Disconnected, Or the difficulty of maintaining relationships after violence

One of the most insidious impacts of violence is the toll it exacts on your relationships, on your ability to connect to other people, to feel, to trust, to communicate, to believe in them and in yourself, to believe in the possibility of connection, to believe that you can have ‘normal’ relationships, ever again.

By relationships, I don’t just mean intimate, romantic or sexual relationships, although they’re part of it. I mean all relationships – from fleeting connections to committed, longterm ones, from family to friends to the workplace to just everyday interactions, relationships will never be something I take for granted anymore.

I’ve written before about the loneliness of being a victim and a survivor, and the isolation. But it’s not just that. Feeling severed from life, feeling disconnected and even exiled – cut off from what was mine, detached from what is ‘normal’ and the world around me, cleaved from all that I expected from life, these feelings persist. I continue to grieve for what the rapist stole from me, I continue to feel the loss, like a phantom limb amputated, ever-present and ever-absent simultaneously, of the life I had been planning when rape so brutally intervened and put an end to that set of expectations.

But, I have also, to a point, come to terms with my grief and my ‘lost’ life, despite the ache its presence-absence can still cause. But, what I struggle with is that along with my ‘lost’ life goes a ‘lost’ me. The person that I was (before the rape), is not the person that I am now (after the rape). My phantom limb is, in fact, a phantom me – a me that was only too real and active and known just a few years ago, but a me that I often cannot fathom anymore, a me I can’t quite believe in, a me that cannot be restored.

Trauma changes you, which is hardly surprising, but which can be hard to communicate to those who love you. Those who love you, more than anything, want to see you restored – they want you to ‘get over’ it, to ‘move on with your life’, to not ‘let this dictate’ the rest of your life. What they don’t understand is that none of these things are in my control. They are not simply decisions I can make. No matter how hard I try, or how much I wish it were so, I cannot just wish away the impacts of sexual assault.

I am not the person I was and I will not ever be the person I was in the process of becoming. This single event has radically intervened and rewritten so much of who I am and who I will be and, at the same time, determined an entirely different set of expectations for me. My understandings of trust and faith, of hope and confidence, of fear and danger, of what is possible and not possible have been completely reshaped by what happened to me. I will never see strangers the same way I did, I will never approach the unknown the same way I did, I will never conceive of the future the same way I did. The changes violence has forced upon me are incalculable, they are nuanced and profound, extending to every part of myself and my life, my world and my relationships. A labyrinthine network of effects and consequences that extends way beyond me and even those connected to me, but also right to the core of me: the change sexual assault has enacted upon me is not just a difference of degree, but a difference in kind.

Again, what is hardest is not how I feel about that change – now, nearly three years on I have found a way, haphazard and galling as it may be much of the time, to accept it – but what it does to my ability to connect to people. To the family and friends who have stayed by my side, how do I continue a relationship that allows them to let go of who they knew and to make sense of who I am now? When still so much of my life revolves around negotiating the impacts of sexual assault, of coping with the ongoing trauma of protracted legal proceedings, of simply keeping myself safe and well – something that takes far more effort and energy than it used to? My life is, in so many ways, boring, repetitive and even, at times, bleak. Socialising is often hard. My energy is limited and often does not extend beyond everyday activities.

I struggle to believe I have anything to offer my friends other than this bleak version of me. I struggle to remember who I was and I am afraid I cannot live up to the expectations of those who knew me before. I struggle to connect to people in good faith and to trust and I know this is because of what happened to me and not what is happening now, but how to overcome the solid barricade this presents? I struggle to hold onto confidence in myself or others, I cannot take safety for granted, and how to construct or maintain a relationship on such faltering foundations? I struggle to find the energy, on so many days, to even consider a way through or around the difficulties sexual assault has created for me when it comes to connecting with others and so, instead, I settle for the relative comfort of solitude and isolation.

