When #MeToo Helps.....then Hurts
It was mid-October when the words “Me Too” took us all by storm and shook the ground; impassioned, strong voices broke through the earth to let their stories of sexual assault be heard and felt. Survivors worldwide began disclosing their experiences, discussions about sexual assault began to spark, and together we all faced the brush fires stirring in our own communities. What started in Hollywood spread to our personal feeds and many were completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of loved ones who’d been affected by sexual misconduct in some way. Brave, courageous stories were being told, honesty and openness were being more respected, and incredibly moving work was taking off at an unprecedented rate. While difficult, it offered the first glimmer of hope to all the survivors who’d been sitting in their silence since they were small children, ignored and mistreated for so long. This could be the turning page! “This could be the moment we’re seen. This could my chance to be believed! The battles I face every single day just to make it through could lift! …someone will finally understand us!” Unfortunately, over time many started to see that the movement that held, and still holds, so much promise was letting them down and, at times, even actively causing them pain. Survivors who were most broken by sexual violence were being left out, others were being narrowly characterized as the problem, and then there were those being lifted into the spotlight with whom most couldn't identify. What aimed to amplify the voices of those hidden and silenced the harshest, instead began doing the silencing and hiding.
It’s been three months. Three months since we’ve begun having daily, public conversations about sexual assault, consent, harassment, power dynamics, manipulation, silencing, fear, coercion, and so much more. These topics are fiercely important. Yet, somehow we’ve moved on to where the conversation delved into the smallest of details, to where we even openly analyze the very minutia of one person’s assault, but managed to jump right over entire groups of men, women and children who are most affected by sexual assault. They were left out of the broader conversation entirely. Men have been almost completely shut out. We even had two famous men come forward with their experiences, but as more came forward against Spacey, those men devolved into just part of a number count - not people with names and stories, like each individual woman against Weinstein was given. You also had to work exceptionally hard to find anything about them. On another plane, and it has already been well-observed but bears repeating, people of color have been largely overlooked in favor of powerful, white, attractive women. The most neglected, however, have been those abused as children and teens. So, if you are/were a little boy, or a child of color, forget it. Three months and no one with influence has taken the time to speak on your behalf or any of the populations most exposed to sexual/complex trauma. Survivors themselves have been speaking, though. They’ve been sharing their stories, as well as their frustrations, their pain, their sense of invisibility, their disappointment, and their desire to just be seen and be given care. But, these strong souls are forced to talk mostly amongst themselves — with those who already get it. Any attempt at more public dialogue or even education has been so explicitly redirected or avoided. That's unacceptable.
Several weeks into the movement, we saw branches like #ChurchToo take off. This brought with it renewed hope for many, particularly the groups feeling most ignored. It felt like there was still a chance we could get to them soon; just give it time, soon the spark will catch. But, then the compassion fatigue seemed to set in, sympathies were waning, and many had their embers snuffed out as they saw it barely trend, never given a hashtag icon, and articles about it remaining very few and far between (and, most were about churches defending themselves). Over time, it seemed concerns about the direction of MeToo - including its re-traumatizing and triggering effects - were either disregarded or met with hostility. ..as if by expressing concern, one was arguing against its necessity or importance as a movement. Which, is typically untrue and worrying at best.
In the last month, MeToo has been increasingly described as a women’s movement. “Thanks to #MeToo, it’s the year of the woman,” “#MeToo gave a chance for women to tell their stories,” “Stars are dressing in black to support the women affected by sexual assault.”. To add insult to injury, men were universally being characterized as the perpetrators. They were emphatically told it’s their turn to LISTEN. They were told they aren’t to be doing any talking, just listening and taking notes on what they plan to do to help women. Male victims are an afterthought or a parenthetical to an article about women. They aren’t allowed to speak, just learn and don’t abuse. This is dangerous, toxic, and painful. It takes away their voices to come out as victims themselves, and re-impresses to ALL victims that, unless their abuse was at the hands of a male, they just shouldn’t come forward. Abuse perpetrated by women has been responded to in a wildly different way. Some have even said it’s “not the time for those stories because we’re trying to help women right now”. No. No, we aren’t. We’re trying to help victims of sexual assault. Humans. That includes men. That includes those who were hurt by women. It means little boys, teens, children and little girls. It means we fight for those hurt by family members, those with multiple perpetrators, whose abuse lasted for years, and those who’ve been trafficked, who are poor, who have nothing to their name, and those with no power elsewhere.
THIS IS NOT A WOMEN’S MOVEMENT. IT’S NOT A POWERFUL-WOMEN EXCLUSIVE movement. IT IS NOT A MOVEMENT AGAINST MEN.
This is a movement for survivors of sexual assault. And, to exclude any group is to abuse them again. To say their voices aren’t important, their stories insignificant, motives impure, or not as glamorous a story for a magazine cover, is inexcusable. Being selective with the voices we lift up, and when, says to everyone else, “You don’t fit our agenda, your story is too messy or hard to hear, you can wait your turn”. Only, their turn won’t ever come if no one takes a stand for them. They cannot just be expected to talk amongst themselves indefinitely and expect anything to change. They need the world to see them, understand them, to HELP them.
