“Denial: refusal to face unpleasant facts. PSYCHOLOGY a state of refusal or inability to recognize and deal with a serious personal problem.” ~ Encarta
There seems to be a commonly held belief that if someone is bothered or hurt, they’ll say so—to the person.
The flip side of that is when people—women, in particular—speak up about how they feel, they’re assertions are dismissed or disbelieved.
Or, women can be branded as b*tches or drama queens.
Add in our societal pressure to be rugged individuals, rise to the top, and “never let them see you sweat” (or cry).
Now, can we consider the multitude of simultaneous mental, emotional, psychological, career and family pressures a woman juggles after facing sexual harassment or assault as the answer to, “Well, if it really happened, why didn’t she say anything?”
Listen, saying something or going to the police may be the right thing, but that doesn’t make it the easy thing.
When I was 24-years old, my boss raped me.
As I wrote the previous sentence, I was tempted to write I was raped by my boss because we passively language around this subject.
Let me rephrase: My boss violently raped me.
I was just 24-years old. I was ambitious. Twenty-four hours before, I would’ve called him my friend. Twenty-four hours after, I still did.
That’s the power of denial. Some things we don’t want to tell ourselves.
Back then, no one would’ve called me weak or timid. Loud-mouthed and feisty would’ve been more likely.
So, who did I tell when my boss raped me? No one.
Not my live-in boyfriend who later became my husband. Not my co-workers. Not my friends. Not my rapist’s wife. Not my brother, sister or parents.
Not even myself.
It wasn’t some repressed memory that unearthed itself during the #metoo campaign.
I was raped. I dealt with it by denying the horrific event.
Denial is complicated. Denial is the bridge on which rapists and victims sometimes meet.
I may be wrong, but I doubt most perpetrators tell themselves, “Ha! I raped her and got away with it!” or, “You can just grab her by the…”
Oh, wait. I guess some do.
Some men rationalize and try to normalize their animalistic behavior.
Yet, you have trouble believing the victims?
Men like Cosby, Weinstein and Trump walk convincingly through the world. They first convince themselves they’ve done nothing wrong.
After my boss/friend (frenemy wasn’t a term yet) raped me, he said, “You know you wanted it. You’ve been coming on to me since we first met.”
No. And no. And even if I had, I would not have wanted to be raped.
But, I didn’t respond when he said that.
He raped me of my words. He raped me of our friendship.
The following morning, I vowed he wouldn’t rape me of my career.
That was 29 years ago. I wasn’t an actress and he wasn’t famous.
I could’ve gotten another job, but I had my heart set on that company.
I didn’t think about how I could destroy his life and career. I did think about what the truth might do to his wife and sons.
You can call me weak.
I used my bravado to stand up and move forward—because I didn’t know what else to do.
Standing on the outside, things look clearer.
I didn’t want to be raped. I pretended I wasn’t because I think dealing with it at the time would’ve broken me.
It took a decade of denial and a skilled therapist to help me face the reality.
Denial is a protection mechanism. It’s not a conscious decision. It’s an instinct, the way the human brain is wired and often deals with trauma.
I wonder if it’s that instinct which allows perpetrators to face themselves in the mirror.
For, if a man (or woman) truly acknowledged and understood the pain he inflicted, his heart would taste the bitter, vulgar shame we victims try to spit out or be released from.
Sexual harassment, abuse, violation, and rape are shameful acts. For years, this has been true for victims.
Hallelujah to the men who are now being called upon to account for their heinous actions and stand in their own dark shadows: accountable, ashamed, and regretful.
They are the only ones who know the true measure their sincerity, but I salute whatever any truth which arises from their divine souls.
Can we see that sexual harassment, violence, and violation are societal issues (in addition to criminal in many cases)?
I’m not talking about appeasement for perpetrators or disregard of victims, but I’m suggesting we applaud sincere steps to heal, on both sides.
Yes, let’s condemn the guilty.
But, could we also consider the same system that keeps a woman from telling is the one that lets men tell themselves their actions are anything but selfish and pain-inflicting?
Let’s face what we, as a society have created and passively condoned—because we’ve all been in some sort of denial.
Before I was raped, I used to joke, “If I was ever raped, they’d easily find the guy; He’d be the one missing a d*ck,” implying that I had a little Lorena Bobbitt in me.
I never imagined when I was actually raped, I’d keep quiet for over a decade.
So, unless you’ve had personal experience in this arena, I encourage you not to presume you know how you’d react.
Or that because someone didn’t sing in the streets about life-changing grief inflicted on her body and soul, it’s any less real or debilitating.
If you don’t know, don’t assume.
If you don’t know, thank God.
If you don’t know, listen.
The correct response is we listen.