The silencing of [abused] children

I saw this in my Twitter feed this morning. Of course, it intrigued me as I am focused on silencing behavior right now.

tweet wapo silencing children

This story by federal prosecutor Sarah Chang exposes society’s role in the silencing of abused children.

“Psychiatrists say the silence conveys their sense of helplessness, which also manifests in their reluctance to report the incidents and their tendency to accommodate their abusers,” Chang wrote as an explanation for why children in the videos she watched were often silent, showing little emotion.

It makes sense that these children would feel helpless. The very people who are supposed to care for them and keep them safe are the ones accused of abusing them. What power do children have in such situations?

But why do so many of these wounded, betrayed children remain silent?

But in reality, a voiceless cry is often the most powerful one.

Their abusers are master manipulators. Threats of losing even the abusing parent to prison is often enough to silence a child. That parent might be abusing that child, but he or she is the only parent that child has.

Fear of further loss silences victims.

Chang goes on to describe law enforcement officials, prosecutors and defense attorneys who judge victims based on their emotional responses to questioning.

“Silence can be the most devastating evidence of sexual abuse; it can be the sound of pain itself,” Chang wrote.

Some people close to me have suffered sexual abuse as children. Disclosures were made to me in confidence, in quiet times and in privacy. There was no emotion.

There was shame. There was self-condemnation. There was self-blame. There was little healing to be had because they just didn’t want to talk about it.

What was my part in this silent suffering? Did I bring up the abuse at a later time to offer further comfort? I must be honest and admit that I didn’t. I did not know what to do.

I carried some of the pain with me from that day forward because that is just how I am, but I don’t think I helped even a little bit.

Does society silence the abused? That is a very good question. What do you think?

Friend or Foe?

Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, is quoted as saying:

No person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended.”

Emotional abusers silence their victims with threats, promises, and sometimes even affection and gifts.

Sometimes they declare that family members do not care. There might be just the teensiest bit of truth to the claim, but this may also be an attempt to silence those who could help.

Know who your true friends are in your life. Family members who refuse to listen to you when you try to speak up about abuse are not true kin. Real family cares about and for one another.

Here is another question to ask yourself:

Who controls the dialog in your life?

Who writes the narrative?

Who speaks the loudest?

Finding one’s voice can be likened to taking a journey on a long and winding road.  Envision the mountains of Italy and the roads filled with switchbacks.

The feeling of getting nowhere can be overwhelming at times. The view doesn’t seem to change as you progress. You are making progress.

Keep using that voice.

Self-advocacy for emotionally-abused women

selfconfidence-smallI had an unpleasant confrontation with a staff member at my college yesterday. Up to that point, absolutely everyone, including instructors and administration, have been absolutely amazing. The atmosphere on that campus is perfect for someone like me who struggles with general anxiety and chronic fatigue: calm and peaceful.

The good part about yesterday’s conflict is that I stood my ground in the presence of a much-younger student. We (the other student and I) then talked about the interaction, discussing the law, hostile educational and work environments, even the Constitution.

Over the last few years, I have had to evaluate associations, relationships, my religion and even my marriage. I had to make some really hard decisions that benefited me, many for the sake of self preservation. I began to learn self-advocacy.

When I started college in January 2013, I was suffering from many things, the worst being virtually no self-confidence. I began the financial aid process expecting denial. I entered the college program of choice expecting to do poorly. I did my work, almost killed myself to succeed, and was told several times by professors that I am worrying too much about grades. I couldn’t help it. I had something to prove . . . to myself.

I still get failing grades in a couple of areas of my personal life when it comes to self-advocacy, but those are on my list to get through in the near future. I too often allow pride to interfere with seeking the help I need to merely survive (like going off SNAP when I couldn’t afford to do so).

I learned that there are no white knights out there. As a woman, I must advocate for myself. What is delightful is when I find other men and women who support me in my journey. There have been many (sadly, none of them my family).

grant flyer screenshotI am embarking on a new adventure: applying for grants. This is difficult for me.

It requires that I sell myself, or my need, effectively. While I have always been able to sell my skills in job interviews, I feel all anxious inside at thinking about people reviewing my life and thinking that I am not worthy of assistance.

It requires that I ask people for letters of recommendation. I am very nervous any time I must ask someone I know to do something for me. I set myself up for rejection and refusal because that is mostly what I have experienced in my life (but not always).

