The Stanford rapist’s sentencing, the rape survivor’s letter and the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, have recently dominated news headlines, and social media. I hesitated to add my voice to the overall noise of the conversation, but I thought it was important to speak to the survivors of rape, mass shootings and hate crimes.
Surviving Isn’t That Simple
To outsider observers, survivors of violent crime have, by definition, survived. Those who haven’t experienced the trauma might see survival as a thing of celebration, or as a reason to move forward. After all, the survivor made it; he or she is alive; the experience is over. Unfortunately, it’s rarely that simple. Survivors of violent crime are left with many conflicting feelings and thoughts. Years after the event, they might continue to struggle.
It’s hard for any of us to avoid the images, written text and video of the recent events. For survivors of violent crime, that information overload can bring back the thoughts, images, and feelings related to their past personal experience.
For survivors of rape or hate crimes, these feelings can include:
· Shame because they believe that maybe somehow they deserved this.
· Self-blame because “if only” they done that one thing (stayed home, skipped that last drink, worn different clothes...), it might not have happened.
· Anxiety because they no longer feel safe.
· Guilt because of the impact on family, friends and themselves.
· Anger towards the perpetrator, the victim, the system and themselves.
· Frustration that they can’t get over it, or that the perpetrator went free.
· Sorrow from the loss of their former selves.
· Relief because it was someone else this time.
· Hope that now others will understand how devastating the rape or hate crime can be. Or maybe, that the publicized incident will finally drive lasting societal change.
· Numbness because they can’t bare to think about what happened.
For survivors of mass shootings the feelings are similar but for slightly different reasons:
· Shame that they were targeted.
· Guilt that they survived and others didn’t.
· Anxiety because the world doesn’t feel safe.
· Anger towards the perpetrator, or the system.
· Frustration that this is happening again.
· Sorrow from the loss of those who died.
· Relief because they weren’t there this time.
· Hope that maybe this time something will change, and it won’t happen again.
· Numbness because to think about what happened is too painful.
Coping Tools For Survivors
If you are a survivor of violent crime, take the time to remind yourself that it’s normal for your feelings to resurface, and for you to feel conflicted about what’s happened. It’s also normal to be triggered, or activated, by the recent events. If you are feeling overwhelmed, here are a few coping tools to help you manage this extremely difficult time and to take care of yourself:
· Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you are feeling.
· Reach out. If you are in counseling, have a support group, or have supportive friends and family, talk to them about what’s going on for you.
· Turn off the news. You know what happened. Watching 24/7 news coverage can increase your feelings of danger or threat and leave you feeling more anxious.
· Take the time for self-care. Exercising, sleeping, reading, and spending time alone or with loved ones can create a sense of well-being.
· Take a walk in nature. Natural settings can help calm your nervous system. According to a scientific study that was reported on in the New York Times, “…volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health…They were not dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives as much as they had been before the walk.”
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the recent events and would like help please call or email me for a free 15-minute phone consultation.
Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC, is an Annapolis therapist helping people who feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. Progression Counseling in Annapolis and Arnold, MD- 410-340-8469