Unwanted sexual experiences can make us feel out of control. Someone took control over us and our own body. Additionally, sometimes we feel like we should have been able to control the situation. “If only I hadn’t gone to that place at that time.” “If only I hadn’t been drinking.” “If only I’d watched my child closer.” “If only I’d said something about the perpetrator sooner.” “If only…”
It’s hard to come to terms with it being a completely uncontrollable situation, both for us as survivors, and also for folks who have never experienced sexual violence and feel like things they have done to keep themselves “safe” are what separates them from survivors. Here we often see victim-blaming, “shoulds”, and lack of belief or support for survivors. It’s hard for anyone to admit that the only people who had control over these situations are those who sexually assault others (although even that is tied very much to trauma, childhood development, and other larger societal issues that can feel extremely out of control).
So what do we do with spinning out of control? Psychology indicates that the best thing we can do when we are feeling out of control is focus on the things we can control. We can control who we tell, those we seek support from, and how we talk to ourselves about what happened. We can control how we heal and what self-care practices we do. Through things like yoga, tai chi, dance, or other movement-based practices, we regain control of our bodies. We can also use therapy and other healing processes to learn how to cope with feeling out of control.
As those supporting survivors, we can control our actions, but we can’t control the survivor’s. We can give survivors control needed to heal by giving lots of choices, letting them make decisions big and small, and even telling them that they are in control. We can also remember that the survivor is in control of their story and next steps, who gets to know this story, and more. We can find control in our lives by controlling our self-care, boundaries, and help-seeking.
We can also find control in springing into action. Many survivors gain control of what happened by controlling their story through telling it, using it to help other survivors heal, or creating change in communities and beyond.