More Evidence of Inequity
We currently have the largest criminal case of sex abuse against children, teens and adults that the U.S. has seen in decades. The number of girls who've survived the abuse of Larry Nassar - former team doctor within USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University and club gym Twistars - surpasses the number of Sandusky, Weinstein and Bill Cosby victims combined. Yet, somehow, even in the era of #MeToo, it’s gotten a fraction of the coverage as each of those cases independently. Over one-hundred and forty girls [update: currently over 200 girls and the addition of a male as of January 23, 2018] and women were hurt by one man (as well as the organizations that employed him, and specific individuals who enabled his abuse), over the span of 3 decades, with many reports against him that went ignored or were hidden -- but somehow, the story and all of its lessons has struggled to have any lasting power in the media or public discourse. Is it because many were children and teens when they were hurt? Because it wasn’t sexual harassment, or abuse against independent women, and seen as off-topic? Was it just too difficult to hear? Too unbelievable? Was it because these precious survivors weren't wealthy, didn't have a current platform or large following, or were mostly just strangers from Michigan? In truth, it is because of all those reasons and more. Some of the more ludicrous-sounding posits even have evidence behind them. There only was a sudden uptake in interest, after an entire year of coverage and legal proceedings, once McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and, most recently, Jordyn Weiber, each stepped forward in the case against Larry. Only then was attention given to this beyond the walls of the gymnastics community. You can even witness the trend yourself. The week Simone Biles came forward is when coverage took off, but then it took celebrities offering monetary support to McKayla Maroney; 156 of the 200+ victims sharing their impact statements in court, to Larry and anyone who would listen; and Aly Raisman's testimony and forceful words being specifically picked up and featured in the New York Times, just to keep it there. To further update: it actually took sassy, fiery, gif-worthy Judge Aquilina to thrust the story into the real spotlight -- I mean, look at those numbers since the case broke. Many deemed her their new hero, but it seems they forgot who the real heroes in this case are.
This deeply disheartening trend in media coverage and public interest sent a very, very loud and clear message to the 135+ non-famous little girls, teens and women who originally csme forward in the last 2 years: that they alone weren't important enough for the public to care. Their abuse, suffering and stories of survival weren’t something people wanted to hear about or learn from unless they were already emotionally invested in them as a fan. Several of these remarkable girls were even vocal about how much that hurt. They weren't 'marketable' or click-worthy enough by their own accord -- not even in the era of #TimesUp, or as they fought back against the most heinous criminal, and the very powerful organizations, that created the worst case of institutional child endangerment that the U.S. has seen in decades. Once clout, power and celebrity were introduced, publications couldn't be written fast enough. These are the kinds of actions that hurt everyday survivors deeply, and everyday survivors are who this world is made up of. However, even once the brilliant voices of our Olympic gold medalists were added, breathing new life into its visibility, it was clear their fame and power were still inadequate to that of a Hollywood celebrity. They provided a bump in exposure, but only a bump. They, too, were given the message that their fierce, powerful and also heartbreaking voices, after years and years of abuse, weren’t as meaningful as those retelling one night as a Hollywood elite. And, that not only stings and cuts deep to those experiencing the neglect, but to many witnessing it. Because, if that’s true for even them, it begs the question to survivors everywhere, sitting in their nondescript homes, with names no one knows, and traumas deemed “too bad”, “too gross” or “too complex”: “What chance do I have for anyone to care about me? Who will help me? Who will fight for me to make my life safer? Who helps make sure that what I'VE been through never happens to anyone else? Who will help me get the treatment I need to stay alive? When will anyone believe us? WHEN WILL ANYONE JUST HEAR US?!”
If that isn't a repeat dynamic of the questions they asked themselves as children victimized in their own homes, schools, daycares, and sports teams, I’m not sure what it is. #MeToo, #TimesUp, and those championing them the hardest promised to fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves. Who can’t come forward. Who are scared, unseen, and voiceless. But so far, we’ve only witnessed stories of abuse to children, teens and men being pushed out of the discussion in favor of celebrities and those who have power elsewhere in their lives. It hurts. This version of #MeToo hurts. And, I can promise you that was never part of Tarana Burke’s mission statement ten years ago.
One thing that we MUST also keep in mind as we continue to spotlight sexual assault and have extremely important conversations about the behavior of those who abuse — is how it invariably pushes those who are actively abusing individuals, especially children, further underground. …which typically involves worsened abuse. Fear of being caught leads to firmer punishments, deeper threats, drilling victims much harder about not telling anyone, convincing them no one will believe them, and instilling the fear of God (or death) into children who might think for even second of telling a loved one or teacher. Teens may be the most vulnerable because their abusers know they have access to the internet and may see these conversations about abuse in the media. They have a unique opportunity like never before to realize “them too” and want to seek help. Unfortunately, those who abuse only care about themselves and will not be scared into inaction; they will only abuse more violently and creatively to further insulate themselves. We need to remember that, while we cannot and should not be quieted just because these individuals exist, we need to do that much more for those presently trapped in abusive environments. If we’re going to have these global conversations — and we MUST — we must also take thoughtful, intentional care of those who are still under threat. Those who are being further endangered by our mission to deconstruct the institutions that make abuse so prevalent deserve better. And, despite beliefs to the contrary, there are absolutely things that we can do on this front. There are actions we can take. We just need to remember to explore them and that this is not just about us sharing our stories and letting people know it’s an issue, but going out of our way to protect others from future victimization as well as rescuing those still in its vice grip.