But not always . . . there have been people there at vital times in my life, willing to give me encouragement, even assistance, when I needed it the most. This is what encourages me. That, and the fact that I have worked very hard since starting school, putting myself out there.

When I joined the college newspaper, I interviewed two of the three deans for an article on mental health. When I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, I made a point to introduce myself and speak with the third dean that I had not met yet. These professors and administrators are there for students just like me; they are passionate about seeing individuals succeed because then the college succeeds. Whenever my instructors and professors offer assistance, office hours, and help of any kind, I make an appointment and avail myself of that. They have so much to give, so much to teach me, that I would be stupid not to take advantage of their willingness to teach and mentor me. On Tuesday, one of my English professors stayed after class to help me work through (mentally) what I want out of a 4-year university when I am ready to transfer. I feel so much more empowered.

As I have said, every single interaction on campus has been positive except for that one incident. That is life, though. Learning to deal with unpleasantness is just as important as accepting success, which I admit is not easy for me, either. In this case, this incident cannot be ignored because it involves First Amendment rights and the press. I am not alone, though. The instructor who has been teaching me journalism offered to go with me to speak with one of the deans because it is a serious issue. I am NOT alone.
I get a bit emotional thinking about this part of my new life. Denial of my experience by others has been such an integral part of my life that when people believe me and agree to stand by me I am flabbergasted. Deep down inside I know — false knowledge, by the way — that I am not worth the effort or confidence of others. That is the biggest demon that I fight. I am fighting it, though. My shield is up, my sword is out, and this shield-maiden is ready for battle (while trembling inside). Notice that my biggest battles are within myself, always.

I heard some stories yesterday from students about unethical instructor behavior and hostile educational and work environments on my college campus. Oh, I so want to help build in young women (and men) the ability to use their voices effectively and with confidence. Maybe my experiences, struggles and eventual emergence (I am still such a work in progress) can help others learn to effectively self-advocate in the future — this is the impractical part of me that wants to study law (which I will not be doing — I think I can use an English degree much more effectively).

So . . . I will be applying for grants regularly. I know that once I get through the process of applying for the first one I will have much more confidence to apply for others in the future. Applying for scholarships and grants is the epitome of self-advocacy. Yep, I can do this.

Standing up for yourself: An Example

I cannot agree with Shakespeare that we should kill all the lawyers.  We can all learn a lot from lawyers.

Where I grew up (Miami) people didn’t hesitate to state their cases and call another person on his or her bullshit.  Well, not everyone.  It takes a certain amount, sometimes a lot, of strength to stand up to someone who won’t let you get a word in edgewise, is a manipulator, and is used to getting his way.  My family has always been one to deal with “stuff” head on.  That is how I was raised.  We didn’t sweep stuff under the rug, pretend like it didn’t happen, or just put a smile on it.   But not many up here in Connecticut, where I have lived for almost 14 years, deal head on with conflict.

I have lived in many different places around the country, and even a time in Italy as a child.  I learned that people behave differently in different regions, that there are a variety of behavioral standards, habits, and rules dealing with conflict.

I grew up in Miami schools where it was not uncommon to have racial conflict or bullying (60s and 70s).  I personally experienced both at the same time and had to stand up for myself.  I learned a valuable lesson and became a much stronger person because of it (and got sent to the principal’s office for fighting back — well, worth it).

Up here in Connecticut it is very quiet and peaceful.  People don’t make waves.  You don’t hear people going at it with one another.  As a matter of fact, it is considered rude to complain about a product or service.  I have witnessed this.  A woman, obviously not from “here”, had a problem with an employee at a store who was not only goofing off, but was rude to her.  It was interesting to watch the crowd dynamic.  This woman did not elicit one ounce of sympathy from the crowd.  She was actually getting frowns and snickers because she was complaining about something in front of other people, and wasn’t shy about it.  She was not behaving according to Connecticut norms and was being judged.

Now, from where I stand, she had every right to complain if this person really did treat her the way she claimed.  I could tell by her accent, though, that she was not from Connecticut.  She was from New York where it is not uncommon to have verbal confrontations of this sort, at least in the big cities.  It is how things are worked out.  Just not in Connecticut.

