that's around.
Maybe one reason you're so angry is because you still have a lot of angry feelings towards our abuser.
Maybe we could write him a letter expressing them all. We wouldn't have to send it. It could just be a way of getting feelings out of our system.
I don't blame you for feeling angry towards him! But maybe if we can recognise that when you're about to say something angry to someone else, the real reason is that you're angry with the abuser, then we can stop ourself. I think it's called transference when someone feels an emotion towards someone that was really meant for someone else. You're transferring the feelings from the one they're aimed at to someone who doesn't really deserve them, maybe because something about them reminds you of the one the feelings are really meant for. If we realise that that's going on, every time you get an urge to say something angry to someone else, we can think, 'Oh, it's the transference kicking in again', and maybe that realisation will stop you.
And tell you what: Maybe we could use your anger as the energy we need to motivate us to do things that will protect us more in the future, like phoning the local police and asking where we can buy a good attack alarm, and exercising to get fitter, so we can run faster. Perhaps we can look into exercise that's fun as well as good for us. Or maybe if we start some kind of exercise we've never done before, we'll discover it's fun afterwards.
Maybe another reason you're irritable is because our life isn't going as well as you'd like it to. Let's think about what we could do to make it better.
Maybe we'd feel more as if it was going somewhere if we took up our studies again. We did badly at school because we were too upset to concentrate on what we were supposed to be learning. But now we're in a safer environment, we could try re-taking exams and finishing our school education properly, and maybe develop new talents after that. I don't think colleges charge that much for those kinds of courses, at least not for people who are on low incomes. You thought the reason we failed our exams was because we were stupid, didn't you. But it wasn't, you know. It was because we were too stressed to take in what we were supposed to be learning. Now we're in a more secure environment with less stress, we might do a lot better."
Something I really want to get rid of is these horrible obsessive thoughts about getting revenge on the man who raped me. Sometimes, I enjoy having them, but then I stop and think that I've just wasted time that I could have spent doing something useful. And they stop me getting to sleep. Then I'm tired the next morning and so I can't concentrate so well, so I make mistakes while I'm doing things. It must be Aggressor Side that's causing these. I'll think about what the others would say:
Victim Side would say,
"Please don't keep thinking of getting revenge, Aggressor Side. It scares me. You get so absorbed in your thoughts sometimes that you forget what you're doing and something bad happens, like the other day when you were so busy thinking thoughts of revenge that you stopped us thinking about what we were doing, and then we tried to get something out of the oven, but we'd forgotten to put oven gloves on first, so we burned ourself.
And I wouldn't want us to really try to go and get revenge on that man. We might end up getting hurt. Even if we managed to hurt him, we might get hurt far worse. I want to be as far away from him as possible."
Well-Adjusted side could say,
"Even though you enjoy having these thoughts sometimes, you know they're not really doing us any good, and the more you have them, the more you're likely to really want to get revenge on him. And then we could end up getting hurt.
I know there are ways to stop obsessive thoughts. When we notice ourself having some, let's try stopping ourself and then thinking other things instead that take a bit of brain power so they'll be a proper distraction, like saying the alphabet backwards; thinking of a song we like and trying to remember all the words if we're not sure we can, or saying the lyrics backwards; or trying to count backwards from a thousand in numbers that decrease by one each time, so we count back in 9s the first time to 991, 982 and so on, counting backwards towards 0, and then we count back in 8s, to 992, 984 and back and back; and then we count back towards 0 in sevens, etc.
I know that won't be nearly as much fun as thinking thoughts of revenge, but you know how much those thoughts irritate you when we realise they've stopped us getting to sleep or made us lose our concentration and we haven't got nearly as much done as we wanted to, or they've put us in a bad mood because they've made us angry. So it'll be worth doing. And then when we think we've taken our mind off our obsessive thoughts, we can hopefully focus on other things much better. We can maybe even think of more things that put us in a good mood afterwards."
Knowledge of Ages would say,
"Some of your ancestors learned that revenge doesn't pay in the long term. So many things can go wrong when you try it:
You can worry for the rest of your life about what the person might do to get you back, so you can be living in fear, forever looking over your shoulder.
Or you can get caught or reported to the police, and you might be the one who ends up getting punished, not the perpetrator of the original crime.
Or innocent bystanders or people who try to intervene can get caught in the middle and end up hurt.
Or the person can be stronger or cleverer than you, and you can end up much more hurt than them.
Or you could be looked down on for the rest of your life by anyone who sees you or hears about what you did, and they could talk about what you did to people whose opinions of you matter to you, so they might look down on you as well, especially if they don't know what provocation you suffered, so they assume your attack was unprovoked. ...
All kinds of unforeseen things could happen.
But there is a way to get a kind of revenge that might make you feel really satisfied, but won't hurt anyone. Imagine it's three years on into the future. Imagine you've re-taken your exams and passed with flying colours this time, and you're learning lots of interesting new things. Imagine you've made lots of new friends and you've got several enjoyable hobbies. Think about what you really want from your future. Imagine things are going really well for you. And then write our rapist a letter all about it, imagining telling him about it in as much detail as you can, describing all the things you did to get where you are now.
Don't ever send him the letter, because apart from the fact that it might not be quite accurate even in three years' time, it's best not to contact him again, because he's better out of our life in case he causes trouble. But keep the letter for yourself to read sometimes to remind yourself of what you want out of life, so you can work towards really achieving it. Then our life might really be like that in three years' time.
But just pretend it's three years on now and you've achieved all that, and you're sending him the letter. Date it with a date that's three years away. You could tell him how happy you are that you didn't become what he tried to make you, and how pleased it makes you that you've shaken off his influence, and how you've made much more of a success of your life than he ever did of his.
Even though the letter's only fiction, you can work towards making it fact by trying to achieve everything you imagine having achieved in it. Then you can really feel satisfied.
OK, it might take you a bit more than three years to achieve all your dreams, but if it does, at least in the meantime, and when the three years are up, you can still be glad that you're working towards all the goals you imagined having achieved in your letter.
If you don't feel like addressing the letter to him, how about writing it anyway to encourage yourself. You could imagine writing it to an old friend. And it'll be a good way of helping you think through what you want from your future anyway.
And then you can start day-dreaming about really achieving it. When you feel a bit relaxed, you could imagine it's the future now, and you're feeling really pleased with yourself as you read on the college notice board that you've passed your exams, and that you feel really happy as you're congratulated by teachers. You could imagine yourself feeling cheerful and happy, surrounded by a group of friends.
Then you could imagine going out on day trips to places you'd like to go to with a couple of new friends you imagine you have and get on really well with, feeling really cheerful, looking forward to seeing new things, and laughing good-naturedly with them.
You could try to imagine your feelings of enjoyment and happiness as you imagine doing the things in the future you'd like to do as much as you can. The more you imagine feeling good about doing them, the more enthusiastic you'll be about going for what you want, so the more likely you are to get it. Then you can pride yourself that you've succeeded well in making a good life for yourself despite everything that happened."
