Responding to Angry People Who Do Not Welcome Whistle-Blowers
by Dee Ann Miller
Several months ago, with increasing health problems overlapping the mounting needs in my ministry to survivors, I asked three people to help me respond to networking requests. In the process, I've been sharing with them tidbits that I've learned since I began this work in 1993. The following is my recent response to a question about the best approach in responding to anger about abuse:
It's sometimes helpful for the writer to hear some of your own anger. Above all, you'll want to say something that indicates that "nobody deserves to go through what you have."
Simply saying: "Your anger is certainly justified" works magic for many. It also doesn't hurt to add some salt and pepper, like: "What an insult, added to injury!" (speaking of collusion) Or simply "Those jerks!" In some cases, "I can't imagine how I'd cope with what you are facing right now, but I'd like for you to keep in touch so I can learn from you. It will be of great benefit to me as I learn to respond to others. We are all teaching one another."
Your heart will lead you. Where you are, in your own journey, what this individual triggers in you--which may even be totally unrelated to abuse--is what indicates that you are joining her on a pilgrimage. None of us will ever have all of the answers. Each journey is a lonely one, yet with lots of company--quite a paradox! It's the sense of company that most of your new contacts will not be able to feel because they believe that this is all much more about them, as individuals, than it is about the larger system/thinking that all of us have historically bought into, to some degree--thinking about power, gender, God-images, etc.
That's why persistent networking, to find the shattered pieces of the puzzle, is so important. Hope lies in seeing the broader picture.
One of the problems you may encounter, in responding to anger, is the tendency for many survivors to blame all post-abuse misfortune on the abuse. I encounter this all of the time, so much so that I am hesitant to mention my breast cancer to many survivors. (One person even suggested that the cause of my recurrence was that I was so busy in advocacy--another idea I choose to reject.) Over-simplification is a huge pitfall.
Diseases, just as abuse, are very complex. There are multiple factors of causation. While the emotional trauma certainly did nothing to prevent the development of my cancer, I've chosen to believe that it was not necessarily the primary cause. No more than my being in Hurricane Camille, back in 1969, was the cause of any number of other unfortunate incidents that have occurred in my life.
There are very few "must's" in survivorship, so I use the word sparingly. Yet I'm going to use it here: Initially, we MUST focus on mere survival. In time, in order to recover, we MUST move out of the near-sightedness that trauma causes, though. My husband Ron often, in speaking of his own suffering as a result of working for change in religious systems, says: "Thank God for the trouble I have NOT had." Seeing that broader picture, of many people we've known suffering from various losses and problems, helps me look beyond myself. In turn, it helps me count my own blessings. You'll find yourself doing the same thing as you encounter an increasing number of stories from others.
The process of looking outside of self has already started in a new contact, just because that individual has written to you. When you respond and assist the new contact in building a larger network, you help to broad the horizons for more than just one individual. That's the spirituality in all of this.
Sherry is a survivor I know, but not of abuse by another person. She is a survivor of abuse by a dreaded disease--multiple sclerosis. I've seen her near death. I've watched her fight. A few years ago I even had an article published about her disease and coping skills. Her emotional ups and downs are like a roller coaster. Sherry relates to me more as a recurrent breast cancer survivor, attemting to cope with progressive, long-term side effects of treatment, than anything else. Several years ago she told me: "I'd much rather have MS than breast cancer." That blew me away! Because there are so many things I can do that Sherry cannot. I thank God that I've not had to endure MS--I cannot imagine what it would be like. Yet, as I told Sherry that day, we find hope in one another, seeing the resiliency of the human spirit in spite of the pain. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "We must do the things we think we cannot do."
Revenge, to me, has nothing to do with getting back at anyone. It has everything to do with the spiritual exercise of protest, of bearing witness, of living each day to the fullest, and of connecting with others who want to do the same. That's where I find MY hope, in spite of my anger. Yet it took a long time to learn these lessons. I'm not sure there are any shortcuts, but one thing is certain. No shortcut will be found in isolation. Connection is the electricity that sparks change in all of us.
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www.takecourage.org by Dee Ann Miller, author of How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct and The Truth about Malarkey.