As survivors of sexual assault, blaming ourselves for the assault is one of the most damaging things we can do. You, like many of us, may be experiencing a severe case of the “if only’s.” “If only I hadn’t trusted this person,” “If only I had screamed,” “If only I hadn’t gone up to his room,” “If only I hadn’t gone to that party,” if only, if only….
It’s natural to regret past actions and wish things were different. It becomes traumatizing when we take responsibility for what someone else did and blame ourselves for their behaviors and actions. The decisions we made during the assault enabled us to live through the experience, to survive it. We need to give ourselves credit for making the best decisions we could at that time.
Blaming ourselves places the responsibility on the person who was harmed—not on the offender, the person who made the choice to hurt someone else. Our loved ones can also lose sight of the fact that while we are responsible for our own actions—we are not responsible for the actions of others.
It can be helpful to remember that you are the one who was there during the assault. Others may state their opinions and question your behavior before, during or after the assault. It is easy to second guess other people—and ourselves—with the crystal clear vision of hindsight. We all have to remember, and believe, that we did the best we could in the situation we found ourselves in—and to remember that we are not the ones who chose to hurt and terrify others.
You may encounter people who don’t believe rape can happen or do not agree with choices you made. They may blame you for being sexually assaulted, or tell you what you “should have done” to prevent the assault. These responses can hurt. It can be helpful to remember that these are merely someone else’s opinions or prejudices. A negative and blaming reaction from family and friends can cause you to doubt yourself and add to your pain and trauma. You deserve—we all deserve- to be around people who support our feelings and validate our experiences.
Because sexual assault is a traumatic event, it is a shock to our physical, emotional and psychological well being. We all react to trauma differently, and there is no right or wrong way to feel. After a trauma like a sexual assault there is an adjustment period. It takes time to process the pain and other feelings, to assimilate the experience into our lives. It is so important to have support and validation during this time. Please take care of yourself.