What to do when no one believes you… Healing from sexual assault and sexual violence

Few people would believe you if you told them there is something worse than rape, but there is: it’s finally finding the courage to speak up – to tell someone that you’ve been raped – only to be called a liar.

“All girls cry rape.”

“Guys can’t get raped.”

How many times have you heard someone say something like this? Dismissive comments hurt, especially when the victim just needs someone to talk to. Because, as they say, talking is the best therapy, so long as you can trust you’ll be listened to. Heard. Believed.

Being disbelieved is a survivor’s greatest fear.

According to Rape Response Services (RRSonline.org), there are “many different ways perpetrators use sexual violence to hurt their victims and there are many different ways in which people respond to sexual violence.” It does not matter if your trauma happened according to the rules that other people would agree upon. It does not matter if they would consider what happened to you as rape.

You know what happened because it happened to you and you were there. Not them. And it’s still bothering you because rape is an enormous challenge to heal from. If you’ve been hurt by someone not believing you, tell them this: according to The National Coalition Against Sexual Assault “false rape reports only happen 2% of the time.” That means 98% of the time someone is telling the truth. You’re telling the truth. You just need someone to talk to who will believe you. It’s the best way to heal.

Call a Sexual Assault Center: it’s a good place to start.

If you’re afraid that no one will believe you – or you’ve already found that the one person you entrusted with your story does not – go to a validated and trusted source of support for sexual abuse survivors. People at national and local sexual assault organizations are trained to not only help you handle the trauma, but also be there for you in support. If you have no one else to talk to, or are too afraid of being shut down by not being believed, start here. Call someone who you know will listen and start the conversation of your healing.

Don’t let the fear that others won’t believe you get in the way of finding the help and support you need.

You need help. You need support. And everyone is different.

Don’t let the fear of someone not believing you stop you from finding that one family member of friend who will. Or don’t let them stop you from seeking out professional help from a trained sexual assault volunteer or counselor. There are people out there, just for you. And they will believe you. Rape doesn’t happen in just one way to just one type of person and they understand that. Once you find someone to talk to who believes you, you can ask them to be involved in helping you talk to others who won’t, if you feel you need to tell all to help you heal. Everyone is different. Heal in your own way.

Don’t let other people’s perception or reaction deter you from speaking up and seeking help.

Out of a handful of people you might tell in your lifetime, some will believe you and others will not. It’s just the way it is. People often times have a set belief system in place, long before you speak up, that inhibits them from understanding, listening or even hearing you when it comes to rape. They will only believe what they believe to be true. But you don’t let their perception of what rape is or their reaction to hearing you speak about your experience stop you from healing. What one person or even a handful of people say of your story is not your story.

Be in control.

You own your story. This happened to you. Someone took away your control and you will get it back, right? So be the one in control of who you tell, how you tell, when you tell someone about your trauma. You pick the time, the place, the person. And you set up boundaries with yourself beforehand of how much information you want to give out and to whom. Some people will be able to hear it all and be there for you. Others will only be able to handle an ounce of what you’ve been through. And that’s okay. That is their reaction. Not yours. Do not allow their reaction – good or bad – be part of how you feel about what happened to you. Keep your story safe with you and only give out what you are comfortable telling. And to whom you are comfortable telling it to.

If there are some people in your inner circle that you don’t trust to believe you, don’t tell them. You do not owe anyone. You don’t have to tell anyone you don’t want to. This happened to you, so take charge in a way that helps you feel more in control over what happened. And even if you can only find one person who believes you and will listen, don’t let that get in the way of your healing. Sometimes all it takes is one person to be there for you to open the door within you that will lead you to a path of better healing. Whatever you chose to do, do what you need to do to stay in control and heal.

It’s okay to wait until you feel safe.

If you’ve just been assaulted or raped, report it ASAP. The authorities will help you find the support you need. But what do you do when it’s been years and it’s still eating at you? You still have the details and emotions rumbling in you?

Or what if you’re like me and you’ve talked until those who were there just don’t want to hear or talk about it anymore. What then? Many of us know what it’s like to still need to talk beyond the limits of what others think is normal or necessary.

Write. Create. Run.

There is more than one way to help release the pain. Talking is one, but doing is another.

I found that by writing my story out in journal form was just the right dose of catharsis I needed. It’s helped me find peace. Then it grew into something altogether new. A novel.

Although I wrote the story from a totally fictional standpoint, bringing my character to life and through the same sort of trauma – and healing – was healing for me, in that I had to be honest with myself as to what healing really was. Looked like, from the inside. In writing this fictionalized version of a truth that so many of us live through, it also gave me just the right outlet to vent and talk as much as I need/want to. It doesn’t matter that my personal truth never make its way into the novel. It was the simple act of writing that helped.

And what’s more, I get to use my novel as a tool to help others heal! Talk about empowerment.

Just keep in mind, through the nature of our own creativity, you can find ways to help vent frustrations and emotion.

Writing. Cooking. Painting. Running.

There are more than a few ways that can help empower us that heal us too.

Healing. It’s not easy. It’s not clean. But if you find it helpful to be in control of who you tell, how you tell and when you tell your story, do it any way you feel fit.

It will totally release you.

If you’re about to talk about your trauma with someone who you’re not sure will believe you – or you’ve just talked to someone who didn’t believe you – check this out. It’s a list of what NOT to say to a survivor, along with an extended list of what TO say what will help us all heal.

And good luck. I believe you.

This post was originally published for The Survivor Manual on April 4, 2014.

