When I was a little girl, my dad used to always tell me that men are perverted creeps not to be trusted. He would say “I used to be a guy that age – I know what disgusting things he’s thinking!” That mixed with the fact that my dad was sexually abusive to me led to beliefs that men only want one thing from me, and that I should expect to be victimized if I trust a man. I still hold those beliefs today even though they aren’t serving me anymore. As a child the mistrust was an adaptive protective stance; now it just leads to revictimization.
It’s been said by many metaphysical teachers that each one of us creates our reality with our thoughts and beliefs, and it seems that in this new living situation I created a reality that reflected right back to me my negative beliefs about men. I wanted to believe that my new male roommate is just a creep and that the situation had nothing to do with me, but to think that would just be playing victim, something I don’t choose to do. If those metaphysical teachers are right, there was something about my thoughts that attracted me to this situation.
I experienced this roommate as creepy and vengeful. He made clear attempts to manipulate me by lying, and was irate when I refused to allow these manipulations. He also insisted on doing “nice” things for me, like offering to drive me places, or buy groceries for me, all of which I declined, and he was also irate about this. He’s a textbook “nice guy” – someone who does “nice” things with the expectation that they’ll get something in return, and is therefore, not a nice person at all.
His actions were a perfect fit with my negative belief that men are manipulative and are not to be trusted. I found myself saying “AH HA!!! I knew it!” when my negative beliefs were confirmed, and yet when men I know do not act in this way, there’s no “ah ha, I was wrong.” I was clearly paying attention only to those actions and behaviours that matched my beliefs, and this new roommate was the epitome of my mind’s caricature of the average man; a creepy, manipulative, and whiny sore loser.
There was actually a very satisfying feeling that I got from “being right” in this situation as well. There’s no mistaking that he said some very inappropriate things to me – everyone I’ve mentioned it to has cringed a bit when I tell the story – but the silver lining was that I got to feel like I am superior to him because I “get it” and he doesn’t. I would even go as far to say that he is, in fact, stupid, for not understanding why what he did was creepy. I’ve got to let go of my need to feel this superiority too. It only fed my rage and anger, and it probably just stems from a fear of being inferior – another negative belief, but this time one about myself in comparison with men. If I’m “right” then I’m “safe,” or at least I’m aware of my surroundings enough to respond and protect myself, but the whole scene is just a tired replay of many other similar, though less dramatic scenes I’ve experienced in my life with men.
I am making a commitment to myself to change my negative beliefs about men. If believing that men aren’t to be trusted and that they only want one thing is going to lead me back to this sort of situation again and again then I am in for a lot more trouble. I guess this is a bit of an experiment of sorts. If I make a concerted effort to catch myself every time I have a negative belief about a man, even if it’s true, I’m not going to believe that all men are like this, and I am going to practice gratitude for all of the wonderful men in this world that conduct themselves with decency and respect around others. By changing my thoughts about men, I hope I’ll see a difference in the type of men I see around me. Wish me luck! Oh, and I’m moving out of this creep’s apartment on December 1st, because… fuck this.
I feel abandoned by my mother, because I know she doesn’t want to believe my dad could be capable of sexually abusing me. She sends emails that start with what I see as a courtesy disclaimer, “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but…” and then tells me all the reasons why she thinks I could be mistaken. It tears my heart out, but I try to be understanding. She has been going through a lot since I broke the silence and told her about the memories I’ve begun to recover, and admittedly she’s in the most difficult position of all.
The little child part of me wants nothing more than for my mother to believe that what I’m telling her is true and choose me over my perpetrator. It doesn’t look likely though, so I tell myself that’s just a childish dream that she could ever choose one family member over another, that she’s built a life with this person, that it’s selfish of me to put expectations on her. But it’s like a knife to the heart. I actually find it hard to value my own life if she doesn’t believe me, and thinking about it too much is the one thing that can send me back into that dark suicidal place I was a few months back. In that place I feel half dead, have rotted, half decomposed, and yet I haven’t taken my life. I am still walking around trying to find a way out that doesn’t depend on her or what she does. Just to feel alive again.