That idea's nice. But something else I'm distressed by is my feeling that I'll never be able to trust anyone again or form a long-term intimate relationship with anyone.
Maybe it's Victim Side making me feel like this. I'll think about what the others would say:
Aggressor Side would say,
"Well, who needs a man anyway?! Stuff men! We can get along perfectly well on our own!"
Knowledge of Ages would say encouragingly,
"You're lucky to be living in the 21st century. In earlier times, life expectancy was lower, and children had to work to help the family survive, so women were expected to marry younger. Some of them had feelings like yours, but they had to get into relationships and learn to cope with them as best they could. You don't have those pressures. Don't worry about your feelings yet. You've got time to find a way to heal yourself before you get into a relationship. Your ancestors would be pleased that life's easier for you and that you've got time to find a way to heal yourself before you settle down. You're only young. You don't need to find a life partner till you feel better. Use the time that your ancestors were never given to learn to heal yourself in the best way you can. They're sure you can do it. You have the advantage of having access to research on healing techniques that was never available to them. But they'd be pleased for you. They're supporting you. They're glad knowledge has advanced like it has. They'd like you to do well in life."
Well-Adjusted Side would say,
"Don't worry. We're only young. We have plenty of time to heal. Research has found that the earlier people marry, the more they're likely to get divorced anyway. So we're not missing out by delaying the time when we find someone, really. Let's be patient with ourself, and just do as much work as we can on healing ourself. Maybe this time next year, you'll feel very different.
Tell you what: If we find out what type of people are most likely to abuse others, we'll know what kind of people to avoid in future. And we might start making lots of new friends who are not like that at all, and who we're much more sure we can trust. And if we want to get together with someone we like, but aren't sure we can trust them, we can write a list of as many ways we can think of in which they're different from the people who've abused us in the past, to reassure ourself."
I think my ex-boyfriend might have had abusive characteristics. He wasn't very nice to me. I don't know why I was attracted to him in the first place. Well, he was nice to me at first, but he wasn't nice to some people, and I found out that he wasn't nice to me when I disagreed with him about anything. Maybe I was attracted to him because being with him gave me an old feeling of familiarity, because his attitudes were a bit like the ones of my parents. I suppose there was something about him that made me feel at home. I think Victim Side might have partly caused me to be attracted to him rather than someone better, because she's scared of unfamiliar things and frightened of moving on with life, and the feelings I got with him were at least familiar, if not that good after a while. And I think it was partly Aggressor Side as well, because she can do things that end up with me being harmed. Let's think what the others would say:
Well-Adjusted Side could say,
"Victim Side, there's no need to be scared of new things. I want to make a new life for us all, where we'll have new, happy feelings, and be with new, happy people. We don't need to be scared of leaving old feelings behind. Happiness and happy pleasant people will make us feel good. And Aggressor Side, you can be happy to if you stop making us attracted to people who're going to harm us and let us build a new life for ourself where we meet happy, nice people and maybe fall in love with one of those."
Knowledge of Ages would say,
"Some of your ancestors learned the hard way that getting together with abusive people because at least the feelings they got around them were familiar and made them feel kind of at home only ended in misery. Don't make the same mistake. You've got the whole of your life ahead of you. You could fill it with so many good things once you get some ideas about what would be nice to do. And once you're mixing with people who're going places, you'll feel much better about yourself, so you hopefully won't tolerate being around abusive people, and you might get together with someone you really get on with who isn't abusive at all. Don't keep getting upset about making mistakes in your choices in the past. The future's opening up to you. It might take a while for you to be transformed into the person you want to be and to start meeting lots of nicer people. But you can do it, if you resolve to start somewhere.
What about those new plans we've been thinking of to finish our education and learn new and interesting things? That's perhaps where we could start."
Hope is the feeling we have that the feeling we have is not permanent.
Hope is the physician of each misery.
And the time came when the pain to remain tight in the bud became greater than the risk it took to blossom.
As my healing progresses, and Victim Side and Aggressor Side reassure each other more and more, and Knowledge of Ages encourages them, Victim Side and Aggressor Side will quite possibly start calming down, and all three will fade away into the background, like satisfied customers who no longer need to make a fuss because their needs have been met.
Then, Well-Adjusted Side can take over the running of my life, as she was always meant to do, and the others will only take over when they're needed.
Jessica said she developed more hope for the future when she started thinking of images to compare herself to, that represented something that doesn't look that good now, but that will in time either become or produce something beautiful or useful, like a twig just beginning to blossom, or a patch of earth full of seeds that haven't sprouted yet, that might not look very attractive now, but that has hidden with in it lots of nutrients that are just about to start feeding the plants so they'll gradually grow into beautiful flowers. She said she found it helpful to draw pictures of things like that in their different stages, so she ended up with several pictures gradually looking nicer and nicer that represented herself and the way she's hoping her future will go.
It might help me if I did that, or at least thought of things to compare myself to.
Let's think of what kind of images I could use to think of myself as being like:
Maybe a lump of clay, that doesn't look particularly nice yet, but that's capable of being fashioned into something really beautiful;
or an apple core that someone's thrown on the ground thinking it's worthless, but really it's got healthy pips in it that are going to get buried in the ground and start growing, and one's going to grow into a wonderful big apple tree that produces lovely apples.
Or I could think of myself as a pile of bricks that looks like abandoned rubble, but that's going to get transformed into a beautiful house.
Or a rain cloud that doesn't look nice, but that will water a garden and make all the plants start growing better.
Maybe I can think of some more.
I'll spend a bit of time imagining I'm each of the things I think of in the process of either being transformed, or transforming something else.
I have to learn how to deal with my flashbacks and nightmares.
I think I'll try something Jessica said helped her with nightmares.
She said it helped her to keep a notebook by her bed that she called her dream book, and when she woke up after having a nightmare, she'd write about it or draw images from it in the book, and then invent and write or draw a happy ending for it. She said she's heard that it helps to do that straightaway, because nightmares can be forgotten during the day, but then the same ones can come back if we haven't resolved them in our minds by making happy endings for them. Doing that might not prevent them altogether, but it might well start cutting them down.
I could try that. I had a horrible nightmare the other day where I was holding a tiny baby outside, and I slung it into the mud and went away, and it was screaming and screaming and screaming for me to come and pick it up and also because it was hurt, but I didn't care; I just carried on walking away. That really upset me when I woke up. But I'm going to invent a happy ending to it now where I realise what I've just done and come to my senses, and go back and pick the baby up, and cuddle it, and tell it several times how very sorry I am that I threw it in the mud. And then I go indoors with it and carefully clean its cuts and put plasters on them, and gently wash all the mud off it, and change its clothes. Then I sit down and cuddle it on my lap, telling it it's safe now.
I think I must have had that nightmare because I was thinking of what a horrible person I must be for having the abortion. So it might also help if I remind myself of the stresses I was under when I had it.
