Like much of America, I was shocked to see the tape showing Trump brag about sexual assault (here). As my friends on Facebook have perhaps noticed, I have been obsessed with this story. I have let important work fall by the wayside because I am so consumed by how the story is progressing and what people are saying about it. And I have just figured out why I have been losing track of goals and interests, why my Facebook has practically exploded with posts. You see, I was emotionally, psychologically, and sexually abused by a boyfriend in my early 20s, and I am now reliving the experience of being gas lighted (told I didn’t experience what I experienced) and misunderstood by my community.
When my abusive relationship ended, I was left feeling like I had been emptied out and tossed aside. This is because abusers degrade their victims with words and behavior to make themselves feel superior. In addition to this, society puts the burden of proof on the victim, demanding that the victim prove the injustice during their most vulnerable time, that is, just after having their perspective, contribution, and personhood continually questioned.
It took me months to even figure out that I had been abused. This is because the excuses for his behavior were shared not only by him, but also by our community and myself, who were trying to make sense of his behavior as I was experiencing it. It took me so long to identify why I felt so lost because I had to first unravel all the excuses that told me his behavior was not ideal, but still not that bad.
Once I figured out what had happened during the relationship, I had to process how and why he had demonized me in the months after our breakup. This is another abusive tactic to delegitimize anything the victim has to say, to perpetuate the feeling of being superior, and to direct attention away from the abuser’s inappropriate behavior.
And perhaps the hardest part of this whole experience was sharing my insights with my friends and watching helplessly as many picked my ex-boyfriend’s constructed reality instead of valuing my new self-affirming understanding. This is often called secondary trauma, when a victim’s wounds are rejected, leaving the victim to support themselves and confirm their experience for themselves despite their recent experiences of abuse and confusion.
So, why does this matter? It matters because I am having this same experience on a national level. The debates surrounding the tape is what secondary trauma looks like. The only way for me to understand this is personally. I am reliving what it is like to have people disbelieve me and others like me, to have people explain away behavior that has stripped me of my value, and to have people reject my wound, dismissing it as “being emotional” or “unfair.” I am waiting on the edge of my seat, hoping to see my national community do a better job than my early 20’s community. Because, truth be told, if our nation can’t do better, I don’t feel safe being an American. An America that won’t honor the experiences of those who have been used and abused is in no way great. It makes me wonder if it ever will be.
All of this said, I would like to thank those of you who are speaking out against this behavior, generally and in relation to Trump’s campaign. It means the world to those of us who are re-experiencing our trauma. Also, thank you to those of you who have helped us heal and who are providing balm for our reopened wounds. Thank you especially to Michelle Obama, your words this week have given me strength in a time where I was reminded of my most weak self as well as the courage to write this.