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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 5823
Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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I was assaulted by 2 strangers when I was 21 and in college.

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I was assaulted by 2 strangers when I was 21 and in college. They used a broken bottle, which obviously really hurt and caused a lot of bleeding. One of them told me to say and do and ask for things, and did. I was scared he would use the bottle again. I never really dealt with it and am in therapy now, working through it. I have overwhelming guilt and shame over my compliance and participation, and can't seem to get past it. My psychologist and I have spoken about it a great deal. She says that my taking responsibility for it and my thought patterns are just wrong. I don't want to feel this, but I do, and I can't buy into the whole whatever-you-did-to-survive-is-okay mindset. Maybe it is because I am an attorney, and can obviously argue well (even with myself), but I keep ending up with the conclusion that I am culpable for everything I agreed to do and say. I can't seem to come up with any other realistic conclusions. Any suggestions?

Hi, I'd like to help you with your question.

Yes, you are culpable for everything you agree to do and say, but only to a point. That is a great argument if you are trying to prosecute someone who committed a crime. But it does not work with a crime survivor.

The very idea of a crime is to do something against another person against their will. Psychologically we are geared to protect ourselves, particularly if we feel the threat is against our life. We will change our behaviors and our actions to deal with whatever situation we are confronted with because the main goal is to stay alive. Everything else becomes unimportant. When you were attacked, your whole body and mind became totally focused on coming out of the situation alive. Once you realized you could not escape, you prepared yourself to cooperate any way possible. You essentially allowed yourself to go against your own instinct to fight so you could live. That is not being responsible for the attack, that is smart thinking that kept you alive.

This is why when someone is faced with a life or death situation they often develop PTSD. The mind has to cope with something that makes it face it's own death. So to cope, the mind goes against how it usually works and pushes for survival at any cost. This causes the person great distress once it is over. They develop symptoms including self blaming, depression and guilt. They look at what they did to survive and wonder how they could do that. Once they are safe from the attack, the idea that they could act in that manner shocks them. But at the time of the attack, it was necessary to survive.

You can help yourself by seeing yourself as someone else. If you were talking with someone who just was attacked, would you look for ways to blame them? What if they gave up their wallet to the person, would that be something they are responsible for since they gave it up instead of it being wrestled from them?

Or if this happened to a friend, what would you do for her? Would you talk to her? What would you feel for her?

If you would not blame others for how they chose to stay alive in a bad situation, then you do not deserve blame either. Focusing on moving your feelings to someone else helps you see that blaming yourself for something you had no control over is not doing you any good. Even if you cooperated fully with these guys, no one would ever blame you. They did this to you, not the other way around. You are the survivor and that is the way to view yourself. You deserve to feel better.

I hope this helps you,

Customer: replied 5 years ago.
But I didn't care at the time whether I died, really (I do care now). I just wanted to be anywhere but there. I wasn't trading compliance for life; I was trading compliance to avoid some pain. Although, if given the choice, I would have avoided the whole situation altogether, of course, I can't say I didn't want them to do what they were doing and told me to ask for, or that I didn't want to do what they told me to do. I wanted these things because I did not want more pain from the bottle. I made a choice. I feel like the physical damage that could have been caused by them using the bottle more would have healed, but the damage I did by complying will still be there. In fact, after a point, when I was telling hem I wanted it and doing things they told me to, I literally asked them for it and consented. So it's not even a crime after some point. Plus -- after complying, they still used the bottle anyway, so after that, I knew I wasn't buying anything with my compliance anyway.

You are trying to logic your way into guilt over what happened to you, using your intelligence against yourself. Whether you complied in order to survive or complied in order to experience less pain doesn't matter. What matters is that you did not have a choice. You said yourself that if you had a choice you would not have been there at all. So you felt that you did not have a choice. This takes away any fault you have for what happened. Reasoning your way into fault is a way to feel guilt for what happened. You may not be able to find a way to explain why this happened to you, so you reason that it had to be because you wanted it.

This is part of being a survivor, the guilt that comes afterward. And it is something you have to one, decide to accept, and two, work your way through slowly. You may want to try saying stop to yourself whenever you feel these feelings of guilt. Or try a rubber band on your wrist. Stopping these thoughts is an important step to your recovery because they are so damaging to you. The next step is replacing the thoughts with the knowledge that no matter how you reason your way through this, you are not to blame for what happened. This may take time but you are in control of your thoughts and can do this.


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