Above all, we must remember the most vulnerable. A movement FOR the broken, should not leave anyone more broken. Children and most teens are the truly voiceless. They cannot say #MeToo. They cannot put a post on social media and be enveloped in support and care. They may not even know what’s happening to them is even wrong yet. They’re terrified and afraid, just as so many who are now adults but hurt as children remain. Yet, they’re the ones left out of the global effort to create a better world for survivors right now. We must remember them always. And, we must remember men. The men who’ve been violated but still told to hush up and just listen. The men who were hurt as adults, as little boys, who were trafficked, and men who were hurt by women. We must think about anyone who’s EVER been hurt at the hands of a female — who is struggling with that independently, let alone in the public sphere. We must think of those who are not wealthy, who are disabled, who don’t have jobs, who cannot go to court, who are not safe, who cannot even share their story. We must keep in mind every survivor who is too scared to speak against someone more powerful than them because having their motives questioned, being told they’re lying for attention, or are only seeking justice because they want money/fame is too great an assault on their character and integrity to bear. They've been assaulted enough. They don't need one more against the core of who they are. We must keep in mind every survivor whose trauma was severe, unpretty, chronic and whose abuse left them with severe mental health issues. They are not crazy, they are not weak, they are not ‘bad’ or ‘gross’, they are not lesser than. They are just as important as anyone else with a trauma history they never asked to own.
We need to get up close and personal with the fact that #MeToo is meant for everyone. Sexual assault is a human issue. And, if your movement doesn’t include those who are affected by it most, then it’s causing more harm to those already hurting than good. But it does not have to remain that way.
We want to re-confirm our stance to fight for women, men, children and teens today until forever — regardless of race, income level, ability, mental illness or severity of one's story. We will never stop fighting for you or trying to create a better world for us all. That includes helping those already victimized to be seen as whole and complete individuals, and to get them the treatment and care they deserve. It also includes taking every step within our power to educate the public and clinicians on trauma, particularly complex trauma, and to prevent this from continuing. We have faith that this movement CAN shift in the right direction once more. These conversations are desperately important. They are invaluable, and the strength of each and every person who dared utter the words MeToo, as well as those who bear witness, can not be understated. But, we need to see this opportunity be extended to everyone. We believe that’s respectful, responsible and entirely realistic. We also believe the hope we were initially ignited with can be rekindled.
We are honored to be a part of this fight with you, and we will hold each and every hand - big and small - through the journey.
MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:
- Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
- DID Myths: Dispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative identity Disorder
- Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
- Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201: Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
- Imagery 101: Healing Pool and Healing Light
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This will be a shorter and more informal article as compared to our other more informational and instructional posts - but that doesn’t make it any less significant. This weekend is Mothers’ Day. And we know that this can be a very difficult day for survivors of complex, often childhood, trauma. The larger holidays often gain more recognition as being difficult for people of all walks of life, but these smaller ones tend to go unnoticed and leave too many silently struggling in their homes. We want to take the time to acknowledge this. To let you know that we see you. ..that you’re thought of. ..that we’re sitting with each heavy reason behind your hurting heart. And? That you are absolutely not alone.
Mother’s Day is typically thought of with all kinds of warm, flowery, loving imagery - complete with elaborate social media posts, beaming family photos, and tributes to the all the selfless mothers out there. But, for many people, it’s not really all that warm. And for others, it’s downright excruciating. In the world of childhood trauma, survivors' mothers may have been the primary source of their suffering. Erroneously, familial abuse is often assumed to be the fault of the men in a family. But women - yes mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and cousins - can all be equally as awful and abusive. Other moms may not have perpetrated the violence, but allowed the abuse to go on, fostered an environment that made it possible in the first place; were neglectful, lost in addiction or revolving parters; turned a blind eye to their child’s obvious suffering, possibly even denying them necessary treatment; or were just so hot and cold with their affections that the child was left absolutely confused and conflicted about what kind of mom they even have. Now in adulthood, many of you are trying to navigate a world without her, or set appropriate boundaries, and have been relentlessly guilted and shamed by family/strangers for not loving or being close to your mom. Most just cannot fathom that she might actually be an awful or unsafe person unworthy of that connection. But you know. Your feelings are not only valid, but should be honored and respected. You don’t have to minimize them, talk yourself out of them, or try to ‘get over them’ and ‘just try to be nice to her already’. As crazy as it sounds coming from a charity rooted in and birthed from empathy and kindness, we want you to know that you are never obligated to be nice to anyone who hurt you. Not even if they’re your mother. It’s okay, and even admirable, to keep that boundary. No doubt that trying to maintain even a small amount of distance comes with so much grief attached - having to say goodbye to and mourn what you never had. We are so saddened by this for each of you and are sending our utmost compassion. Whatever kind of relationship you keep with your mother today, we want you to know that the hurt parts of your heart that were damaged by her - in big ways or small - they're on OUR hearts and minds this week.
