Focusing On Empowerment

Spending years working with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in various capacities added so much to what I had already learned from my personal experiences with both. For the last thirteen years, most of my head space has been dedicated to finding better ways to serve that population. One of the more effective positions I held was facilitating a seventeen-week course called Pattern Changing For Abused Women. I was a student of the course at first, following my departure from the abusive situation I had found myself in. I was amazed at what the authors of this rebuilding technique were able to pull together. It was so comprehensive and truly had the potential to alter behaviors of survivors, driving them toward a future void of likely victimhood. I say potential because the work required to obtain substantial change in oneself, while well structured and communicated, must be completed by each student in order to reach that potential. Many simply weren’t motivated and felt more comfortable staying with what they knew. They found themselves right back in the cycle of violence that had brought them to the class initially. Yet there were a few, myself included, who demanded real change from themselves. They weren’t going to repeat the same mistakes as before. It was my personal success combined with that of a few in my class which motivated me to become a facilitator of the program. That position, working with local police on their Domestic Violence Response Team, being a member of a county-wide Sexual Assault Response Team, and serving as a domestic violence shelter Resident Advocate for the Coalition Against Rape and Abuse, enriched my understanding of what we as a society aren’t doing. Add to that my endless hours of researching academic studies on which specific psychological and emotional mindsets serve to lure one into a world of violence. The totality of this information pointed to one common denominator. Accountability.

It’s very easy to dismiss accountability with a quick well-liked phrase such as victim-blaming. Tossing this term out at anyone who has discovered a true and viable way to impart enough knowledge to a survivor, so that he/she can find their way to empowerment and independence, is the perfect weapon for shutting down a different way of discussing the issue of violence against women. By the way, domestic violence and sexual assault have male victims as well. Ignoring that because the reported instances aren’t high enough to garner attention is a dangerous and certainly absurd choice. That dismissal simply adds to the division between genders and points toward women being deemed more worthy of protection. It’s hurting us as a society and it lends more chaos to the movement toward equality for all. We’re not helping ourselves with this perspective. Meanwhile, many women are still finding themselves feeling powerless as they continue the use of a coping mechanism termed ‘learned helplessness’. This takes me back to the idea of altering lifelong patterns of behavior that lead many into a place of dependency and complete lack of the concept of accountability. The Pattern Changing course I mentioned above is just one way to address reconstruction in behavioral patterns. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is another. Some may have the gumption to make these changes on their own. I know plenty who have done it precisely this way. There’s more than one path to independence and empowerment.

My determination and perseverance held the hand of my willingness to take responsibility for my participation in making my life a living hell for many years. When I was ready to be honest with myself, while getting fully involved in rebuilding my foundation, I found out what true self-reliance and accountability could afford me. Complete empowerment. There’s no greater gift one can give to themselves. Putting all of this in place changes the course of one’s life for the better and likely for the duration of their existence. To withhold this information is unethical. To withhold it in response to societal pressure is a cop-out.

Having come this far and seen with my own eyes the benefits of conveying this information to others over the years propels me forward whether anyone wants to hear what I have to say or not. I don’t care that the majority needs to maintain the use of terms such as victim-blaming, rape culture, and the like. Those who feel the need to call themselves ‘activists for women’ would serve those women better if they offered them something that would lend itself to removing the potential victim from the grasp of intimate violence. There is accountability to be owned by the activist as well. And I’m going to be sounding off about it. Should this make me the target of those resistant to hearing the truth, so be it. My choice has a worthwhile payoff. That being, there are many people who would like to make real improvements leading to the removal of the violence we are all touched by.

Teaching survivors and victims that they can alter their future behaviors, become more independent, and feel true empowerment is not just a nice thing to offer, it is the best thing to offer. Without making changes to their current behaviors, survivors will once again find themselves as victims. Not necessarily or only to the same perpetrators of the violence they specifically suffered but victims also of the consequences that come from doing the same things over and over again. We owe each other more than protection after the fact, we owe each other the truth. The truth that developing self-confidence, improved self-concept, and taking charge of one’s life, really owning it, will bring a level of empowerment which will reap significant benefits not only for those who get their hands dirty and do the hard work of rebuilding themselves, but also for their surrounding communities and society as a whole.

If there aren’t any victims to prey on, those who have become so entrenched in their own aggression will have no one to feed on. This philosophy isn’t cold or lacking in empathy. On the contrary, it is the most compassionate and responsible thing we can do for ourselves as members of humanity.

So consider rethinking your stance on what it is to spout out politically correct terminology in order to maintain your place as a quasi-activist. Maybe take just a few moments to imagine a society without available victims to satisfy the horrifyingly dysfunctional predators. Whether you can imagine it or not, I can see it, I’ve been living it, and I’m damn well going to share it.

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2 Comments

Filed under Egalitarianism, Feminism, Personal Evolution, RadFems

2 responses to “Focusing On Empowerment

  1. The authority in this important post is that you have done the work; you validate yourself.
    It must be the hardest thing in the world to change victimhood to self-empowerment in oneself; it requires first that in addition to actually being a victim of relationship violence that I accept that I am identified with being a victim: it is part of my ‘identity’.
    Then the goal of self-empowerment must seem impossible. That there are courses such as you describe and facilitators such as yourself is amazing and heart-warming in itself but to change maybe a lifetime’s identity is daunting. It is not surprising that comparatively few victims can make that leap, because the work necessary to secure that elysian goal of self-empowerment requires all the determination and intent that victimhood eschews or denies.
    You are obviously right that if victimhood could be eliminated then those who feed on it will be deprived of their vicious appetite, but the road to victimhood must be buried deep in one’s psychology and here we are talking about attitudes and experiences that are probably well established by the age of eight or nine years old. Given the appalling standards of some parenting in our disparate society I cannot see that the courses you describe will be short of custom in the foreseeable future. This is the great shame of a liberal society, but the illiberal cultures of theocracies and dictatorial tyrannies perpetrate even greater and more damaging violence towards their citizens. So the die is cast, and in ‘free’ liberal societies the need for psychological help and healing requires proper strategic funding.
    I love that you say we owe each other the truth, because (as someone somewhere said) the truth will set you free. But of course the truth for many is a miasmic nebulous religiosity which is anything but true. The truth is hard; it requires hard work; it must have enlightened leadership – true altruism; it needs brilliant exemplars such as yourself Jen to act as a beacon of compassion and ruthless self-examination. Not easy.
    I continue to be amazed by your journey and I stand in awe of your courage in the face of the almost overwhelming intimidation of psychotic violence. By your mere existence hope is made available to those who have the ears to hear and what greater service can a human being provide to his or her fellow humans? it is true humanity and it requires proper acknowledgment.
    I am happy and privileged to offer that acknowledgment. More power to your elbow, and keep the light ON.
    Stephen Coulson

  2. Pingback: The Effects of Domestic Violence On Children -

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