It’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2020. Unlike other years, we are unable to gather with other survivors and supporters for a month filled with events to raise awareness and empower survivors. However, through social media and web platforms, we can still uplift, support, encourage and remind survivors that they are not alone. Statistics state that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be the victim of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime (rainn.org). Sexual violence affects every survivor differently. However, for many survivors the greatest area of impact is trust in relationships. This is not limited to just romantic relationships but often affects most relationships in a survivor’s life depending on the circumstances surrounding the assault. Our focus this month will be on the affects that sexual violence has on trust within romantic relationships.
As always, I only speak about my own personal experiences. It has been almost 19 years since I was assaulted and to this day relationships can have its challenges. First off, let me begin by saying I own my choices, good and bad. Many of my decisions were made from a place of fear and staying true to myself that no one, and I meant no one, would ever take it from me again. I would say yes and allow it to happen before anyone could remotely put me mentally and emotionally back where I was on the nights that I was assaulted. I am also aware of the fact that I have hurt people along the way. I was a living breathing walking testament that hurt people hurt people. Secondly, be clear that survivors are not incapable of loving someone or being faithful. After I stopped coping with sex and alcohol being the comfort drugs of choice, I was always faithful in my relationships. I was loyal to a fault at times. But I trusted no one completely. Hindsight being 20/20, I shouldn't have been in any relationship until I was ready to deal with how being assaulted had changed my life forever. If we are honest as survivors, before we ever get the necessary help that we need, we may not love ourselves let alone some man. As statistics tells us, most women know their attackers. Therefore, they’ve been betrayed by someone they trusted. Therefore, we build walls around our hearts instead of fences. Walls are great at keeping things/people out that are bad but can also keep out the things/people that are good to and for us. Those walls make it hard to know who we can and can’t trust. Our future choices can be shaped by how others have treated us as well, be it bad or good.
What makes trust and dating such a challenge? For me personally, I look back at those I allowed in. Many of them talked a good game but for one reason or another, they never chose me to be permanent in their life. I was good enough to have sex with and maybe have a meal or two but nothing more. I’ve been as far as being engaged and a week away from being married. To getting a text message, from that same person, one week before our wedding saying they couldn’t get married. To later find that they had a baby on the way, obviously they weren’t committed to me the entire time. In addition, this same person at some point in the relationship asked so many questions about the few details that I gave about one of my assaults that I walked away feeling as though I had been on trial and was accusing him. If that wasn’t enough to bruise my self-esteem, the question was posed did I think I was damaged goods. Add age to the mix and the undocumented timeline that you have in your head and you begin to wonder is there something wrong with you. When you try new relationships and with all intentions try to be open but begin to see qualities and traits that you’ve seen in others slowly creep in, you begin to justify your reasons for not trusting in the first place. Life has taught you that trust is to be earned not freely given because of the lack of history with them.
But what happens when you’re really ready for things to be different? When you want to allow someone in but the thought of ending up as so many others almost paralyzes you? How do we recover and/or restore faith in relationships and ultimately trust someone enough to actually love us and stay true to their word? I’m glad you asked.
Step #1: Through Prayer and Therapy
Before we can enter into any relationship, we must be whole first. I’m sure many of us have had men come and go in our lives since the assault. However, how ready were we? How many times were we triggered by something they said or did? How many times did we see red flags EVERRRY WHERE but too afraid to walk away because you fear that you won’t get anyone else? Did we love ourselves? Had we allowed God to heal our hidden wounds? If we are truthful, God may have been the last thing on our mind. If you are like me, I also thought I was fine until I got into counseling and realized, I couldn’t even say it. But I’m a firm believer in both spiritual and practical methods to healing. If you are a believer, I don’t feel that we can separate the two. Sexual violence has a way of robbing you to your core and leaving a void and hole so deep that only God can repair. But we have to ask Him to fill it and seek Godly counsel.
Step #2: Right Perspective of Self
Many times, on this healing journey, you will encounter people that will say all types of negative things to you. What were you wearing? You didn’t flirt? Why didn’t you scream? Did you say no? Just to name a few I’ve heard personally. But in reality, the people I allowed in my life that I thought cared about me reinforced the thoughts I already had, that I wasn’t good enough, maybe I was damaged, maybe I wasn’t a good person or maybe no one would ever love me the way I desired. But feelings aren’t facts. I heard a pastor say in a recent message that "facts can’t change the truth but truth can change the facts". The negative thoughts we have about ourselves can often be reflected in the people we allow in our lives. When we are not fully healed, we subconsciously attract what we put out. But the truth of the matter is that we are worthy of love even when we don’t feel it. There is someone out there that doesn’t want just a physical relationship with you without getting to know you as a person. The worthiness of being loved has been my greatest struggle in trusting that someone would want me. I hold on to the truth that God has created and fashioned someone just for me that can handle where I’ve been but understands where I am now going.
Step #3: Build A Fence and Not a Wall
The bible tells us to guard your heart for out of it flows the issues of life. As survivors, I believe we do a pretty good job of guarding our hearts. So much so that we don’t let most people in. We let people only so far. We master the skill of saying a lot but very little all at the same time. There’s a difference in building a wall versus a fence. They both provide security and protection and keep things out or in. However, each has it’s place. Walls usually have no entry and exit point without a door. Fences, on the other hand, have an entry point that allows the door to swing open and closed at the desire of the owner. In guarding our heart with walls, that even the nicest guy can’t successfully climb if he tried, we keep out those that could be good for us. Those we are intended to cross on our journey. Fences allow you to see what’s coming and choose to let someone in our not or when to put them out. I am guilty of building walls, especially when I’ve been hurt. I fear that other people will be just like them. Talk can be cheap you know. But I prayed and asked God to do the picking this time because clearly my picker is off. I told him I needed him to be crystal clear though. I almost need an angle to come tell me in a dream that this is who you want me to be with.
I recall a recent experience while getting to know someone. They asked me why I questioned everything they said as though I don’t trust their motive. UHHHH duh of course I don’t. Anyone can say anything to ultimately get what they want and then be like all the rest and leave. But the comment that followed, put me in my feelings. They stated you act as though you aren’t worthy of being loved. “I feel that you’re worth everything and more and if I didn’t want you, I wouldn’t make an effort to talk to you everyday all day”. I had to come to the quick reality that I have to replace the wall that I’ve had for years with a fence. You can be guarded but still open to allow someone to earn your trust. If we be honest, we do believe that trust is earned not freely given for you to prove otherwise. But do we have the criteria of what would a man have to do or show to have earned that trust? If in their human state, they showed some behaviors of others that have not been trustworthy would they then be deemed as not to be trusted? After many years of not so good relational experiences, I’m much more open to building a fence and trusting that God will give me the discernment to know who does and doesn’t have my best interest at heart.
Trust can be restored in relationships but not until you’ve allowed God to heal your hidden wounds, you see yourself as being good enough, worthy enough to be loved, and you replace the wall around your heart with a fence that allows you to see what’s coming and chose who should and who shouldn’t come in.