Mothers' Day just brings such an awful feeling. I never know which version of my mother I’m going to get on that day.
- Jenn, Survivor
Another painful reality for many trauma survivors is that some of YOU are mothers. ...and not always as the result of a healthy situation, but instead tragedy and torment. Perhaps you were made a mother against your will, or still are one but have had to hide that fact from everyone you know and love. Then there are so many of you who've had the devastating misfortune of losing a child, and that is traumatic all on its own, even in the most loving and safe of circumstances. And then there are the moms of healthy kids, in wonderfully knit families, who are still left wrestling the seemingly impossible task of raising children when you yourself were NEVER given a good example or taught how. Laden throughout so many of these experiences is just an abundance of sadness, heaviness, trauma, loss, shame, and fear. Yet, too often, what rings the loudest is the silence you feel you must keep - and the aloneness with which you sit in that suffering - especially in times like this. If there’s anything we can offer you, we'd like to see you not feel so alone anymore. To know that someone’s taken your hand, acknowledged your aching, and is letting you know you're anything but on your own in this. We are here. And so many survivors just like you are meeting you here in their feelings, too. And together, we each carry a piece and make the load so much lighter to bear.
I’m a mom, but my own family doesn’t even know. Mothers' Day is “my day” but I have to spend it hiding; hurting.
- Rachael, 29
These are hardly the only reasons survivors may be aching this holiday. Many of you have lost your mothers. That kind of sadness cannot be described in words. If she wasn’t a safe person to you, this grief becomes wildly complicated. But for tons of you, your mom was your bright spot in all the hurting. She was your everything. ...the only one who saw you and heard you, did everything to keep you safe, and always fought for you. To lose something so special and so rare as that in your world, is absolutely soul-shattering. Your pain reverberates through just about anyone who’s lost “their safe person” - or has even paused to imagine what life without them might be like. We’re extending extra warmth and love your way. Just as we are to all those with their own deeply layered and extremely personal stories to struggle against. We can count so many, many more and want each of you to feel this extension of validation and warmth. You are important, and so is every last drop of your sadness, anger or grief.
Mothers' Day has always flooded me with a sense of being left out or not human. My mother was an awful woman, but she's gone now. I also cannot have children of my own - because of trauma. It's just a loaded day.
- LC, survivor
Whatever is on your heart, we know there will be no shortage of difficult posts, commercials, and media content to just drive that knife a little deeper. The open gushing of amazing relationships; the gut-wrenching in-memoriam posts; newborn-babies-to-grandmas montages on TV, condescending guilt-tripping posts to “Love your mom now!” “There is NOTHING that can’t be forgiven!” and "Family is everything!", throwback photos of heartwarming pregnancies and newborn babies, all surrounded by tons of graphics your ad-blocker doesn't seem to mind missing juuuuust to make sure it doesn't leave your mind for even a moment. We know it can be a LOT. …especially when so much of the general public still manages to have it nowhere on their radar that this time can be really brutal. So, even if we can’t make everyone else understand or be more thoughtful, we want to at least be that place for you. And,
To supporters, friends, and general citizens out there: Perhaps this little post helped to remind even you that these “smaller, insignificant-to-many” holidays can actually be the some of hardest. Definitely don’t contain your own expressions of love to the moms in your life; it just never hurts to be conscientious and thoughtful of all those in your life who may be hurting this day. So sending a little extra support and friendship their way could make the all the difference, truly. Just knowing that someone thought about them and wanted to take care of them, even in gesture, can be a very “mom thing to do" that they'd been needing and missing. It can’t fill the void entirely, but it can help a little - and a little’s enough.
Mothers’ Day to me means... trying SO hard. Little me just longs to make her happy. Adult me tries to pretend we’re something we aren't. I still give her gifts with the hope she'll love me - or even just believe me.
-- EM, 38
Finally…. If you are hurting, if you are dreading this day, fearing this day, hating this day, or just trying to just avoid it at all costs: We want to encourage you to do something different. Your family of origin is not what makes a family, so if you can spend it with the family you’ve created for yourself, absolutely wonderful. We can't encourage that enough. But, we also see great value in making this a “you” holiday. “My Day”, not "Mothers’ Day". Take care of yourself. Do all sorts of things that you love, and practice more self-care than you have in a long time. Honor yourself. Take time to consider all the ways in which you are special, respectable, selfless, caring and important. Treat, love and appreciate yourself. Sure, it may be a different holiday entirely, and not intended for 'you', but we can pretty much guarantee that you didn’t get NEARLY enough of these kinds of days, nor very many positive, safe holidays growing up. They proooobably went awry or at least left your feelings hurt somewhere along the line. You have more than enough special holidays to make up for, so why not make this day one of them? Take it. Make it one for YOU. You deserve it. And, hey, it sure beats a weekend of pain and dread. Every time you see an ad or post, you can pause to check in with yourself, remembering "Aw, that's right, this is My Day!" and do something nice for you. This is YOUR day. It’s a day for honoring YOU. It's a day to appreciate all you are, all you've overcome, and all the love in your heart.
