It’s been a hard year to be a sexual assault survivor in the US.
I’m not saying that any year is easy, or that we’re all on the same healing journey. I’m certainly not claiming we’ve all had the same experiences. We haven’t.
But I know from my own experience – as well as anecdotes from many, many other survivors – how often national news has caused many of us to relive our own trauma.
Seeing the faces of perpetrators plastered all over news feeds, hearing over and over again the justifications and minimizations that I’m already so familiar with… It’s been impossible to escape the reminders of what I’ve been through, and how many people will bend over backwards to excuse the people who commit assault.
And then we elected one of those people president. And I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to be okay.
It felt like the entire country had risen up and said, “We don’t care about you. We will always side with your abuser over you. We will make every possible excuse for them, and we will shame you, disbelieve you, and scrutinize your every move for reasons to believe that what you suffered doesn’t matter. And people like him will keep doing what they do because they know they can get away with it.”
As hard as it’s been, it turns out I did wake up the next day, and the next day, and the next. And I developed this set of affirmations, to remind me of the truths that I know deep within my heart, but that are so easy to forget in the middle of darkness.
I know that assault survivors are only one of many groups experiencing an increase in trauma this year from national and global news – and that it isn’t confined to the US either. This is a very specific list of affirmations that help me, and some of them are tailored specifically to survivors’ experience, but my hope is that they will be helpful to many others as well.
Because you deserve to continue healing, even when it feels like the world is dragging you down.
1. This Is Terrible, Wrong, and Unfair
We usually think of affirmations as focusing on the positive. But sometimes focusing on the positive amounts to little more than gaslighting ourselves.
If I try to tell myself there’s a rainbow behind every cloud, or I just need to look at the bigger picture, or I just need to change the story I’m telling myself, what I’m really doing is saying that the pain I’ve experienced isn’t important.
It hurts me deeply when other people say that, so why would I say it to myself?
Instead, I find it helps me to just say it outright: This is awful. This is unfair. This should not be happening.
When I stop trying to deny the negative, then I feel like I can move on. That lets me think about what to do next, instead of spending all my energy trying to believe in a different reality.
It also helps me avoid blaming myself.
In the US especially, we really want suffering to mean something. And often, the meaning we come up with is that the person suffering somehow deserved it.
We don’t deserve this – and it’s not our fault.
2. Whatever You Feel Is Okay
It’s common for people who have experienced violence to be hypercritical of our own reactions to things.
We’re used to other people scrutinizing our emotions and expressions to decide if they believe us, if we’re the “right” kind of victim. Even if we haven’t directly experienced that, we see it when other people disclose what’s happened to them.
I have to remind myself that there are all kinds of ways that people react to terrible things, and they’re all valid. Anger is okay; depression is okay; crying for days is okay; numbness is okay.
In the aftermath of upsetting events, we do not owe anyone the performance of the “right” emotions.
It’s especially hard to give ourselves space for feeling what we feel when we’re responsible for taking care of others – as parents or other caregivers. In those cases, we do sometimes have to be cognizant of and responsible with our responses for the sake of the people who depend on us.
But it’s still important to remind ourselves that the feelings themselves are okay – and that taking time, whenever we’re able, to feel them and move through them is a healing step.
And if, like me, you’re the kind of person who tends to numb out when things get overwhelming, that’s okay, too. It doesn’t mean your trauma isn’t real – it’s actually a very common way to respond to trauma.
It doesn’t mean you’re heartless, and it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve as much care as people who are feeling intensely.
3. There Will Always Be People Who Disbelieve Us
This is another one that doesn’t sound very comforting at first glance.
I want to live in a world where I, and other survivors, are believed, supported, and centered in our community’s process of dealing with violence.
What I’ve seen, over and over again, is that that’s not the world I live in.
Every time someone casts doubt on someone else’s story of assault, it hurts me. It hurts me because I know that that person is just a few circumstances away from doubting me. It hurts me because it reminds me of the people who disbelieve me, who even treat my story as a joke.
Being doubted and gaslit is a fundamental part of the aftermath of abuse and assault for so many of us. Our ability to trust our feelings and our memories is often deeply undermined. Being doubted is painful and damaging in a way that most people who haven’t experienced it can’t imagine.
What I’ve slowly been coming to terms with, though, is that while I want the world to be full of people who believe and support survivors, I don’t need it. I know what happened to me, and the fact that other people doubt and question it doesn’t change that.
It’s helpful to me when, instead of hoping for everyone to believe a survivor’s story and waiting anxiously to see what will happen, I just accept that some people will disbelieve – and that that’s a problem with them, not a problem with the survivor or with me.
4. There Will Always Be People Who Believe and Support Us
I need to be able to stand by my truth even when other people deny it. But that doesn’t mean I have to be all on my own.
In times of stress and renewed trauma, it’s extra important to remind myself of the people who have my back. It is never actually just me against the world.
It took me some time to get to a place where I had a community of friends who I could trust to support me. Even if you haven’t gotten there yet, it’s worth remembering that there are people in the world – lots of them – who will believe you and will happily give you the support you need.
If you don’t have an existing support network, this is a good time to reach out for one – even if your initial trauma is far in the past.
When thinking about calling a hotline, it’s very common to feel silly, or to feel like your trauma is either too big or too small for them to handle. Just know that they’re there for all of us, all survivors. They’ve been trained for this and want to help you.
You are worth their time.
5. Self-Care Is Resistance
For a lot of us, self-care is hard even at the best of times.
We’ve been told we’re not worth it, that we’re only valuable if we’re constantly working and sacrificing ourselves, that we have to at all costs avoid being “selfish” – which means never prioritizing our own well-being.
In times of national distress and trauma, we have other voices to add to the chorus of reasons that we shouldn’t be taking care of ourselves.
I find myself wondering if I even have the right to take care of myself when so many other people are suffering, too. And then when I do find some times of peace and happiness, I wonder if that means my trauma isn’t real – that I’m just faking it or dramatizing myself for attention.
All these are lies.
The truth is that taking care of myself is a form of resistance against the people that treat me as an enemy, as disposable. It’s not my only act of resistance, but it’s an important one.
After all, when we’re fighting against the idea that we don’t matter, that we don’t deserve to exist and thrive, that our abusers are always worth more to the world than we are, what could be a more relevant act of resistance than taking care of ourselves?
Self-care can mean therapy. It can mean meditation, prayer, or other spiritual practices. It can mean little indulgences like baths and treats. It can mean tuning out from the news feeds that are bombarding us with devastating content. It can mean making time for people who love us and make us feel good, or making time to be by ourselves.
It can mean anything that makes you feel better, more at peace, or more in touch with yourself. And only you get to decide what that looks like.
When times are hard, it’s easy to lose sight of all the things I’ve learned that got me this far.
I use affirmations to remind myself, even when it’s hard to believe or hard to feel it. Please take any of these that help you, and if there are things you’ve learned in your journey that helped, add them to the list.
Above all, do whatever you need to do to get through this hard time. You are valuable and worth fighting for.
Ginny Brown is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism, as well as a speaker and educator specializing in sexuality and relationships. She writes for various publications and has her own blog here. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her poly family and three cats. Follow her on Twitter @lirelyn. Read her articles here.