“I ­wanted to keep it a secret," Nikki Bella tells PEOPLE of her sexual assault, which she revealed in her new co-memoir with sister Brie Bella, Incomparable.

By Christina Dugan
May 05, 2020 at 10:03 AM EDT
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Nikki Bella is opening up about her painful past.

In her new memoir, Incomparable — co-written with twin sister Brie — the Total Bellas star, 36, shares the grueling details of her sexual assaults, why she felt ashamed to share her truth, how she learned to let go, and how she plans to empower others.

At 15 years old, Nikki was raped by a fellow high school student she "thought was a friend," she said in the book. Then, at 16, she was raped again after being drugged by a college-age man.

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"There is the horrible offense in the moment, and then the shame and blame that follow and feel almost worse than the original pain," she wrote in the book. "When something like this happens to you, you understand the blame-the-victim mentality, how easy it is to feel shame rather than anger, how easy it is to feel like you could have stopped it yourself."

Speaking with PEOPLE in this week's issue, the mom-to-be explains why she held on to that blame for all these years — and the rippling effect it had on her life, her relationships and her future.

"When that happened to me, I immediately just felt so ashamed and blamed myself, and that's what made me want to keep it such a secret," she says. "And keeping that a secret and blaming myself, I started to lose my confidence. I started to disrespect myself. And then the relationships I got into at a young age, I let other people disrespect me and felt like, that's okay, this is what I deserved."

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"I was like that for a really long time," she admits. "I would go to therapy on and off. Looking at it now I'm like, 'Oh Nicole, I wish you just would've let go at a young age. So much would have changed for you.' And I think that's what made me really want to tell these stories finally."

Now, Nikki says she's eager to share her truth in hopes of helping others who have been in similar situations.

"When the #MeToo movement happened, I was just like, 'Oh my gosh,'" she recalls. "I feel like, if I'm having these younger women look up to me, maybe I can help them and have them not hold onto this as long as I did. It wasn't until I was 28 and in a relationship where someone started to teach me how to respect myself. That's how long I held on to things and felt I had no boundaries. And I'd always look at Brie like, 'Oh, she has boundaries, she treats herself with such respect. How do I not have this?' And I knew why. But I held onto it for so long. When I look back at just decisions I made based off of it, I wish I could have heard my words now as a 36-year-old woman then, and be like, 'You're going to be okay.'"

Brie (left) and Nikki Bella
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The new memoir gives readers a glimpse at what life was like for the Bellas growing up. From loss and abuse to addiction struggles and relationship woes, the WWE Hall Of Fame inductees share how they overcame adversity and eventually found purpose.

"I hope whoever reads the book will throw on whatever imaginary cape they dream of and say, ‘I’m the hero of my own story and will conquer whatever I want to do!' " Nikki says.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to online.rainn.org.

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