We truly hope that you all make it through this weekend safely and with wellness. Please know that we are thinking of you this day and on each of the many other holidays like it. You are important to us. We hope that you consider your needs and feelings equally as important as we do. And, to everyone else, we hope you share the same thoughtfulness and support to a survivor this week. It may be just the bright, uplifting light they needed to carry them through.
Our Support for Survivors and Statements Regarding the Film 'Split':
We at Beauty After Bruises have spent the past month - ever since first hearing of the upcoming film 'Split' - thinking long and hard, holding discussions amongst the board, talking with survivors, and just paying attention to the general chatter surrounding the movie. We’ve been trying very hard to find the most effective, most thoughtful, and most sincere way to not only address our concerns, but most importantly, to lift our survivors up in its wake.
For those of you unaware, Split is a psychological thriller - behind which M Night Shyamalan is the mastermind - that features a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder terrorizing and abusing women as a result of his disorder and introjected personalities, and even murdering his own therapist. We, of course, have not seen the film, nor have we discovered what “twists” might lie ahead or could suddenly ‘change the whole story’ — but we recognize that already does not matter, and for many reasons. What matters is that, for the umpteenth time in traditional media, someone with DID is being portrayed as dangerous, violent, “insane”, manipulative, and/or capable of unspeakable crimes — most often murder. To date, there is still not one semi-accurate (meaning, as close as film can come while still being entertaining) portrayal of the disorder. Those which have come significantly closer have still managed to paint survivors as untrustworthy, unfaithful, and unsafe (both toward others and themselves). These movies/shows are often the only exposure to the condition most will ever get. And, while viewers may know it’s “just a movie”, it still leaves a strong impression - particularly when you’re only ever given one message over and over and over again. Many won't even go see this movie; they'll only have seen the trailer. With zero chance for greater context, their sole takeaway will be that those with DID are dangerous. That they have these “wild and reckless alter egos”, that they're "insane or sociopathic”, even leading some to wonder if it’s all fake and people are just lying in order to blame their crimes on alters. These recycled concepts are not only grossly inaccurate, they do a massive disservice to anyone with DID: complex trauma survivors.
One of our primary missions here has always been to educate — not just clinicians, but the general public. We need to demystify this disorder that is anything but rare and yet still the one no one seems to know anything credible about. We’d be letting trauma survivors down if we didn’t seize the opportunity to do so now. It’s the only silver lining in this otherwise extremely disheartening circumstance - a spotlight to educate. So, if you have seen the trailer, or your curiosity has been piqued for any other reason, you’re in luck.
Dissociative Identity Disorder is a disorder that stems from severe, repetitive, longterm childhood trauma — most often abuse and neglect. It can only develop before the ages of roughly 6-9 (though some research suggests even earlier) and that is because the prolonged exposure to trauma interrupts the constant, ever-changing psychological development of a child. In the brain’s sheer attempt to survive, it creates dissociative barriers within the mind which, oversimplified, blocks off and prevents full communication across all parts of the brain. These compartmentalized areas - often containing the awareness of and painful emotions surrounding the trauma - continue to develop in both identity and character just as they would in any child at that age. But, because of those thick barriers, alters (also known as self-states or parts) with their own name, age, and personality can begin to develop - influenced and shaped by their limited exposure to the world. And, because of the inability to communicate freely across the whole mind, it often results in amnesia for much of the trauma. It is held within individual alters and often unknown by the rest of the system until therapy begins or something major triggers a more spontaneous awareness. They are not “alter egos” or “completely different people”. They’re parts of ONE mind, pieces that make up the whole person — each relating to the world, themselves, their perpetrators, and one another differently based on the knowledge and emotions they have access to at the time.
Alters can and do “switch” - meaning they can each take executive control of the body. However, while it's common to be unaware of these switches as a child, as the survivor grows older (particularly if they’ve begun therapy), those with DID can and often do know when it happens. For those who are still unaware of their DID, they may start to notice that they’re losing time, things are out of place, or they have no recollection of conversations that loved ones swear they had, etc. Things begin to add up and make them aware something is wrong, even if they aren't sure what exactly that is just yet. If one is in therapy or already self-aware, they can begin to greater gain access to these parts of their mind and learn to communicate - meeting one another for the first time, discovering and processing the traumatic material, and learning how to live more effectively and efficiently in the world. Together. Some individuals are even able to begin this without therapy. It can be really organic and healthy, despite intrinsically difficult and painful. So, survivors are absolutely in no way “insane”. The vast majority experience zero psychotic symptoms at all, and those that do have additional mental health struggles entirely separate from their DID. Most, however, do have co-occurring Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and will wrestle with flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and all of the other nasty, grueling symptoms that come with being a complex trauma survivor.
DID patients can recover, and that recovery doesn’t always have to involve integrating into just one personality — but for some it does. Most with DID function out in the world every day -coping with and managing both their internal systems and posttraumatic symptoms - and live productive lives just like everyone else. And, they typically do so without anyone around them the wiser. DID tends to be a disorder of concealment, not drama. Drastic, flashy, overt switching would have attracted far too much attention when they were younger and likely resulted in more violence. Most have learned to hide their switching to the point its imperceptible even to some well-trained therapists. It’s not as United States of Tara as you have been led to believe.
Which, that brings us back to the film, Spilt.
