I grew up being fearful of men around me. It’s a fear that was imprinted in me after multiple childhood sexual violations. I was never fearful of my male friends though. But this changed after being assaulted sexually in a relationship. I would panic every time a man would stand next to me even for a second. I avoided busy streets and bus stops for fear of being touched inappropriately.
I avoided hugs for the fear of being taken advantage of. I avoided holding hands in circles whether in church after the end of a worship service or social circles during team building because I would get flashbacks, become sweaty, begin shaking and not know what to do. And when shaking hands, one extra second with my hand meant danger. I avoided sitting next to male people in church to avoid those “turn to your neighbor…” moments.
I purposely avoided events and anything that would make me interact with a male person in close proximity. I avoided religious home visits where male attendees were more than the females. I would literally calculate the ratio. I did this for my sense of safety and sanity. I dreaded assignments where I would have to ride a car with a male person. Strangely, I worked in offices where 98% of the staff were males. I dreaded going to work.
Living in constant fear meant my anxiety levels were high. I would calculate every move and beat myself up whenever somebody crossed a boundary, like insisting on hugging me when I had clearly offered my hand for a handshake. The world felt so small with male people around me, and the air felt so thin when they were in close proximity.
I remember walking out from a worship service one day just before a prayer session began because it involved holding hands while praying. I walked out because the last time I had protested against holding hands with a male person while praying, some lady asked me whether he was a monster, and I didn’t know what to tell her.
I wondered if prayer would only be answered when we held hands. Can’t God hear and answer our prayers without us holding hands? I struggled with this. I dreaded prayer sessions. But I couldn’t tell anyone. It felt embarrassing. Everybody else appeared to be comfortable holding hands. I wasn’t.
I decided to pray about my reaction to the fear of males around me. This followed an embarrassing reaction I had in public after somebody carelessly crossed my safe boundary. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I didn’t want to have such awkward experiences. I chose to withdraw from social circles for my sanity’s sake. After some years, I began reconnecting with my childhood male friends on the phone. I felt safe talking to them but was never willing to have a physical hangout with either of them.
This became too much that I had to see a therapist to help me out because it just felt odd. After the session, I challenged myself to take healthy risks and begin viewing the male people around me as safe. This was hard because in the past, I considered the people who violated me to be safe; sadly, they weren’t. But I hoped that somehow one day, I’d be free from that fear.
One day, my friend picked a challenge to hike some hills and asked if I would join him, and I said yes because I enjoyed hiking. (But saying yes was daring, right?) Anyways, we settled for the date, time and meeting place. I was happy, but then I began panicking immediately after I hung up the phone. I started overthinking and got so worried. I caught myself several times preparing a canceling script. I hoped he would forget and cancel it. But he didn’t. So, I prayed about it and mentioned it to one of my female friends just in case.
Good thing is we planned to hire a game warden, and that made me feel just a little bit safe, but I didn’t settle. The day came. I battled with the thought of taking this risk, but I calmed myself down, prayed, told my mom where I was going and left the house.
We met, bought some bites and began our journey. What gave me peace through the hike is my friend kept a safe distance and was respectful even in our conversation. At some point, the game warden went back, and I got so terrified, but I crossed my fingers and tried not to look or act weird. I acted all cool but tensed inside me. Good thing is my friend kept me safe until the end of the hike.
That hike affirmed to me that there are safe and godly men. Not everyone has hidden agendas of feeding their vices while harming you. I’m grateful that God gave me the courage to trust Him with my safety. I’m grateful that my friend gave me a safe space, and I was able to see the other side of life. This was meaningful to me.
I’m still vigilant in my interactions with people, but I have the ability to feel safe. I stopped viewing all men as potential abusers because we have female perpetrators too.
I thank God for the men who are safe enough to help us see our value. Men who see us beyond our sexuality. Men who see us for who we truly are: God’s precious daughters.
Feeling safe again is a journey that can only be taken one step at a time with one connection at a time. You’re not weird or crazy if you fear some spaces. Be sensitive to yourself, give yourself time and compassion. Soon, you’ll overcome. Fear is your friend. Don’t trash it.
Faith is a Children’s Content Creator at Learn & Grow enterprises, Storyteller and Mental Health Advocate. She tells her story to offer hope, help and healing to survivors of sexual trauma.