There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds. ~Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral’s Kiss
I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. ~Elie Wiesel
Fear and anxiety affect decision making in the direction of more caution and risk aversion… Traumatized individuals pay more attention to cues of threat than other experiences, and they interpret ambiguous stimuli and situations as threatening (Eyesenck, 1992), leading to more fear-driven decisions. In people with a dissociative disorder, certain parts are compelled to focus on the perception of danger. Living in trauma-time, these dissociative parts immediately perceive the present as being “just like” the past and “emergency” emotions such as fear, rage, or terror are immediately evoked, which compel impulsive decisions to engage in defensive behaviors (freeze, flight, fight, or collapse). When parts of you are triggered, more rational and grounded parts may be overwhelmed and unable to make effective decisions. ~Suzette Boon, Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation: Skills Training for Patients and Therapists
A couple weeks ago there was a tragic helicopter crash in which eleven people were killed. One of the deceased happened to be a celebrity. A celebrity that was accused of a very brutal sexual assault in 2003.
Images of him and him and his daughter (who was also killed) were all over social media for a couple of days as well as all over the more “traditional” media outlets. It seemed no matter where you looked, there was his face.
This was hard on many people, especially those who had experienced sexual trauma of their own. Seeing not only the image of a sexual perpetrator all over the media, but also seeing him exalted and all his good deeds repeated with no to very little comment on the rape accusations, was retraumatizing, painful, and activating of our fight/flight/freeze responses.
Many people had similar responses during the Brock Turner trial in 2016. Or during the presidential election of same year. Or any other number of instances when a sexual offender is praised and their image is all over the media. When regard to a sexual predators future or career is given more credence than the future and trauma of their victims.
Our autonomic responses, our fight/flight/freeze, are understandable given our histories. Our histories where we weren’t believed. Where we were blamed for what happened to us. Where the future of the perpetrator was more important than our present or future. Where we were the one in the wrong for breaking the family apart, causing problems by speaking up. All of that contributes to why when events like this occur we go into an activated state. We are reminded again and again why our stories don’t matter, why what happened to us was our fault, and why we aren’t important, weren’t important, aren’t relevant.
These responses are so completely understandable. And to a great degree out of our control.
So what do we do when the media is filled with images that are activating for us?
We do what we need to do to care for ourselves. That is going to look different for each of us. For some it is putting down our phones/going off social media. For others it is curating our social media so it is only our close friends/family or others who “get it”. It could look like requesting an extra session with our therapist. It could look like writing our own pieces from a survivor/victims point of view. It could look like going out in nature. Drinking lots of water. Eating comfort food. Asking our friends or intimate partner to hold us or conversely to not touch us. Telling our close people that we are activated and asking for some grace and support. It could look like hermiting and having our own space binging on Netflix (or whatever streaming service).
Most importantly, we need to have compassion for ourselves. We need to recognize and acknowledge that we are activated and remind ourselves that it makes sense why we are. We allow the space for the rage, the grief, the frustration. We let ourselves feel the emotions and sensations that are coursing through our minds, bodies, and being.
The event a couple weeks agao will not be the last time a sexual predator will be honored and exalted in the media. It won’t be the last that victims were brushed under the rug, disregarded, or disrespected. It will, unfortunately happen again.
It is true that tides are changing and we are starting to hold some perpetrators accountable. It is also true that it is a slow process to change rape culture and there are those who are fighting like hell to keep it alive and well.
So it is vital that we develop the resources and tools to care for ourselves in these times. To let those close to us know that these kinds of events can be activating for us and ask they check in on us or let them know how they can support us.
I wish the world were different. I wish we didn’t put the lives and futures of sexual perpetrators above that of their victims. I wish that we could accept the complexities of humans and not try to put all people in either “good” or “bad” categories. I wish that victims were believed, supported, and cared for by our culture as a whole.
We are moving in that direction. I believe that with all my being. In the meantime though, we have to take care of ourselves.
This essay was originally written for my weeklyish newsletter on February 3, 2020. To receive my most recent essays and more, you can subscribe right here.
Trauma Informed Embodiment™ for Sexual Trauma Survivors (TIE STS) begins on March 2. Part of the program is support during times like these when the outside world is activating our own trauma experiences. To learn more, click here.