Ella Empowered

I debated whether or not to write further about my thoughts about Jane, the woman who had been raped 11 years ago while a student at Master’s College (now University). I wrote about it a couple of days ago. I am especially distressed about the statements of Jon Uhler in regards to Jane. I don’t know Jon well, but I had talked to him on the phone a couple of times earlier in the summer when he invited me to join his abuse advocate team at Facebook. I declined to join his team because, well, it just didn’t feel “right” at the time, and I prefer to speak up about abuse when and if I have something to say. Mostly I just like to write about the simple pleasures and struggles of my life. It helps me find balance and expression.

Yesterday I shared Sam Powell’s response to Jon. I thought he described what I felt more eloquently than I could have. In fact, many abuse advocates and survivors are so much better at, well, advocating than I am. I don’t actually consider myself an ADVOCATE. Sometimes I can speak very boldly, other times I ask myself why I ever open my mouth, and I declare that I am never, ever going to speak up about abuse again. But, of course, I always eventually speak–or, rather, write about it–especially when something upsets me.

I am an INFJ Personality Type, which is the rarest and most complex of all types. I’m not here to explain our complicated characteristics. I just want to say that we tend to be writers. As described in the article, Why Do So Many INFJs Want to be Writers:

INFJs are often natural writers. We not only have the empathy to understand others, but as Introverts, we enjoy working alone. For many people, the solitude necessary for writing is the hardest part, but for INFJs, it often feels like a sanctuary. It gives us the time and space we need to stop and think, reflect on our ideas and express ourselves. 

As sensitive individuals, we are always absorbing information around us, including sights, sounds, smells, temperature, light and other people’s feelings. We are constantly processing this information and trying to make sense of it. Because we absorb so much, we need an outlet for all this energy. This is what gives us a creative drive. Without attending to our need for creative expression, however, we can quickly become ill or experience physical systems of being “blocked,” including skin problems, headaches, digestive ailments and sleep disorders.

I totally appreciate and feel very honored by those who take time to read my blog. I like to see where readers are from. Sometimes I exclaim to EJ, “Today someone from California…Australia…the Netherlands…India…(or wherever) read my blog!” And he asks, “Why would anyone from Australia (or wherever) want to read about our boring little lives?” I say, “I have no idea!” But I cherish the fact that you do.

I don’t write because I think that I have an exciting life, or with the expectation or goal of becoming a famous blogger, or because I think I’m any sort of an abuse advocate. I write because I have to. Writing is my creative outlet. Writing is how I express myself. Writing is my voice. Jane’s situation has distressed me, and Jon Uhler’s comments have upset me. My body has felt stressed, I haven’t slept well, I have had bad dreams, and the other day I forgot to feed the ducks and let the chickens out of their coop until later in the day because I was focused on Jane’s story. I need to process this all by pouring it out in writing.

I have loved ones and friends who have been sexually abused. My son was victim-groomed (but not touched, he says) by his uncle years ago. I, myself, have never been sexually or physically abused. I am a victim of emotional abuse by my Mom/family and others. One of the difficult things about emotional abuse is that few people actually believe it’s abuse; at the very least, people consider it a “lesser” form of abuse. Sometimes I think they are correct. When I hear stories from survivors of sexual assault and physical violence, I’m horrified and heartbroken at what they’ve gone through. But I also hear horrifying and heartbreaking stories from survivors of emotional abuse. Still…at times I wonder that if emotional abuse is so much lesser, why do I feel so damaged by it?  Sometimes I ask my husband, “Am I imagining it? Was my family really as abusive as I believe? Or was it just me?” He always says, “They were absolutely terrible. You didn’t imagine it.” He would know. He was there during the worst of it. I also once exchanged stories with a new friend via email. After reading her story, I wrote something like, “Compared to what you have suffered, I think I have hardly suffered at all.” I had no sooner clicked “send” when I received an email from her. Our emails must have passed each other in cyberspace. She had written almost the same words to me.

I first started seeking information about emotional abuse because I felt confused and hurt, and I wanted to understand what was happening to me. As I learned about emotional abuse, I began learning about other forms of abuse as well. Often people experience more than one form of abuse at the same time so if you start to read about one form, you also become exposed to other forms. As I read articles and survivor stories it seemed to me that the tactics used by all abusers are very similar:  Abusers first appear good, loving, kind, charismatic to draw their victims in. The things the victims suffered are also very similar:  disbelief from others, smear campaigns, accusations, condemnation, minimizing the abuse, guilt, shame, struggles with identity, struggles with faith, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, insomnia, flashbacks, other PTSD symptoms.

I actually think different methods of abuse are a bit like different methods of murder. Sometimes I’ve heard people ask, as just a sort of theoretical point to ponder: “Which do you think is a worse way to die” or, alternatively, “How would you prefer to die: poisoned, shot, stabbed, drowned….?” I would rather be poisoned than tortured, and I’d rather be murdered quickly than slowly. But, really, in the end, no matter what method is used, murder is murder and the victim is killed. No one is less dead because they were poisoned instead of tortured. In a similar way, there are forms of abuse that horrify me, but in the end, in every form of abuse, the abuser tries to destroy his victim. In fact, I theorize that the core damage to a victim of abuse, no matter what method is used, is to the self, the identity. Abuse is sometimes referred to as “soul murder,” because that’s what it does. No matter what method used, the abuser tries to “murder” his victim’s core self.