Another horrible nightmare I had recently was one about that man raping me, and me not being able to get away. I'm going to invent an ending to that now as well where he has a sudden pain in his chest and gets off, and I'm getting dressed when Mum comes in and finds out what was happening, and when I'm dressed, she calls Dad, and they shout at him and tell him to leave the house, and that they never want to see him or hear from him again. And then they take me into another room and comfort me, and apologise to me for ever letting him come and stay with us, telling me they realise now that they shouldn't have done it.
I'm going to try putting a notebook by my bed and inventing more endings to nightmares, if I have any more.
Jessica said that if any nightmares go off in two unrelated directions, one after the other, like some dreams do, where we can have the same beginning to the dream twice but different endings, we don't have to try and make our ending fit both; we can just write one ending for each bit.
I think my nightmares are worse when I've been dwelling on the past; so as I heal, and I start focusing more on the future instead, thinking about all my hopes and plans, the nightmares should hopefully fade away.
Another thing that really upsets me is the flashbacks I get. They're really vivid, as if I'm right back there experiencing the abuse.
But it's interesting what Jessica said about a few ways she was taught by a therapist to cope with them.
I'll read her email again.
She says the therapist told her that a lot of people can get rid of flashbacks by a technique where they first find a comfortable place where they won't be disturbed, and then they write down everything that happens in the flashbacks, reading it aloud to a supportive friend, or to themselves imagining they're reading to someone caring; and then they tear the paper into shreds and dispose of it in the most final way they can think of.
She said that if the images we had in our flashbacks are replaced by other nasty ones after we've stopped having the original ones, or if we get the same ones again, we can write about those, and then read what we've written out loud to someone compassionate or to ourselves imagining we're reading to someone who cares, and then tear that bit of paper up and dispose of that one as well. Reading about it and then disposing of the paper is a symbol for ending what happened.
Maybe I could do that and imagine Victim Side's reading the letter, and the other three characters are comforting her. I could try to imagine what they'd say.
Jessica said the therapist told her that we can sometimes get even better relief if we do other things after we've done that, a good one being a drawing exercise. She said it'll take about an hour of time, where we first get some paper, coloured pencils, crayons or paints, to draw three pictures. Then, first of all, we can draw an image that represents our intrusive thoughts or feelings, either a literal image of something that happened, or something that symbolises it.
I'll think about what kind of image to draw. It's an interesting idea about thinking of a symbol to represent what happened or what our thoughts are. Maybe I could draw a crushed flower, or a newly-budding plant being trampled on, to represent me being hurt.
She said it's good if we use the colours that we think best represent our flashbacks, but it doesn't matter how we represent them, because whatever way we choose will be the best one for us.
She says that then, the idea is that we use another piece of paper to draw something that represents what we would prefer to be thinking or feeling instead of the flashbacks. Again, she says it doesn't matter how we represent it, as long as it feels right for us.
She says that on the third piece of paper, we should draw a picture that represents a description of how we got from one state of mind to the other.
Er, I'm not quite sure I understand that. Maybe it means that supposing what we'd like to be thinking instead of a flashback is about how we'd like to make new friends and visit interesting places, for example, which we can maybe represent on the second piece of paper by drawing a picture of ourselves looking happy somewhere nice with people of our own age around us, we can draw an image on the third bit of paper of anything that was important in helping us get hope for the future and a desire to move on.
Well, that one might be quite easy for me, because maybe I could draw an image of the Knowledge of Ages character I drew earlier, with a speech bubble that says something about the best way to get revenge being to prove I've shaken off the man's influence by making a good life for myself. I think that was what first started me thinking about how I could make a much better life for myself.
But what if I decide that a thought I'd rather be thinking than the flashback is how I'd love to feel cosy and warm in front of a fire in my own home? Well, maybe I can draw an image of something I've used to make my home more comfortable on the third bit of paper, or I could draw an image of one of the characters I drew earlier reassuring me that I'll be allright on my own.
I'll think of other things like that.
Jessica said that when we've decided what to draw and drawn all three pictures, we should get the first one, the one of the horrible images we had in our flashbacks, and tear it up. Then we can keep the other two to look at if we think they might comfort us sometimes, if we like.
She said that another thing the therapist said could help is if we re-write in a better way harmful messages we've taken in from other people about ourselves in the past, anything that makes us feel less confident, or stops us getting on with life in the way we'd want to because it makes us feel bad about ourselves. She said we should write positive messages to ourselves instead to replace the old ones.
So, for example, if we were told we were worthless in the past, and we keep thinking we are, but deep down we know it's not true really, we can write reasons why we're worth something after all.
I'll have a think.
One thing is that when I got bad grades at school, Dad would tell me I was bad and lazy and would end up in the gutter. So I started thinking of myself as bad and lazy and useless. But I don't need to believe that. It wasn't true. I did badly at school because I was so stressed. And I'm sure I can do better at study now I'm safer.
So I'm going to write a message to myself to believe instead of that one, that says,
"I know I can succeed if I try. I have the freedom to do what I want to now."
She said it'll be good if we write the new message several times with both hands, both the one we're used to writing with and the other one, because writing with the left hand means the message gets processed by the right side of the brain, that implants messages in our subconscious better.
What? Well, I'm not sure if that's true, but writing the message several times till I'm really familiar with it sounds as if it could be a good idea.
I could stick it on my wall so I see it every day, as an encouragement.
I think I'll write more encouraging messages for myself like that.
She said that even if we have some doubt about the messages at first, writing them a few times every day for a while will probably make us feel more sure about them.
I'm going to think of some more.
My rapist used to say to me that I was only good for being used for what he was using me for.
Well, I've decided that was rubbish. I've decided that I can do all kinds of interesting and useful things with my life if I put my mind to it. I know I used to have talents before I got so stressed I stopped doing anything clever. I remember writing good stories when I was little. And I had a good memory and was good at acting. I had the main parts in a few school plays. Well, if I could be talented, imaginative and confident then, I can be again. And I can do a lot more things now I'm older. I can go to college and choose what courses I want to study. And I might make new friends there. I might develop lots of talents in all kinds of ways over the next few years. I don't want to waste any more of my life not developing my talents just because he was nearly successful in convincing me I was no good! I'm going to write myself a new message to replace the horrible old one, and I'll keep writing it, and stick it on a wall in every room in my house. Then I can look at it wherever I go. It can say,
"I know I'm talented; if I have been before, I can be again; those talents must still be in me somewhere; and I can develop lots of new ones now as well. And that's besides the ones I know I've got and am using in my life now."
If I think of more horrible things people used to say which I started to believe, I'll write messages to replace those as well.
Another thing Jessica said her therapist said can help us feel better is if we write letters to anyone we have any kind of feelings towards that we can't express to them, or that might not be safe to express to them because contacting them again might just cause problems. They're not to send, but just to help us get our feelings towards those people out of our system.
She said that even for people who do feel able to contact the people again, the letters can be a good rehearsal for that.
I don't want to contact my rapist again! I don't want any more to do with him! But if writing these letters could help me get over the feelings of humiliation, fear and contamination he left me with, I'll try it.