I know this is hollow comfort. It doesn’t take long for solitude to become loneliness, for isolation to go from feeling safe to desolate. But I also know that the voice inside of me, the one that sexual assault created in me, will not go quietly. The voice of fear, of mistrust. It is part of me now, another ghost that has to be incorporated into this evermore fractured person I have become, another voice that cannot be silenced no matter how inconvenient or unpleasant its message. When its so hard for me to negotiate and manage these fractured realities, how can I ask it of anyone else?

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12 Responses to Disconnected, Or the difficulty of maintaining relationships after violence

  1. Kate, this is a truly brilliant post. I am so sorry for what you have and are still going through.
    I am sharing this post as wide as I can. You have put into words things that many people don’t understand, things that even many survivors of abuse can’t fully articulate in their minds, let alone in public on a blog like this. Thank you for being so transparent and working so hard to convey your feelings and reality to us.

    • Hi Barb, thanks for your comments. It’s good to know others understand these feelings, that I’m not the only one. You can feel like such a ‘freak’ dealing with this stuff. I’m glad sharing it can be of use to others, too.


  2. Ursula says:

    Beautifully written. Good God, That is such a reflection to what I’m dealing with. But mine is mental abuse/mental rape all throughout my life. The physical has healed, but not the wounds inside, recovery and healing will take as long as it takes, probably the rest of my life, not that I am a victim any more but going forward towards managing and helping to be kind to myself from the effects of the violation and trauma. From grace to grace
    . xx

  3. I’ve never really had a strong foundation from which to build solid relationships,it’s not been afforded me in childhood or adolescence, and is not something I have learned in adulthood. The trauma is an extremely persistent feature in my inability to reach out across the void and connect with people. I cling desperately to the people who have stood by me, often confusing them or overwhelming them, or simply becoming way too difficult to deal with. even i echo the often heard sentiment of others, “it’s been so long now, shouldn’t you be better?” no…i’m, never going to be “better” this is always going to live along side me, inside me, inform so much of what i know about and how I experience the world. I always react from a place of mistrust. It’s all i’ve ever known and no one’s really taught me to believe any differently. It is a horrible way to go through life but it’s one so many of us face.
    for what it’s worth, you will always have, my undying support. you’ve taught me so many incredible things about what it means to be brave, and bold and courageous, despite not even knowing it.


  4. Dominika says:

    Dear Kate, most time i go through my days rather in denial of a lot difficulties i face, simply because i need to be living somehow. Im highly creative, so try to use this as a ressource i focus on, but even my life of profession has been affected and damaged deeply. Ive reached out to a womens center, who seemed most profound in town, they adviced me to a therapeut, who after 18 months got rid of me in a very empathylacking kind of way. Alltogether it has cost me about three years of my life. Im tired of people throwing ‘motivational’ sentences on me not getting a slight idea about how it feels to be within my skin and this body. I really believe much of my suffering would be avoidable with a good, smart supportive net about the issue of violence and sexual assault. In Germany, we definitly are far behind any good standart. I do not even like to start telling what kind of selfprofiling, empathy-lacking people i’ve encountered on my way trying to reach out for support. Noone expects a victim of crime to be a selfstanding, reflective, intelligent, confident woman, as little as anyone i met can deal with the weak and hihgly vulnerable moments of me. Do you know any kind of forum online, where women support women? What i found on my side are very basic sources, where girls, often underage, try to express they suffering… but what i shall be needing is a safe, reflective surrounding in which one openly can speak about things that matter in every part of life. It is little understood how rape is not a moment, but an impact on the self which affects quite every area of ones life.

    I feel, wherever i talk about this to a person, i am being unvoluntary stigmatised about it. So i do not talk. So i do not communicate. So i isolate myself, because i am not able to connect on a deeper level. It is really a crushing cycle.

    If such a forum does not yet exist – is there any chance and/or possibility to create such a basic place, where people from arounnd the world can meet and interact? We really need a refuge and a plattform.

