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Lord, how long shall the wicked triumph?....

How long shall they utter and speak harsh things?....
They break into pieces thy people....
Yet they say: "The Lord shall not see!"
(Psalm 94:3-7)

 

Making Decisions
     
   

 

Issues for Survivors

Once you get past the initial shock that comes with waking up to what has happened in your life, there are many decisions to be faced. This is true whether you are a survivor or advocate, whether the waking up is soon after abuse or decades later.

Abuse is experienced as trauma for everyone. For most, it's extreme trauma, though facing this fact doesn't come easy for people who habitually live their lives with blinders on.

Survivors are often in too much of a hurry to get back to "life as normal," failing to realize that a new normal must be carved out after any traumatic event or loss. This form of denial is commonly encouraged by family, friends, and even by some professional counselors. Few recognize how much work is required to deal with the inevitable losses. Then it takes years to integrate new thinking, also inevitable, that comes with the unwelcome experience.

Having resource people to guide you is essential. Usually, at some point, this entails accessing help from well-informed professionals. Writers--both survivors and professionals--add dimension. As a writer who wears both those hats, I hope you'll find the following helpful:

Seven Commandments for Survivors

NEW!
Hear Dee's voice in a podcast sharing seven commandments for survivors


Empowering Connections
Church Secrets We Dare Not Keep
Books by Dee Ann Miller -- How Little We Knew & The Truth About Malarkey

Listen to the Rally Song by Bette Rod.

Issues for Friends and Family

The revelation that abuse or violence has entered the relationship of a loved one, especially if the abuser is ALSO a loved one, complicates life and relationships immensely. How does a friend follow the Proverb “A friend loveth at all times” when the friend or family member wants to run away from the work and emotions that are evoked by the new revelation?

It’s certainly not easy. It’s not just “her problem” or “his problem.” Especially in a marriage. Yet it's also the case with parents, especially if those parents have strong belief systems that are challenged. This is always “our problem,” even though each person will have separate issues. Failing to own the problem is the only fatal mistake that you can make.

Owning the problem means that you must own your fears, your anger, your sadness, and the fact that both you and the survivor are in the process of being changed. The lasting changes that you make will be determined largely by the choices you make in how you choose to respond along the way. Those choices will be based on what you understand about the issues.

Maintaining a passive approach, as tempting as this may be, is a symptom that you are not owning the problem that has come because of the fact that you yourself are a secondary victim. Sometimes secondary victims, in fact, seem to feel the pain of the victimization much more intensely than the victim, especially if the victim is managing to not fully own the problem. Or if the secondary victims are not willing to grow and tackle their old belief system to make the changes that are essential as reality is confronted.

This is a process almost identical to facing the truth about addictions within a family. Its takes tremendous courage, and some family members just never face reality, seek help, or even admit there is a serious problem. As a result, there is a rift as those in denial continue to protect and defend the addict and all of the beliefs that are carefully constructed to protect the status quo. Of course, the people who stay in denial end up sustaining greater and greater loss while others move on, baffled and forced to accept powerlessness to change the behavior of both the addict and those who collude.

One major complication that occurs in marriages is when the victim needs or prefers to make a separate set of choices, especially in regard to her/his religious affiliations and participation than the family members. It may be further complicated, as it was in our personal case, by a move or even a career change. Sometimes these are essential for one to grow past the trauma or avoid the constant triggers of post-traumatic stress disorder that abound in the old setting. Sometimes, as in our case, the changes are essential in order to maintain a sense of ethical integrity. At other times, a compromise that requires a change for all concerned is needed. In all of these cases, life is difficult for the entire family.

Processing the many feelings and complex issues that come with such trauma will almost always require couples and other friends and relatives to realize that such processing happens on different time tables for each individual. Therefore, one party may be years ahead of the other, depending on the issue(s) and the personality of each party. To further complicate matters, one individual (sometimes an entire institution) may remain stuck for the rest of his/her life while the other moves on, even though the stuck one may believe that the person who has moved on IS the one who is stuck! And vice versa.

