Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Book Cover

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  How many times have you heard that?  It’s good advice, but hard to follow.  We’re hard-wired to make judgments about others.  It’s how we have survived as a species.  Making relatively quick assessments about whether the person we’re encountering is a friend or foe…a danger or a threat, is a valuable skill.  But making those judgments should be based on what we see, hear and feel when we interact with a person.  They’re only valid assessments when we really see the other person.  “Judging a book by its cover” refers to those times when we have stopped looking, stopped seeing the other person, and judged them instead by a superficial facade.

Most of the time, “don’t judge a book by its cover” has been used to remind us that people we might judge as bad (or a threat) based on their outward appearance, are really good people if we would just look more closely.  Let’s face it –  we are mostly really bad at this.  We see an obese person and we assume undisciplined.  We see a toothless person and assume uneducated.  We see a hoodie and assume a thug.

Abusers know this, and they use it to their advantage.  They know that we also assume good characteristics in people based on the superficial exterior.  We see active in charitable causes and assume selfless.  We see teacher and assume role model.  We see a talented celebrity and assume noble artist.  We see minister/priest and assume righteous.  We see captain of the football team and assume good kid.

My abuser chose the cover of ministry and public service.  Jerry Sandusky chose the cover of role model for at-risk boys.  Bill Cosby chose the cover of Cliff Huxtable. And it worked so well, that even when people caught glimpses of the real truth, caught wind of allegations, they refused to look behind the covers.

There were signs.  The man who was molesting me caught the attention of the church secretary. She used to look at me anxiously when I would come to the church and head down to the basement to sort the archives as an  after school project.  She knew it was creepy that he would lavish so much attention on a young girl like me.  But she never said anything.  There were other signs too.  When he repeatedly lost his temper at basketball games and used his booming voice to make vicious statements directed at the referees.  It made everyone in earshot uncomfortable.  So he became President of the Rotary Club, and they dismissed his outbursts as an overzealous fan under stress.

Being sexually abused is a horrible, painful thing to endure.  I think we can all agree on that.  And the blame lies 100 percent with the abuser, not the abused.  I think more people are beginning to see that.  But not enough people understand the unbearable pain of watching your abuser enjoy the respect, admiration and accolades of people who are judging him by his cover…a cover that has been so easy for him to build because no one is looking, really looking, at him.

Less than 10 percent of abusers ever serve time for their crimes.  Victims don’t report because they know that they will not only need to confront their abuser, they will also have to confront the public’s perception of him.  Often, it is the latter that is the greater adversary.  Every survivor who has ever threatened to tell, has heard the perpetrator say, “Go ahead…they’ll never believe you.”  The reason a flood of victims tend to come forward after the first case makes headlines is because there is finally a crack in the cover.

My abuser retired from ministry to become mayor and a volunteer for hospice.  Don’t judge a book by his cover.

Dealing With Stuff

Jeff and I have been cleaning out stuff from our house. His stuff, my stuff, our stuff, our parents’ stuff, our grandparents’ stuff. We have too much stuff!

I don’t think we are alone in this phenomenon, but when we started, we couldn’t even start well because there was no where to start. Pick something up, attempt to start a pile, and there’s no where to put it! This is a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much.

It is starting to get better. We are making progress, and passing our stuff on to other people so they can have enough stuff after a house fire, for example, or continue the trend of too much stuff.

Generational stuff is hard. We hold onto it because it means something to us. Or it meant something to someone else. Or it might have meant something to someone else. Or it might mean something to someone else.

Or we just don’t know where to begin.

And in many cases, we can’t or don’t ask. We assume someone else will want it. The question is never asked, or it isn’t asked at an appropriate time. We hold on to it, assuming the person we have decided will want it will actually want it. Perhaps they do. Very often though, I think they don’t want it and when it is given to them, often with great ceremony and circumstance, they are put in an awkward situation. They might not even want the thing we have been saving for them.

Physical stuff and emotional stuff is very similar in this regard. Emotional stuff is much more complicated than physical stuff. For one thing, you can’t see it, so you may not be able to choose whether or not you want it because you can’t see it. It plays out in our interactions with each other, but it is harder to name and experience fully. It is harder to say, “I don’t want that emotional feeling” than it is to say, “I don’t want that old couch. I think it’s ugly and it smells funny.” Emotions and thoughts don’t always play themselves out that easily. “I don’t want your deflective humor because it hurts me when you mask your pain as funny.” It’s not that simple, and most people are not in a place when the emotion or thoughts are pushed on them that they can fully figure it out.

And emotional stuff is not to be talked about. We don’t ask questions, we don’t say in general conversation, “How’s that affecting you?” “If you had a choice, would you have taken the emotional leftovers from your father who didn’t know what it was like to be loved?”

I think most of us would answer no. Hell no! But emotions aren’t like a pair of shoes. We can’t try them on for size before we take them home. There is no test drive or period of time in which we can return the emotions. We can work through them, and learn to keep what benefits our souls, but it is a long, exhausting process. And while we are learning to deal with them, we must be careful not to pass on the emotional garbage we are carrying to other people.

There’s a lot of stuff that straddles that physical and emotional line. When my father got out of prison, he met with my mother to give her a jewelry box he’d made in prison for me. It was made out of gum wrappers. The idea was kind of cool, but she didn’t ask if I wanted it. I don’t believe that she even told me about it before she gave it to me one weekend when I was home. I took it, because of course, that’s what you’re supposed to do. I put it in the back seat of my car and drove two hours back to school. It was kind of like having a rabid animal in the back seat. Of course it didn’t physically attack me, but it accosted me emotionally the entire drive.

There was no way I could keep it. I called my friend Katie during the drive and asked her if she had a big garbage bag I could throw something in when I got back to town. She said she did, so I went right over there instead of going back to my dorm. She opened the door and had the garbage bag all ready. I dropped it in and she tied it up. Then I just sobbed.

I had already taken too much of my father’s emotional stuff (and physical stuff in his abuse of me.) I couldn’t take anymore of his physical stuff.

How has someone else’s physical or emotional stuff left you stuck and what are some helpful ways that you learned to deal with it?



My Story, My Wallowing, My Recovery and Surviving: Edward’s Story

Hello friends! Here is a new story of surviving. Please read it if you are able, but as always, if it is too painful, do not force yourself to read it. (Please click on the picture below to go directly to Edward’s story.)

Thanks to our friend, Edward Schline, for allowing us to share it. We thank you for your courage, your strength, and for surviving.

Edward quote