“I feel incredibly lucky to have made it out of the house alive. We do what we must to survive.”
Have you ever wallowed in self-pity, playing the victim? I’ve certainly been guilty of it. I still need to remind myself every now and then that I’m the master of my own fate, and that much of it has to do with attitude.
My guest today, Teresa Lauer, was victimized in a way that exposes our day-to-day victim playing as ridiculous self-pity. She was brutally raped. Teresa has graciously agreed to share her experience with us, and how she overcame this aberration. Helping others understand and succeed in rape recovery isn’t new to her. She’s now a psychotherapist, and a recognized expert in rape recovery and its aftereffects on relationships and sexuality. Teresa has authored several books on the topic including The Truth about Rape and Hours of Torture, Years of Silence. To learn more about Teresa and her practice, visit her here and here.
1) Sometimes our aberrations result from situations beyond our control. Sometimes we see it coming and sometimes we don’t. You were a victim of a crime that changed your life. Can you tell us what happened?
Yes, I was kidnapped and held in a house in San Francisco for 14 hours; I was raped a number of times and suffered some very serious injuries. Perhaps my most frightening moment, the one that causes me shivers still as I sit here writing these words many years later, is when the rapist held a gun to my head. I heard a click that sounded like a cannon resonating in my head and squeezed my eyes tighter than you can imagine … it didn’t go off and I give thanks every single day for being here …
My nightmare continued when I returned to my home and received a phone call informing me that my dad had been killed in a plane crash during an airshow. This seriously disrupted any recovery that might have begun early on following the rape.
The reason I mention my dad’s death is to underscore the fact that rape takes place while we’re living life, while we’re wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, employees, students … the list goes on of course. Now, this makes recovery more difficult but even more critical. A return to normal … and whatever that means to the victim … is the goal and it’s one that can absolutely be met. I know from experience, both personally and through my clients, that recovery is achievable; yes, it takes patience, and yes, it’s long and tedious. It’s one step forward and two steps back, but it’s worth it.
2) I suspect that people cope with being victimized in numerous ways. How did you cope, and what was the process like?
The process of recovery takes a great deal of time, something I’ve learned both personally and through many women I’ve provided therapy to over the years. And, looking back, I did things that helped my recovery tremendously … and things that didn’t help, frankly. I do know however, that the earlier one starts the recovery process, even in the most casual way like reading books, the better.
We tend to cope with being victims as we cope in normal life. If we tend to deny problems exist, we’ll do the same regarding being a victim. If we’re the type who faces problems head on … well, we’ll approach recovery the same way. This has much to do with left brain/right brain thinking. For example, “a left brain thinker” during the assault might be recording information and looking ahead. A “right brain thinker” on the other hand, reacts with shock and numbness and being frozen. She’s not able to fully experience in terms of “seeing” what’s going on. There is no right or wrong way, although as you can imagine, the “right brain thinker” tends to blame herself afterward with questions like, “Why didn’t I fight back?” and “How come I can’t remember the details?” Both are coping mechanisms, and both are necessary to get through an extremely stressful situation.
I feel incredibly lucky to have made it out of the house alive. We do what we must to survive.
3) Looking back, how did the event shape the life you now lead? Have you ultimately found positives in the path your life has taken? Has enough time passed? Although it was certainly a tragic experience, have you come to see any value in it?
Following my own recovery through therapy I felt so light, so wonderfully free that I obtained a Masters degree from the University of San Francisco and become a therapist myself. I wrote several books, videos, etc. and have provided therapy to hundreds of women. I’m always looking to provide information of value to my readers and listeners and bring them the latest technology; for instance, I’m in the process of offering my videos online in the $1.99 range so that they’re available to even more women.
In terms of value … I suppose I’d say the greatest value that I could place on it is what I did following my recovery, and am continuing to do which is to provide comfort, compassion, and empathy of other rape victims. My life is not defined by the rape however it’s been affected by it. It’s an honor and a privilege to help the women I have.
As a therapist, I focus my efforts on couples and helping them build intimacy and enhance their sexuality. For most of my couples, this doesn’t mean that they’ve experienced a sexual assault, but for those who have I reintroduce them to touch and ways in which they can communicate, both verbally and non-verbally to enhance their relationship. I was fortunate beyond belief to find a partner who loves me without question and I am particularly interested in helping men participate in the recovery.
I also concentrate on other issues of particular difficulty to couples such as finance and career transitions.
5) Has your experience caused you to think differently about people who “play the victim?” We all know folks who consistently feel that they are victimized by everyone. Having truly been a victim, what is your perspective on this type of thinking in others?
I think if someone has a tendency to be a victim, to indulge in victim thinking, if you will, they perceive themselves as victims in every circumstance (in their own mind) that happens to them. I feel that it’s important to face our responsibility for every situation in which we find ourselves; for instance, if a woman came to me and she related that she found herself in the same situation multiple times due to perhaps drinking or drug use (and thus a victim of that, that led to the ultimate victimization), I’d encourage her to look at what lead her to becoming a victim. The reason of course is not to judge what ultimately happened to her because no one asks to be raped, however, the reason is to help her to not continue to place herself in situations where she will become a victim. Victim thinking has its roots in other personality disorders and that really has to be addressed at some point in the therapy.
6) What are the top three things we can do for someone who has suffered rape or a similar violent crime? What are the challenges?
Great question. I’d say my top three things are:
1. Help her get support as soon as possible. Go with her to the police station so that she’s not alone; listen to what the professionals are saying during the process of the investigation and rape kit. Be there for to take notes and act as an advocate. Try to get the services of a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) who will do a thorough exam and act as a witness should she decide to press charges. A SANE is a member of a SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) who are
especially trained to make it a less stressful process to go through, for instance, one interview is performed instead of multiple. Be her advocate.
2. Listen when she wants to talk; don’t judge … don’t comment, simply be there to listen. Allow her the time to process what’s happened to her.
3. Help her to find the right support for what she’s going through. For instance, books are available on all phases of recovery, support groups and individual therapy might be helpful if she’s inclined. Go the extra mile to make the appointment for her and go to provide emotional support. There are times when she will need special assistance, for example, I have a number of clients who are uncomfortable with touch, so I keep a referral network of massage therapists who are specially trained in introducing touch to sexual assault victims. Go the extra mile for her.
Perhaps if I could tell the world something about the situation, it would be this: rape continues. Every single day in every single corner of the world. I wrote The Truth About Rape and my others books to tell the truth about it … to take my reader with my on my journey through therapy and beyond. It was a real process of self-exploration in deciding whether I would tell the details of my rape however I felt it important in the long run to hold nothing back. I wanted that woman out there who couldn’t utter what had happened to be able to turn to her partner and say, “this is what happened to me.” And through that, find understand, compassion, and empathy.