As a depth psychotherapist and seeker of truth, I have witnessed for decades what we hide from ourselves in an attempt to “stay sane,” what we hide from others in an attempt to stay safe or even alive. What family members hide from each other and families hide from the outside world to try to stay intact and keep from being exposed and shamed. What institutions hide, what communities hide, what states hide, what nations hide . . . in an effort to keep the tides from crashing down over them and changing them, however slowly or quickly.
On the level of the individual psyche, I so well know the need to help people open up the truth and grapple with reality at a pace their mind, heart, body, and soul can handle safely. And attuning with their pace is an exquisite part of what I offer in my work with people.
At the same time, individuals hiding from truth are members of families hiding from truth are members of communities hiding from truth . . . all the way to a world hiding from the truth.
The truth is coming out. We need to see its emergence as part of the healing, individually and globally. We need to help the truth come out and help ourselves and each other with the truth as it comes out.
Very recently, an article came out in the online New York Times.* It was entitled “Prep-School Predators.” It exposed decades and decades of sexual abuse at Horace Mann, an elite private school in the Bronx, New York. Sexual abuse of children by faculty members. Sexual abuse that was hidden most of the time . . . or perhaps ignored. The courageous author, Amos Kamil, wrote in the article:
When the Penn State scandal came out last year, I kept getting tangled in the questions everyone else was getting tangled in: How does an institutional culture arise to condone, or at least ignore, something that individually, every member knows is wrong?. . . The questions of Penn State, I realized, are the questions of Horace Mann and perhaps every place that has been haunted by a similar history.*
We can be silent. We can try to pretend it all away. We can try to explain it all away, as is so often done. Under the guise of protecting our own positions or benefits. Under the guise of protecting those we care about or love. Under the guise of protecting the institution or even the culture. We can try to normalize it away for the same reasons, under the same guises. But underneath the pretense, beneath the explanations, lying right beneath the normalizing is the truth . . . just like every malady in our world, there is far more sexual abuse in our world than we are willing to know. It comes in limitless forms, among them – pedophilia, rape of adults, sex slavery. It comes in limitless places – out on the street, in school, at houses of worship, right next door, or even at home. It is acted out by limitless people – fathers and mothers, older sisters and brothers, babysitters, teachers, doctors, clergymen and clergywomen, therapists, and more. But as with sex slavery, it is not only acted out by those who take slaves; it is also acted out by the people who pay to have sex with those who’ve been enslaved. It has an impact on the children – the girls and the boys – who’ve been sexually abused; it has an impact on the women and men who’ve been sexually abused; it has an impact on everyone who comes in touch with those who’ve been sexually abused, including their partners if they have partners; it has an impact on a society that is rampant with sexual abuse. Rampant and more than we’re willing to know.
The impact is massive. Especially when we realize that sexual abuse begets sexual abuse. Those who sexually abuse most likely were sexually abused themselves . . . and therefore in need of healing in their own selves. Those who were sexually abused end up in many places on the continuum, among them – they may fight against sexual abuse, numb themselves and close their eyes to sexual abuse, end up abusing someone else, or work with deep commitment to heal from the sexual abuse they experienced. Those who close their eyes and their hearts to sexual abuse . . . we wonder if they had sexual abuse in their lives in any way, and if so, how.
The impact is enormous. Especially when we realize that the trauma of sexual abuse creates deep, intense, raw feelings . . . terror, agonizing pain, hurt, confusion, rage and more. It creates these feelings in a society that doesn’t want to know about, witness, or especially feel feelings. A society that wants to numb and bury the feelings with whatever can be used to medicate the feelings away and make the person functional once again . . . even sex.
The impact of sexual abuse is larger than we can imagine. Sexual abuse destroys trust . . . in your world, if it was a stranger who sexually abused you. In your world, in people, in those close to you, in yourself . . . especially if it was someone you trusted. How do you trust again? How do you know whom to trust again? How do you repair the mechanism within you to trust yourself to discern who is trustworthy and who isn’t? To protect yourself from someone who isn’t trustworthy? And to allow yourself to relax and be connected with someone who is trustworthy?
This is one example of how sexual abuse affects everything in every arena of life. How do you know who is telling the truth, who is manipulating your trust, and who is seducing you under a guise? How do you know up close and personal? And how do you know further away. If family members, priests and coaches, teachers and scout leaders, doctors and charity leaders, senators and congress people, and even presidents can have such wounds to their sexuality that they, in turn, sexually abuse others . . . how do we know for sure even who our candidates are as they run for high offices?
The only way we can know is to be willing to know. To be willing to end the silence, end the pretenses, end the normalization, end the excuses, end the lies. The only way we can know is to be willing to know the truth. The only way we can know is to be committed to the truth. The only way we can know is to be willing to do our own inner healing work with whatever the truth awakens and brings forth in us. Only then will we know and only then will we know what to do with our knowing.
Only then will we be able to forgo misusing the truth. Only then will we be able to refrain from using truth as an axe, a bomb, or any other weapon. Only then will we be able to partner truth with love and use it as the healing instrument it truly is.
Oddly enough, in a school like Horace Mann where the truth was not brought out into the open, the beginning and end of the school alma mater is: “Great is the truth and it prevails.” Horace Mann might have betrayed its alma mater, but each of us has a choice.
Will we also betray the truth? Or will we commit to the truth with a full commitment and follow through on that commitment day by day, step by step, breath by breath?
© Judith Barr, 2012
NOTE: One truth that is crucial to know: It is possible to heal deeply and to the root after having been sexually abused. It takes a full commitment, lots of patience, and a really good, seasoned therapist with integrity, good boundaries, an open heart, a commitment to doing his/her own healing work, and someone who is not afraid of feelings.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
TO HELP MAKE YOUR WORLD SAFE . . . FROM THE INSIDE OUT
This month . . . Explore honestly within yourself your relationship with truth. Ask yourself: How afraid am I to find and know the truth? How experienced am I in finding and knowing the truth? What has my experience been when I’ve found and known the truth? How committed am I to finding and knowing the truth?
If we are committed to finding the truth, knowing the truth, and bringing the truth to light…imagine how different our world would be!