© 2005 Evelyn Shakespeare.
Making Sense of Secondary Wounding
In this world many people are suffering and many are overcoming their suffering
Throughout my writing of my experience of healing and recovering from being raped I have continually referred to something I couldn't name or understand. Although I have felt the extremely raw and unbearable pain, grief and loss of whatever it was that I could not name. What we cannot name, feel or understand we cannot even begin to make sense of it let alone deal with to aid our own journey of healing and recovering. What I found unbearably painful, and almost as painful as the rape, was that some of my female friends chose to hurt me too and therefore betray the womanhood or sisterhood and further shatter my already very shaky illusions of the world. What I am referring to is what is called secondary wounding of survivor's of rape by other people. Sometimes these other people are loved ones which can make the betrayal seem even more devastating than the initial wounding of the rape. I can only describe it as society's conspiracy to 'hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil'. Never mind the fact that when men choose to 'do evil' when they choose to rape women, men and children the survivor's world is shattered into tiny unbearably painful pieces.
However, society seems to choose to continually betray survivors further when it says to men who choose to rape "do evil", that's ok we can pretend that doesn't really happen and to the innocent people "hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil". In the utter confusion of the primary and secondary woundings I would ask myself "why me?" as I felt I was caught up in this lose-lose situation, but now in hindsight I ask, "How could they?" These societal myths only serve to leave the survivor isolated and unsupported, hurt more which prolongs the survivor's recovery and provides the innocent people with protection from the realities of rape. I am so grateful for having stumbled across information in two books which helped me to name, feel, understand and heal from what I can only describe as more unnecessary painful experiences provided by other people which is in reality about society's method of continuing to perpetuate the rape myths. So in this chapter I am going to explore secondary wounding and the ongoing healing that continues to demand my attention.
I will continue to weave the reader through my deepest and darkest thoughts, moments of inspiration, understanding and acceptance from my diary writing and I will continue to use references from other survivor's and professional's knowledge and experience primarily sourced from their own writings in books. As the 3rd anniversary of the rape approached I had 2 full days of a dancing workshop and performances to keep me occupied. It was fabulous fun and I received some absolutely wonderful feedback. For example, I have a "beautiful smile", "you have found your niche", "keep on dancing" and that I have "great facial expressions and hand movements". This type of feedback is positive and wonderful as it builds my sense of worth and self esteem, as I am more than the primary and secondary experiences that I have had to endure. Unfortunately, I had to endure the presence of 'social acquaintance" and her partner-in-crime, Jazz, at 3 of the 4 workshops.
'When we returned from lunch Jazz was there, she said "Good morning" to me and my response to her was "I don't think so!" My response really had two meanings -
1. It is not such a good morning now that you are here and
2. I do not think you ever have the right to talk to me again.
Anyway Jazz starts mumbling, "that's not very nice!" I choose to ignore her because I don't want to cause a scene by taking matters any further. But I think to myself like you and your friend were nice to me. But I guess I have learnt how not to be nice by the "Queens of the not nice" and "the mistresses of the cruel, hurtful and harmful to others". But what really puzzles me is that Jazz was a survivor of childhood abuse, so I find it extremely difficult to understand why she would side with social acquaintance to be cruel to another survivor. Why would Jazz choose to support someone being cruel to another survivor when other people, including loved ones, had been cruel to her too? I can't seem to make sense of it because it makes absolutely no sense at all to me because now I have been hurt by another survivor?" (Diary entry, 30/607)
During the workshop I am aware of Lena, who has also been bullied by social acquaintance and Jazz, I can feel her anger, like mine, is palpable. Lena already knew from Georgia how these people had treated me, but she did not know who I was and on that day I decided to let her know exactly who I was. Lena reckons that I am a "Strong woman" which is wonderful to hear and who knows that better than other people who have dealt with trauma what strength and courage it takes to endure, survive, heal and recover from trauma. During one the exercises at the workshop we had to announce to everyone two things that we loved and Lena announced that she "loves her life". What a great teacher Lena is saying the best revenge to those people who hurt her and to me is to live your life well. I decided to enjoy my life and those precious days dancing.
On the night of our performances,
"One of the other students Becky asked me "Every year you get more sassy. What's your secret?" I reply, "I am with the right people". I hope she understood what I meant. I had so much fun performing that night, I know I shining and everyone else knew it too" (Diary entry, 30/6/07).
While at our local market one day I discover a book. Literally, I find it's cover leaping out at me. It is called "The heart of the soul" by Gary Zukav and Linda Francis. So of course I buy the book and I find it extremely helpful as it describes:
"Each emotion is a message for you, a signal from your soul. If you do not pay attention to the signal, another will come. The message is important. They continually bring to your attention what you need to know" (Zukav & Francis, 2001:40). Therefore you explore in yourself what needs to be changed rather than try to change other people.
"Any painful emotion means you are acting, speaking, thinking in fear and doubt". Zukav & Francis (2001:55)
And they also describe how "There are two types of classes in the Earth school - classes about fear and classes about love. Anger, vengefulness, sadness, and greed are classes about fear. Joy and gratitude are classes about love" Zukav & Francis (2001:45)
This book helps me to understand that emotional pain can cause physical effects on our bodies and most people when they are angry experience two areas of painful sensation that explains why I feel painful sensations from my tense jaw and bottom. (Zukav & Francis, 2001:88).
Helpful exercises from this book encourage the reader to watch their emotions as they rage in a river while you observe the raging emotions from a bridge above and though your emotions may be raging out of control you don't have to be touched by them (Zukav & Francis, 2001:109). Another fun concept that some people might find helpful to protect themselves and their emotions is to see people who are difficult people in our lives as actors/actresses in a play, you are literally watching them act out their little dramas, you can watch and observe, but you don't have to respond to them. While some people have been busy acting out their dramas I've even felt the urge to stand up and clap at their outstanding performances.
I want to share a quote with you that I heard, I am unable to remember where I heard it, but it deeply engrained into my mind and my experiences of life over the last few years as I try to understand the unknown concept of secondary wounding experiences
"In prosperity, you have friends. In adversity, you know who your true friends are"
Oh my I found these words are so true as I think this really helps me to accept and understand those friends who walked away. In hindsight
"I can see that I was being shown that these people were never really my true friends. It seems like I was there for them in times of adversity, but for whatever reason, they could not be my true friends when I was dealing with adversity. I'd rather know who they are and as painful as it was having them hurt me in my most unbelievably unbearable and incredibly painful experience ever I am better off knowing who these people really are. I've survived without them. I didn't get the choice to run away. I faced my greatest fears, but can they say they did? I'd say their fears got in the way and I really think that their running away says more about them. I know they were not obligated to commit themselves to help a friend during a major crisis. But they do have choices about how they deal with their friend caught up in their adversity - people can rise up to the occasion and truly help and support their hurt friend, walk away with openness and honesty or run away being dishonest, closed, hurtful, cruel and causing additional hurt, pain and trauma to their already traumatised friend. I'd rather opt for one of the first two rather than the last one. I don't want friends who chose the 3rd option. I look back on these friendships before the rape and I can tell you some of these people were about themselves. I guess that I shouldn't have been surprised when they hurt me, but I was caught off guard, as I was already unbearably hurt and now I am hurt even more!
On a positive note, a couple of my real friends have exceeded my expectations. They knew I deserved better than how that man treated me and how the people who chose to hurt me again treated me. They knew that kind, loving, caring, support, guidance, nurturing, listening without judgement, accepting my feelings as valid would help guide me on my healing road to recovery. I have survived on these people's kindness, faith and belief that I deserve better and belief that even though there were many times that I didn't believe it, I am in fact, strong enough to heal and recover. I have made new friends, some know and some don't. I am fortunate" (Diary entry, 30/6/07).
