Even if you aren’t a full-time attention-seeker, being serenaded likely gives you an adrenaline rush and makes you feel wanted, connected to others.
When humans bask in either genuine or false positive attention, we often feel worthy—like we’re on top of the world. When others look the other way, however, we likely feel wounded, worthless.
These are innate responses rooted in human nature, and, unfortunately, perpetrators both recognize and use this fact to their advantage.
Perpetrators can be family, friends, partners, or strangers; they often apply sexual coercion by rewarding victims, using incentive like a magnet to attract, swindle, and, ultimately, (re)traumatize them. The coercion links to grooming, which is sexual abuse, and the perpetrator may use tactics such as gestures (e.g. praise) or objects (e.g. candy) to manipulate the victim. After experiencing sexual trauma, survivors often become utterly disgusted with themselves. Many also sink rapidly into pits of profound shame that are deeper than the ocean’s darkest abyss; some even suffer in secrecy, believing that accepting the reward(s)—or even ‘liking’ aspects of the traumatic experience—leaves them disqualified from claiming victimization or disclosing the abuse.
Perpetrators and victim blamers may suggest that you ‘asked for it’. Know that they’re all pros at spewing bold-faced lies that instantly become locked into your memory, shattering your self-perception. Here’s an opportunity to clear some of the broken glass, pan out, and view your trauma from a compassionate, objective angle. Maybe you’re reading this blog right now and questioning why you were ‘excited’ or ‘liked’ how you felt during any part of the sexual trauma. Maybe you’re someone who fantasizes about the experience(s) or becomes aroused while reliving them. Whatever it is that brought you here, consider the following to understand and destigmatize your responses:
- You’re a normal human who needs responsiveness (attention). Why did you ‘like’ it? Well, humans enjoy being positively recognized by others; we require responsiveness or attention from others in order to survive. Overall, attention connects to connection. We often feel special and safe whenever we experience attention in the form of affection, for example—via gentle eye contact or a soothing tone. If your perpetrator weaponized attention, that’s why you ‘liked’ that part of the experience. Also, remember that two things can be true at the same time; you can loathe the perpetrator and still ‘like’ how they made you feel at one point in time. Know that they strategically disguised their sexually coercive grooming tactics. Remember that ‘liking’ part or all of a sexual trauma experience doesn’t mean that you wanted, welcomed, or consented to it. Again, you responded normally to what the scamming perpetrator sold as genuine, unconditional attention and responsiveness.
- You fawned for your life. Again, many sexual trauma survivors actually ‘enjoyed’ certain aspects of the abuse; some pretended to ‘like’ or be ‘excited’ about what was happening to them in order to ‘get it over with’, appease the perpetrator, and keep their lives intact. Again, there’s nothing wrong with responding instinctively to what seemed like authentically positive attention. There’s a lot that’s wrong about the perpetrator viewing your response (e.g. ‘enjoyment’) as an indicator that you were somehow okay with the abuse or wanted it. If it’s still challenging to avoid self-blame, know that there’s a difference between sex and sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is a crime, and the perpetrator will always be the only offender. Healthy sex requires CERTS (consent, equality, respect, trust, and safety), and sexual abuse is completely void of all of these aspects.
- Your trauma is physiological. Trauma is a disturbance that generates 8.0 magnitude earthquake-like aftershocks, and the tectonic plates continue to shift years after the catastrophic event. Trauma is also a physiological experience, and every sensation that we feel during the experience becomes locked into the now memory—everything from the pain to the pleasure. Know that it’s completely common if you’ve noticed automatic, intrusive responses after sexual abuse—such as dreams, fantasies, and even accompanied sexual arousal. Consider the fact that the human body and genitals respond to physical stimulation, period. Becoming aroused during or after sexual trauma doesn’t mean that you enjoyed the experience or wanted it to continue—even when the perpetrator tried to make you believe otherwise. Sexual abuse is abuse. What happened to you will always be a crime and will never be okay.
If you’ve ever experienced childhood and/or adulthood sexual abuse, consider unpacking and reorganizing misconceptions about your trauma with a licensed therapist today.