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The Lyrics From 'Death by a Thousand Cuts' I Relate to as a Sexual Assault Survivor

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Last month, Taylor Swift released her seventh album, “Lover.” While I think this is probably
her best album yet, I have a favorite song, “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” It is a breakup song that Swift says is inspired by the movie “Someone Great.” However, I relate to the song in a different way. I find a lot of similarities between the song and my experience as a sexual assault survivor.

For starters, the title “Death by a Thousand Cuts” explains how I felt after the assault. Although I was not physically injured, there was a type of extreme emotional pain I could not explain. Even though I’ve had my struggles and was used to intense emotions, this was different. This pain had made me feel empty and it was so closely linked to my body it felt like death by a thousand cuts.

Along the same lines, there are lyrics that talk about her body. Swift sings, “My heart, my hips, my body, my love / Trying to find a part of me that you didn’t touch.” For me, these are the most significant lyrics. After the assault, I felt like someone had taken everything away from me. I felt like I didn’t have ownership of my own body. I had to go on a journey to “find a part of me that you didn’t touch” in order to heal.

Swift also briefly talks about flashbacks and using alcohol to cope. These are both things that I have experienced as a result of the assault. They are also things I don’t like to talk about as they are heavily stigmatized and considered topics that are too deep. To hear Swift sing about these topics normalizes this experience and is empowering.

There is also the idea of uncertainty throughout the song. The lyrics, “I ask the traffic lights if it’ll be alright / They say ‘I don’t know,’” repeat throughout the song. There are a few things about this line I relate to. The first thing this sparks for me is very literal — what happened right after the assault. I remember the drive home I was unsure if I was going to get home safely. I sat in the sitting in the passenger seat terrified and the only thing that brought a little bit of comfort was seeing landmarks or traffic lights I recognized. The second thing that these lyrics made me feel was the loneliness I felt. I felt that because this was something that happened to me alone, I had to deal with it myself. This was not the case as I have a great support system. However, I began to isolate, and these lyrics mimic the kinds of conversations I had with myself. The last thing these lines remind me of is the idea of not knowing what to do next. I didn’t think this could happen to me and I was so shocked that I spent a lot of my time searching for a sign that it would be OK.

This song not only put feelings and experiences I’ve had a difficult time expressing into words, it also gave me some sense of closure. Towards the end of the song Swift sings, “But I’ll be alright, it’s just a thousand cuts,” which to me means it’s painful, but I can overcome it.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Toglenn

Originally published: September 4, 2019
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