What has been totally astounding is how much pain a person can endure and how many aspects there are to understanding what has happened to you. Sometimes I receive confirmation of already learned aspects of my healing and recovery in the most unexpected ways. I also get more insight and understanding into people who chose to harm other people and people who have been harmed have to experience, deal with and suffer.
While watching TV one night there was a program about the disaster of the ship Estonia sinking. There were 1,000 people on board and just over 100 survived. The survivors' recounts of the night engrossed me as they talked about how some people were mobilised to act and fight to survive. Those who didn't survive were "like zombies" unable to react as they were immobilised and frozen with fear. Their brains were so overwhelmed by the abnormal experience for which they had no previous experience that they were unable to react or act. Even now as I write this I need to focus on my breathing, I can feel pain in my body, my jaw tenses, my tears well up and flow. This confirms my reality of freezing with fear and I guess that it helps me to accept the fact that I couldn't control how my body reacted. I realise that in my experience being raped was an overwhelming experience that I didn't have any experience to draw on to help me. Plus I felt helpless, frightened and terrified and maybe I already knew how to freeze as a child witness of domestic violence that I have virtually no memories except for my body's memory. I know that I am not alone when I talk about freezing with fear, but sometimes I need reminders and if I can educate other people about freezing with fear then that's a good thing.
One of the Estonia survivors told how, once he got outside, some people decided to take advantage of the unfolding situation, and began stealing belongings from other passengers who were trying to survive the ship sinking. It seems darkness lurks everywhere waiting for an opportunity to arise so they can strike. These thieves only focused on taking advantage of the opportunity to steal rather than focus on their survival! Interestingly enough, this survivor has never seen any of the faces of the thieves in amongst the photos of the survivors. I really don't understand how these thieves thought they could sell these stolen items in the deepest darkest depths of the sea when they are, along with the passengers who had frozen in fear, unable to focus on their survival - dead. But I guess they were already dead on the inside! How else could you steal for your livelihood when your life is threatened! I don't know - it just doesn't make sense to me. But maybe what it does say is that those people who focus only on themselves without ever considering other people and who chose to harm other people will have karma catch up with them. After all when it comes to karma what goes around comes around" (Diary entry, 30/6/07).
There are times when I see him at the local market, but this particular time, he is with another woman. God how does he do it I wonder? God, how come they can't see the real him? How come they can't see that monster that dwells within him? I'm glad that the woman I saw him with last time is no longer with him and I feel proud that maybe I helped to push her away from him to ensure her safety. I call him a "bastard" as he walks past me, but, as usual, he's busy trying to ignore me. Later, when I see them together again, I was taken by surprise and I don't know why but I said "Oh God. He is a rapist!" There you go I said what I've always wanted to say out loud to him, but again, I'm not sure if I said it loud enough for either of them to hear. I wanted to whisper in her ear "He's a rapist", but then I wondered how I'd feel if someone said that to me about a man I was going out with. But I know that if it were the truth I would want to know. It keeps playing on my mind what I would say to him the next time I see him. I dream of saying things like:
"I just wanted you to know that the police know what you did to me" or
"When you look in the mirror what do you see? Let me tell you what I see when I look at you. I see a dangerous man who rapes women."
I feel like I need to look him eye to eye while talking to his girlfriend and say "I want you to look your girlfriend in the eye and deny to her what you did to me. Deny that you drugged my drink, deny you came at my breasts with a Swiss army knife, deny you pushed me over the kitchen cupboards, deny you denied my access to food or water, deny you forced me into sex with brute force and a weapon, deny you raped me and deny you left my breasts black and blue with bruises and teeth marks for weeks on end. You go look her in the eye and tell her you didn't do those things. And while you are at it, deny you have never apologised and deny that you have never ever taken accountability for your actions" (Diary entry, 30/6/07).
I recently heard this song that said "I'd rather feel pain than nothing at all". Sometimes, things like this can be really distressing, but after the tears have passed, I finally make sense of the words. So I'll add a few extra words of my very own to this song:
"I'd rather feel pain than nothing at all because those who feel nothing at all cause unbearable pain and hurt to others. So feeling pain is better than feeling nothing at all. Feeling nothing at all means that you are switched off to others feelings, numb and detached from your own and other people's feelings and you treat others like some sort of object. This is typical of the unthinking, detached, unfeeling and uncaring of those who choose to feel nothing at all. Oh yes, I'd rather feel pain than nothing at all" (Diary entry, 30/6/07)
I guess you won't believe this, but I ordered another book online called "Real rape, Real pain" by Patricia Easteal and Louise McOrmond-Plummer. It basically discusses issues regarding women who are sexually assaulted by their partner. But what really caught my attention was a chapter on what is called "Secondary Wounding" and I wonder have I finally found the name to describe how hurt I felt by my friends who wounded me. I'm hoping that this will help me understand how people hurt other people when they need help. I am hoping it will help me to understand my own feelings and pain about being hurt further by secondary woundings. I really want to make some sense of it all and I hope and pray that this could provide me with answers to all of my unanswered questions
Easteal & McOrmond-Plummer (2006:177) describes secondary wounding as being where others blame the survivor rather than the perpetrator and these other people suggest that you were exaggerating or lying which will adversely affects the survivor's healing. The authors describe secondary woundings are about the people who are wounding you and not about you. People who choose to secondary wound survivors are people who choose to reinforce the rape myths, cultural blame of the victim of crime and some are even outright cruel and others fail to understand that people do hurt, humiliate and manipulate others in a power and control struggle (Easteal & McOrmond- Plummer, 2006:177). Goodness me, some of this most certainly feels and sounds vaguely familiar. The authors also describe how people who choose to secondary wound survivors find it easier to feel safe, if they believe that the people who were hurt actually asked to be hurt; and it is easier for people to believe the well respected male than his traumatised wife, girlfriend or chosen target/victim (Easteal & McOrmond-Plummer, 2006: 178).
Matsakis (1996:92) quotes the American Psychological Association's 1984 study were it was discovered that victims of crime and violence report experiences of secondary wounding as being widespread in their experience. The experiences described by victims were that these experiences of secondary wounding were found to be more traumatising and painful than the original trauma (Matsakis, 1996:92-93). These facts are most certainly disturbing and reflect major flaws in our cultural beliefs, victim and rape myths. I most certainly want to challenge all of these shockingly traumatising, distressing and painful beliefs and rape myths that harmfully affect survivors of rape healing and recovery. It is hardly surprising that some survivors, when being forced to endure the unjust, unnecessary pain of secondary wounding, may be delayed, may struggle and may even not be able to successfully heal and recover.
The forms of secondary wounding include:
One of the exercises recommended by the authors is to write about your secondary wounding experiences, what forms did they take, how did you feel, do you still feel that way and do you still need support? (Easteal & McOrmond-Plummer, 2006:187). So here I go exploring the secondary wounding experiences I had to endure following the rape.
My secondary wounding experiences and feelings
DENIAL - "that didn't happen"
My response to that comment is "oh really. So drugging a woman's drink, coming at her with a weapon, pushing her around, leaving bruises and bite marks, lying, manipulating and forcing her to have sex with you because she is now frozen with fear, fears for her life and is trying to minimise further harm to herself this is your idea of consent between two adults? Maybe, it's your idea of foreplay and the most romantic first date where is on his best behaviour!" I also do not recall you being there to know what happened and how I felt in the face of sheer terror and fear for my life.