It is essential that you:

1. Study this site to be able to recognize and understand the problem of collusion. For if you do not, you will either sometimes fall into it yourself or will be overwhelmed when you experience it coming from others. Maybe both!

2. Know the difference between confidentiality and secrecy--the latter is to protect people with power, entitlement, privilege, or advantage. (Shocking as it may be, these are the people with whom most in our society are going to feel sorry for and believe to be innocent, despite tremendous evidence, IF they know both the alleged perpetrator and the victim.) Confidentiality protects and helps empower the vulnerable by allowing them to determine what and when something is to be revealed.

Along with the articles in the Coping and Spiritual Journey pages, you may also benefit from:

"Just for the Brave"
How Could She?

Issues for Professionals

No matter how much training you’ve had, when you encounter the spiritual abuse issues of collusion with abuse, you are going to be challenged. Your ability to cope, emotionally and spiritually, is going to be immense--especially if you are acquainted with both the perpetrator and the victim(s). If you are a clergy person, your own trauma will be increased because of the enmeshment that is considered “normal” in the community of faith.

Professionals need a very clear understanding that forgiveness is a process and not one that is to ever be forced or even suggested. It’s something the survivor will probably introduce eventually, but the survivor needs to always be the one that opens that door.

Forgiveness is an end step that you may or may not feel is required for recovery. Letting go is always essential at some point, yet this also cannot be forced. It is a very slow process.

“If God forgives, then so must we” is the argument often given and the explanation for the poorly-informed professional who may even insist “I can forgive him!“ The problem is that such a professional does not understand the difference in forgiveness and reconciliation. This person has throw away the opportunity to provide understanding and even education for the survivor!!! Reconciliation, which always requires accountability. It is not even a part of the forgiveness equation. It is a REQUIREMENT for any healthy person to insist that accountability is absolutely essential, ESPECIALLY a requirement for the professional colleague because the very essence of a professional is responsibility to do no harm to the vulnerable.

Professional licenses, ordination, and positions are all privileges. They do not ensure entitlement. They do insist on a responsibility to not cross boundaries.

So does the sacred trust of being a parent and a marital partner. Therefore, anyone who betrays those who abuse or violate an individual who is in a position where trust is inherent, must be held accountable.

Professionals, whether you are a counselor, a minister, a doctor, or an attorney, I hope you will affirm any signs you see of healthy movement in survivors and their families while being sure that you and your professional colleagues are working toward healthy growth and understanding.

It is essential that you heed the advice given to family and friends in the above section:

1. Study this site to be able to recognize and understand the problem of collusion. For if you do not, you will either sometimes fall into it yourself or will be overwhelmed when you experience it coming from others. Maybe both!

2. Know the difference between confidentiality and secrecy--the latter is to protect people with power, entitlement, privilege, or advantage. (Shocking as it may be, these are the people with whom most in our society are going to feel sorry for and believe to be innocent, despite tremendous evidence, IF they know both the alleged perpetrator and the victim.) Confidentiality protects and helps empower the vulnerable by allowing them to determine what and when something is to be revealed.

Along with the articles in the Coping and Spiritual Journey pages, you may also benefit from:

"Just for the Brave"
Books by Dee Ann Miller -- How Little We Knew & The Truth About Malarkey
How Could She?
Passing the Trash

Mike Laughlin is an advocate who worked for justice in a PCUSA case where justice was finally achieved in 2007, despite massive collusion earlier. He summarized his feelings about the struggle shortly after a Commission report was issued at the Seattle Presbytery:

"What was most difficult for me in the last 2 1/2 years was to get others to take what I had to say seriously enough to take action on behalf of those who were victims. Reactions were varied from some who had nothing to say, others who refused to believe me to others who were angry that I would dare to bring such an outrageous allegation against respected UPC clergy. What hurt more than anything else was the minimizing of the incidents and treating me as if I was the problem. It is hard enough to stand up to one's enemies. It is much harder to stand up to your friends and those whom you consider family."

The report offers a wonderful model of the words that professionals in any group, where abuse has occurred, need to generously extend to victims and advocates. Rare words, I'm sad to say.

Mike will be happy to send you a copy of the report, which is available by agreement of the Presbytery, for full disclosure.