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Deception and Sexual Assault Online

This exercise accompanies our season four laidOPEN Podcast opener, which is a response to a sexually inappropriate email I received from someone, initially, pretending to be interested in trauma therapy.  Unfortunately, this is not the first time a man has used my interest in supporting their healing as an opportunity to be abusive and get off. Let’s call it what it is sexual assault.

How do you know what to trust? How can you tell when someone is being inauthentic and wants something other than what they are pretending to initially want? Some people are master manipulators and will appeal to what you value and care about to lure you in.

There’s no perfect response to being assaulted, bullied, or taken advantage of. We are all having a specific reaction to the situation as its happening. The more we become aware of our automatic responses, we can intentionally choose how we want to respond. With practice, we develop more control over our reactions. 

You may find you have multiple impulses and they are layered. For years, my fight response was buried under a freeze because fighting could have been lethal in my household growing up. When I eventually thawed out my freeze, I discovered the capacity to stand up for myself and step aside and redirect a situation without conflict.

While I appreciate the highly entertaining, creative, and vengeful anecdotes of young women on TikTok and considered using some of their tactics with this jerk, nowadays you don’t know what is a real versus a fake profile. You may also fear retribution from someone hiding behind a screen, especially someone who wants attention through any means necessary. Any attention is good attention to them. So like with a jumping dog, if you shout “No”, the dog doesn’t know the difference between saying “Hi, you’re a good boy and “No, stop it.” Any attention may keep the dog jumping. Turning your back, taking your energy away, and not rewarding the bad behavior, can be an effective strategy. But sometimes you may want to confront rather than disengage.

When someone crosses your boundaries, whether online or in person, the range of nervous system responses can be the same. 

  1. You may freeze, find you aren’t breathing, and have a tremendous amount of energy running through your body. 
  2. You could have a flight response, want to retreat, hide, distract yourself, or get high.  
  3. Maybe you don’t know what you are feeling, then get foggy, and numb which is a sign of dissociation.
  4. If you were conditioned to be a “good girl” and be nice you likely censor how you want to respond for fear of being mean. 
  5. While others have a fight response, are filled with fury, and may want to meet the violation with the same degree of aggression and inappropriateness.

Here are three actions you can take in relation to them:

1-disengage and block them

2- Search their profile, find out their real identity on the dark web, or use endless people finder options.

3-post their photo on social media and call them out publicly

Now, here are some things you can do solely to work with your nervous system.

If your tendency is to rage then the new practice may be to regulate yourself. If you tend to dismiss and minimize or freeze when you are scared or angry the practice is to let it move through and be expressed.

If someone has assaulted you via email or text, and You feel angry or scared, Your arms, face, chest, and belly may tighten up and get hot. It’s likely the memory of a previous boundary crossing is also activated in your system. If you are boiling, feel the rage and move it through your body in these ways:

  1. Push against the wall
  2. Ask a trusted friend to wrestle with you
  3. Take a metal bat to a dead tree stump
  4. Rip cardboard, old phone books
  5. Rent a smash room or create your own. Wear goggles and long sleeves and break some bottles if you have a safe place to throw and break things.
  6. Get a job at a Greek restaurant and break plates
  7. If you have a fold-up mat/futon or couch cushions put them against the wall and lay on your side and kick into them
  8. Go running- imagine you are running on their face with each step
  9. Hit baseballs or go kick a soccer ball
  10. Play tug of war with a pillow, feel your strength, and let yourself make noise and sounds while you grab it and pull
  11. Eat beef jerky, apples, celery, or anything that lets you dig your teeth and bite
  12. If you have access to a Punching bag go at it

If you feel agitated and want to calm yourself, slowing your breath down and actually remembering to breathe is the most direct and immediate way to change your state. When a thoughtless fucker gives you the opportunity to practice calming your nervous system, try these:

  1. Take two short inhales through your nose and one long exhale out your mouth and breath right back in and exhale right back out, creating a continuous cycle. Do this 5-10 times.
  2. Repeatedly breathe in slowly fill your belly then your chest. Full belly breath in until your belly presses against your ribs which activates your vagus nerve. You can hum on your exhale.


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© 2022 By Charna Cassell, LMFT. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. MFC 51238.

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