DISCOUNTING AND MINIMISING -"get over it", "pretend it didn't happen" and "So, who hasn't been raped?"
I have heard this comment 'get over it' so many times. Oh dear me, that tired old 'get over it' again and I wonder how many times I've heard that pearl of useless wisdom. Don't you ever get tired of making such utterly useless pieces of advice? And guess what, I am getting over it, but without such useless pearls of wisdom! As for "pretend that the most unbearably painful thing that happened in my life didn't happen" that suggestion is so utterly ludicrous that it defies logic. What can you say about the comment, "so, who hasn't been raped?" except "Oh my God, I can't believe people really think like that!" I really can't believe that people use comments like this to justify them deciding not helping a rape survivor.
BLAMING THE VICTIM - "It looks like you chose the wrong man!"
So here I am being blamed for the rape because I chose to go on a date with him! How many women would say that they "would go on a first date with a man to be raped rather than wined and dined"? Absolutely no woman in her right mind would agree to a first date like that!
DENIAL OF ASSISTANCE - "I am not a counsellor"
Gosh, I don't remember asking you to counsel me, I just wanted you to believe me, trust how I chose to deal with this, check in on how I am and be a listening, non-judgemental ear. It would be great if you could be kind, loving and supportive.
Another person decided to secondary wound me used a few interesting techniques to deny me assistance, by supporting someone else who had secondarily wounded me and then became jealous of the people who were truly supporting me. This person would tell me:
"Don't do this, don't do that!",
"I've supported other rape survivors, I know what to do" and yet she never gave me any helpful suggestions for how I could cope!
Another interesting comment this same person made was "I just don't know where I fit into your life?" You most certainly won't fit into my life if you keep on secondary wounding me and making it all about you. This comment was made after she had made it clear that she was jealous of how Mary was helping me .Maybe I should have said something like "take a leaf out of Mary's book", but somehow I don't think that this would have saved the relationship.
Another person who wounded me said that if we had any more contact than we did, she'd be stalking me! Interesting comments to make since we hadn't had any contact for months! Oh My God, have you ever heard anything so stupid or ridiculous? Any way, just to demonstrate that I have a sense of humour over all this, I'd say that she is anti-stalking me rather than stalking me. Or maybe she is so good at stalking that I just don't see her stalking me. But then, isn't the point of stalking that the person being stalked knows what's happening to scare them to do what the stalker wants? Oh well I have a stalking, Oops, anti-stalking order. Gosh which one is it? Anyway I have an order against you so it might be wise to stop stalking or anti-stalking me. Jesus, you must be good at this stalking caper because I haven't seen you stalking me. Gosh how did I even know you were stalking me? Although if you were anti-stalking me then it would stand to reason that I wouldn't see you.
CRUELTY - "You dance like you've got something shoved up your arse"
This was a comment made the day after I told this person about the rape. You know if you've got nothing positive to say, then don't say anything at al! But this comment was so utterly cruel it is stunningly unbelievable that a dance instructor could say these words to a dance student especially when she said them in front of other students.
According to Matsakis (1996:100) some people would have always found something to hurt you even without the trauma in your life. Cruelty has been created because of increasing emotional detachment in families and between people (Matsakis, 1996:100). Matsakis (1996:100) quotes Young and Erickson (1988) who say our modern cultures are experiencing an "increase in psychic numbing, alienation, isolation and difficulties with intimacy" which makes it difficult for people to develop feelings of empathy towards other people.
BETRAYAL OF CONFIDENCE
I know it's natural for people to talk to each other and even to tell them something deeply private or tell them something told to them in confidence by the other party. But when other people let me know, people who I hadn't told, that they knew, I was shocked and I felt like my power, choices and control had been taken away.
One male work colleague, who I would never ever tell, told me that I had reacted this way about a work situation because of what happened to me!!! Another work colleague told me that, "it was unfortunate" that a client had been a victim of childhood sexual abuse and I was supporting the client. It was only unfortunate for them because they couldn't do what they wanted to the survivor. Unfortunate, unfortunate!!! Christ almighty, these people obviously don't have a clue.
MAKING IT ALL ABOUT THEM- "I've worked with lots of rape survivors, I know what to do"
Comments like 'You're not the same person!", "It's not ok to even think like that!", "that's sick!" and threatening to end our relationship after I shared my very first painful experience of secondary wounding. This experience included first person that wounded me minimising and discounting my experience, blaming me, denying me assistance and being incredibly cruel to me. It's amazing that someone could think that you would be the same after an extremely traumatic event. I wonder if they had to endure being raped if they would be the same person they were before the rape? I am pretty sure that any person who has endured the shock and trauma of being raped would tell you that you are never the same person you were before it happened.
On TV I listened to a woman's story of domestic violence, which cumulated in her partner cutting her throat with a knife saying she will "never be the same again". How can we be the same again, its just not possible, but only the people who have been through these traumas know they will never be the same again. So it's not ok to be upset, distressed, and angry and think about people receiving karma when another woman treated me so cruelly! When in reality it's not ok for people to secondary wound already wounded and traumatised people. As for the comment that my thoughts and feelings about receiving secondary wounds were sick, I now know that these people's comments were a sign of a sick society that supports rape myths.
HOW DID I FEEL ABOUT PEOPLE WHO CHOSE TO SECONDARY WOUND ME
I felt even more unbearable pain, shock and disbelief as I was further traumatised. I felt sad, angry, judged and isolated. I felt like I had been stabbed in the back with his Swiss army knife by one of the women that choose to be cruel to me. I felt abandoned and alone as I was denied my supposed friends support. I felt like I was wrong for feeling the way I did, although I now know I was justified and valid for feeling the way that I did. I felt like I was not allowed to be angry about having been hurt by people. I felt like I was expected to deny the truth, stop talking about it and just 'get over it' so we can all pretend that it never happens. I felt the pain of losing friendships and I felt the distinct loss of control over how people treated me that was a direct trigger to the rape. I felt like I didn't matter. I felt that I didn't have any choices about how I chose to heal and recover and that my healing and recovery was on their timetable. I felt like others didn't have a clue how to genuinely help, but rather than say that, they would wound me and run away.
I feel I will never ever forget some of those cruel, hurtful and harmful words some of these people said to me. I felt like I was just on this planet to be used, abused, hurt and wounded by others. I felt I was denied comfort in my time of greatest need and during the most unbearably painful experience of my life. I felt like those who choose to wound me unnecessarily burdened me with more unbearable pain. I felt like I was kicked when I was down. I feel like it might be more difficult for me to trust other people after all of this. I felt like these people were, and still are, clueless. I feel like society and people fail survivors of rape when they choose to secondary wound them.
THE EFFECTS OF SECONDARY WOUNDING
The effects of secondary wounding on survivors of trauma include a sense of helplessness, depression, rage and a longing to get revenge on those who chose to wound them (Easteal & McOrmond-Plummer, 2006:185). Survivors of secondary wounding may feel low self esteem, believe that they are overreacting and believe others will respond unfairly, unkindly and negatively (Easteal & McOrmond-Plummer, 2006:186). Unfortunately some survivors are forced to choose silence which only serves to increase the trauma and delay the healing and recovery, but you can lessen the intensity of the pain of secondary wounding by feeling and expressing the pain and anger (Easteal & McOrmond-Plummer, 2006:186). The authors describe how some survivors of secondary wounding deal with their pain by choosing self destructive behaviours (Easteal & McOrmond-Plummer, 2006:186).