I have made it a habit of praising extraordinary behavior when I see it in retail situations, often calling on a manager to explain how a person went out of his or her way to do something that was beneficial to me and how much I appreciated that effort.  Only two times in the entire 14 years of Connecticut residency, well, make that three times (but two of those times it was about the same person), have I complained about a service.  One time I was verbally assaulted by an employee for stating that I would like some help when the employees were standing around talking (when they should have been doing their jobs — this was before I knew that you just don’t complain about service in Connecticut), and the other two times concerned my mail delivery.  So when I complain, someone has done something outrageously unacceptable, in my opinion.  And when it involves the US Postal Service, an institution that used to maintain a professional standard that was extraordinary, it is very serious (USPS service standards have fallen so low that they are now the joke of the nation — so very sad).

So, that very long introduction brings me to this  point:  sometimes it is necessary to confront another person, or a representative in an organization, about something that is unacceptable.  I took the time this morning to help my 20-year-old son confront an employer over the phone who never paid him for 50 hours of work.  That was so very unacceptable; I am sure no one would argue with me.  The problem is that my son is not very confident yet (that confidence comes with experience and maturity), the other party is a salesman type, a manipulator who is used to getting his way —  and he wouldn’t let my son speak.  I had my son put this man on speaker phone and started to get his spiel.  I just interrupted him (because I knew he had already given my son this speech about how he could get the blah, blah, blah by Monday, blah, blah, blah).  I spoke loudly and clearly, not allowing him to interrupt me and told him he needed to have a check for $500 to my son by Friday next week.  He tried to threaten us, instilling fear — yep, manipulator — but it didn’t work.  I said check, full payment, thank you very much.  All done.

If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down.  But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again.  A man flattened by conformity stays down for good. – Thomas J. Watson

I then took the time to explain to my son about different types of people, and how it was very important to learn to identify them so you could adjust your own behavior.  While it might have seemed really rude to interrupt this person, he wanted to control the conversation so that he could emotionally prevail over the young man and his mother.  Did I mention that my first job was working for a lawyer?  Oh, I am so very thankful for that job experience.  Did I mention that my last job was working for the acting general counsel of a savings and loan institution in Austin, Texas, another lawyer, before I quit to raise my family?  Again, so thankful for that job experience.  You learn by watching lawyers that you can’t bullshit a bullshitter, as they say.  I cannot agree with Shakespeare that we should kill all the lawyers.  We can all learn a lot from lawyers.

I explained to my son that this guy is a salesman type who will say anything to get his way.  They have a variety of ploys that they use, but rarely is honesty a part of their plan (though salting their narrative with truths is common).  You just have to ignore what they say, make your statement, and say goodbye.  By having that conversation on speaker phone, I am now a witness to him admitting to the conditions of the original work agreement, the failure of this man to keep up his end of the bargain, and his attempt to make new promises that we all knew weren’t going to happen.  Push through, say your piece, and end the conversation.  Oh, and create a paper trail or involve a witness in the situation in case you need to take someone to small claims court or hire an attorney.  A paper trail is best, but this is a start.  We have the first two checks he wrote to my son establishing employment, and now have witnesses to the agreement.  See, working for lawyers really is useful.  Stop cursing the lawyers, people!

Get up, stand up,
Stand up for your rights.
Get up, stand up,
Don’t give up the fight.
– Bob Marley

I told my son that he gets angry a lot at me because I see through his excuses and call him on it, but in real life this means that I can stand up for myself when necessary (boy have I had to do that a lot the last few years).  I try to be polite but I will call it as I see it because that is how I was raised.  Although it is always best to try to respect the customs of a region’s people, sometimes you must be true to yourself even if it isn’t popular or common practice.  That is how entrenched practices are challenged and changed, by the way.

People handle conflict in different regions differently.  Living in a nation of diverse races, cultures and religions we should all know this.  Respecting the practices of others doesn’t mean you stop standing up for yourself when it is absolutely necessary.  $500 is a lot of money, and this guy had no business not paying my son for the work my son did for him.  I hope we don’t need to go to small claims court, but if we do we will.  That is the next lesson in life:  Follow through.

Life is full of learning opportunities, and adult children still benefit from allowing their parents to come alongside them at times.  I have learned to stand up for myself — and am still learning — and feel that it is a privilege to try to teach my children to stand up for themselves as well (and that the reason people hire lawyers is that it is okay to have someone help you stand up for yourself when necessary).