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#301: Shifts in Worldview Following Witnessing Rape

In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) author Kristen Davisson writes the following:

As alluded to in the previous discussion, approximately half of the sample spoke to modifications in their worldview. According to McCann and Pearlman (1995), vicarious trauma can alter one’s view and sense of themselves in the world. Participant statements corresponding to worldview generally reflected two themes: an increase in social awareness and/or a perception of hopelessness/disillusionment towards the world. Conscious shifts in worldview were consistently associated with multiple elevations on the IASC in all but one case.
Increase in social awareness. Four (31%) women spoke about a shift in their social awareness following their friend’s assault, such that they better understood and were cognizant of power dynamics, the likelihood of sexual assault for women, and/or socio-political factors influencing gender violence. One woman sought a volunteer position at a domestic violence shelter a year following her friend’s assault. She shared the following related to her experience:
That experience (volunteering) made me capable of examining the relationship and what had been going on with her. Like the power cycle of it all. I became very aware and educated about how common this is. It didn’t make the pain go away, but it helped to understand.

Of her academic work in liberal arts, another woman remarked:

It made real some of the things that I read. The statistics, the cycles of violence. It reminded me it is so easy to get taken advantage of and so easy to get frustrated with the victim. And that these cycles are so real. So powerful.

Other participants referenced gains in their understanding of power and gender dynamics in an overarching way. Two women reflected on this below:
There are so many subtle ways that women are overpowered and taken advantage of. Like little ways like women who just want to please their boyfriends and they don’t even realize there is a power differential and that they’re playing to it. It makes me angry a lot.

It makes it real, that you hear on the radio that one in so many women get raped, or so many are hurt by violence. You know as a woman, that’s you…that’s us. Like, my heart goes out to them and me, and I really know how common it is now. The gender dynamics of it all, the power of it. It’s really sad. I look at every relationship differently now.

Both women above were between the ages of 25 and 32, identified previous “sheltered” lifestyles, and reported decreases in their perception of personal safety. Their responses suggest that in addition to feeling less safe, some women may undergo drastic changes in their view of gender interactions. Women were not directly questioned about the influence of this change on their personal relationships or sense of themselves, but one wonders about the continued impact on their lives.
Hopelessness/disillusionment. Five women (38%) identified a shift in worldview that corresponded to feelings of hopelessness, disillusionment, or disappointment. Time span from the event ranged from 2-5 years for the women in this category, speaking to continued impact of the traumatic event. Two women speak to their changed worldview:
It reminded me of what people are willing to do to other people without regard of how it will affect them. I think I am more aware of that now. How people can hurt other people. And they’re going to do it no matter what- I mean, there’s nothing I can do about that; I just have to watch out for me…. So in that way, I think my worldview more realistic than before.

It just feels so hopeless now. I mean in the age of match.com and speed dating…you can’t know you are protected from this. It is everywhere. I don’t know how to deal with that…. Just an overall sense of sadness I think. I feel like maybe I have been down since and can’t shake it. It’s disappointing and I don’t think it will ever change.

In these reaction statements, we can discern a kind of resignation in the face of a perceived “harsh” reality. In describing the impact of rape, Herman (1992) writes, “Thus women discover an appalling disjunction between their actual experience and the social construction of reality” (p. 67). It seems possible that in addition to holding true for primary victims of sexual assault, this experience of dissonance can be true for her close friends as well. The five women who identified these sorts of worldview changes seemed to view social realities quite differently following their exposure to the traumatic stimulus. Correspondingly, a 55-year-old woman spoke of her experience:
It’s more of a resigned sadness. Disappointment with the world. I want things to change, but I don’t think they will in my life. I hope they will in my daughter’s life. I hope she will see difference…I mean, the sadness with the world… maybe that’s part of a realism? Maybe when I was younger, I would try to see the world through rose-colored glasses. This event definitely reminded me that is not the truth.

This woman was the only participant to endorse changes in worldview in the absence of clinical elevations on the IASC and/or TSI. She seemed to differ from other participants in both her phase of life and her hope for her daughter’s generation. She appeared less despondent than she was realistic and hopeful. This may be a tentative suggestion that experiences of hope are important adaptive responses to trauma exposure.
Experiences of disillusionment and hopelessness echoed in participant statements (implicit and explicit) seem linked to the subjective perception that things may never improve and that the world is a sad, dark place. Disillusionment and hopelessness are experiences linked to suffering and trauma in the work of Viktor Frankl. Frankl (1959) underscored the importance of what he termed “tragic optimism,” the capacity to retain the meaning of life despite its “tragic aspects” (p. 137). The participant quoted above seems to speak from this vantage point. Frankl’s idea that absence of “tragic optimism” intensifies or maintains suffering seems consistent with IASC results strongly associating (conscious) statements of worldview shifts with multiple clinical elevations. Of the clinical scales on the IASC, Idealization-Disillusionment was elevated in 3 out of the 5 women who denoted hopelessness in worldview. These results suggest that a percentage of secondary victims experience worldview modifications, and that such dramatic frame of reference shifts are not limited to primary victims of sexual assault.
Factors
Shifts in Worldview
As alluded to in previous discussion, approximately half of the sample spoke to modifications in their worldview. According to McCann and Pearlman (1995), vicarious trauma can alter one’s view and sense of themselves in the world. Participant statements corresponding to worldview generally reflected two themes: an increase in social awareness and/or a perception of hopelessness/disillusionment towards the world. Conscious shifts in worldview were consistently associated with multiple elevations on the IASC in all but one case.
Increase in social awareness. Four (31%) women spoke about a shift in their social awareness following their friend’s assault, such that they better understood and were cognizant of power dynamics, the likelihood of sexual assault for women, and/or socio-political factors influencing gender violence. One woman sought a volunteer position at a domestic violence shelter a year following her friend’s assault. She shared the following related to her experience:
That experience (volunteering) made me capable of examining the relationship and what had been going on with her. Like the power cycle of it all. I became very aware and educated about how common this is. It didn’t make the pain go away, but it helped to understand.