I now know very well that I have absolutely every right to tell the truth about what happened to me. I have every right to say that it was unbearably painful, say that it was made more unbearably painful by those who choose to wound me further. It is absolutely crucial to my healing and recovery that I admit these things. What has eased and made my pain more bearable were those wonderful people, who loved, supported, listened, trusted, accepted and cared for me. I know that suppressing would be harmful and expressing will enable me to heal and recover.
Some secondary wounds hurt more because they came from people who I considered to be lifelong friends who I felt close enough to divulge my true feelings and who I expected better from. I'd hoped they would trust my truth, accept my upsetting thoughts and feelings, my ability to know how to heal, deal and recover from my painful experience. I knew I had to be the only expert in my own healing and recovery. Of course, others were there to guide, support and help me and I will be forever grateful to them. But I never expected that some of my friends would chose to secondary wound me. I never expected that these friends would be advocates of society's rape myths and cultural blame nor that they would be capable of secondary wounding me. But as the saying goes "you live and learn" and this becomes a very valuable life lesson about how some human beings treat others.
PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM SECONDARY WOUNDING
- Test people out by reading them a new story about rape to gauge their reaction to see if they are likely to be helpful or not.
- Limit or end contact with people who chose to hurt and disrespect you
- Surround yourself with supportive people who will listen to you
- Get support from a hotline
- Join a survivors group
- Write your secondary wounding experiences, the types of wounding and your feelings
- Write a letter to those who chose to secondary wound you. You can decide whether you choose to send the letter or not
- Use I statements like "I felt " For example "I felt silenced by your words, but I've overcome that and I'll never be silenced again" (189)
- You can make a compliant about the conduct of work colleagues, health or other professionals who secondary wounds you
- Use artwork and drawings with humour about your secondary wounding experiences
- If you choose to confront the person who wounded you then try role play, write or use support services or rape counselling services to act as an advocate for you (Easteal & McOrmond-Plummer, 2006:187-190).
SECONDARY WOUNDING AND JUSTICE
Sometimes it just about blows my mind about how many issues we must grapple with following rape and secondary wounding. However we all have the issues of dealing with justice versus injustice following the trauma of rape. I have never felt comfortable or felt like I was a "good victim" with the fact that I was unable to report the rape straight away to the police. I have carried an awful lot of guilt about not acting on this. But I now know that being so shocked, traumatised and frightened following a horrific crime were good enough reasons. There has always been something that I could not quite understand about how I could write the report for the police yet I couldn't sign it so that the police could act on it. As the police said, they could get him in but he would more than likely deny it. So of course, the case goes nowhere due to it's his words against your word. It's hardly incentive to take matters further!
Easteal & McOrmond-Plummer (2006:194) describe how there is a real risk of further secondary wounding to survivors of rape from the perpetrator, the police and the court due to the potential of lack of sensitivity, lack of support and minimisation of the survivor's experience. When I went to the police with a support Sexual Assault officer, the Police Woman described my account of what happened as "strange". Oh really? I know he behaved strangely and it was probably done deliberately so that I was less likely to be believed. But was this police officer trying to minimise and discount what happened to me? I know that 9 months later, when I made the police report, I didn't have the evidence the court wanted, but the impact of fear, shock and trauma overwhelm your normal responses and reactions. However, I did have a wealth of other information such as my diary writing, my drawings, my reports to family and friends and my web pages.
So much time, effort and energy were required to deal with pain, the secondary wounding experiences, healing and recovery that I didn't feel I had the time, effort or energy to deal with the justice system too. It is almost as if society's rape myths say to survivors it's either "do nothing because nothing happened or fight for justice". However, I have found focusing on my own pain, grief, losses, healing and recovery was so incredibly time consuming, confusing and overwhelming. I now recognise that I was investing an enormous amount of time, effort and energy to find and save myself in the aftermath of the rape and I had little leftover energy to fight for justice. We are strong because of what we have had to endure. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise because we are far greater than our suffering.
I was frightened of being further traumatised by the justice system and also frightened of further secondary wounding experiences from the man who raped me. I guess if the charges were to be dropped against him or I lost the case and he won, I would be devastated all over again. We all know how unfair the justice system can be to rape survivors and how survivors, rather than the perpetrators of the crime, go on trial. I finally feel that I can let myself off the hook about not taking this any further as I didn't have the extra time, effort or energy to deal with this too. To those women who have decided to go through the justice system I say congratulations on being so brave, strong, taking the risk and having the conviction to do it. If things were different would I do it, take the risk of going through the justice system if I had gone to the police straight away and gone through the court system? I'd like to think that I would. However, there does need to be monumental changes to the justice, legal, cultural and societal systems. At the very least men who are accused of rape need to prove how they obtained the woman's consent to sexual activity.
In hindsight I can now know that I can name what people have done to me. I can understand the types of secondary wounding methods people used against me. I now know that my pain, distress, disbelief, hurt and anger were perfectly acceptable, valid and justifiable in the circumstances of secondary wounding. I don't know whether some of these people intended to intentionally or unintentionally hurt me, but the end result was the same, they hurt me and run away. I am so disappointed in these people, especially the one who professed to be an expert in rape, but instead her words and actions demonstrated our shameful societal rape myths. Anyway I can be at peace now that I understand what these people were doing to me. I can be at peace knowing my reactions are normal responses to secondary wounding. I am at peace with the fact that I stood up for myself when my actions said, "no, I'm not going to treated this way and if you are going to continue to treat me this way, then I'm going to walk away". However, I wonder if these people can be at peace with themselves? In hindsight I now know who my true friends are and I am extremely grateful to them.
I am still trying to understand the concept of how could they really do this to me. I can see that one of the people who hurt me by secondary wounding me was never ever going to be comfortable to help, love, care or support me. After all, I had known of how cruelly this person had treated other people, but I was naïve when I thought she wouldn't do that to me too. It really says more about this person choice about how they choose to treat other people, especially already wounded people.
Another person who chose to secondary wound me was never comfortable with seeing my pain and I knew that this person was never ever going to be willing to see or hear how unbearably painful it really was. I felt this person judge me and then push me away. I felt this person needed to control me to keep the friendship how it had always had been and this person couldn't risk me changing. I felt this very acutely when this person said to me that they "didn't want to cut off their nose despite their face" when this person talked about ending our relationship. I could see a reccurring theme of this person saying "it's all about me" and I couldn't change that theme by saying 'sometimes it's about me too'.
Another person who secondary wounded me was saying "Surely it's been long enough, surely you must be over it by now. Oh no, you're not over it. Well, I'm withdrawing my support".
Whatever these people's inadequacies are, stop blaming, hurting and pushing them on to other people so that you never have to look at them again. I never needed my friends like I needed them until the rape, but some of you just weren't there. Where were you? Maybe it's time that people who chose to secondary wound others need to look at their own pain, feelings, belief systems, judgements, societal myths and ideas. This may feel very confronting like I'm holding a mirror up to show you what I see. But tell me - do you like what I see? Can you live with what I see in you? Are you willing to make changes to be different to the person I came to see? Because:
You know you can run, but you can't hide forever. Well one day you will have to look at your own pain and feelings because things happen to get your attention and they keep on happening until you wake up and take notice. When you do wake up and take notice you will have to deal with your pain and feelings, wounding to other people and your destroyed relationships (Diary entry, 30/6/07).
Six months later I was feeling at peace with the fact that people chose to wound already wounded people because of their own inadequacies and I have chosen to accept them as they are. I thought that would be enough, but imagine my surprise when I discover that one of the people who chose to hurt me is coming back to work in my workplace and one of the other ones is becoming a client at my workplace. I can't believe that one would dare to come to work where I do!!!! I am not at all interested in having anything to do with her. Mary helps me to understand that I will have to see her and probably even talk to her on a professional level at least for the benefits of our clients.
