In Anger and Sexual Abuse (1) we looked at the role of guilt and anger in keeping victims of sexual abuse caught in a twilight world of unrelenting personal pain and anguish.
Today we will focus more on the anger itself. The anger may have two origins: the anger directed at the self as a result of sexual assault and the anger directed outwards.
The anger directed at the self is particularly destructive. Shawna was a very strong person, but she did not view herself that way. Her particular incident of sexual assault involved being held prisoner and she feared not only that she would be raped, but also that she would be killed. Amazing she managed to emerged physically unscathed by her ordeal. But emotionally she was distraught and suffered a complete breakdown due to the incident.
Shawna had problems with guilt which we were able to deal with in therapy but she was also extremely angry at herself. In her own words, she said she should have behaved differently during the whole incident. She mentally invoked two of the world’s most powerful and hard-hitting women as potential role models to illustrate how she felt she should have behaved.
She picked Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, and Germaine Greer, the women’s rights activist prominent for her book The Female Eunuch. Somewhere in her mind, Shawna felt that she should have been “stronger” and behaved like these two women portrayed themselves. She was angry with herself and felt she had let herself down by not being more in control of the situation.
With therapy, Shawna came to realize that she was imbuing both Thatcher and Greer with powers they may not have actually possessed. Shawna almost died during her ordeal. Who is to say how Margaret Thatcher and Germaine Greer would have behaved if the same incident had occurred to them. They may not have behaved as cool-headedly as Shawna herself. In time, Shawna came to see that she had unrealistic expectations of herself and that these false beliefs were preventing her from seeing her own unique strengths. These false beliefs and self-directed anger were also stalling her recovery.
Shauna has now dealt with her anger in a more realistic way and has let go of the false beliefs that were keeping her locked into a powerless position, unable to get past the horror of her assault. Today she lives a happy and successful life, the scars of her assault still present but well and truly healed.
Next article: Dealing with anger at the world
Contact Beth McHugh for further information or assistance regarding this issue.