    • Hi Dominika, there is a very good site called Aphrodite Wounded. It focuses on intimate partner sexual abuse (i.e. when the abuser is or has been the spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend of the victim).
      I think you would find it very helpful for ALL kinds of sexual abuse. And I think it has a forum for survivors too, or could refer you to forums that would be helpful.
      Here is the link to Aphrodite Wounded:

      I myself help run a blog which deals with domestic abuse from a Christian perspective. We address sexual abuse quite often because it is part of so many victim’s stories of domestic abuse. Many of our readers have also been victims of childhood sexual abuse as well as domestic abuse from their spouse. You might like to check out our most-viewed post about sexual abuse:

    • Hi Dominika,

      Thanks for your message and for reaching out. I really agree with you – I, too, feel when I talk about this, I am being stigmatised. This is the culture we live in at work. It’s the reality, and the devastating impacts, of victim-blaming. And, you’re right, that’s why we need a refuge and a platform. I think it’s a great idea. I don’t know of one that exists already – that’s a big part of why I started writing this blog – it was a way of creating what I felt was/is so desperately needed – an honest, safe, reflective community space for survivors to connect and share their experiences, support each other and break the isolation created by victim-blaming culture.

      I found support in some books, where women had written about their experience of surviving sexual violence. In particular, Aftermath by Susan Brison (this interview with her describes very similar responses to victim/survivors to the ones you do: http://chronicle.com/article/Violencethe-Remaking-of-a/8258) and Lucky by Alice Sebold. Perhaps, they might be useful for you, too?

      Please keep reaching out and communicating in whatever ways you can. Try to break that crushing cycle anyway you can and wherever you find support, take it.

      Take care,

  5. Makenzie says:

    This post explains exactly how I feel. I went from being so social to extremely isolated. This makes me feel like I’m not alone. Thank you for perfectly articulating this in a way I never knew how.

  6. Kimberly Foster says:

    Since these instances took place when I was young (sexually abused by an uncle), then to a teenager (raped), Im not sure I can totally relate, except for the fact, that I have a hard time with relationships. I dont want to admit this, but I feel mistrust, uncomfortable in so many settings in my life. Where I try to be bold and confident and try new things, yet feel despair and hopelessness and just inadequate at everything I try to do. I dont want to dwell in self pity, and I know a God who has beautifully spoken to me that I am His and He is mine. I am forever grateful that a loving Father sees even me and loves on me and spoils me with His Kindness and Goodness. That helps me so much, but I know I struggle in the flesh to never feel good enough, and when someone gives me a kind word, I think they are lying or if they only really knew me. I so much want to stay off the emotional roller coaster and know that I am accepted and loved but have a hard time seeing it or understanding it. It causes issues in my friendships, marriage, parenting and mentoring. I struggle and I am trying to overcome this. I do when I am constantly renewing my mind in God’s word and leaning on Him for my everything, but one hurt word, or accusation and the bait is there to feel worthless all over again. I want to remain free and stay free and trust and love like I am loved by my heavenly Father!

  7. Another Survivor says:

    I stumbled upon this post last night while googling “isolation after rape” and while this post is several years old I wanted to say thank you. I’m approaching the three year mark of my assault and one of the issues I struggle with the most is the isolation I feel. I lost most of my social community after my assault largely in part to the outward effects of PTSD. Your words articulate perfectly how I feel and what I’ve been struggling with in a way I haven’t been able to communicate. So thank you for speaking what I couldn’t name, even though it’s a son of a bitch that I wish no one had to go through it gives me some hope and some peace to know I’m not alone in my experience and its aftermath. You’re my hero today. Stay strong.

  8. Susan A Baroody says:

    Yes, I want to thank you too. “Affirming” would be counterintuitive, should be a misnomer for this beautifully written piece. To know there is someone else on this earth who is powerless over the death of the powerful, fearless, ever hopeful self she knew and loved makes me feel slightly more connected even as I grieve for you. I know your pain too well and wouldn’t wish it upon you even to save my own sanity. But we can’t change what’s done (yet), so thank you.

  9. Sc says:

    Thank you. This was beautifully written and I can relate to your article so much. I wish everuday I could take away the pain, hurt and suffering sexual and domestic violence victims go thru. It’s like no one else cares. Unless you go thru it you will never understand.

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