Monday, May 13, 2013

Don't be Simon. Be Oprah: Survivor shame.

While we do grasp that we couldn't have expected ourselves to kick away the guy who jumped us in the parking lot (we're not quite Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian), we still feel weak. We do get that it wasn't truly because of personal ineptitude that we received quite so many timber-jack blows from our drunken father (we were six at the time). But we still feel stupid. And yes we know it isn't necessarily true that our preborn cruelty is the great torture of our helpless mother's life (despite all her many weepings that such is so). Nevertheless, we still feel ashamed.

We accept all these rational absolutions of our guilt, in some hazy outer-region of our minds. But no absolution feels true. What feels true is this:

These extracts of rape survivors' personal shame and guilt come from Pandora's Project (a.k.a Pandy's), a resource site for rape and sexual assault survivors. Their shares are posted to show their grievous commonality and promote empathetic connection between survivors. It's as if (and I'm just guessing here) all we trauma, assault and abuse survivors are so Hulk-with-the-shirt-busting enraged about our injuries that we even hate ourselves for feeling them. We'd each gladly be rid of ourselves just to revenge ourselves on the pain we contain. Worse, we feel resonantly alone. We are too weak, too guilty, too bad to be heard. If someone knew what we'd allowed, and how we felt about it now, they'd flail backwards in disgust, throwing books and armchairs to pad their escape. They'd hate us. And their hate would confirm our self-loathing. We couldn't bare it.

But hearing that someone endured what we did, and felt as we do, makes it all seem less terrible. Seeing these people like us embraced with love, at least by someone, also mitigates our fears. Broaching our pain becomes more possible because of their example, less like a nightmare that drags us naked on our fat day to bawl "I Am Beautiful" in front of Simon Cowell off his meds, and more like a scary but doable risk.

Shame researcher Dr. BrenĂ© Brown calls this kind of empathetic, vulnerable connection the antidote to shame (if you want, skip to 2:55 for the point. Hi Oprah.):

Unfortunately, much of the time, people aren't helpful. (Don't even get me started.) Also posted on Pandy's is an excerpt from After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back that discusses how others (like, perhaps, masses everywhere) so often fail survivors (or, say, bulldoze them like Roger Rabbit under Christopher Lloyd's psychopathic glee). Also exploring this is Gift From Within, a nonprofit serving PTSD sufferers:

Effectively, survivors think something like, "Okay, even if I couldn't Arnold-sword-hack that guy off of me, or rabidly bite through dad's wrecking-ball arms, or dispel mom's mania with a tidal flood of love, at least I should stop hurting now. I should be strong now. I should be smarter, braver, better now. And everyone agrees. See how they react. They and I think this is all my fault. I wish I were dead." (Queue violent sobbing and funnel-in-throat pour of favorite drug.)

We don't deserve this. But we don't believe that. Not yet. Not without much strong, smart, brave self-love.

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