"Often it's the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your highest self."
We strive for intimacy, that meaningful connection with another. With our partners we hope intimacy will contain trust, acceptance, sexual relations and deep friendship where one can share and express deep emotions. When our trust is vaulted such in the case of sexual trauma and rape, we struggle with fear and difficulty establishing intimacy and meaningful relationships.
Some of the challenges survivors of rape face are survivors blame, depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, distancing oneself from others, sexual dysfunctions, shame and guilt, emotional disconnection, abuse of drugs and relationship difficulties. The self identity of both survivor and their partner is impacted, sex becomes a demand or a service in the relationship instead of an opportunity for connection and expression of love. Survivors and their partners struggle with fear of abandonment, less comfort with closeness and dependability. Couples dealing with trauma experience sexual difficulties as well as intimacy challenges, fear of saying the wrong thing, reactivity to touch and burn out as a result of partner dismissing their own needs. Anger and blame from apartment along the support leading to higher separations rates unless treatment and help are introduced.
Treatment of survivors supports empowerment, choice and sense of control, talking about the trauma so it is stripped of it's paralyzing power, addressing emotions and revisiting fear anger and revenge, connecting sexual problems to the trauma, exploring meaning and establishing a renewed sense of self. Addressing intimacy through processing of trauma and meaning in therapy helps the survivor make sense of the trauma. Through exploration of transcendence in therapy one gets a higher perspective and is able to decrease the excessive self focusing of depression to the disconnection of dissociation. Survivors and their support learn to incorporate a new identity accepting redefining the trauma, self and system of support.
In therapy creating meaning with others and with oneself is central. Culture and social stereotype can affect the meaning given and at times question sexuality. It is imperative for the therapist to understand cultural diversity and provide a safe and accepting space for the survivors. The meaning given to the trauma is connected to the feeling of resolution and survivor feeling recovered. Therapy with survivors of rape trauma and with their partners offers many benefits. Therapy will help connecting with underlying emotions and truly experiencing the search for meaning. To be able to openly discuss the trauma and in couples therapy to do so with your partner. Therapy facilitates the creation of meaning and addressing intimacy and the difficulty connecting with one another. Empower not blame, construct identity , relationships and choice to overcome guilt. Therapy will help redirect toward connecting with yourself and others and regaining a loving attitude toward one another. It is in therapy where we will explore living fully Vs being afraid.
Intimacy is an important part of life satisfaction and the less life satisfaction one has the greater their death anxiety. Sexual dysfunction is often present when an individual is overwhelmed by death anxiety and sexual activity does not sooth them. When a couple is faced with trauma the beliefs of invulnerability and of an ultimate rescuer are shattered this new awareness of death is important to be discussed in treatment. It is also important to confront isolation. In order for us to reach out to others fully we must confront the isolation of our existence. Sexual dysfunction can cause partners to feel loneliness during sex while intimacy challenges can make one feel lonely next to their loved one. Couples therapy and individual therapy can play an important role in confronting this concern and learning to connect in a new way. Yalom wrote about loneliness - when it is shared love alleviates the pain of isolation. Working on this conflict in therapy helps to find a way to turn lovingly toward others instead of reminding in fear and loneliness. We strive to love our partner as a whole and not as means to sooth fear or for what they provide. To create a relationship where partners transcend themselves, grow together without need to hold back, where they can truly listen and be shaped by each other.
In therapy one is helped to feel, connect with emotions, be empowered with a sense of control and learn to use will to transform choice into action and fulfill wishes. We have a responsibility to ourselves and the world to create change in our distress. Couples can assist one another in understanding that process as they learn how they are perceived and trigger each other. Reach out for therapy today and start your commitment for change.
Extrapolated from "Facilitating Couples Intimacy With Rape Survivors Through Existentialism"- doctoral project by Shir Shanun, Psy.D.