However, I have managed without this person in my life for the last 3 years and I don't need her in my face. I have no idea how I could ever, and I mean ever, begin to trust her again. Somehow I have to be strong. I know I have had bigger things to deal from my past, but I am so over dealing with all of these challenges. Kissing and making up is just not on my agenda. Maybe, there are life lessons here for her. Why would she chose to come and work in my workplace when she knows she will have to see me at some point in time? Why? I guess I feel a sense of loss of control over when I might see her and what will happen. What does she want? Why is she doing this? You would think that she would have enough respect to leave me alone. Mary answers my questions aptly when she says, "she has never considered you. So what makes this any different?"
Anyway I need to keep saying some things to myself such as 'I am at peace with the decisions I have made'. I accept that some people choose to wound already wounded people rather than face their own truth or being brave enough to develop a truly meaningful relationship based on loving, caring, nurturing and support of the wounded person. I now know who my true friends are and these people have listened to me, loved me, accepted my truth, supported, guided, been there, trusted my ability to find my way through my most painful experience and accepted me as I am. My true friends could be found in the happy times but more importantly they could be found in my times of grief, sorrow, loss and unbearable pain. I accept my choices to walk away from those people who chose to wound me further. I accept that I am strong, but I must also accept that I am being challenged once again to become even stronger. However, I do wonder when will I be strong enough not to need to be challenged anymore over all of this?
I wonder what am I afraid of having these people come back into my life? Am I afraid of being taken back into all of that pain again? Or am I afraid that these people will wound me once again? All I know is that I need to develop some more strategies now that they have walked back in my life. I know that despite everything I have survived, I am stronger and I am proud of myself. I am proud of the fact that I chose to help others NOT hurt them. Naming the secondary wounding I received from other people has been healing knowing that my anger actually honours the hurt, pain and unjust treatment. So now I'm going to pull my shoulders back, lift my chest and hold my head high as I survived so many people's unjust treatment. I endured, I survived and now I'm thriving.
MY DEVELOPING FEELINGS ABOUT SECONDARY WOUNDING
I had every right to be justifiably hurt and angry in response to the secondary wounding experiences I received. I feel my choices were the best ones I could make so that I could protect myself from further wounding. I think that people and society fail survivors of traumatic experiences like rape. I feel that people who chose to wound already wounded people are the ones with the real problem. I think people who wound others really need to look at themselves and ask themselves 'what's wrong with me that I need to wound an already wounded person? Why would I also need to blame them for my choice of wounding them again? And by choosing to further wound and blame them I am causing them so much unnecessary hurt and pain". How can we continue to treat innocent survivors in this manner?
I know I deserved to be treated better than how these people treated me. I know I can never trust them again. Oh, I know that most survivors have an "all or nothing" attitude about most things. But how can I even begin to trust someone when I know that my thoughts, feelings and behaviours are not safe to share with the people who secondary wounded me? It's a hard concept to grasp, but sometimes we need to look really deep within ourselves to find the answers. We need to try to see and understand what people are really trying to tell us or teach us. It's like holding a mirror up to yourself to see what these people are trying to tell you. But I need to try, too really try, to see the message without any emotional baggage or responses. Easier said than done I hear you say and you are right it is easier said than done! It is also far easier for me to type these words on my computer than actually face those people who wounded me. One suggestion I can make is to have a one liner that you can use anytime someone is wounding you. The one I'm planning on using if I ever have to is
"Does it take a lot of practice to be so rude or does it just come naturally?" ( you could add in other words like cruel, unjustified, inconsiderate, unhelpful, unsupportive or hurtful) or
"I've got wax in my ears, can you say that louder?" or
"Fancy that", "Define that for me", 'I think that's unfair"
Another tactic is if there are other people around to repeat or mirror exactly what the person said, but say it even louder so the other people can hear.
Find yourself a sentence you can use and feel free to use it when you need to. To those people who choose to secondary wound me I say that "what you showed me is how NOT to treat or help someone who has already been wounded". The lessons I have learnt from you all are that I will never treat an already wounded person the way that you treated me. So I say "thanks, but no thanks". Thank you for the lessons but no thanks to any form of ongoing relationship or friendship.
To those people who chose to love, care, guide, support, trust, believe and help me I say Thank You. You have all helped me to see how I want to be treated by other people and how I'd want to treat others in their time of greatest need and unbearable pain. I am forever grateful to you all and I'm not sure how I can ever repay your kindness except to day I'm doing the best I can to heal and help other survivors. When I leave this planet I would rather say that, "I helped other people learn their life lessons through love, care, kindness, acceptance, trust, guidance, support and genuine help". I would rather do that than leave this planet saying 'I helped other people learn their life lessons through being unkind, cruel, uncaring, not believing, not accepting or trusting, withholding love, support, help and teaching them through the medium of hurting them". To those people who chose to secondary wound me what each of you did was never ok and I will never pretend that it was ok.
TO OTHER SURVIVORS WHO ARE BEING SECONDARY WOUNDED
I want you to know that you deserve genuine help, love, care, support, guidance and nurturing. You deserve to name the experience, feel the feelings, heal and recover how you see fit to heal and recover. You deserve to feel self worth. Trust in yourself and trust in other people especially those people who use their words and actions to show you that you are worth the effort. You can trust in your ability to heal and recover in your own unique way according to your own timetable.
See those people who choose to secondary wound you as people who probably cannot be trusted to lovingly help and guide you. Only you can choose whether to confront someone secondary wounding you by saying "you are wounding and hurting me with what you are saying and doing. I deserve better than that. Now tell me what's really going on here?" Or maybe you could say "I do not feel comfortable being treated by you in this manner. If you are unable to trust in my abilities to heal and recover in my own way in my own time and if you are unable to trust, support and encourage me in a genuinely helpful, loving, caring, nurturing and supportive way, then I must say goodbye to you".
Of course some relationships run their natural course following secondary wounding experiences, they end without any words being exchanged and either one or both parties walk away. Always remember that you have choices too. Remember some people who are unable to be honest with you or themselves about their abilities to help you so they make you feel bad instead! I think it really says more about their own sense of worth!
TO THOSE PEOPLE WHO CHOOSE TO SECONDARY WOUND OTHERS
Just don't do it - the survivor deserves far better than being treated that way. Be courageous enough to say, "I never helped someone through something like this. I'm not sure how to help you. Maybe, you could give me some ideas on how I could help you or how you would like to be supported. How can I make this easier for you?" Maybe I'm being idealist here rather than realistic. Or if you can only see yourself being hurtful then walk away if you can't be truly supportive because when you wound an already wounded person you are kicking them when they are down and this says a hell of a lot more about you!
If your words and actions are being harmful to a wounded survivor, be honest instead, STOP AND THINK and do something more positive or walk away telling the wounded person it's your problem and you are inadequate not them. Go away, self reflect, soul search and ask, "Why would I need to harm another human being, especially one who has already been deeply wounded by another person's actions, threats or words?" Be honest with yourself and the already wounded person.
Now here's something interesting that Mary said to me about experiencing first hand wonderful support as opposed to secondary wounding experiences is "when you have had the two extremes laid out to you it becomes easy to choose". The lesson I have learnt here was about trust and I most definitely know whom I can trust. So now I ponder the question 'how do I learn to trust myself and other people in the aftermath of rape when my trust in myself and other people has been destroyed?" All I can say is that you can't control or second-guess what another person might say and do when they have harmed you. Because if you knew this person could do what they did to you then you would have stayed well away. You live and learn that people do lie to you and to themselves.
