Stop! Please stop!

I have been talking to a lot of people lately who are struggling with the residual negative voices life has planted in their heads. We all have some, but it seems the ones my friends are wrestling with are screaming at a deafening and non-stop rate. The voices say things like, “You’re a skinny little wretch.” “You’re not smart enough to go to that school.” “You will never truly be what you want because you just aren’t good enough.” “You are a bad person and no one likes you.” “You can never make it without me.” “You are too fat.” “You are too thin.” “You are too stupid, too old, too young, too ugly, too pretty, too male, too female, too religious, too lacking in faith, too light, too dark, too you.”

Some of these voices still linger in my head. For the most part I have thrown them out, but occasionally one will sneak back in. When I was in seminary, one of my professors said he had graded our papers and was going to return them. In that instant, I no longer heard his voice. I heard my father saying that I was getting a bad grade because I wasn’t smart enough to get a good one. After class I asked my professor if I had done okay on the paper. He looked at me in a rather startled manner and said I had done fine. In that moment, finally, his voice spoke louder than my father’s. My professor knew that I was a survivor and I said, “Perhaps it is time I stop listening to the voice of my illiterate father in my head.” There was nothing my professor needed to say, but he just smiled in an understanding and caring way.

As I look at the list of negative messages posted above, there is a common theme I see in them. There is a deep seated lack of self-confidence in each voice. It is not a lack of self-confidence on the hearer, but will eventually turn into that. It is a lack of self-confidence and self-hatred on the part of the speaker. The person saying these things often has heard them from others in their lives. The words get lodged in the person’s sense of self and block the true humanity and specialness of that person. That person, never being able to silence those voices, passes them on to others; thereby poisoning the next person’s sense of self. And we just keep passing it on.

We can often learn not pass it on to others, but we eat ourselves alive by doing it to ourselves. There comes a point that the negative person doesn’t even have to say the negative things anymore. We become so skilled at running ourselves down, we can do it silently with great vigor and fierceness.

And while it might be easy to say, “Oh, it doesn’t bother anybody else. I’m not hurting anyone but myself,” let me be clear about one thing. You matter. It does matter that you are hurting yourself. People pick up on it even if you don’t think they do. Sexual and domestic violence perpetrators feed on that kind of energy. They see someone treating themselves poorly and see a perfect target. If you don’t even care how you treat yourself, why will you tell me to stop? You love me right? So I can do whatever it is I please and you won’t say a word.

Kids pick up on it. Kids see us looking at ourselves in the mirror, never happy with our own reflection. Colleagues see it. We get passed over for job promotions and opportunities because we don’t have the self-confidence to show how fabulous we really are.

I think most of us, whether we are survivors of abuse or not, have some negative voices in our heads. Society in general doesn’t want us to feel too good about ourselves, because then we start wanting better lives for ourselves and others. Then things would start to change and there would be hope and compassion abounding in the world. We couldn’t have that now could we?

This is another thing in life that is a learning process. We didn’t get these negative messages over night and they won’t go away over night either. I can’t tell you how to find the key to stopping the voices, but I can tell you that I’m on your side. I ask you, I implore you, to try to stop. In the words of Old Turtle, “Stop. Please stop.” (If you don’t know who Old Turtle is, you need to. Find her. She’s amazing. I cheated. I’m giving you the link. 🙂 )

Here’s a sign to put on your mirror, in case you need a little jump start. Please print it, as many copies as you need. Mail them to your friends. Send them to your families. Post it on Facebook. Of course I want everyone to stop with the negative messages and bad self-talk, but you can at least cut back on them, even a little, I think you will be amazed at how much better you feel. You are worth it. We think you’re awesome. (And Jennifer and I are experts on awesomeness!)

Awesome

I’d love to hear how you are working to stop the negative committee in your head. Be kind with yourself in the process! You are worth it!

 

What are you attracted to?

For the first time in my life, I am in a healthy, committed relationship.  I feel extremely blessed and even lucky that I have Dave in my life because I know that lots of people do all the right things and still don’t find this.  I’m also grateful that before I met Dave, I spent 5 years as a single person and got to the place in life where I didn’t need to be in a relationship.

Last week, I realized something important about my relationship with Dave that has helped it be healthier than any other I’ve been in.  In all previous relationships, I was attracted to powerful men, or at least what I perceived as powerful.  Lucky for me, that Dave has no position of power over me and I was attracted to him in a new way…because of his character.

My attraction to power was a direct result of being sexually manipulated and abused by a powerful person – a pastor.  I don’t know, but I imagine that this is true for many survivors, since one element of abuse is that it is perpetrated by someone who has power over another.

power-in-relationships

I think that my repeated attraction to powerful men was complicated, and had many layers.  But, it was also simply an attraction to what was familiar because it happened at such a formative time.  I recognized this last week as I was reading Stacy’s story, and she shared how many times abusive relationships were repeated in her life.  I wish this was something I could have realized ahead or, or even at the time that I kept choosing powerful men, and imbalanced relationships.  But seeing it now gives meaning and understanding to much of my relationship experiences.  At the time, I lacked any understanding that what I was really attracted to was the power certain men held, but on a guttural level, I knew that my attraction felt unhealthy, addictive, even compulsive.  Unfortunately, I learned at a very early age not to trust my instincts and intuitions.  So, I ignored what I felt and rationalized how the latest relationship was different.

Sometimes, I was attracted to men in power because gaining their affection made me feel powerful.  Sometimes it felt like self-preservation, finding out if he was an abuser.  At other times, it was about gaining power over him.  Whatever the scenario, those relationships always turned out badly in the end.

Dave and I are committed to having as healthy of a relationship as possible.  We read books together that help us identify opportunities to grow our relationship in a balanced way and we check in with each other on a regular basis as our relationship grows.  Neither one of us has power over the other, but each of us influences the other.  It’s a work in progress.

