Sometimes, we may engage in behaviors that others consider questionable. However, deep within the psychological self, why this happens can be found.
Below is such a story.
Dear Visible Man,
I am writing to seek advice regarding something that happened many years ago. I have tried to forget about it, but the issue continues to return and is now impacting the way I feel about men.
A little about myself: I am a 40-year-old African-American female. I am single, and I work in a corporate setting. Ten years ago, while traveling across the United States to meet someone I considered dating, I found myself isolated and alone with him, and I submitted to having sex with him.
Given the circumstances—it happened in darkness and in an area unknown to me– I felt I didn’t have a choice. I admit that I didn’t clearly indicate to him no out of fear that I would be harmed, but I did on several occasions physically push him away.
At some point, I relented and I had sex with him. However, my body kept saying no and wanted this ordeal to stop. In the morning, I was able to obtain help and get away. I never filed a criminal complaint because I believed I consented. I never went through counseling because I felt that I created the situation that lead to my experience. I felt that I acted stupidly and as a result, was responsible for what happened. When telling the story, I have always minimized what happened, often laughing it off.
Recently, I’ve been talking on the phone with someone I met online. We both feel it’s time for us to meet face to face, but he resides in another state. For safety reasons, I haven’t let him know where I live or other personal information, just in case things don’t work out. I told him that I would travel to the city in which he resides.
When the time came for me to go, I had a lot of anxiety, and flashes of my previous experience. It’s disrupted my sleep and my ability to focus on my work. I find myself having ongoing thoughts about the “what ifs” as well as imagining that this trip will be just like my previous experience.
My family and friends are very much against the idea of me traveling to meet him. But, I really want to go because I do not want to continue to chat online. I want to know whether we can begin to have something more. What are your thoughts? How do I overcome these feelings?
Searching For Answers, Seattle, WA
It is interesting that as you ended your writing, you asked, “What are your thoughts?” You did not request suggestions or recommendations. Therefore, I will assume that you remain determined to visit this man, despite the advice of your family and friends.
Before I answer your question, I want you to know that I used the same model that I’m going to share with you. I hope that in reading this response, you will take the opportunity to follow this model as well.
This model is the “Five Rs of Relief.”
First, after reading your story, I stepped to the side, taking a timeout (RESPITE).
I then focused on “owning my emotions” (REACTION).
From there, I began to process what I was feeling and thinking (REFLECTION).
I am now preparing to share what I am feeling and thinking (RESPONSE).
After writing this and receiving feedback from you and others, I will review what has occurred, what I learned and how I would handle this or a similar situation next time (RE-EVALUATION).
As there are a lot of moving parts to your story, it is essential to clarify the issues, and separate what happened 10 years ago from what is happening today.
What is the meaning of the physical and psychological reactions that are occurring?
Why are you in denial of the traumatic experience that you endured ten years ago?
Why do you ignore the victimization that was a consequence of this horrific experience?
It is my deeply held belief that the psychological self will continue to advocate, seeking balance, and calmness; remembering the traumas, abuses, and the violence that the physical body fights to withstand and the intellectual mind struggles to forget.
Given this, you must have the willingness to review and reconsider the following statement,
“At some point, I relented and I had sex with him.”
This was not sex. This was a violation. This was clearly an act of sexual assault.
Be willing to ask, given the following wording, where is there an indication of consent?
“At some point, I relented….”
“..I felt I did not have a choice.”
“I did on several occasions physically push him away.”
Clearly, there was no consent given for what happened to you.
Whether or not a criminal charge can be substantiated does not remove the reality that a sexual assault occurred. Poor judgment or poor decision-making does not make you guilty for the horrific actions of someone else.
Were you victimized? Consider the following statements:
“.. my body kept saying no.. “
“.. wanted this ordeal to stop.”
I never went through counseling because in what I allowed myself to happen.
I was stupid and therefore must assume responsibility.
When telling the story, I have always minimized what happened as well as laughing it off.
Yes, there was victimization. In addition there is denial and avoidance.
Why deny something that is so obvious?
Why deny counseling?
Why avoid the opportunity to heal from such a traumatic experience?
Answer: No one wants to view themselves as a “victim.” Being a victim comes with the idea that you are weak, disempowered, or otherwise lacking. When someone is a victim, that individual suffers a loss of esteem, and a wound to how they see themselves.
To make up for this, you may seek to accept “responsibility” for the outcome of the grievous act. This is evident in your denial, avoidance, and minimization of the event, seeking to make it something it is not.
It may be relatively easy to fool others in minimizing the emotional consequences of a traumatic incident. However, the psychological self continues to replay the trauma, forcing the physical body to deal with what the mind is attempting to forget.
So, how do you overcome these feelings? Focus on the following:
Advocacy: Make it a priority to speak up for the self—YOUR self.
Balance: Balance the experience of the sexual assault with your ongoing life journey. Work towards “letting go” of the incident, instead of forcing the psychological self to forget the traumatic event it survived.
Calmness: Bring calmness and continuity to your life. Do not limit yourself to the label of “survivor of sexual assault.” Instead, have the willingness to become a driver (empowerment), striver (pace setter) and thriver (achievement) and in doing so walk the journey of self-discovery.
Stop working overtime to overcome the feelings. These actions are merely forcing the physical body to react and struggle in its response. Instead, consider the following:
Seek mental health counseling
Acknowledge the victimization
Extend to the psychological self the gift of an apology for the actions of denial and avoidance of the suffering as well
Be willing to accept from the psychological self the gift of forgiveness for acceptance of responsibility for an action that was not for you to accept.
If you decide to travel to see this person, take heed to the lessons you learned from the prior incident:
Develop a safety plan. Find a public place to meet, and make sure that you are able to leave anytime you wish.
Document significant information regarding this individual i.e. physical address, telephone number, email address etc
Provide your own lodging/accommodations, food etc
Limit your consumption of alcohol, and remember that if your drink is out of your personal sight, it is no longer your drink. Get another one.
Only meet with the individual in public settings. Never accept an invitation to visit him at his residence.
Identify emergency resources in the local area i.e. police, fire etc
Provide a daily itinerary to family, friends and the management of the hotel that you are staying.
Be in daily contact with friends and family.
Create a password in communicating with your family and friends designating that you are either safe or in danger
Empower the self. Being victimized does not mean that you cannot empower yourself to achieve a safe outcome. It is clear that others may not understand your reasoning, but what’s essential is that YOU understand why you are initiating this journey. In doing that, make sure that you affirm to the psychological self that you have gained wisdom and learned from the past mistakes.
“Once burned, we learn. If we do not learn we only assure ourselves that we will be burned again and again and again until …we learn.”
-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life
The Visible Man