What I can say is that you can trust yourself when you make choices and decisions about what you need to heal and recover. You know what feels right and what doesn't feel right. You already know that from previous experiences of what feels right and what doesn't feel right when you compare how it feels to be with a loving partner compared to a violent, cruel, controlling and harmful sexual predator. You already know what feels right with supportive helped compared to secondary wounding experiences. Trust that you have everything you need to know to heal and recover. Trust that other people will be able to lovingly reassure, guide, nurture and support you. Trust that some people may not know how to help you, some may not be honest and some people may even be cruel, harmful and hurtful. Again these people are reminding us that some people are NOT trustworthy. It is my pledge to stick by those people who have stuck by me. To those people I could find when I was so lost I say thank you because I am so appreciative and grateful that you are in my life.
Maybe this will help - those people who treat you with honour, respect, love, care, genuineness who know you deserve to heal and recover, who will walk with you and hold your hand in your time of greatest need are people I call trustworthy. No matter how scary, raw and painful your experience may be these people are willing to listen to you, hold your hand, comfort you, let you cry, they cry with you and say "that's not ok" when people hurt you and they show you are worth more through their love and kindness. Helping others has made me feel an awesome sense of sense worth. There is more than enough hurt and pain in this world and we certainly do not need our supposed friends giving out more hurt and pain.
I have seen the person who wounded me who has chosen to return to work in my workplace and I refuse to acknowledge her presence, sometimes I look at her and wonder 'how could you, one of my supposed best friends, treat me the way that you did?" I hear her bitch and moan about negative experiences that have happened to her and I wonder 'is this the worst thing that has ever happened to you?' How does this compare to being raped? How does it compare to what you did to me??? When we pass each other in the corridor we completely ignore each other, turning our heads away from each other or I stare straight through her as if she weren't even there. I ask Mary how could this person even think that she is right and Mary says that "I don't know and I can't even begin to fathom it!" You know what, even I can accept that maybe these people who secondary wounded me, didn't expect that I would figure out or ever make sense of what they did to me. However, I can tell you I did make sense of it all and it is still their problem and I still deserve better.
I have also seen the person who wounded me and is now a client in my workplace. This person says she wouldn't mind me being involved in her case. I respond by saying "we'd have to build some bridges before I could do that". Invariably she responds back by saying she would be ok if I was around I could be involved in her case. But by this stage I feel exasperated because as usual I'm not being heard and she seems to be ignoring the fact that she has wounded me. Oh well at least I've told her things need to be different now it's up to her and I guess we will just have to wait and see. Now I don't feel comfortable being involved in her case, so you know what, I don't need to do what doesn't feel right to me. I can say I won't be available. I will be the wrong energy for her because I would more than likely be focusing on what has happened to me rather than focus on her needs. I guess some people aren't always going to be in our lives forever, even if we think they will, sadly, friendships don't always work out the way we think it will.
CAUSES OF SECONDARY WOUNDING
- It can be hard for people to identify with a survivor and be tolerant when they themselves have never been hurt
- It can be difficult for people to have a handle on man made disaster when they have never experienced one
- Some people chose to ignore the negative and painful aspects in life and consequently they chose to turn down the survivor need for help so that they can deny the existence of pain, suffering, loss and injustice.
- Some people in the helping professions maybe experiencing Posttraumatic stress disorder or burnout themselves and as a result are emotionally depleted from working with survivors.
- A world philosophy where people believe that victims of crime get what they deserve because if you are careful, smart, ethical and knowledgeable you can avoid being harmed. People who are victimised are seen as weak and inadequate so these people tend to blame the victim for their traumatic experience. This belief system arises from our need to be in control of our lives because considering the likelihood of man made or natural disaster is too frightening.
- The influence of culture
- Some trauma survivors who chose not to deal with, suppress or deny their own trauma and who have not chosen to deal with their own anger and loss may need to deny other survivors to maintain their own denial system (Matsakis, 1996:93-94)
I can't even begin to tell how much it has helped me answers those seemingly unanswerable questions, to understand the causes of secondary wounding and why people chose to wound others in this manner. I really needed to be able to understand the how and why this happened to me.
We recently discovered that my sister was sexually abused as a child by an unknown man and I can now understand why she has been so angry, very destructive and adamant to push her family away. Although interestingly enough my sister says she had to watch my mum getting on with her life knowing that she couldn't walk back into our lives easily because of how abusive and destructive she had been towards us. It is interesting how the tortured can become the torturer, the abused can become the abuser and the bullied can become the bully. And yet my sister was the one who was sad, lonely and unhappy without her family. So I guess that the best revenge or plan when someone hurts you is to live your life well. We hoped and prayed that one day my sister would wake up, but we couldn't let her be in our lives and continue to abuse us all. My sister did receive a wakeup call that helped her to become awakened to what she was doing and to make healthier choices. I am supporting my sister from the sidelines by giving my mum advice and support to support my sister. To those people who chose to secondary wound me I hope that you become awakened or enlightened and maybe then things will be different.
One day at work we could feel that something was very wrong and we were informed that one of our manager's had died. We were all devastated by the news as Bella was someone who would always roll her sleeves up to help, smile, laugh and giggle. But we were further devastated to discover that Bella had committed suicide. Even today some staff members are still angry with Bella for making the decision she made. The way I see it is that she was dealing with something very difficult and painful and we can never know how difficult and painful it was. I can understand how people can choose suicide as an option, unbearable pain is unbearable and escaping it is highly desirable. Bella's death reminded me of how I wanted to escape the unbearable pain by going away with the fairies into a catatonic state. However, we are all left with a sea of total confusion even now 2 years later and there are so many unanswered questions that we will never know the answers too.
Perhaps the only thing that I could even begin to consider that might help people choose to live is if other people learn how to be truly supportive of wounded people. One of our staff told me that because of Bella's suicide she can now see how people who are hurting must be so strong to endure their suffering, but more importantly how she felt that all our work colleagues should have better supported those of us who had been traumatised. I guess that's something positive to hold on to. We will always miss you Bella, I know that some people think you took the easy way out, but it couldn't have been easy. I know that Bella must have had to endure unbearable pain, but now she is free of the pain. I will always remember you and be so grateful to have had you in my life as you were a fabulous teacher and my memories of you comfort me.
I just wish I had of known you needed help or that you had of reached out for help but I know only too well how hard it is to reach out to others and I know that not every one will be capable of truly helping. It does take someone very special, compassionate and understanding to truly help wounded souls and these people are not always easy to find. Maybe Bella wasn't as fortunate as I was to have wonderful support. Maybe people were to busy trying to get Bella to "get over it" and pushing her to cope with life and ignore her pain. Maybe Bella felt too embarrassed to ask for help and support that she desperately needed. I just wish Bella had choosen another alternative, but wishing for something else will not change the reality. Sometimes we are so busy blaming the individual that we forget that the big societal picture. We live in a society that encourages individuals to be selfish, even at the expense of harming others by bullying, wounding, torturing and abusing other people to get what you want. Then we as a society and individuals fail to truly help and support people who have been bullied, wounded, tortured and abused.
OVERCOMING SECONDARY WOUNDING
- Emotionally and mentally distance yourself from people who chose to secondary wound you to minimise feelings of being shocked by the experience and to feel more able to refuse to accept the harmful judgements that accompany secondary wounding.
- Understand that secondary wounding reflects huge societal issues
- Affirm yourself with self talk, for example, "it's not my fault this person is treating me with so little respect and appreciation of my difficulty" (Matsakis, 1996:94-96).