I know on an intellectual level that I can choose whatever experience of this that I want. But that little girl is convinced, “If my own mother won’t believe me, won’t choose me, who would?” She takes it to mean she is worthless, that others’ words to the contrary are meaningless gestures of etiquette, rather than heartfelt truths. The whole world becomes cold and fake to her. This is no way to live.
Accepting that my mother has the right to deal with this situation however she wants has been the most difficult emotional challenge I’ve ever had. The truth is her words and actions have no meaning except the meaning I choose to give to them, so the impact on my self worth comes from my beliefs rather than from her. The clincher is that I know this intellectually, but it still feels like abandonment. It still feels like I have been ousted from the tribe, left to fend for myself, like death is after me, already eating through my flesh.
My only choice is to wholeheartedly accept that only I can give my life whatever meaning I choose, and that yes, expectations and wishes for my mother to do this or that are in fact, just childish dreams, based on the false belief that my self worth comes from her. In truth it never has, and it never will. How much longer am I willing to spend trying to barter for these childish dreams? That I don’t know, but I hope it’s not long. There’s a big beautiful world out there waiting for me.
~ “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” – Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery
This isn’t a recent post, but a great one nonetheless that discusses some preliminary studies on what proportion of the young male population has engaged in rape. Two studies are discussed where men were surveyed about past sexual activities that involved the use of threat, force, or intoxication to gain compliance of their victims without consent. The word rape is not used in the survey, and that is likely why the men felt comfortable self-reporting these activities, though it’s unclear if any men declined to report truthfully. The conclusions of these two studies were that roughly 13% of the male population have raped, and between 4% and 8% are serial rapists. These numbers could potentially be even higher if some men declined to answer truthfully. Of those admitting to rape, only about 30% reported using force, while the remainder went for intoxicated victims in what are likely to be socially sanctioned acts of rape, since the guy can easily claim confusion about her consent since she was not in her right mind. That means a large proportion of guys opportunistically take advantage of intoxicated women because they know their friends won’t question them about it. Anyway, have a read, this is a great post.
A huge proportion of the women I know enough to talk with about it have survived an attempted or completed rape. None of them was raped by a stranger who attacked them from behind a bush, hid in the back of her car or any of the other scenarios that fit the social script of stranger rape. Anyone reading this post, in fact, is likely to know that six out of seven rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. It has been clear for a long time, at least since Robin Warshaw’s groundbreaking “I Never Called It Rape,” which used Mary Koss’s reseach, that the stranger rape script did not describe rape as most women experienced it. It’s easy to picture the stranger rapist: a violent criminal, not much different from the violent criminals who commit other violent crimes. This guy was in prison before, and he’ll be back…
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I sometimes wish that I could remember all of the abuse from my childhood, just so that there would be no more surprise landmines to step on every time a new memory surfaces. I know that memories come back when a person is ready to deal with them, but some days it’s just really hard not knowing everything. I still can’t seem to remember anything around third grade when I must have been seven or eight years old, I don’t even remember the name of my third grade teacher or what my classroom looked like. I know my brain must’ve shut off in some capacity in order to protect me, but protect me from what I don’t exactly know.
I’ve discovered that my feelings, the same feelings I was blaming myself for or numbing myself from for so many years, are of paramount importance. I’ve only just begun to respect and trust these feelings, and I’ve also learned that feelings are the essence of a memory, far more so than any narrative of a recollection. I’ve come to trust and respect my feelings through ceremonial shamanic use of ayahuasca in Peru, and also through dreams, particularly because the inspiration I’ve had from dreams have been instrumental in helping me to heal from a more recent rape that occurred in 2007. I’ve been allowing myself to feel more lately. I try to remember how it felt to be seven years old again ask the feeling to show me where it goes next. I’m having more information come to me in dreams when I do this. Specifically, I had a dream of my father voyeuristically staring at my naked body, where I am blind and struggling to open my eyes as l try to cover myself and get away from him.
I’ve also been appreciating triggers in a whole new way because they always point the way to something important. I now know the reason they “trigger” any response at all is because of prior experiences. I’ve been observing myself and I find I am often on guard with older men. It’s something about the way some of them covertly sexualize me that makes me suspicious of their motives. If they do or say anything to me that is flirtatious or suggestive, if they try to touch me or my clothing, I immediately dissociate. I get extremely angry, but feel paralyzed to respond in the moment. I then avoid them and carry myself with an attitude of anger in the hopes of repelling them. Unfortunately, this sometimes brings me the attention of men who have a sadistic glint in their eye, and that makes me even angrier. I’ve had other women ask me what the big deal is. “That’s just how men are,” they tell me. All I know is that for me, it is very, very triggering.