I don’t know why I’m writing all this.

Yes, I do. It’s to say that although I have never been sexually assaulted, and I don’t know what that feels like, I can write about the affects of murder of the soul. I do know what it feels like to be disbelieved, minimized, accused, condemned, guilted, and shamed–and to struggle to overcome it.

Jon said that the ONLY way Jane–or any victim can be empowered and healed–is by naming her abuser. That statement slammed into me and I recoiled in protest. I asked myself why I thought it was wrong. And I asked myself if Jon is wrong, which I believe he is, how are victims REALLY empowered and healed?

First of all, although there are similarities in the tactics abusers use, the ways victims suffer, and the damage done to them, I think people are unique individuals. We are not all the same. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. It’s not true that “one size fits all.” I think that often when people say that everyone needs to believe or do a certain thing, they are either ignorant or insensitive to the needs of others or they believe that THEY have the answers to what should be done and they are trying to force it onto others.

I thought long and hard about what is empowering and healing me and listening to other abuse survivors, I think it is likely/possible that others are empowered in the same–or similar–ways. But that’s for them to say. I can only speak for myself.

Jon has repeatedly commented that  a victim can ONLY be empowered and healed if she publicly names her abuser. I think there is a time and place to name names or confront abusers, but the choice of if, when, and where is up to the victim–which brings me to the point of this post.

Let me pause and switch thoughts a little: I think in metaphors and I tend to use stories to help explain what I am thinking, so I will tell you about a movie called Ella Enchanted. It stars Anne Hathaway and was released in 2004. Although the movie is cute, I think it falls short of being really good and I would be surprised if it ever becomes a classic. However, I value the movie because to me it is a metaphor of what it feels like to be abused and the journey towards recovery.

Ella Enchanted is a retelling of the Cinderella story. When Ella was a baby, her drunken fairy godmother showed up at her house and gave her the gift of obedience. At first glance, a gift of obedience might seem to be a blessing (especially for people who believe women should always submit to their husbands in everything), but in reality it was a terrible curse. The gift of obedience meant that Ella was magically forced to do whatever anyone told her to do, whether she wanted to do it or not. Think about the things people say: Don’t move, wait here, sit down, stand up, bite your tongue, drop it, keep your eyes open…Ella’s step family discovered her curse by accident, and told her to do things such as give them her cherished keepsake, steal, or tell her dearest friend that she hated her and didn’t ever want to see her again.  Things really got serious when the evil king learned her secret and told her to kill the prince she loved. Here is a trailer for the movie:

Ella Enchanted is actually a story about Ella’s journey to gain the freedom to make her own personal choices.  Ella had friends who journeyed with her and supported (not forced) her as she fought for and won her freedom. In the end, she became not Ella Enchanted, but Ella Empowered.

Similar to Ella, victims are forceably told by their abusers what to think, what to feel, what to believe, what to say, what to do, how to do it, how to dress, how not to dress, how to serve, how not to serve, forgive, submit, don’t tell anyone, obey.  And like Ella, the battle to escape abuse is actually a journey to regain personal freedom. Gaining our freedom is what empowers us and this includes the freedom to speak or not to speak, to take action or not take action, to confront or not to confront, to freely choose how to live our own lives.

It is wrong to demand that Jane MUST identify her rapist, that this is the ONLY way she (or other victims) will be empowered and healed. It is damaging to take away her personal freedom in the matter. By demanding that she do what she so obviously chooses not to do, Jon (and others like him) is doing the opposite of “empowering.” He is doing what every other abuser does: insist on submission to their demands, force their victims to do things against their will, silence their voice, steal their freedom. That’s why I love and agree so wholeheartedly to what Sam Powell wrote:

…But there is something even deeper than this that is absolutely crucial to recovery for a victim. We are made in God’s image, which means we have personhood, choice, will, and a voice. Satan hates that and seeks to rob us of those things. This is what Jane’s rapist did. and Master’s college did the same thing. The assumption that she needs others to tell her what to do and how to do it. Shut up. Speak up. Stand up. Sit down. 

She’s in God’s image, with a voice and a personhood. (Diane Langberg is excellent on this). As a counselor, I not only direct victims in the scripture, teaching them about God’s character, I also encourage them to seek justice, but I never bully them into it, coerce them to report it, or force them – by using the bible as a bully pulpit – to do what I THINK they should do. it is crucial that they regain THEIR voice and THEIR choice and personhood in this. That is how they recover. By ordering Jane to do this as you think she ought to do this, or else be accused of lying, or slander, or worse, you have simply allowed yourself to join with her abusers in taking away her voice and her will.

One Comment on “Ella Empowered

  1. I just heard about the shootings in Las Vegas, and the many dead and wounded. My heart and prayers go out to them.


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