Above all things, we want you to know that survivors with DID ARE NOT ANY MORE DANGEROUS THAN ANYONE ELSE. In fact, they are far more likely to be re-victimized than they are to harm another individual. (Like, dramatically more likely.) They are not axe murders, serial killers, terrorizers, nor are they always plotting some violent revenge on their abusers. And, if they do commit any sort of wrongdoing, they must also be (and nearly always are) held accountable for their actions — regardless if they were aware of them at the time or not. They cannot blame a crime on another alter, nor can they plea insanity solely because another part of their mind was forward at the time. That is not insanity. It does not hold up in a court of law. Only a marginal percentage of those with DID have committed any crimes at all, and those who have were usually minor offenses. So, films like this, while they may be entertaining and really hit the spot for those who love to be thrilled psychologically, paint an entire community of vulnerable, already-victimized individuals as if they are the ones who are violent and dangerous. These innocent folks have known violence for so much of their lives and all they want now is just to get by - and bonus if they get be seen and recognized just within their own mental health community. It does them an indescribable amount of harm every time someone uses their years and years of torment as a child, and subsequent decades of pain and trauma processing, as a plot point for others' amusement or terror.
We recognize that M Night is an extremely talented, creative and gifted artist. He’s capable of mind-bending work. But we know those gifts could be better-cultivated through art that does not actively hurt those who’ve already been hurt for so long. We have put a great deal of thought and reflection into this, as have professionals and entire organizations who research this disorder, and know confidently that this has no shades of reactivity nor oversensitivity. It's not getting upset just to be upset. That would do us, and survivors, no good. This is about standing up for and protecting a group of individuals that NO ONE has stood up for or cared about for most of their lives. Ignorantly portraying mental illness in any media is lazy and has always been detrimental, but these survivors have been fighting for 50+ years just to be recognized in their own community, by their own physicians. They just want to be seen as valid, as honest, and in desperate need of educated treatment. We have finally started making progress in that battle, but we still have so far to go. So when it comes to public media, not having even ONE single positive portrayal of a survivor with DID is something to be unhappy about, but needing more than both hands to count each one that’s portrayed them as violent, dangerous, manipulative con artists and murderers? It’s just absolutely inexcusable at this point, and we do not need one more. It’s just… it’s so low. To not only hurt the abused further, and trivialize this highly intricate adaptation that they needed just to survive, but to effectively demonize them? Just so you can make a killing? (Literally and figuratively?) It is so sad, disheartening, frustrating, and so many other things. We ache on behalf of all survivors.
Above everything else: Survivors? We want you to know that we stand with you. We respect and admire you. We understand what the battle you face every single day of your lives just to keep going. And, we will always fight for you. We have promised that since day one and this is us keeping that promise. We also stand alongside, and are incredibly grateful to, The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISST-D) — one of the most respected and revered organizations when it comes to complex trauma — who have also released a public statement regarding this film. They have worded things far more eloquently than we ever could hope, and we want to link their video and written statement so that you can further grasp the impact a film like this can have, and understand what survivors with DID are facing daily. But, more than that? You’ll get to see someone else standing up for survivors and using this [albeit unfortunate] opportunity to educate the public and show care and compassion toward those who need it most.
There are times when it’s no longer helpful to try your best not to make waves. There are times when it’s necessary to use your voice and speak up, and speak clearly, for those in pain. This is us using our voice for you, in hopes that it can elevate yours.
It’s that time again! And, no, not just the time to be overwhelmed by a busy holiday season - all the gift-getting, party-planning, and social-gathering. It's that time where the whole world pauses to focus on family. For many across the world, the holidays are when all the scattered relatives of each splintered tree-branch come together in one town, or even under one roof. People will be cheerfully hugging and catching up with siblings and cousins, moms and grandpas. There will endless Instagram photos of reunions with big smiles, quotes in curly lettering, and captions pushed to their text limit on how much family is everything. It’s the lifeblood. We will see, “Don’t wait to make amends; none of us are promised tomorrow!”. Yes, we’re only days away from those insistent posts and overbearing nudges from others to revel in the company of family. Never forget:“Forgive. Love. Cherish!”
But, for an inordinate amount of the population? Family is anything but merry, warm or inviting. It’s the source of pain, and loss, abandonment, and grief. It’s abuse and yelling, belligerence and guilt-tripping. In countless tiny corners, there will be an adult survivor of child abuse wrestling with themselves, tearing out their insides, trying to decide if they should answer their mother’s text. Another will have agreed to come to the Christmas dinner only to immediately regret it, and now there's no way out. Another is dessssperately waiting for their family to invite them — anything to show that maybe they care. Maybe they weren’t forgotten. Maybe their family actually wonders if they’re alive or not. The fact of the matter is that all over this globe are trauma survivors with families that are incredibly toxic. They are not to be welcomed with open arms. They will require courage of steel just to share the same room. And, some shouldn’t even be spoken to, let alone ‘kissed and made up’ with. Right now, there are survivors everywhere wishing they could have the family others have, and are messily scrambling to figure out how they're even going to be okay. ...and WHAT on earth they are going to do.