She says we're supposed to address the letters to the person concerned.
She said the idea is that we write whatever we want; so that's another reason why it's best not to think about sending them while we're writing them, because that might stop us saying what we feel like saying.
She said that some people might decide to send them after they've written them, but it's best not to plan to send them before we write them.
She said the idea is that we write four letters altogether, the first one at a separate time from when we write the others, the next two one right after the other - and it's important to write them together because if we have too much time to think about the one we write first, it'll just upset us. And then we can write the last one at a separate time. She said it's best if we spend about an hour on each letter.
So when we write the two together, we'll be working more-or-less for two straight hours!
She said her therapist said that most people do one letter-writing session a day so they complete them within three days, but it won't matter if we take longer; we can take the amount of time that feels comfortable for us.
She said that if we want, we can repeat the letter-writing exercises as much as we want, writing other letters to make us feel as satisfied as we can that we've finished expressing all the feelings we'd like to express to the people.
She does say that if writing the letters triggers off feelings in us that we find hard to deal with, we should seek help from other people.
Well, if I start to get bad feelings, I'll know it's Victim Side causing them, so I'll first of all ask the other three what they'd like to say in reassurance and encouragement, and see if that helps.
Jessica says that in the first letter, we're supposed to tell the person we're writing to all about what effect what they did and said to us had on us, like what it did to our feelings, how it's damaged our lives since, and how we feel about the person we're writing to now. She said we should tell the person how we would like them to respond to what we've said, for instance that we'd like them to apologise and stop denying what they did. She said the purpose of writing the letter is to get out into the open any thoughts or feelings we still have that upset us.
She said that in the second letter, her therapist said we should write an imaginary letter to ourselves from the person we've written to, saying all the horrible things we're scared they really would say, about how they don't care about us and don't want to listen, or the worst things we're worried they'd say about what they think of us. That'll hopefully get our fears about what they'd say and all the bad things they made us think about ourselves and horrible things they said in the past that we started to believe about ourselves out of our systems.
She says that after we've written the letter, we shouldn't dwell on it, but it's important that we move straight on to writing the third letter, which is another imaginary letter from the person, but this time, we imagine them saying all the things we'd like them to say, like that they're really sorry, and how they realise now how terrible what they did was, and how they weren't thinking of our feelings at the time but now they realise they should have done. That will hopefully soothe our feelings, because we're imagining the relationship ended well, and that the person we wrote to changed his behaviour and attitude.
So it could say something like:
Your letter made me think a lot about what I did. I realise now that it was very cruel, and I should never have done anything like that. I didn't realise it would have such a terrible effect on your life. I think if I'd really thought about what effect it might have, I wouldn't have done it. I feel bad about myself, and I'm deeply sorry. If there was anything I could do to make amends, I'd want to do it. But I know there's nothing I can do to undo so much damage, and that makes me very upset. I hope that despite what I did, you can do well in your future.
Jessica said that in the last letter, we should write an imaginary response from us to the person after they've told us how sorry they are, telling them we're glad they've changed their attitude and they're sorry, and how it's changed our feelings towards them, and anything else we'd like to say. She said we can write that letter straight after the last one, or the next day, or even weeks afterwards, or whenever we like.
I wonder why we're supposed to take an hour for each letter. Maybe we don't have to take that long, but they say that so we don't take longer and upset ourselves by thinking of bad things all day or something.
Jessica says that another thing she's heard we can try to get rid of flashbacks, if we still get some after we've done the other things, is to distract ourselves when we get them. So, preferably as soon as we think a flashback might be coming on, the idea is that we start focusing on things around us instead, using as many of our senses as we can. In this particular technique, we try to give attention to five things with each sense in turn. That way, hopefully our brains will stop focusing on the flashback and making it worse, and come right back to focusing on the present again, and we'll hopefully be able to reassure ourselves that we're really in our current environment, rather than back in the situation where we were being abused.
So first, we could use our sense of sight, and try to concentrate hard on what we can see. So, for instance, if we were indoors, we could pay a bit of close attention to what the pattern on the wallpaper looks like, or if we're in the bathroom, count how many tiles are in one row. Then we could quickly move on and look out the window of whatever room we're in, and focus hard on what we can see; then we could look at the floor and quickly try to decide whether it needs washing; then we could look around to quickly see if the room needs dusting; then we could focus on the colour of the curtains or the door; and then we could count three or more items in the room that need electricity to function.
Or if we're outside, we could maybe pay a bit of close attention to the colours of things in shop windows; or repeat back to ourselves the names of things we can see in a window, or the names of the types of shops around us; or count how many things are in the nearest shop window; or look at the colours of six cars passing by and see if we can remember the colours in order, and do that with a higher number of cars if we can; or look at any flowers in people's gardens; ... There are probably lots of things we could give attention to.
After we've paid attention to five different things we can see, we could quickly move on to counting and focusing on five things we can hear, if there are that many.
So if we're indoors in or near the kitchen, we could maybe focus our attention on the fridge motor if we can hear it; or if we're in the room where our computer is, we could focus on the noise it's making. Then we could listen to see if we can hear the neighbours or anything outside. If we can hear cars outside, we can focus on the noise they're making. We could tap something, and listen to the noise it makes.
If we're outside, we could try to distinguish words the people around us are saying, and listen to the noise cars are making, or if it's quiet, see if we can hear any birds, try to hear anyone's footsteps as they walk by, or listen to any music we can hear. If we can't hear one thing, like the footsteps of someone walking by, we can quickly move on to trying to give attention to another sound.
If we can't hear many things, we shouldn't spend any time trying to hear more, because if our attention isn't focused on anything much, it gives more of a chance for the flashback to get worse.
After we've paid attention to as many things as we can hear, we can quickly move on to giving attention to what we can touch. So we could shuffle our feet and notice the texture of the floor or ground beneath us, think about whether it's rough or smooth, and what it might be made of. We could notice the pressure on our feet from standing on it. Or if we're sitting down, we could think about the texture of the chair we're on, and notice the pressure of our contact with it. We can touch it so we give more attention to it. If there's a desk or table or wall or something in front of us or within reach, we can touch those and think about their texture. We can touch part of our clothing and think about its texture.
Then, we can go back to looking at things, and then to hearing them, and so on, until the flashback isn't trying to bother us any more.
Jessica said that that distraction technique can work with panic attacks as well, especially if we use it as soon as we notice one's coming on.
That's good. But mine come on so quickly that I don't have much time to think before I'm in the middle of one.
Jessica said she's heard that people can often accidentally help to bring them on themselves though, because when something happens that makes them think a panic attack's starting, they get alarmed, thinking one's coming on; and because they're more fearful, it's more likely to come on. So if we can say "Stop!" to our worrying thoughts as soon as we notice ourselves having them because we've just felt something that feels like the beginnings of a panic attack, and then distract ourselves by focusing our attention on other things, the symptoms can fade away instead.