- Survive and live your life well and if you chose to improve yourself more you could make a gift to your life and other people's lives and take pleasure in the life you have (Matsakis, 1996:105 & 234).
- Make a conscious decision to be focused primarily with your own desires and happiness that will be far more satisfying and make up for you for the losses you have experienced with secondary wounding (Matsakis, 1996:234).
Finally to summarise the concepts of secondary wounding that I have thus far described I wish to use this very enlightening quote
"Just as trauma survivors sometimes choose to deny the fact that the trauma occurred, so does society choose to deny the fact of unjustifiable human suffering" (Matsakis, 1996:9).
So the question remains - Can I forgive those people who chose to secondary wound me following the primary wounding of the rape? I almost certainly can. I can probably forgive them because I now know what forces drove them to treat me the way that they did and it has more to do with people's emotional detachment, difficulties with intimacy and lack of empathy stemming from huge societal myths, ignorance, and denial systems. I understand that forgiving these people allows me to release the emotional pain and trauma I have experienced from the secondary wounding experiences. By forgiving others and also forgiving myself I can protect myself emotionally and mentally from further harm of secondary wounding experiences in the future. Can I forget? No I don't think I could ever forget. Forgiving is one thing, but forgetting is another thing.
I am extremely grateful to Mary, Billie, Dee, Louise and Aphrodite who helped me to understand that those people who chose to secondary wound me were trying to show me how not to treat a friend, so that I could be a better friend. But as I have said in the past, thanks for the message, but no thanks to any relationship with the people who secondary wounded me. It might just sound a little like something Budda would say but - I say treat people the way you want to be treated is a fabulous mantra I find for me to try to live my life by. I also say. Other quotes that I have also found extremely helpful which I will share with you hoping you might also find them helpful:
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Myss, 1997:79)
"We can choose to be kind or cruel, forgiving or vengeful, generous or miserly, compassionate or judgemental" (Myss, 1997:96)
"When you are feeling overwhelmed by your inability to forgive some wrong or injury done to you, remind yourself of the ancient teachings about the laws of karma What goes around comes around - in this life or the next" (Myss, 1997:172)
"Your only task is to learn to forgive - and call back the energy you are wasting on the events in the past" (Myss, 1997:172)
"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us". To the extent that we forgive others, we are forgiving ourselves" (Myss, 1997:173)
"There is nothing that you cannot handle and that all will be well" (Myss, 1997:179)
"You have love, you have hope, you have faith. These are powerful allies" (Myss, 1997:190)
Remind yourself that you are stronger than the wounding(s) you received from others. I have made a pledge to myself to never allow another human being to abuse me again. I believe that my making this pledge to myself that I am able to love, honour and respect myself. I suggest that other survivor's make a pledge to themself also as this is an extremely powerful stance that indicates your survival mechanism is operating.
I am extremely grateful to my strong desire and urge to write about my experience because it has been amazingly powerful, healing and therapeutic. My urge to write has enabled me to pass on the gift of my new knowledge about sexual assault and secondary wounding experiences to other survivors. This provides me with a great sense of satisfaction and sense of worth. My urge to write has enabled me to move ahead so that I can confidently leave my traumas in the past and move forward into a brighter and happier future.
There are times when I think surely I've healed and recovered from the rape, but then something comes up to challenge me and I realise I'm still not there yet. Like today, I was chatting to a woman I had worked with many years ago, she suggests we catch up for a coffee or wine, gives me her phone number and suggests we catch up at her place. Did I see this one coming? No I didn't. What are the chances of this woman telling me that she lives in the same street as the man who raped me lives? I don't know but the number of people who live in the same street as him compared to the number of people who live in this city!!! Pretty low likelihood you would think. Once again another reminder comes along about the rape that I have to deal with.
I'm left wondering when does this healing and recovery actually end? Will I ever reach a point when I have truly attained a sense that I have healed and recovered? How will I know the answers to these questions? You know there have been times when I felt that I was healed and recovered only to find there are still things about the rape that I haven't yet dealt with. When will some magical fairy come a wave her magic wand and say, "there you are all healed and recovered from the rape"? Oh it's so confusing, feels like it's literally never ending, incredibly tiring, energy consuming and exhausting.
I remember in the early days of the trauma following the rape drawing 'shaken to the core". In this drawing I have drawn a tree with solid trunk, green foliage, and fruit falling to the ground after receiving a very vigorous shaking. I included the roots under the ground that are strong, deep and wide suggesting I have strong and solid foundations. I mention this drawing because Matsakis (1996:141) describes how using the tree image can be extended when thinking about obstacles you encounter in your life as you visualise your tree roots hitting an obstacle and your tree roots will go around the obstacle and keep growing strong, deep and wide. The obstacles like stones reinforce and sustain the tree's root structure (Matsakis, 1996:141). I find this image helpful when I think about the many obstacles and challenges that continue to present themselves to me so that I can deal with them.
Matsakis (1196:142) describes how therapists sometimes use a growth model of therapy that consists of helping survivors understand that:
- It was an extremely abnormal event that you experienced as a result of your trauma
- It helps you identify your strengths
- It helps you to understand what may have helped you during the trauma was developing particular ways of protecting yourself, patterns of behaviour and thoughts, but these may not be helpful any more
- It helps you to gather together your inner healing powers and resources
Unfortunately healing doesn't occur on a straightforward path, it occurs in a non-linear way and most trauma survivor's experience setbacks (Matsakis, 1996:142). In fact, Matsakis (1996:142-143) describes the healing process is more like taking three steps forward and two steps back. Most trauma survivors are very familiar with this dance of three steps forward and two steps back, but it is frustrating because you feel like you are going backwards all the time and not progressing forward. There are times in your healing journey when "you go backwards because you need to go backwards" (Matsakis 1996:143) so that you can make sense of particular issues and you can take on board the emotional shock and trauma. Matsakis (1996:143) reassures the reader that it is ok as you are still making steps forward. I guess the best metaphor I can use is that of the birth of a baby,
As the baby comes down his/her mother's vagina, it takes two steps forward then one step back, moving forward, sliding back, inching forward a little bit more, slipping back a little, frustrating the hell out of it's mother, still moving forward until finally the mother can feel the baby emerging from her body and the baby is born. One day, maybe, we can be transformed and reborn too.
Healing occurs throughout the survivor's lifetime, it progresses forward in its own time and must be taken one step at a time (Matsakis, 1996:144). Maybe this is why is takes so long!
Matsakis (1996:143) describes the stages of healing
1. Remembering and mentally re-enact the trauma
2. Experience the feelings linked to the trauma
3. The mastery stage where you become empowered, make sense of the trauma and develop a new identity as a survivor
To enable the healing process to begin the prerequisite of safety is described by Matsakis (1996:145) as "you need to feel safe with your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours" and that you feel that you can manage any upsetting thoughts. I now realise that some of my secondary wounding experiences were adversely affected because it became very apparent to me that I needed to talk to some of my friends about some of my thoughts and feelings. However, one of these people who I had confided in chose to refuse to accept upsetting thoughts and feelings as being valid and acceptable and as a consequence rejected me. I can now see that it is no wonder I didn't feel safe to confide anything with her ever again or to continue the friendship. Your psychological and physical environment must feel safe as you can hardly feel safe if you are living in an abusive relationship (Matsakis, 1996:145).
The strength of survivors
Matsakis (1996:147) describes this point beautifully when quoting a survivor:
"Because of what I've seen and experienced, I feel prepared for almost anything. I'm not afraid to suffer, or feel any feeling, anymore Even though to other people I might look weak because sometimes I cry and shake a lot, actually I'm stronger than my supposed 'Mr. Macho' boyfriend"
How to measure your progress
Matsakis (1996:148) suggests how being able to love, work and play can define people's mental health - so if you are able to love and care for yourself and other people, work and enjoy yourself, you are making progress and being successful in your healing.
