Sunday, June 19, 2016

Shielding ourselves...


Another of the GREEN sticky notes on I Thought It Was Just Me [But It Wasn't] that I had wanted to to discuss was:  Shield Ourselves.

Often, just hearing about someone's shaming experience can cause us to want to shield ourselves.  We don't want to hear it.  It's too painful just to listen.  One reason empathy and compassion are so powerful is the fact that they say to someone, "I can hear this.  This is hard, but I can be in this space with you."  (Dr. Bren√© Brown, p. 56)

Being heard ... when it comes to sexual abuse ... is profound.  I mean, all too often your experience is layered in silence.  You are threatened to remain silent.  You are punished if you do not.  You are shamed if you do not.  You are avoided if you do not.  You are labeled if you do not.  Going back to the concept of power over, where an abuser or society presses upon you his/its idea/agenda until you accept it as your own.  Power over is actually something I think I'd like to talk about.  Nevertheless, the universal pressure to keep silent about sexual abuse is so pervasive that it is, sadly, rather easy to adopt that silence as your idea, your preferred practice.

I have written how, in college, when I first spoke about my past, I was confronted with the fact that I was no longer a virgin.  I was judged and found wanting because of that lack.  I was impure.  And that response, another example of power over, became my own.  I was impure.  Fast forward a couple of decades, during which I was incredibly silent about my past, I try speaking once more.  I tried to a new friend I had made, a Lutheran, in part because what I had heard about Lutheran theology to that point and in part because I was starting to unravel, to come to a place where I could no longer hold onto all the fractured pieces of myself.

Her response, literally, was "Oooo, gross!  I don't want to hear that!"

I was crushed.
Truth be told, I remain crushed.

I think, honestly, that as a whole this is the response of society.  Keep that talk to yourself because it's gross in our ears.  Actually, the idea of an adult having sex with a small child is gross.  The sight of it unbearable.  But what about those who experienced it?

I've written before about that awesome multiple episode story arc on "Grey's Anatomy" with a girl who escapes from a man who held her captive for years ... as his sex slave.  There she is in the hospital, a place of healing, and everyone keeps shushing her each time she, rather matter of factly, brings up her experiences.  Each shushing is shaming.  Those around her teach her the shame of her experiences even as they tell her it was not her fault.  Confusion galore there!

The teenage girl speaks matter of factly about her experiences, because that is the way her world works(ed).  It was her normal.  And she needed to speak of it.  She needed someone to listen, to be in that hard place with her.  But her parents and caregivers and the friend she made in the hospital all shielded themselves.

In reality, going by statistics, several of those females around her had been sexually abused themselves.  So the shielding could have been understandable, although that was never part of the plot.  But at the very least, her parents needed to listen.  And her doctors and nurses and other medical personnel who were her daily companions for weeks, months, as her physical body healed.

I have found myself shielding myself in other ways, so that phrase leapt out at me.  By this I mean that I have not been able to endure the anguish of others.  To bear their burden and comfort them.  For example, my neighbor's cat was dying and she wanted help making arrangements for it.  Her grief was so great I could not even stand near her.  I understand ... now ... that I was not being a monster.  I was protecting myself.

I suppose those who shield themselves from shame stories might also be protecting themselves.  But I would also proffer that many of them are refusing to listen because of convention, because "those things" ought not to be talked about.  Because of the silence surrounding sexual abuse and suffocating  survivors and ultimately perpetuating the cycle of sexual abuse.

I do want to be able to speak about specifics, about my experiences, about what I learned from them.  I want to speak because I want to figure out what I learned wrong, what lies I absorbed into my very being, that I might be free of them.

I would give most anything ... anything to hear:  "I can hear this.  This is hard, but I can be in this space with you." 

1 comment:

Mary Jack said...

I can hear this. This is hard, but I can be in this space with you. :)