Lia-Mack-400-400Lia Mack is the author of Waiting for Paint to Dry (Pen L, May 2015), one woman’s quest to reclaim inner peace, take back her life, and stumble into love… Mack has also seen her creative non-fiction writing in various publications such as The Washington Post, Nickelodeon Jr. Magazine, Advances in Bereavement Magazine and Nesting Magazine.

You can visit her online at www.LiaMack.com.

Self – help App for survivors

Designed by Kay Toon who jointly authored the Breaking Free series of books


She has now created a series of Breaking Free Apps to support survivors …


(please cascade to appropriate networks)

EMDR: Questions and Concerns

I’ve already described the role EMDR can play in trauma treatment and given you some specifics about what the 8 phases look like. Even so, maybe you still have some questions or concerns. Let’s face it, EMDR sounds a bit odd when first described! It makes sense to have questions and do your research before considering an unfamiliar technique. If you are already in therapy, this is a good conversation to have with your therapist.

I really appreciate that some of my readers have shared their questions about EMDR because I believe they illustrate some common questions others may have as well.  and I plan to answer them here and share concerns of my own too.

As with any type of therapy, EMDR is only as good as the therapeutic alliance. Creating a collaborative therapy relationship requires trust, something that is understandably problematic for many trauma survivors. This is one issue that needs to be worked on before beginning EMDR. Every client is unique; only you know when you are there. If you do not yet feel safe enough in your therapy relationship, it may be premature for you to consider EMDR. What feeling safe means is also a big topic! For our purposes here, consider the following: Can you say no or let your therapist know something isn’t working? Are you able to ask for extra help or contact your therapist if in crisis in between sessions? Are you able to honestly report your feelings, thoughts, sensations in the moment? These are examples of the kind of safety in relationship needed for EMDR.

Good preparation to me means that before starting EMDR I want to work on basic Phase I trauma treatment stuff: safety in the form of establishing a collaborative therapeutic relationship and stabilization in the form of basic  distress reduction/management skills (grounding, relaxation, self-soothing).  Clients who have significant issues with dissociation ( not just but certainly including those who have Dissociative Identity Disorder [DID]) may need to work first on getting and staying present, more internal communication and cooperation between internal parts before considering EMDR.

EMDR can be used to help with some of the stabilization process. Part of the prep work for EMDR involves building coping skills to tolerate the feelings that may get stirred up. One of my readers addressed this issue with the following question:

“I’ve heard that EMDR can sometimes increase the anxiety – short term – of the trauma therapy, possibly overwhelming the patient. Is there any merit to this?”

My answer is that if the client is overwhelmed by anxiety during or in between EMDR sessions, enough preparation may not have been done! It is normal and an expected part of the process that strong feelings, sensations and traumatic images will arise during EMDR.  You may expect to have dreams, feelings, insights occur  in between EMDR sessions and it helps to keep a log of these to discuss. A skilled clinician helps you develop skills for coping with these before you get to the “overwhelmed” level. You will have learned techniques for coping with distress in between sessions. At the end of each session of EMDR, the therapist will help you get some closure:

The Closure ensures that the person leaves at the end of each session feeling better than at the beginning. If the processing of the traumatic target event is not complete in a single session, the therapist will assist the person in using a variety of self-calming techniques in order to regain a sense of equilibrium.

EMDR works best when the protocol is closely followed. One of my concerns is that some therapists may claim to provide EMDR without having completed the training. Or without an in-depth understanding of trauma treatment overall. Ironically, as I started this series I got linked to by a site claiming to provide treatment using “parts of EMDR”. This is a red flag to me and something I’d urge trauma survivors to avoid. If you want EMDR, make sure to ask your clinician if (s)he is using EMDR according to the training standards and guidelines of the EMDR International Association or EMDR-Europe.

Why are establishing a good working therapy relationship, initial preparation and seeing a therapist who has had proper training so important? Because you can have a bad experience otherwise! Another reader illustrates what can go wrong when these things are not in place:

“I’m afraid my experience was not good, although I still believe EMDR would be an appropriate therapy for me. The problem was not the process but the therapist. She was a chronically late person. We never started our sessions on time and would frequently not get started on actual work until my appointment time was half over. Then we would run out of time. So we would have started the process and have me to say 5 on the scale and she’d say, “Oh, I’m sorry. My next client is here. But you can finish this yourself. If you have a crisis, call me any time, you have my number.”

In my opinion, a therapeutic alliance requires that the therapist hold up her/his side of the bargain. Being consistent about the therapy frame is part of this. This example also illustrates for me problems with following the 8-phase protocol: there is no closure! EMDR is not a “do it yourself” sort of technique!

Finally, I think it is crucial that therapists using EMDR have a good overall knowledge of trauma and trauma treatment. Since so many trauma survivors experience dissociation, this includes the ability to at least screen for the existence of dissociative disorders like DID. Another reader asked:

Can you possibly discuss how this might work in a DID patient? There are so many variables in dealing with DID, I can’t seem to wrap my mind around how that might look.

Great question! there is so much to say about the treatment of DID in general I think that needs to be its own series of blog articles. For now, let me say that a therapist providing EMDR to someone with DID needs to be knowledgeable about the treatment of DID overall. Safety and stabilization is crucial in the treatment of DID as with any complex trauma work but with the addition of focus on helping the client gain awareness of their internal system. Developing internal communication and cooperation is crucial before embarking on trauma processing of any kind. In the ideal situation a dissociative client would already have developed the ability to negotiate with other parts to reach consensus about processing a part traumatic event.

I hope this EMDR series answers at least some of your questions about this form of trauma treatment. As always, I welcome more comments and questions on the subject!

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.