You are making progress
"if you are able to know and accept your feelings and not fight them, you are a very strong person. At least you know what you feel and why you feel the way you do" (Matsakis, 1996:148).
The promises of healing
Matsakis (1996:242) described the promise of healing to include experiencing less frequency of symptoms, less frequency of fears of symptoms, less fears of going insane, redirecting your anger and grief on more positive directions, changing your thoughts of yourself from victim to survivor status, becoming less rigid to more flexible and spontaneous, improved appreciation of life, developing a sense of humour and powerful feelings empathy for other people who experience suffering.
Matsakis (1996:243) sums up the concept of healing when she says:
"Before you began the healing process, you probably viewed your traumatic experience as a major earthquake - one that irrevocably affected your entire life. Now, although the scars are real and some permanent, you have learned some ways of turning the ordeal of the trauma into a source of strength and empowerment."
I feel that this says everything I need to know about how I will know when I have healed and recovered. I hope that it helps other people understand about the benefits of taking the risk to heal. It is worth all the time, effort and energy because you are worth it. As for secondary wounding we can't change the person who hurt us or the other people who chose to hurt us just because we'd been hurt, but we can change ourselves. Remember that how these people treat us has everything to do with their inadequacies and society's myths about rape. It more important to learn how to honour yourself and protect yourself mentally and emotionally when people secondary wound you. As for trust it's not that I don't want to trust the people who wounded me or that I am incapable of trust, it's just that the people who wounded don't deserve my trust anymore.
Right now I want to share with you the song that kept me strong and sane following my primary and secondary wounding even in the times when I felt fragile, hurt, and insane. Although the song is about surviving a relationship break up, it is so powerful for survivors of sexual assault and secondary wounding that it gives strength and the hope of a loving relationship. So now I will share the words of my life saving song called "I will survive" and I hope it helps you in tough times we have all endured
I will survive
At first I was afraid. I was petrified.
Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side, but I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong and I grew strong and I learned how to get along.
So now you're back from outer space. I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face; I should have changed that stupid lock. I should have made you leave your key
If I'd known for just one second you'd be back to bother me. Oh no go walk out the door, just turn around now cos you're not welcome anymore. Weren't you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye? Did you think I'd crumble? Did you think I'd lay down and die/
Oh no not I, I will survive. Oh as long as I know how to love, I'll know I'll stay alive. I've got all my life to live, I've got all my love to give and I'll survive. I will survive hey hey
I've got all my life to live, I've got all my love to give and I'll survive, I will survive hey hey
It took all the strength I had not to fall apart, kept trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart and I've spent oh so many nights just feeling sorry for myself I used to cry.
But now I hold my head up high and you'll see me somebody new. I'm not that chained up little girl who's still in love with you. So you felt like dropping in and just expect me to be free. So now I'm saving all my loving for someone who's loving me.
Oh no not I, I will survive. Oh as long as I know how to love, I'll know I'll stay alive. I've got all my life to live, I've got all my love to give and I'll survive. I will survive
It took all the strength I had not to fall apart, kept trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart and I've spent of so many nights just feeling sorry for myself, I used to cry
Think I'd lay down and die? Oh not I, I will survive. Oh as long as I know how to love, I'll know I'll stay alive. I've got all my life to live, I've got all my love to give and I'll survive.
I WILL SURVIVE
In summary, I guess we need to remember a couple of things. First of all, men who rape women, men and children choose their behaviours as they are total failures in their own lives as they need to destroy others to feel better about themselves. In reality men who rape others are powerless people who seek to take their power back by hurting other people. I say, reclaim your power by giving yourself the love, honour and respect you deserve as a survivor.
Second of all, as survivors of rape we haven't done anything wrong and I think that is extremely important to remember when people treat us as if we have some contagious disease and they secondary wound us. For a very long time I was hurt by people who had hurt me over the rape because I knew that I would never have treated them the way that they treated me. But now I know that there are many reasons why people chose to secondary wound already wounded people. The primary reasons in my experience that people secondary wound already wounded people is because they choose NOT to speak, look or hear about the pain, suffering, shock and trauma other people are experiencing. Remember the old adage "hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil?" If people are prepared to "hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil" then they are most certainly NOT likely to help, listen or support a traumatised person.
I hope that I have been able to enlighten you all as to why people chose to secondary wound survivors of rape. I have learnt that if I don't like how people are treating me I can chose to walk away. I now hope and pray that those people who chose to secondary wound me will one day become awaken and enlightened to how harmful their behaviour toward me and they will develop healthy behaviours that benefit rather than harm survivors.
It has taken me a long time to realise that light and dark are not separate, but they coexist within this world and our lives. Just like night and day exist so do good and evil. Maybe it's easier to accept that behind every angry, cruel and hurtful person is someone who has been hurt. I don't for one second excuse their abuse, because we all have choices about whether we hurt other innocent people or not after we ourselves have been hurt or emotionally harmed. However, it is well known that the abused can become abusive and the tortured can become the torturer. Just like my sister who was abused as a child, became the same sister who became abusive to my mother and family for so many years. We had to walk away to protect my mother's health and wellbeing and ease the burden of the stress and damage my sister was inflicting on all of us. The worst thing of all was that we had absolutely no idea why she was treating us in this manner.
However, one day my sister received a wake up call when she was knocked unconscious by a drug addicted person. My sister is now trying to heal the relationships that she has damaged. It will probably take a long time for us to form trust with my sister and for all of us to heal. At least we all know the truth and that's far easier to deal with than abuse. We hoped and prayed that one day she would wake up, become awaken and enlightened and finally it has happened. Maybe today's man made problems in our world are more about pain than good and evil. We must remember that violence only creates more violence and hate. I ask do we really want more violence and hate in this world? What we really need is more love, gratefulness and compassion in our lives and this world.
Remember that you need to learn to trust yourself first. However you can't deal with the aftermath of the rape and secondary wounding on your own. Ask for help and be prepared for the long haul. Choose people to support you carefully and wisely on your healing journey. Know that even though this may be the most painful experience you have ever experienced in your life, that you have inner skills, resources and resilience to help you heal and recover. You can do it. I want to share with you this beautiful quote I found on a calendar about believing in our self from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist and writer,
"People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within"
I have always been determined that I can heal and recover from this and I want each and everyone of you reading this to feel determined that you can heal and recover from your experience too.
Finally will end this chapter with the quote I used to open this chapter
"In this world many people are suffering and many people are overcoming their suffering"
I choose to be one of the many people who are overcoming
their suffering. I hope that you will decide to become one of those people
who choose to overcome their suffering too. I am far greater than my suffering,
although my suffering now reminds me of my strengths because if I survived
that I can survive anything. I am strong. We are strong. It is those people
who harm us who are weak. Reclaim your power. Be strong. Survive and thrive.
Chapter 1 of her journey 'Love, not Time, Heals all Wounds'
Chapter 2 'Be careful of the men you choose'
Chapter 3 'The Loss of the Age of Innocence'
Chapter 4 'Frozen with Fear'
Chapter 5 'Counselling'
Chapter 6 'Bodywork'
Chapter 7 'The Simple Things in Life can be Wonderful Healing Tools'
Appendix 1 - Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Appendix 2 How survivors of sexual assault can have a positive Pap Smear Experience
© 2005-2008 Evelyn Shakespeare