Assaults Are Not Just A Woman’s Issue
By Lynn Seiser
One could hear the fear in her voice just from the message. She needed to talk. She needed some answers. She needed them soon. The urgency was there. She would not say what was bothering her. She had gotten my name as a psychotherapist from a friend. She was not sure she would be able to talk to a man about this. She just needed to talk with someone and soon.
When Jill arrived at my office, she was appropriately dressed for a business meeting. We conducted the usual initial introductions and information gathering in a very straightforward matter-of-fact manner. Jill was interested in why I, as a man, worked with sexual assault victims. I explained that I saw sexual assault as a male issue. Statistically, most offenders were male; therefore, it was a male issue. Therefore, we could do more to prevent assault. I also felt that by being a male role model, perhaps women could see that not all men accept or condone sexual assault. It is harder to generalize when there are exceptions to the rule.
As Jill described what happened, she was surprised that I viewed it as an assault. An assault is a violent attack and an attempt to harm someone physically. Jill tried to minimize and rationalize what had happened. She tried to make it appear “not so bad.” Unfortunately, her label did not match her experience. She was in conflict with herself. As Jill began to accept what happened and find the words that best described it, she was able to be more at peace with herself. Trying to find politically-correct words for a totally incorrect act is impossible. I tried hard not to impose my values and words on her experience, yet, I did want to provide her with some validation of what was, and was not, socially acceptable.
Jill tried hard to understand what she was going through. Why were certain things bothering her? As she described her days, I was able to point out that her reaction was appropriate for what she had been through. It was a normal reaction to an abnormal experience. Trauma victims have nothing in common before the assault. Afterwards, they have a lot in common. They all tend to re-experience the assault as if it is actually happening again. Because this re-experiencing can be triggered by anything that reminds, resembles, or symbolizes the original assault. Victims tend to avoid those triggers. Living in a state of constant fear, they all live in a high state of anxiety. I even showed Jill all the symptoms in a diagnostic and statistical manual. The symptoms were all normal reactions to trauma. Jill felt better knowing that she was having normal reactions, and that these reactions did not signify anything was wrong with her.
The first step to healing the pain was for Jill to begin to tell her story. Recovery often begins through recounting what happened. Jill needed to talk about what happened. She had not been able to tell the entire story in detail to anyone but the police. She feared rejection and misunderstanding. Many people will not understand. She needs to be careful who she shares her story with. This self-protection begins her reparenting. Jill begins to understand and accept herself more. Her healing begins.
Most victims do not understand why an assault could, or has happened, to them. What did they do to bring on the assault? Jill blamed herself. She claimed she had been stupid about things. She smiled when I said that being stupid was not an assailable offense. I told her what I had learned from working with offenders. She had just been convenient. Assaults have nothing to do with the victims. It has everything to do with the offenders.
Jill lived through the assault. Now she had to find a way to live with it. She had some ideas of a world where assault did not fit in or only happened to other people. Jill wanted to believe in a safe world, but no longer could. She was beginning to upgrade her map of the world with this new experience. Jill accepted that the assault changed her. It was something she could, and would, live with. As Jill developed more compassion for herself, her empathy for others grew as well. She could appreciate the growth without having to appreciate the cause.
Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey.
Lynn Seiser, Ph.D., is an internationally respected psychotherapist in Seal Beach, CA with more than twenty years of direct clinical experience in recovery counseling for offenders and victims of violence, trauma and abuse. He is known for his work in “holistic” recovery from addictions with an emphasis on “healthy relationships. Lynn is a consultant, speaker and writer and may be contacted at (562) 799-1371. Check out his website at www.members.aol.com/SeiserL/index.html .
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