Jessica said that one thing that will help us catch panic attacks and flashbacks earlier in the future so we've got more chance of stopping them before they take over is if we try to notice everything that happens just before we have them, so we can work out what the trigger for each one was. It'll probably be something that reminds us of what happened, or reminds us of another time we had a panic attack or a flashback. She said it can help if we keep a notebook and write down what happened just before each one for a while, so we'll find it easier to remember what we've discovered probably triggers them off. And then if something like that happens again, we can start doing the distraction technique of focusing our attention on other things, before we even get much of a symptom of a flashback or a panic attack coming on.
I think one thing that triggers mine off is the smell of pizza cooking, or the sight of it. That's a shame, because I used to love pizza; but I think it must trigger them off because I remember we were eating it for tea just before one of the times my rapist attacked me. So now I'll know that if I smell or see pizza, I'll have to be careful of my thoughts and focus my concentration elsewhere.
Jessica said it's good if we can actually practice taking our thoughts away from flashback or panic attack symptoms and focusing them on other things. It'll help us distract ourselves more automatically when we're taken by surprise by something that sometimes triggers off our flashbacks or panic attacks. She said we can practice by regularly just thinking one or two thoughts of the type that we know can trigger flashbacks and panic attacks off in us, and then quickly focusing our minds on other things. She said practising doing that every day can help, since if we're used to distracting ourselves whenever something happens that often makes us start panicking or having a flashback because it reminds us of what happened, we'll find it easier to do when something does that unexpectedly, because we'll be more used to it.
She said that when we're used to that, it can help if we do more of the things that can trigger off flashbacks or panic attacks deliberately, to practice distracting ourselves. She said it's not as bad as it sounds, because we'll be in control of everything that happens.
I could try that. It might be good if I practise by cooking pizza myself, knowing I'm in control of the situation so I can close the kitchen door to block out the smell if it begins to bother me, or cover the pizza up with something when I've got it out of the oven if I'm getting worried. I won't have to get it out of the oven as soon as it's ready. I can just turn the oven off and then get it out whenever I like.
But I think knowing I'm in control of everything that's going on will make me feel happier about smelling it and seeing it again, so I hopefully won't get that bad. I think it's the surprise of smelling it or seeing it unexpectedly that triggers off my flashbacks and panic attacks, because I'm not in control of the circumstances. Maybe if I can control exactly what happens when, I won't even have to use the refocusing technique much, because I won't get symptoms.
Then, after a few practises with me cooking pizza myself, I hopefully shouldn't be so bothered when I smell or see it elsewhere, because I'll be more used to it again. I am embarrassed when I have a panic attack in the middle of the street and want to run away, which is one reason why I will be glad to get over these things.
I think another thing that can trigger off the flashbacks and panic attacks is the sound of certain songs that were around at the times when I was being attacked. Maybe I could do something similar to get used to those so they won't bother me so much any more. I could find them on the Internet, knowing that I'm in total control of what's happening, so if I start listening to them, I know I can stop them whenever I want, and then start them and stop them again when I want. And as soon as I start listening to them, I can focus my concentration on what's all around me instead of thinking of them until memories flood into my mind.
And I'll know that if I do get too anxious for my liking, I can always stop and go and do something that calms me down, and then carry on when I feel better. I'll know I'm the one in control. I can do something to calm myself down whenever I like.
I'll keep something handy that I know I enjoy, to reward myself for listening to the songs when I know they might make me anxious. Maybe I'll buy some cakes to eat every time I've done a practice or think I deserve a break from practising, to comfort and congratulate myself.
I don't suppose I'll be able to do the part of the distraction technique where we focus on everything we can hear if I'm listening to the songs, because they might block out other sounds. But I can still do the bits where we focus on several things around us that we can see, and several things we can touch, so that'll be allright.
It'll be reassuring to know I'm in total control of when to stop listening.
Hopefully, when I've got used to listening to the songs again, they won't bother me so much when I hear them unexpectedly.
I could even just imagine I'm listening to the songs and smelling and looking at pizza at first, practising refocusing my mind on other things as soon as I imagine doing those things. Then, I'll be even more in control, because I can imagine the songs or pizza just disappearing whenever I want, if I want.
And after I've imagined doing those things several times, I might not mind so much when I do them for real.
One thing I'm worried about is having flashbacks during sex in the future, if I find someone I fall in love with and we get together. I know I got one when that abusive boyfriend I had tried it on.
Jessica said something about flashbacks during sex. Even though the situation can be totally different, the sensations can still bring memories flooding back about the abuse, so people can start imagining they're there again. She said that she's been told about one or two things that might stop flashbacks happening. If we tell the person we've got together with that we're worried we might have them, and get them to agree to help, we can say we'll tell them during sex if it's happening, and hopefully they'll agree to stop for a while if it does, and turn the light on and talk to us. And it'll help bring us out of the flashback as well if we look at them and touch their face, to remind ourselves that they're our partner and not our abuser, and that we're having loving sex with them, not being abused.
If they can ask us questions about where we are now, to remind us we're in the present and not the past, that can help as well. For instance, some couples have found it helpful if when one of them has a flashback, the other one asks questions like, "What's my name?" "What year is it?" "Where are we?" They ask until the person going into a flashback answers; and when they do, it reminds them they're with their partner in the present, not being abused.
She said it can sometimes help to stop flashbacks happening in the first place if we ask our partner not to do anything during sex that will make us feel as if we're being restrained, like holding our hand or something, that might remind us of when we were being abused. It might help if we can choose a sexual position as well where we feel safest because we know we could get away more easily if we wanted to.
Perhaps I wouldn't want to get away from a loving partner; but having the freedom to do that if I want will still make me feel reassured.
And she said that if partners can say loving words quite often during sex, that can help us to keep our minds focused on the present as well.
In adversity those talents are called forth which are concealed by prosperity.
Jessica said that an exercise her therapist suggested we do to comfort and inspire ourselves is one where we try to think of worthwhile things we've learned from our experiences of abuse, that will be of benefit to us or other people in the future. That'll mean that at least it wasn't an entirely disastrous experience.
She said that if we want to do the exercise, it's best if we set aside about an hour again, and consider answers to three questions:
Well, I think I can answer the first and the third questions together, although not fully. I think that with the third at least, I might realise in the coming years that some positive things did come out of the abuse, that I've got no idea I'll discover now. Maybe I'll be able to answer the question better in ten years' time. But I think one thing I can say is that it's made me realise what a terrible experience sexual abuse is, so it's made me aware of what a need there is for people to help other people overcome it. So when I'm properly healed, and talking and thinking about it doesn't upset me so much any more, I might do something with my life where I help other sufferers of it. If I recover well, I'll have more of an idea of what can help other people, and so I can try to use my knowledge to help other people.
So it's possible that the experience has made me more caring really.
