Julia Vaughan Smith: Writer, Action researcher, Thinker, Public speaker
I have recently read a remarkable book, The Apology, by Eve Ensor. in this short book she writes the apology she would have liked her father to make to her for the years of sexual and emotional abuse he subjected her to. When I saw her being interviewed she said she had written this as she was aware that all of her life she carried a longing for such an apology and this was a negative undercurrent to her living fully. When it was completed, she said that longing had gone.
Within Identity orientated Psyche-trauma theory, such a longing is a sign of a continuing entanglement with the perpetrator. Resentment, hate, compliance and rebellion are also signs of being caught in the victim:perpetrator survival dynamics.
In her book, Ensor explores her father's history, and the sources of his own trauma in childhood. Traumatising relationships are multi-generational, the trauma is passed down through the bonding, or lack of bonding, and parenting process unless personal work is done. She also writes in detail about what he subjected her to, and imagines his thoughts and feelings about those actions and about her. Towards the end of the book he takes responsibility for his action and the pain that he caused her.
It is unusual for perpetrators to take responsibility for their behaviour and the impact of that on the victim. Too often they seek to justify and absolve themselves. The deep shame experienced means that they try to cover up their actions and often continue to intimidate and threaten victims into silence. They have much to lose in terms of reputation. However, in so doing they remain locked in their own trauma of being a perpetrator. Professor Franz Ruppert talks of trauma of identity (not being wanted), trauma of love (not feeling loved), trauma of sexuality (sexual abuse), and trauma of perpetration within the perpetrator.
This book gives us some insight into how to break these entanglements. Firstly to connect with ones own pain and trauma, with compassion, telling the truth of what happened and by whom.
We need to go into our own experience and not look to the other for apology or as a focus for our rebellion or hatred. Once we can do this, and let go of the survival responses, we are better able to see the perpetrator as a traumatised person. We can see that it wasn't about us, it was about them and their history. We can allow compassion to arise for what they endured and keep in contact with our own pain. If we only engage with compassion for them, and deny our own, we are entangled. We must face up to our own emotional reality, and let go of denial and illusion.
As perpetrators, we too need to look into ourselves with compassion, connecting with our own pain and trauma. Having done that, we are better able to take responsibility for our actions and the pain we have caused. We can being compassion for those we have hurt. I am using 'we' as while we might not have sexually or emotionally abused another, we may well have caused pain to ourselves or others through our survival strategies. Until we take responsibility, for what we are rightly responsible for, we remain entangled with those we hurt. In doing so, we need to be careful to focus on our actions, and not to take responsibility, as victims sometimes do, for the behaviour of perpetrators. Perpetrators, who wish to, need support to work through these processes. It seems that Ensor's book has helped many to become fully aware the consequences of their actions, and find ways of releasing themselves from that part of their trauma biography.
Breaking entanglements isn't about forgiveness in the sense of ‘I forgive him/her, and must accept my pain as s/he couldn’t help it’. This is still in a victim survival attitude. In some therapies in the past I have witnessed abused ‘client’s’ being encouraged to bow down before their abusive father and thank him for their life. This is not healthy. This is about denying our own emotional reality to retain an illusion of love. It is true our parents gave us life, as their parents gave it to them, and so on back into our ancestors. However, in some cases they also carried and passed on great pain and suffering.
Whether writing the apology for ourselves in this way frees all of us from any entanglements we carry, I am not sure. But Ensor has presented a powerful approach which may bring strength or courage to many.
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