“Should I go?” “Should I invite them?” “They sounded so sweet this time...” “Maybe she’ll forgive me.” “Maybe he won’t get so drunk this time. He's doing better I heard.” “I should show her I’m healthy now; she’ll be proud of me, right?” “He’s always so inappropriate, he can’t be around my kids.” “...but he’s sick? This could be his last Christmas.” “I just want my mom. ... ...…but she’s evil.” “I’m so stupid. Why would I ever think they’d wanna see me again?” “ I can't breathe.” “What if I’m just being dramatic?” “Am I being selfish?” “I should respond quick before they get upset.” “What if she turns the rest of the family against me for not inviting her? They’d all hate me. They already hate me.” “I could do it if I’m drunk. Yeah, okay. It's just once.” “My kids haven’t even met that side of the family. Am I keeping them apart?” “I’ll try. I can face them! I’m an adult now. They can’t hurt me! …..right? No… n-n-no. Not right.”
These words, and farrrr more, are part of the endless monologues we know are running through so, so many of you this holiday season. We know how painful it can be to watch everyone else revel in high spirits and the warm embraces of family. They’re sharing memories and playing games, digging up inside jokes and sharing presents. But, for you, the holidays remind you of fights. Soooo many fights. So much yelling and pain, mind games, abuse — constant brokenness. And on the other side, there are those of you who recall perfect, plastic Norman Rockwell holidays that were a complete masquerade of the abusive family that lived behind them — forever confusing you of what’s real. You can’t stomach faking your way through even ONE more of those. But how do you make it your holiday? How do you honor yourself when that may include shutting others out? How do you make this season safe, and calm, and what you always wanted and deserved - without the suffocating guilt or aching loneliness? If you’ve never been taught how, what do you do about FAMILY? There are no easy answers, but perhaps some of our thoughts can help...
1.) Remind yourself immediately you are allowed to set boundaries.
You are an adult now. You are allowed to say NO. You are allowed to say that this year you have different plans that do not include abusive, manipulative or negligent individuals. …even if it’s a parent who lives alone or a relative who is terminally ill. You know what you can expect of their behavior better than anyone. And, if you know it’s anything that wouldn’t honor you as an adult — or your children if you have them — then you are allowed to turn them down. You do not owe them your heart or your home no matter how tangled up things feel. No matter how many Facebook posts tell you that you must, and no matter how many photos of others' make you pine for what could be -- if you know that your family is toxic, or scary, or can make you feel smaller than a speck on the wall, YOU ARE ALLOWED TO SAY NO. You have complete and total permission here. You can set boundaries. And setting those boundaries is what healthy, strong and respectable adults do. It’s not being selfish. It’s not being “dramatic”. It’s not being mean. It’s being mature, and level-headed, and strong as f—- frick. ;)
2.) Beware of the wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Holidays are a prime time for reflection and fuzzy feelings — they get the best of all of us sometimes. They can make even the baddest of people soften their edges and become just sooo very warm and inviting. As a survivor of abuse or toxic family dynamics, it can be incredibly hard to resist. That hurt, little you desperately wants them to mean what they say and to feel their affections. It’s all you’ve ever wanted. And they seem so sincere! “This could be the year!” And, it really could be. Bad people can change, and amends can be made. But if those amends couldn’t wait or you know they wouldn’t be made outside of the holiday season, beware that their intentions may not be so pure. If they don’t wanna work anything out and speak to you about things before the holiday - or they're deeply offended by you asking to wait until after the busy season to strike things back up - they may not miss you as badly as they say they do. They may be toying with your heart. …again. And it’s going to be so hard to resist. That’s to be expected. It’s even entirely understandable because it comes from that beautifully innocent place in you that exists in all of us. It’s out of the purest kind of hope — and it’s one that we don’t want to see get crushed by their hurtfulness.
If you know that your toxic family member has a tendency to turn on the charm during holidays or special events, and they're trying to lure you into holiday celebrations, convince you they should come stay for awhile, or just reeeeeally want to see you all of a sudden? You may need to label this fluffy little sheep as the wolf they’ve always been. Run it by a friend, see if they get the same warm feels you do. If they don’t, trust their intuition if they respond saying they don’t wanna see you get hurt. If it’s meant to be, your family member will be there when the holidays pass. If not, returning their messages now may just be returning yourself to being abused again. You don’t deserve that. You never did.
3.) Take time to grieve.
For some of you, your abusers may have passed on. And for others, it's the idea of a happy, healthy family that is long gone and passed. There is also the mourning of a childhood that was robbed of some of the simplest holiday joys, which can rub your heart raw as you celebrate as an adult. Holidays can bring up so, so much grief whenever it feels like something extraordinary is missing. For those with toxic or abusive families, there was always something vital missing. And, as we get older and lose people in our lives, the grief of loved ones no longer here can compound all these losses into one, soul-crushing ball of pure pain. If the person no longer alive was an abusive family member, you may even find yourself additionally vulnerable to a flood of traumatic memories, too - not just the grief. Memories may feel “safer” to reveal themselves to you now that the person is no longer alive or a threat to you. The same can be true even if you only set firmer boundaries and closed doors on relationships. They may not have passed away, but a book has been tightly closed and your mind can feel a little sturdier to go back and flip through some of its pages. If you know this is a possibility, labeling it for yourself ahead of time will spare your poor heart and mind a great deal of added anguish.