Of her academic work in liberal arts, another woman remarked:

It made real some of the things that I read. The statistics, the cycles of violence. It reminded me it is so easy to get taken advantage of and so easy to get frustrated with the victim. And that these cycles are so real. So powerful.

Other participants referenced gains in their understanding of power and gender dynamics in an overarching way. Two women reflected on this below:
There are so many subtle ways that women are overpowered and taken advantage of. Like little ways like women who just want to please their boyfriends and they don’t even realize there is a power differential and that they’re playing to it. It makes me angry a lot.

It makes it real, that you hear on the radio that one in so many women get raped, or so many are hurt by violence. You know as a woman, that’s you…that’s us. Like, my heart goes out to them and me, and I really know how common it is now. The gender dynamics of it all, the power of it. It’s really sad. I look at every relationship differently now.

Both women above were between the ages of 25 and 32, identified previous “sheltered” lifestyles, and reported decreases in their perception of personal safety. Their responses suggest that in addition to feeling less safe, some women may undergo drastic changes in their view of gender interactions. Women were not directly questioned about the influence of this change on their personal relationships or sense of themselves, but one wonders about the continued impact on their lives.
Hopelessness/disillusionment. Five women (38%) identified a shift in worldview that corresponded to feelings of hopelessness, disillusionment, or disappointment. Time span from the event ranged from 2-5 years for the women in this category, speaking to continued impact of the traumatic event. Two women speak to their changed worldview:
It reminded me of what people are willing to do to other people without regard to how it will affect them. I think I am more aware of that now. How people can hurt other people. And they’re going to do it no matter what- I mean, there’s nothing I can do about that; I just have to watch out for me…. So in that way, I think my worldview more realistic than before.

It just feels so hopeless now. I mean in the age of match.com and speed dating…you can’t know you are protected from this. It is everywhere. I don’t know how to deal with that…. Just an overall sense of sadness I think. I feel like maybe I have been down since and can’t shake it. It’s disappointing and I don’t think it will ever change.

In these reaction statements, we can discern a kind of resignation in the face of a perceived “harsh” reality. In describing the impact of rape, Herman (1992) writes, “Thus women discover an appalling disjunction between their actual experience and the social construction of reality” (p. 67). It seems possible that in addition to holding true for primary victims of sexual assault, this experience of dissonance can be true for her close friends as well. The five women who identified these sorts of worldview changes seemed to view social realities quite differently following their exposure to the traumatic stimulus. Correspondingly, a 55-year-old woman spoke of her experience:
It’s more of a resigned sadness. Disappointment with the world. I want things to change, but I don’t think they will in my life. I hope they will in my daughter’s life. I hope she will see difference…I mean, the sadness with the world… maybe that’s part of a realism? Maybe when I was younger, I would try to see the world through rose-colored glasses. This event definitely reminded me that is not the truth.

This woman was the only participant to endorse changes in worldview in the absence of clinical elevations on the IASC and/or TSI. She seemed to differ from other participants in both her phase of life and her hope for her daughter’s generation. She appeared less despondent than she was realistic and hopeful. This may be a tentative suggestion that experiences of hope are important adaptive responses to trauma exposure.
Experiences of disillusionment and hopelessness echoed in participant statements (implicit and explicit) seem linked to the subjective perception that things may never improve and that the world is a sad, dark place. Disillusionment and hopelessness are experiences linked to suffering and trauma in the work of Viktor Frankl. Frankl (1959) underscored the importance of what he termed “tragic optimism,” the capacity to retain the meaning of life despite its “tragic aspects” (p. 137). The participant quoted above seems to speak from this vantage point. Frankl’s idea that absence of “tragic optimism” intensifies or maintains suffering seems consistent with IASC results strongly associating (conscious) statements of worldview shifts with multiple clinical elevations. Of the clinical scales on the IASC, Idealization-Disillusionment was elevated in 3 out of the 5 women who denoted hopelessness in worldview. These results suggest that a percentage of secondary victims experience worldview modifications and that such dramatic frame of reference shifts are not limited to primary victims of sexual assault.
Factors

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#301: Shifts in Worldview Following Witnessing Rape

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.


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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2018). #301: Shifts in Worldview Following Witnessing Rape. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/see-saw-parenting/2018/09/301-shifts-in-worldview-following-witnessing-rape/

 

Last updated: 13 Sep 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Sep 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.