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What I Learned From Rape

It has become so difficult to get into a state of mind for writing lately, that I often find that the only things I can write about are the ones that hurt the most. So who knows? Maybe this whole situation will bring more daring out of me, and force me to write about things I would not have gotten to otherwise. Maybe that’s a good thing…

If you haven’t seen or heard me talk about this topic before, I hope it does not surprise you too much. I do write about it from time to time, though I wouldn’t like for it to turn into some kind of defining factor in my life… But I’m messed up right now, so here we go.

The context is simple: I was raped in preschool. The memory of it was lost in my mind (or maybe I should say: my body) for decades, until it finally started to surface in the form of flashbacks and panic attacks when I was 33. This was a big part of what made me move to California - guess what - almost exactly ten years ago.

I don’t know that I need to get into the details any more than that for now. Like I said, I’ve touched on it in the past, and I imagine it will come up again in the future. But I want to take this time to focus on what might seem a little strange at first: I want to talk about some things I learned from this experience - things I might not have learned any other way. At least, I would guess, these things would not have been the same.

Lesson One: Responsibility

Until my early thirties, a lot of things made no sense at all: Why was I so afraid of love? Why was I so afraid of sex? Why did my body shut down all of a sudden, or go through episodes of excruciating pain, with no explanation in sight? I lost one relationship after another, and life was hell, for no apparent reason.

When my flashbacks started, and I began to realize where this was all coming from, I could have wallowed in my misery with a “stay in jail free” card for the rest of my life: It wasn’t my fault! Someone else was to blame. I was the victim. For crying out loud, I was the proverbial “Helpless Child”. What did I do wrong? Who could possibly criticize me now?

But if I had snuggled under the covers of victimhood like that, I would have been the same helpless child forever. I decided very resolutely that I did not want that life. And blaming someone else for it was clearly not going to get me anywhere. 

My life began to change when I took personal responsibility - not for what had been done to me, or the person who did it to me, but for what I could do for my own benefit and healing. What does that mean? I assure you that it would have to be different for everyone, depending on the situation, and that you’ll have to figure it out for yourself. But in my case, it meant therapy. It meant that I had to vent all that pain and anger that I had been holding inside - in large part, without even knowing it - for over 30 years. If you ever wonder why I’m always talking about “getting your anger out”, well, there you go.

So… Do you think you’re a victim? That’s lovely. We’re all victims.

Do you think it’s all someone else’s fault, and someone else’s responsibility to help you? I hate to say it, but that’s not the way the world works. 

But here is the critical point: It’s not that the world doesn’t work that way because life isn’t fair; it’s that the world really just doesn’t work that way, because even victims have responsibilities. 

In fact, though it may be difficult to accept (or maybe to see right away), victims and perpetrators actually have the exact same responsibilities. If you want to talk about karma, you may find it interesting that victims and perpetrators share some similar psychological symptoms.

And hey, do you think that anything you do is justifiable, because you were victimized? What can I say… Having a reason for doing something does not mean that it’s the best thing you can do.


I once heard a lecture by a man who’s mother was a prostitute. He and his older brother were abandoned at the ages of zero and three, and went through an orphanage and foster parents that tried to force them to forget their past - very much by force. By the end of high school, one of them was a hardened criminal. The other one was an independent, self-sufficient man who made it in this world. He - the younger son - had spent years in therapy of every kind, and recalled a conversation that he once had with one of his counselors. The counselor told him:

“Look… With the kind of life you’ve lived, I could use Western psychology to explain absolutely anything you might ever do. If you get arrested, I could testify and tell the jury about your childhood, about your past, and about why you were driven to commit whatever crime you committed - any crime at all. I could even write you a note that says this.

Now here is my advice to you: I’ll write you this note, and you keep it in your pocket… and DON’T EVER USE IT.”

As someone else has probably said before me: We all have hell, deep inside us and all around us. What are you going to do about it? That’s what I want to know.

Lesson Two: Revenge

Anger is the chemical that helps us save ourselves when we are in danger. It makes us strong, it makes us fight. When the danger is over, if we don’t learn to release the anger, then we will still want to hurt whoever did it to us. But that’s not because justice is a universal obligation that has to be fulfilled. It is because we haven’t properly healed, and our body still thinks we are in danger. We are still mad. That’s why we want revenge. We want to “eliminate the danger”.

I have had a lot of anger in me, throughout my lifetime. Enough to cause me excruciating pain, to make me tired all the time, to make me lose love over and over again. But hurting the perpetrator would have done nothing to cure my anger; as a matter of fact, it would only have fed it the worst possible food. I have no wish whatsoever to harm the man that did this to me. He is human, like me. He acted out of his own pain. I see that. And it is a liberating feeling.

If you can heal your anger - a thing that you must do on your own, without any connection whatsoever to the person that harmed you, even if it was “their fault” - then you will find what your body really needs: Forgiveness.

And with forgiveness comes compassion.

And with compassion comes understanding.

And with all of these comes love.

Image by Athena Sandrini,


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