If a much older man makes overtly sexualizing comments about my body I feel like I want to crawl out of my skin. I am repulsed and disgusted by it. They don’t even have to say anything but if they are obviously leering at me, it stokes the fires of rage in my heart, and they’re probably left wondering why I’m acting so cold and bitchy towards them. That’s one conflict I keep running into. Older men sexualize me, either with stares or comments, and I feel powerless to respond. I react by dissociating, ignoring, hoping they will just go away. And I end up feeling vulnerable and angry. Even at 30 years old I have a terrifying and irrational fear of saying something to these men.
In the past I’ve had well meaning people try to warn me about my angry attitude, women who say that it might not look that bad at 29, but at 35 or 40 it’s going to look grotesque. I only thought to myself, “good, it’s working.” The whole point is to drive away men who might hurt me. I now fully trust that there’s a reason why I feel compelled to act this way, why I feel safer when I do it. I trust that my triggers reflect to me a deeply ingrained emotional reaction to some original situation where I was hurt or threatened, a situation I cannot recall to memory yet. On the flip side, I trust that reacting to present circumstances through the lens of the past can lead to revictimization. It’s those men with the sadistic glint in their eye, that see me more easily since my anger freely promotes the fact that I feel threatened, which could lead to me being a target. Even knowing this, it’s hard to change, it’s hard to feel vulnerable, but I’m going to overcome this, and in the meantime, I am going to trust that my feelings, dreams, and triggers have meaning.
~“Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The last thing I want is for you to think I am weak, because in our culture weakness is punished and belittled. But I am a woman, and we’ve been taught that femininity is weak, so if I want respect I am backed into this damned corner every time I see you. I can see from your words and your actions that you don’t really believe women are worthy of respect either. The problem is that I believed you were right.
If I believe I am weak there’s no telling what you’ll do to me, how you’ll underestimate me, how you’ll take advantage of me, how you’ll use your strength against me, how you’ll take from me. I’ve been living my life afraid of all this since I was a little girl, who watched her father rage and yell and belittle women. I thought the only way he could love me is if I abandoned myself, abandoned my femaleness, because I could see how he despised it, how he mocked it, how he used it and threw it away.
I’ve been hit and raped and spat on, shoved and screamed at, peeped on, and creeped on and I’m just waiting for you to challenge me any time I feel afraid, daring you even with a piercing stare because I have so much anger about all this that it doesn’t matter anymore what you do to me: The fear makes me want to fight, makes me want to hurt you back as badly as I can. And I’m ready whenever you make your move. I’ve seen enough of your tricks to know what to do. And you are most hurt when equated with a woman, when people think you’re a sissy pussy bitch and so I feel my fear is justified. You hate your own femaleness too.
I’ve been hurt by men so much that I’m scared I could be hurt by you, even though I don’t know you. I am afraid of you. I get crafty and wear a mask. I take on masculine traits like aggression, dominance, and muted emotion, and I wear them like a costume whenever I’m in your presence. It’s so automatic I don’t even have to think about it, it just pours forth from the anger I feel, that I can’t just exist, can’t just be myself, can’t just be a woman, without fearing the risk of harm from you. So I stand guard, but I don’t even know you. But you are a man, and so I fear you.
If you could see me when I’m alone, you’d see that I am soft and yielding and loving. I smile and laugh and feel at ease with myself. I take off my costume. But the still fear remains in the back of my mind, and the fear is the only thing separating us from the truth. It’s not you I need to annihilate, it’s the fear. When I live in constant fear of you, I forget who I am completely, and I justify and agree with your misogynistic words, thoughts, and deeds, because I too have become misogynistic by dishonoring myself. I have become my enemy to try and protect myself from enemies, but I see now that you can’t honor me until I honor myself. It’s not your decision to say what I am worth, and it never was. We were both just so confused. Thanks for listening.