How Does A Rape Effect My Love-Life?

Rape is a violent act against a person. Its sexual aspect is always secondary. The violence involved is primary. Rape is simply violence acted out in a sexual form.

In this post we will answer the questions: what psychological damage does rape create, and what psychological aftereffects does rape leave in the victim’s love-life?

Rape is the act of taking something by violent force from another person. What is taken? The rapist takes away a person’s right to determine/choose and control his or her own emotional and physical being.

Through violent dominance and control, the victim of rape is violated and he or she becomes temporarily powerless. This kind of violation traumatizes the mind and the body.

The traumatic experience of being violated in this way is psychologically responded to with ‘defenses.’ This is the expected survival response of someone who has been violently abused. In the short-term, the psychological defenses that form protect the victim from further injury and harm. Defenses like numbing, distancing from others, and hyper-vigilance.

As I said, defenses are expected and even needed in the short-term. Problems occur when these self-protecting defenses remain in effect over the long-term. Defenses created to protect the offended victim of rape are now complicating and in many instances interfering with getting back to the business of living and loving.

There are three (3) psychological hurdles to overcome when treating a victim of rape. The first is to reduce the immediate response to terror and trauma. The victim enters a state of psychological shock. Psychological shock occurs when a person fears that he or she will lose his or her life. Fearing and avoiding death is an understandable preoccupation of a person being raped.

The degree of ‘stress’ this type of experience places on the mind will temporarily reduce a person’s functioning and create symptoms such as anxiety-panic and depression. At this point it is essential to reduce the immediate impact of terror and fear on the victim’s mind and body.

Once this is accomplished, the next step is to understand and reduce the psychological defenses that were created. Post-traumatic re-experiences of rape in waking and sleep states are very common in victims. Aspects of the experience that re-emerge latter as disassociated episodes of terror and fear are quite common.

The victim’s mind first ‘shuts-down’ to get through the experience. Now in the period of time following the assault, the mind of the victim naturally tries to unravel. It would be easy to interpret this as further sickness without understanding the mind of the victim is trying to expel and master the offending experience over time.

Apart from the more obvious defensive things a person does trying to cope with this kind of experience, like numbing, distancing from others, and being visibly suspicious, there are more subtle psychological defenses to contend with. Victims of rape will tend to protect themselves by ‘toughing’ or ‘hardening’ themselves. The person is not numb (as in not feeling any emotion) just limiting the extent of his or her feelings.

A wariness also comes over his or her relationships with others. This can occur in a variety of forms ranging from avoidance of contact to irritability and frequent conflict with others. Emotionally, the person is trying to cope with the fact that part of him or her is expecting to be hurt again in the same way. And why not?

There are people in the world who will violate and rape, right? Yes, but there are also more people in the world who won’t. Coming back to this realization is important, in fact vital. As long as the hurt violated part of the victim’s mind is convinced that further hurt is coming, there will be no incentive to relax and find opportunities to be open and vulnerable again.

This leads us to the third psychological hurdle on the journey back from a rape experience, the ‘transfer’ of expectations of further hurt to subsequent relationships. Here’s where they get acted-out. There are plenty of people in the world. You have to be able to screen out the ones that will do you harm from the ones who won’t. This is true for all of us. You can’t walk around believing that everyone is a potential rapist.

Well, unfortunately you can, and sometimes you will. In that world, the victim is never safe, and feelings of safety are exactly what the doctor must order. This is how you know as a victim of this kind of violent crime that you are coming back to life, mastering the experience. Human beings are an absolute marvel when it comes to an ability to adapt and change. The only thing is, a little work is needed. The prize at the end of the tunnel is the strength of character and wisdom you get for your trouble.

This last problem is the most troublesome when it comes to reconstructing your love-life after a rape experience. You don’t want unhealed leftovers from the experience damaging and limiting your love-life going forward. The injustice in that is tragic. The ill effects of this experience cannot be permitted to invade and injure your ability to give and receive love for the rest of your life.

You’ll need to strengthen the part of you that is able to ‘supervise’ everything else inside of you. Weird idea? Not really. Think of it as the ‘CEO’ of you. This part of your conscious mind is going to supervise the decisions you make and the actions you take from now on. The purpose is to look for and ‘delete’ any aftereffects of the rape experience you find in your behavior.

Seem like an impossible task? It gets simpler the more you practice. At some point in the future, you will be able to determine what is left over from the experience and let it go, only because you know you don’t have to be afraid anymore. Here’s the weird but fascinating part. You get to bring yourself back from defensive paranoid living to a more self-confident self-supervised lifestyle.

A good example of this would be, you are out on a date with someone you’re ‘attracted’ to. Part of you feels vulnerable, scared, and even wants to run away. The CEO knows this is happening and knows it could dash the chances you have to improve your love-life. Working with yourself inside yourself is going to be very important right now.

You’re going to need to make decisions about what is real and what isn’t. You’ll know inside if you have a real reason to be afraid or if the fear is coming from what you went through. You could decide not to give in to it and wait it out. These things tend to come and go.

Let’s briefly mention a few more psychological issues involved in getting yourself and your love-life back after a traumatic experience like rape. For starters, revenge or retribution are not conducive to healing. They create a state of mind that hangs onto the toxic emotions a rape experience will create. Returning violence for violence only adds more violence to your life.

Another sign that a traumatic experience has not resolved is the presence of ‘extremes’ of thought, feeling, or behavior. When something ‘extreme’ has happened, it’s common to subsequently respond to all kinds of things with ‘extreme’ over or under reactions. The healing objective is to get back to ‘balanced’ living.

Victims of violent crimes can be convinced that they see potential offenders wherever they go. In an effort to ensure personal safety it is common to remain vigilant when around people. The ability to feel safe and relax around people has been damaged.

You have to re-learn how to realistically differentiate among people. Which are safe and which are not? It’s important to be able to reliably tell the difference without putting everybody or a subgroup (all men) into a category labelled dangerous.

Another differentiation that has to be re-learned is the difference between sex and rape. Sex is definitely not rape. In sex you have control. In sex you are consenting adults. In sex you have chosen your sex partner. You have the ability to say yes or no.

While sex and rape are confused, love relationships after a rape experience can be difficult to say the least. They can be painful especially when you think you’ve perceived something dangerous in your lover. The recoil can be automatic and largely or totally irrational.

Rape victims need to learn how to take care of themselves again. To go from defensive forms of self-protection and paranoia, to effective ways of keeping oneself safe while enjoying life at the same time. Not easy when part of you is convinced you are always in danger.

When you realize how important it is to repair your ability to love and be loved, you’ve reached the most advanced stage of your healing. As a person damaged by such an experience, real love for you, in whatever form love exists in your life, is and always will be the ultimate cure for the consequences of cruelty.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan


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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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