I wish I could share a great insight about figuring out when attraction is healthy vs. unhealthy, or how to break the cycle.  For now, just know that if you find yourself repeating unhealthy patterns in your life, that you are not alone and there is hope for healing. hope.jpg

It has been a long road for me, and not always forward or even in a straight line.

What Were You Wearing?

*Trigger warning.

 

Last week, we got a hit on here when someone searched “what do rape victims wear.” I’m never sure how the internet crawls and returns information, but to the person who searched that term and landed here, I hope you learned something. Not knowing the context in which he or she was searching, I can’t directly address what they wanted to know.

I am perplexed why anyone would have to ask that. But I live in a world where I do not believe a rape victim is to blame for being raped, no matter what she or he is wearing. Not everyone lives in that world. I do not know that the person’s intent was to blame the victim. I can not infer that from the question.

Rape has nothing to do with what the person is wearing. Absolutely nothing.

I have no pictures of me after my father fondled or raped me with his finger, but this is an example of what I might have been wearing when I was asleep in my room or when he would call me in on Sunday mornings.

as a kid

It is not a great picture and it is hard to see what I’m wearing, but I’m wearing my pajamas. They probably had Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, or Rainbow Brite on them. Those were the things I was into at the time my father was raping me.

I have no picture of this, but it is one of the things I distinctly remember wearing when he would unzip my pants and feel around and feel up my shirt. We were going to cut firewood, just the two of us, out in the country in some farmer’s pasture. There were cows milling around. I thought that was fascinating. I was wearing underwear, pantyhose, and jeans on the bottom, a t-shirt tucked into my jeans, and sweatshirt on top, then snow pants and a winter coat. Not exactly easy access. I also had several pair of socks on inside my snow boats. Before we got out of the truck, a small, red Toyota, he unzipped my coat and snow pants, pulled up my sweatshirt and untucked my t-shirt. He had taken off his gloves so as not to hinder his hands. I just sat there wondering how many cows were in the field and if I would see them. When he’d finished, he told me to make sure and zip back up so I didn’t get cold. I was already cold, chilled to my soul. He left me in the truck to zip up and then I had to run to catch up to him so I didn’t get lost among the trees and the cows.

People who are raped are usually clothed, fully or partially, or they are nude. The clothing has nothing to do with it. The look of the person being raped often has nothing to do with it.

Rape is about sex, but it is more about power, control, and complete disregard for the other person. Rape is about filling the need of the rapist.

Rape and childhood sexual abuse have no boundaries. There is not a look, a religion, an ethnicity, a group, an age range, a location, a sex, a gender, or a profession that makes someone more or less likely to be raped.

It is my hope that the person who searched that phrase and landed here learned something. If not, I hope they check back again. One never knows when one will learn something helpful, like hope.

What have you taught your self, your kids, your neighbors about dispelling rape myths such as a rape victim wears something specific?

As Jennifer has said, when someone is robbed or their car is broken into, we do not ask what they were wearing or where the car was parked. Why is it any different with rape?

Learning Hope

Stacy's Survivor Tattoo

Stacy’s Survivor Tattoo

Yesterday, we had another brave survivor come forward to share her story. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the link to Stacy’s story. As I prepared the page to post her story and as Jennifer read the post, we both wanted to add comments in the margins. “It was not your fault he took you to the cemetery.” “He should have treated you with respect and not raped you.” “It was not your fault.” That would not have been fair to her or the telling of her story. But I still wanted to do it anyway.

I also wanted to drive to her house and hug her. I wanted to hold her in my arms and tell her that I would never let anyone hurt her again. Then I wanted to find out any of her abusers’ names and drive to their houses and punch them in the face. I obviously can’t do either of those things either. I’ve never hit anyone in my life and I cannot guarantee any survivor, or anyone actually, that they will never be hurt again. It is not my job to step in and control their lives, even if it is with good intensions.

All I can really do is keep talking, keep encouraging others to speak out, remind people that they are not alone and it is not their fault.

That seems like a small drop in the bucket against child abuse. It is such a huge, evil problem. But as Stacy said, “That is my inspiration to others. To be their rock or support  system…I’d love to encourage & help people on their journey!” That is enough. So much more than enough.

Stacy inspires me. The woman in Chicago who is a court advocate for survivors inspires me. The man in Texas who quotes Rumi inspires me. The lady in the coffee shop who proudly proclaimed that she liked hot chocolate and finally got to chose to drink it inspires me. My friend who is struggling, but keeps going every day, teaching students and trying to let them know that someone loves them. She inspires me. Maya Angelou, Madonna, Terri Hatcher, Tyler Perry, Carlos Santana and Michael Reagan inspire me.

I am also inspired by secondary survivors who live with the horror of sexual abuse that their partners suffered and love even that broken-hearted part of them.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I used to feel like I was the only one. I felt like I was a bad person who was being punished. I have learned that I am neither. I have also learned that most survivors feel that way and that many people who are not survivors feel that they do not know anyone who is a survivor. That does not make him or her a bad person either. There are of course cases where people know someone is being abused and do nothing, but I think very often, it is just because they don’t know or don’t know what to do.

We are all in this together. If we can’t talk about abuse and hear each other’s stories, we are all stuck. None of us can improve because we are too afraid to learn. There is hope to end abuse. We just have to work together and learn how to do it!

If you could speak to a person who is not a survivor, what would you tell them is the single most important thing they can do to help you heal?

If you are a secondary survivor, what is one thing you have found helpful when dealing with survivors?

If you don’t know any survivors, or don’t know you know any, what would you like to ask them? (please ask questions with the intent to help, not blame.)

Hope http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa6ikNrmpXM