This Comment of the Day was by Cornelius Walker on the post Are Victims Obligated to Tell Their Stories a Certain Way?
I think it’s possible to simultaneously see your abuse as not that big a deal – and if we accept that there are degrees of horribleness, it appears his was on the “less horrible” end of the spectrum – and not feel you were responsible for your abuse, or had any control over it. One can in fact choose not to let their history of abuse define them while still acknowledging that the abuse happened, was out of their control, and was a negative experience. It doesn’t deny others the right to their own views of their abuse, it doesn’t mean others are weak because they still struggle with the event and its aftermath.
From personal experience, I’ve had no problem integrating my abuse into my happy and fulfilling life. It was an objectively bad experience, but I negative feelings about it don’t consume me. Now it’s a funny story I tell to casual acquaintances. I don’t think my assailant was a product of the times (unless it was okay to sexually molest kids in the late 80s/early 90s and I just never got the memo) but I also don’t struggle with the experience. It happened, it wasn’t my fault, and the guy got away and may have molested again, which also isn’t my fault. That I was not traumatized by my experience doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have been in another situation, or that another person in my situation likewise should not have been. It simply means I processed it in a different way, and my experience has taught me that I shouldn’t judge others for how they process their experiences; instead I should listen with empathy and help them heal where it’s within my power to do so.
When we say it is a “coping mechanism” to not be traumatized by an event we do a great disservice to everyone. We are saying that he is not truly experiencing and processing the event, but instead is employing a strategy that allows him to deal with the stress by essentially downplaying or denying it. It strikes me as incredibly paternalistic to do so, and I think Mr. Dawkins should have every right to frame his story as he pleases, without us second guessing how it really affected him. Denying another’s experience without a factual basis to do so is never a productive endeavor.
photo: rais58 / flickr