As for the question about what we did at the time or later to survive, I know that at the time, I was desperate to take my mind off what was happening, so I started inventing fantasy adventure stories, about things like someone walking through a forest and being chased by a bear, and only surviving by climbing a tree and waiting there for hours while the bear prowled around underneath until it got bored and went away, and then they'd come down and run away as quickly as they could; or someone being involved in a terrible shipwreck, and only surviving by clinging to a life raft while it drifted all night in the freezing cold, and they barely made it with their lives. But the people would always survive in my stories.
They were gruesome stories. But thinking about it, they did show I have a good imagination. I don't like stories like that now, maybe because they remind me of what happened. But they did show I have creative abilities, and that I can be good at using them to take my mind off bad things sometimes. And maybe in the future, I could even use those abilities in a career I get into.
Jessica said her therapist taught her a few relaxation techniques to use that help calm her down.
She said one is where we imagine we're sitting in front of a blackboard, and on the blackboard there are lots of words, and they all represent unhappy thoughts we have. And we blow very gently over and over again, and every time we do, we imagine that some of the words, that represent our bad thoughts, are being blown off the blackboard and drifting away into oblivion, so we can end up feeling as if the weight of all those horrible thoughts has been lifted from us for a while.
She said there's another technique, which sounds a little bit like the distraction method for coping with flashbacks, but is a bit different. She said the first thing we do is to find a comfortable place to sit where we can look out on a nice view. If there isn't somewhere with a nice view, looking at a postcard with a nature scene on it or something else that looks nice and inviting like the seaside, or any nice picture, will do.
The technique is to look at the view or picture for a while enjoying the scene, and then first distinguish five things we can see in it. If there aren't five, we can just count some things twice till we get to five. We're supposed to do all this at a slow, restful pace, unlike when we're distracting ourselves from a flashback.
Then, we're supposed to see if we can hear anything around us; and if we can hear different things, we're supposed to count them and distinguish one from another.
Then we can go back to thinking about things we can see, and try to think of four this time, either four more, or four of the same ones.
Then we can go back to counting and focusing on the things we can hear, and count four of those.
We can include the things we can feel as well if we like, like the feel of our backs on the chair, so we can count them after we've counted the things we can hear.
After we've thought of five and then four things we can see, hear and maybe feel around us, we think of three things of each, then two, then one. And then if we like, we can go back to five again, either counting different things, or counting the same things.
The Relaxation technique might be even better if it's done in the imagination, because then, we can day-dream about more things being around than we might be able to see or hear by just thinking about our real surroundings.
So I could close my eyes, and then imagine sitting in a deckchair on a beach, for example, and first count five things I can see, like the sun, the colour of the sky, the sea, the nice-looking sand, and children playing with buckets and spades. I could enjoy thinking of those.
Then I could think of five things to imagine hearing, like the sound of the waves lapping against the shore, the sound of seagulls, the sound of children laughing and talking as they play, the sound of parents getting sandwiches out to eat or talking about how nice it is to sunbathe, and the sound of someone walking out of the sea and across the sand. So the scene gets more and more detailed. I could day-dream about those things for a while.
Then I could count five things to imagine feeling, imagining I really am feeling them, like the sensation of the warm sun, the feel of the texture of the arms of the deckchair under my hands, the feel of the warm sand under my bare feet, the feel of a gentle breeze on my face, and the feel of a nice bag of fish and chips on my lap that I'm just about to eat.
I could sit for a while enjoying imagining the restful scene.
Then I could try to count more things I imagine seeing, like seagulls flying across the sky, my food as I open the bag, sand castles that children have just made, and little boats out on the sea.
Then I could try to imagine hearing four more things, like the sound of a motorboat in the sea, the quiet sound of cars going by in the distance on a road above the beach or a clock chiming in the distance, someone shaking a towel out to get a bit of sand off it, and someone talking about how they'd like to try to catch some fish.
Then I could try to imagine four more things I can pick up with other senses, like tasting my food and thinking about how nice it is, wiggling my toes in the warm sand, smelling the salty air, and feeling a few drops of water splashing on me as a child comes out of the sea and runs past.
Then I'll try to think of three more things I can see, or maybe the same ones as before, then three for what I can hear and pick up with other senses. Then two, then one, and then maybe back to five again, like it says.
I could do something similar imagining I'm in a clearing in a wood, or day-dreaming about being outside a cafe in the sunshine eating something I like, or in other nice places. I'll think about it.
Jessica said that one thing that helped her was looking for information on the personality types of abusers, and thinking through which type hers had.
Yes, that could be good to do. I've often wondered why it happened to me. If I can do that, it might help me work out what kind of people are more likely to be like that. And it might not seem quite so frightening to think about if I can understand it better so it doesn't seem so random and difficult to explain. It might help me trust other men more in the future if I can tell they're not like that, if there's a way of being sure. Maybe there isn't, but maybe there's a way of at least being more sure.
Here's an interesting website. It says that abusers often have things in common with each other. It says it's difficult to predict who'll be a rapist and who won't, but not because anyone could be a rapist, but because people who behave abusively do it in different ways, so while some of them might physically attack people, others might only verbally attack them; but the abusive personality traits are the same in all such people and easy to spot. So what can be accurately predicted is that something bad will happen to us eventually if we associate with such people, whatever it is, so it's best to avoid them as much as we can. And the more of those characteristics they display, the more likely we are to be the victims of them, so we should at least take care not to be alone with such people.
Well, that's interesting.
It says that characteristics of an abuser include:
Actually, I think my abuser had a few of those characteristics.
The website says that there are other less significant danger signs that someone might be a rapist that it doesn't mention; but it says that there's a high probability that someone having the signs it does describe will either be a rapist or some other kind of criminal. It says that rapists will often explain away their abusive actions, and sound very convincing to someone who wants to believe them because they haven't been harmed yet themselves by them and they're getting something out of the relationship at that point. But if a person's willing to notice, they'll realise that the abuser will regularly evade responsibility for any abusive actions, explaining them away as a joke, or someone else's fault, or trying to convince the person challenging them that they're being unreasonable or making far more fuss than necessary.
Well, at least I'll know to avoid people like that in the future. Not that I'd ever have been that keen on being around them.
Actually, this might be especially helpful, because I've noticed that whenever I hear an accent that sounds like the one my rapist had, or see someone who looks a bit like him, I get an instant fear reaction or feel sick. I think it's just my brain doing its best to pick up on warning signs that I might be in danger so I can get away quickly. But it's obviously picking up on the wrong things. Now I know what the real things are to look for in an abuser, at least quite a lot of them, maybe I can train my brain not to send out alarm signals inappropriately, by reassuring myself that I'll wait to see if I spot the real danger signs instead.
I'm not sure that would be enough though. I'll think of other things I could do.
Sometimes, I get feelings of hatred towards people from the place he came from, and when I hear someone from there talking, I want to be nasty to them. But I don't like feelings like that. They worry me. I wish I didn't get feelings of hatred or fear towards them. The thing is, I enjoy my feelings of hatred sometimes, just for a little while, because it's fun thinking of putting someone like that down, but I think I've noticed that my feelings of fear increase as my feelings of hatred do, and the more I think hateful thoughts, the more my feelings of hatred will grow. So the feelings of fear will grow as well. So I know I shouldn't think hateful thoughts really. And it may be that the more I think them, the more I'll be tempted to really do something bad to someone like that, and then I'll only be bringing trouble on myself. So I'd like to change really.
