Dear Ann Cannon • I’m a victim of 15 years of childhood sexual abuse, molestation and rape. It’s a fact few people know about me. While I appreciate that the #MeToo movement is exposing the kind of culture that makes this type of abuse possible, I’m conflicted by the range of accusations. I think appropriate boundaries are confusing to both genders and I’m especially baffled by women who seek attention as a victim. Do you have any suggestions for how to find peace with this difficult and emotional topic?
— Trying to Heal
Dear Trying • This breaks my heart. I can barely imagine the pain you were forced to endure as a child. And I know that even when abuse stops, pain does not automatically cease. I’m so very sorry.
Your eloquent letter speaks to the long-overdue necessity of the #MeToo movement, as well as some of the subsequent confusion it has triggered in women and men. I think we all can safely agree that the Harvey Weinsteins of this world are pigs. That’s an easy call to make. But there are some interactions between men and women that aren’t as clear-cut as they used to be when it comes to the changing rules of engagement. Take comments on another’s personal appearance, for example. One individual may hear a comment as a compliment while another may feel harassed or objectified. And the individual who made that comment in the first place may have been innocently well-intentioned. Or not.
See what I mean?
(For the record, even though I compliment Rob on his sensational shirt selections all the time at work, it’s probably better not to comment on appearance in the workplace these days.)
I’m also interested in your observation about victimization — how some people seem to publicly seek out the label of “victim” while others, like you, do not. Depending on temperament and life experience, individuals are going to respond differently. And that’s OK. Your letter, however, does remind me of something I read as the #MeToo movement was first gathering steam. A woman who had recently been raped resented the fact that some people seemed OK with equating their experience of being forced to hear dirty jokes in an office setting, for example, to her experience of being violently assaulted. This shouldn’t happen, of course, but apparently it can and does, which (in my opinion) ultimately harms the #MeToo movement.
Now. As to your particular landscape, if you feel that speaking to a therapist would help you (and I think it would), then by all means do so — sooner rather than later, in fact. And may I remind you that the abuse you were subjected to. Was. Not. Your. Fault. My friends who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse often carry heavy burdens of shame and guilt about their pasts. They shouldn’t. I realize that this is so easy, easy, easy for me to say. But I’m going to say it anyway. They should not.
And neither should you.
Meanwhile, I wish you peace and comfort on your pathway to healing.
Dear friends • In my last column, I called Flexibility a useful tool to carry around in the old Family Relations Toolbox. A reader contacted me, asking for a column with YOUR input. So what tools do you think people should keep in their relationship toolboxes? Send your responses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!