“I Know How You Feel”

I know I wrote about “Rotten Responses,” but I felt like this particular response wasn’t a rotten response, just a misguided one. I had a college pastor tell me “I know how you feel,” after I explained how I had been raped. He had asked me to tell him what specifically had happened to me so he could better understand what I was dealing with. It was before I had started counseling and I believe this person had the best of intentions, but they had no idea what I was feeling.

This person shared with me that when they were a child their father had told them they were a mistake, that the only reason they were here is because their mom forgot to take her birth control. I am in no way discounting the intense pain and rejection this person felt, but it is not the same as the emotions you experience after being raped. I should know, my mom was emotionally abusive and I experienced a lot of rejections from my mother. Threats that she would drop me off at an orphanage because she declared me ungrateful. Telling me that she loved my sister, but she didn’t know where I came from. That rejection stings, but it is different than trauma.

Rape is trauma. It is one of the most violent crimes one person can do to another. In the wake of trauma, I moved into survival mode. I disassociated and completely repressed my rape to survive. It was emotionally more than I could handle at that time, so my mind removed it for a time. As I began to face the reality of being raped I went through a period that I would now describe as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I couldn’t sleep. I could barely function, and some days I didn’t even have the strength to get out of bed and leave my apartment. I was incredibly depressed. I was fearful. I was fearful of men. I hated all men, especially my rapist. I was at the end of myself and completely overwhelmed. I felt defeated. I isolated myself. I experienced guilt and shame. Hopeless.   Helpless. Vulnerable. Defeated. I felt disgusting and dirty. He had robbed me of my dignity. I had headaches. Anger. Anxiety. Low self-esteem. Bitterness. I wanted revenge. I wanted my rapist to suffer, but honestly there was no form of suffering that would suffice. Nothing would satiate my desire for justice.

My emotions were not simply based upon extreme rejection. There is rejection in being raped. In one’s objections being ignored. In one’s futile struggles against a stronger opponent. These are forms of rejection, but the wounding is so much deeper than just the emotions associated with rejection.

I have met very few rape survivors. I think most of us tend to suffer in silence. It’s not a topic that comes up organically in everyday conversations either. However, with the few that I have met, I have never said – “I know how you feel.” I have an idea of how they feel and the struggles they have faced, but I think it is presumptuous of me to assume I know how they feel. It is such a deep and traumatic wounding. Responses are so multifaceted. I zealously read book after book on rape and date rape while I was on my journey toward hope and healing. In those books, I found so many different responses to being raped. Sure, there were commonalities, but everyone reacts differently to trauma.

During my counseling, I shared this particular reaction with my counselor. Her immediate response was: “That’s not the same. He has no idea how you are feeling.” I wasn’t sharing this with my counselor to belittle or discount what he had said, but it comforted me to know that she shared my reaction. All wounds are not the same. Just because someone has experience a wounding doesn’t mean they automatically know how you are feeling amidst your pain. Certainly, sexual trauma has an entirely different set of repercussions than a relational wounding.

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