I think it must be Aggressor Side and Victim Side causing those feelings. I'll see what the others would say to reassure them and calm them down:
I think Knowledge of Ages would say encouragingly,
"Some of your ancestors harboured feelings of hatred towards people who came from a place a person they held a grudge against came from. But they learned that it ended with innocent people suffering. Some of your ancestors even became the victims of that kind of attitude. Some of the people you're having horrible feelings about might not be anything like our rapist. Some of them might be victims of crime themselves. Some of them might deserve sympathy. Victim Side, you could be good at that. Some of them might have experienced tragedies in life, like having wives who've just left them for other men, and they might feel really upset. Some of them might have newborn children who are severely disabled and they're scared about how they'll look after them. Some of them might be being bullied at work. Some of them might be quite like you, and you might really get on well with them and have some fun if you got to know them.
Some of them might really admire you from what they know about you. Some of them might be horrified if they heard we'd been raped. Some of them might wish they could have beaten our rapist to a pulp, even if they came from the same family as him.
Many of them might be very different from him and each other."
I think Well-Adjusted Side would say,
"I think it'll be better if we try not to allow any room for fearful and resentful thoughts, by making an effort to focus our attention elsewhere every time we catch ourselves having thoughts like that in response to feelings we get.
But maybe another thing we could try is something they recommend for people with phobias, desensitisation. We could first try that in our imagination. We could do one of those relaxation exercises Jessica emailed us about for a while to make us feel calmer, and then we could imagine talking to one or two people who look a bit like our rapist did and who talk with the same accent, but imagining they have a different personality. We could imagine feeling sympathetic and interested, and even amused sometimes, as they tell us about things like how they bought something from a shop in their home town and discovered it was faulty, but when they took it back, the shop wouldn't take it back and give them a refund, or all kinds of things like that. We could imagine them telling us about what toys they liked to play with when they were little, their first ever memories, how they got on with their brothers and sisters, and about little everyday incidents, like when they were raking fallen leaves, and they put the rake down for a while and accidentally stepped on it, and the handle came up and hit them on the nose, or the time they were making dinner for guests, and they made chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce, and they accidentally put the chocolate sauce on the dinner and the gravy on the pudding - anything that makes them appear more human and vulnerable, and prone to making mistakes, or fun to be around. We could imagine them looking for our sympathy and approval, or really liking us. Then we might start thinking of them as being a bit more like us, so we won't feel so hostile and fearful about them. We could imagine them telling us about upsetting things in their lives, like how sad they are that someone they know's just died, or the time they got beaten up outside a pub, imagining the hurt expressions on their faces.
If it's difficult to imagine people like that talking to us at first without horrible feelings coming to mind, we could first imagine the person looks just a little bit like our rapist and talks with an accent that's just mildly like his, and each time we imagine them talking to us, we can imagine they resemble him a bit more and a bit more in their appearance and the way they sound.
We can practise imagining it quite a lot, until we can do it without any horrible feelings coming to mind at all.
Then we could go on to finding someone who talks with the same accent as him and looks a bit like him, or does one or the other, to speak to for real. We'll have to try to do that in an environment we can be fairly sure will be non-hostile though, since if we just argue with them, it might re-awaken all our bad feelings again. Perhaps we could find an Internet forum where people who come from the same place he came from post, where they're talking about things that'll make us feel compassionate towards them, like depression or anxiety disorders or something.
Another thing we could try is when we meet people like that, we could imagine we're a reporter or a social worker or psychologist, and we're there to interview them. So we're the ones in control of the situation, and we have to behave in a respectable, professional manner, because we're working in a professional capacity. We could imagine we have to find out about the most interesting things they do with their lives, or enquire into their welfare, because they've done something that'll make the news and we're responsible for reporting on it, or as part of their therapy."
I think I'll try those ideas.
Actually, I think my ex-boyfriend was a bit like the way that website described abusers. And he didn't look like my rapist or have the same accent, so I can tell really that those aren't the danger signs I really ought to be looking out for. He was charming, seeming to be sensitive and caring, until someone said something he didn't like, and then he'd say something far nastier than necessary. And he'd say degrading things about people, but if someone didn't laugh at them but protested, he'd say something far more abusive to them than they deserved. I wanted to be with him because he was nice to me most of the time, but if I disagreed with him about something, he got far more annoyed or sulky than I thought necessary. He always seemed to want to have his way. So perhaps it's no wonder he got so annoyed and was so unsympathetic when I said I didn't want to have sex with him, even though I explained about the flashback I'd had. I found that really hurtful at the time. But if I'd known more about the signs of an abusive person, maybe I could have predicted what would happen.
Maybe in future, if I start going out with someone, I'll even provoke a little disagreement with him at the start, so I'll know how he reacts. If he behaves more angrily or insultingly than I think necessary, I'll hopefully recognize that as a warning sign and not get any more involved with him.
I think that every time I hear someone speaking with an accent like the one my abuser had, or see someone that looks like him, I'll try to make a point of reassuring myself that they might not be like him at all.
It's nice that Jessica's sent me a list of do's and don'ts for friends and partners of rape victims about how they should and shouldn't respond when the person tells them what happened.
An ideal person would behave very differently from the way my ex-boyfriend did. But maybe a lot of people are willing to behave as best as they can. I'll see what the list says.
Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.
Jessica Said that she stops herself from getting too depressed a lot of the time by doing things that keep her health up, or things she enjoys. She's told me about some of the things she does, and things that other people she knows do, that have helped.
Well, hopefully, they'll help me too. I'll think about what she said.
She said one thing she read is that it's important to eat healthily, especially when you're feeling a bit down, even if you don't really feel like it. If your blood sugar's low, it can make you feel worse.
But she said eating sugary snacks to raise it isn't always the answer, and it's the same with caffeine or alcohol, because they can increase the intensity of negative feelings.
Really? Sugary snacks have always cheered me up a bit. But I have heard that though they can make people feel better in the short term, when the effect of them wears off, blood sugar levels can slump to lower than they were before, and if low blood sugar makes people feel more depressed, that must be what it means.
Jessica did say she read that comfort food's OK in moderation, but it will be ideal if we can think of some comfort food to have which is also a good healthy meal.
I'll think about what I like. And I think I do start feeling better sometimes when I've got a good meal inside me. So I'll try to remember that.
Maybe I could try out some herbal teas as a replacement for things containing caffeine. I don't know if I'll like them, but I'll try one anyway.
Jessica said she's found that when she feels at her worst, it's often when she hasn't been sleeping well, and that sleep has helped.
I think it might work like that for me as well. I spend too many nights thinking over bad things and not getting to sleep for ages. Maybe that's one reason at least why I have nightmares, because I'm thinking of bad things so much before I go to sleep.
It might help if I can think of soothing, calming things to do before I go to bed, and try to focus my mind on hopes for the future or something. I could do those relaxation techniques she emailed me about in bed. They might lull me to sleep. And I might have better dreams if I've been thinking of nicer things.
Jessica said that she's often found a warm unhurried bath soothing.
Yes, that might help sometimes.
I've heard that it isn't good to have one just before bedtime, because it can wake people up a bit at first, but ending a bath about half an hour before we go to bed can be relaxing, and help us sleep.
The thing is, I don't like baths that much, because I don't like seeing my body naked or being naked. I haven't had a bath for some time now.
I might be able to do something to help myself have more though. Maybe I could think of the least threatening and most enjoyable place I could possibly have a bath, and just imagine having one there several times for a while.
I think the place I'd most like to have a bath would be on an uninhabited island where I could be sure I was alone, in a hollow under a tree, with beautiful flowers in my bath and all around.
Maybe I could get myself more comfortable with having baths by just imagining I'm having one in a place like that several times first, before I have a bath for real. I could assist my imagination by getting a tape of waves and seabirds to listen to, so I feel more like I'm on the island. And I could buy a perfume with the scent of flowers and spray some of that on me, or an air freshener scented like tropical flowers if I can find one that I could spray around the room, so I could sniff it and imagine I was smelling the beautiful flowers around me. Then I could just sit in a comfortable chair or lie in bed with my eyes closed, and imagine relaxing in a bath on the island and enjoying myself.
After several times of that, I'd hopefully be happier about having baths for real. When I do, I could still imagine I'm on the island, at least for the first few minutes, though I won't use the tape any more.
Jessica said she's read that when people are working, taking a break from what they're doing every hour and a half to two hours helps relieve stress, and it does seem to help her. She says she's read that the body's rhythms work in such a way that it's best to only concentrate on something for that long, and then the body likes a rest for about twenty minutes if possible. She said she's read that ignoring the body's need for breaks can lead to increased stress, more illness and lack of concentration.
Well, that's interesting.
She said that isolation can make our mood worse, so getting in touch with old friends, or calling friends we have now, who will either be prepared to listen to us getting things off our chest, or help lift our mood by talking about other things, can help.
She said she's found that exercising more has made her feel more energetic and less tense, and she's read that besides being good for the body, a good brisk walk or an aerobic workout can clear a person's mind and calm their thoughts, making it more likely that they'll sleep well. She said that what she read said that exercise can also stimulate the production of endorphins, the body's natural antidepressant. She said it said that anyone who thinks they haven't got time to exercise is probably loading themselves with too much stress, so they could really benefit by dropping an activity to make time for it, and afterwards, they'll probably feel more energetic, so they'll quite possibly make up for things by getting more done.
I don't have too much to do. I just feel a bit timid about going out. But maybe if I just go to the sports centre and find out what exercise classes are on and see if any are affordable, I might consider going to something, and then I might make some friends there, and that'll hopefully boost my confidence.
As my life changes for the better, maybe Victim Side will get fearful of the changes because feeling miserable's at least comfortably familiar and she might be scared of the unknown, or worry that it won't last. And Aggressor Side might prefer the familiar as well and try to get me into abusive situations, because she's being self-destructive and feels as if we don't really deserve to be happy. I'll have to watch out for either of those two things happening and catch them at it. But if those things do happen, I'll think about what the others would say to reassure them that we will be allright if we change for the better, and to persuade them to change their ways. I expect I can rely on the others to do a good job.
Jessica says a couple of people she knows have found it helpful to empty a drawer or get a box, and put in it things they find especially comforting, that they can get out on days when they feel they especially need consolation and soothing.
She said they put in it things like cards or letters or photos of happy times that bring back good memories; a favourite book, or a collection of funny cartoons and jokes cut out of newspapers and magazines; a teddy bear or soft toy; and things with nice scents, like soaps or scented candles. She told me they say they've made the box or drawer especially nice by lining it with wrapping paper or cloth with a pattern on it that they especially like.
I'll think about that. It sounds like a good idea.
I'm going to think of as many things as I can that will put me in a better mood and make me feel better about myself, and do them. And I'm going to think of all the things I enjoy doing. Then I'll do them some more if I can. I deserve more enjoyment in life.
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Zoe is searching around for help to recover after she was badly emotionally damaged by being raped three times in her teens by a trusted friend of the family who became a lodger in their house for a while. What made it worse was that her parents didn't believe her, and condemned her for making up stories.
She moved away not long after that, but she's still suffering emotionally. She feels scared to go out of her house sometimes, but sometimes, being in alone makes her fearful. Part of this is because things can trigger off powerful painful memories of what happened, and that's more likely to happen around strangers or when she has too much time to think.
But she's lost her confidence, and doubts her ability to stand up for her rights and get through situations. She feels powerless, as if she'd be unable to control a situation in which someone wanted to get the better of her. So she feels inferior to other people, imagining they're more skilled than she is. She feels disgusted with herself, as if the abuse made her dirty and contaminated. She often has distressing nightmares. And she's terrified by the flashbacks of the abuse she sometimes has when she's awake.
She sometimes feels as if she's evil and not deserving of any kindness, because after one of the times she was raped, she got pregnant, and amid her fears of what would happen if she kept the baby and horror at carrying a rapist's baby, she had an abortion. But she started feeling very guilty and upset about it afterwards, condemning herself as a murderer. She hates herself for it.
Zoe sometimes goes on drinking binges, trying to forget what's happened, and thinking that it doesn't matter what she does to herself because she's worthless and she hasn't got any hope for the future so she may as well do what she likes while she can. But sometimes, she just gets more depressed afterwards. And when she's been drinking, she gets herself into fights sometimes because she has violent outbursts of anger. She gets irritable with people when she's sober a lot sometimes, as if she's taking the anger at her abuse out on them.
Something that makes it worse is that she has obsessive thoughts of getting revenge on her rapist, which disturb her, because she really wants to just get on with her life and forget about him, and they stop her concentrating on what she's doing sometimes, so she's more likely to have accidents. And the thoughts can stop her getting to sleep at night, so she's often tired, which further impairs her concentration.
She feels as if she could never form an intimate relationship with anyone, because she just wouldn't be able to trust them. She did try going out with someone for a few months, but when her boyfriend wanted to get sexual, she became frightened and had a flashback to the time of the abuse. She tried to explain things to him, but he didn't seem sympathetic, and asked her questions she didn't want to answer, and broke up with her soon after that. Since then, she's felt worse, as if she's unlovable, and she thinks she's got even less hope of forming a lasting relationship.
Zoe wants to get over her distressing symptoms. She finds a support group, and makes friends with one person in particular, Jessica, who was traumatised by being sexually abused several years before, but who says she's been recovering quite well. She passes on to Zoe a lot of the ideas that helped her, hoping they'll help Zoe just as much. Zoe thinks about them.
In the coming weeks, her mental health does improve, and she begins to feel more cheerful.
Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.
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