Surround yourself with as much support as you can. Whether that is through a therapist, friends, a partner, or other siblings/family members who may be experiencing something similar - try not to leave yourself too isolated or without support. Once you have that, allow yourself some time to grieve. Set aside 20 minutes to let your mind go to all of “those places”. Feel the feelings. Acknowledge the hole in your chest. Let yourself stomp and clench your fists at how unfair it is. Let yourself cry. You deserved so much better. You always did. It’s okay to be sad and to feel it all. By setting aside time to feel this in small doses, it will likely save you from alllllllll that pain just washing over right as you go to put gifts under the tree, or as you're carrying dishes back to the kitchen. Honor your feelings. Pace them out. You'll be freer and lighter and less likely to be taken down by a Grief Tidal Wave™. And just trust us, those are vicious. ;)
4.) Create new memories.
The holidays are as much about reflecting on old memories as they are about creating new ones. But, for trauma survivors, we think the emphasis should be sooo much heavier on creating new ones. Now is the time to do all the things you wanted to as a child but weren’t allowed. Play with kids' toys. Make a lot of noise. Run through the house. Indulge in an extra dessert if you never let yourself do so. Watch the movies you wanna watch, invite ONLY the people you want to invite, go to the parties you wanna go to, and stay home in PJs and slippers on the nights you wanna stay in! This holiday can be 100% yours - finally! Your life is invaluable and you should spend it how, and with whom, you are most happy. You might not have an Ugly Christmas Sweater family portrait with all the cousins and in-laws to post on Facebook, but you also were spared a bunch of awkward conversations, backhanded compliments, and most likely being made to feel like a lot less than you're really worth. You deserve to do things on your terms. And for once that doesn't have to include anyone yelling at you; telling you all the things you messed up; shaming your job, or your weight, or your partner, or your house. No fighting, no guilt-tripping, no violence. You get to redefine what this Christmas/Hanukkah/etc means to you. You get to rewrite what your New Years Eve will look like. You also get to start a fresh new year! And, guess what. Good news is you don’t have to wait for a new year to start living for, and honoring, you. START RIGHT NOW! Make new memories. Meaningful ones. So many new ones you can't even keep track!
5.) Celebrate every small victory.
This shizz is hard. It's tough, tough stuff. It is so hard to know what the right decision is at any given moment. And you’re not gonna get ‘em all right. …you just aren’t. But for each and every thing you accomplish, celebrate it! Acknowledging the toxic people in your life is a big step for many of you. Letting yourself even temporarily *consider* that not seeing them this year is even an option may also be the biggest step you’ve ever made. Asking yourself the hard questions, acknowledging your needs along with anticipating others' intentions, signing off of social media, and tuning out any of the guilting messages around you — these are HUGE steps. And for many of you, this year will be the very first in taking any of them. For each and every single boundary you set, and every last one you stand strong in keeping— CELEBRATE IT! You are doing things most can’t even imagine conquering amidst all the other hustle and bustle of the season. Your heartstrings are so tangled up and confused and they just don’t know what’s good or bad or sideways sometimes. And none of that is your fault. It’s not as simple as knowing your family can be toxic and just staying away. It’s not even CLOSE to that simplistic! Setting boundaries is one of the most critical, most difficult, and most powerful steps in a trauma survivor’s life. Doing so with toxic and/or abusive family members is Next Level, Achievement Unlocked kind of strength. And, we’re right behind you 110%. For each baby step and large victory you make along the way, know that we’re also cheering with you as you take each moment to celebrate these successes yourself. Because it’s just that important. :)
So, this holiday season, please know that you are not truly alone in this - even when it feels like it. We are here. And there are tons of others just like you, sitting with these exact same heavy feelings, and possibly a hefty dose of envy that they don’t get to have the same easy joy the rest of the world gets to have. They’re making these same kinds of hard decisions, going back and forth staring endlessly into their phones, lamenting over what the right call is to make, too. And, some of you might have to face unsafe or toxic people against your will, just because the circumstances have made it so. We know this, are pained for you over this. We extend our deepest amounts of compassion to you. Please know that you are in our hearts and that we are sending you all the safety nets and love that exist for you. For others, you will have decided that this is the year you are choosing to say yes to family members again. And if you feel you’ve come to that decision earnestly and not out of the expectations a traumatized, young version of you feels obligated to meet - then you have our full support. We applaud the strength you’ve gathered in yourself to get to this place in your healing. For the rest of you who are saying NO to toxic/abusive family members? You deserve all the praise and love and support there is to go around! You should be so so proud of yourselves. All of you. Getting through this season at all? Fighting the good fight? It's worth its weight in gold, no matter what the fight actually looks like. :)
In closing, we know this is an incredibly tough time of year for so many more reasons than just these. We’ve even made a guide to surviving the holidays with C-PTSD that tackles the other ways this season can be far too much to take. We encourage you to read that (or read it again!) just to recharge yourself. That way you can feel as if you're able to head into these upcoming weeks with a clear head, a bundle of deep breaths, and a game plan to guide you through. We are thinking of you and sending our utmost compassion out to all survivors everywhere. And we're asking others to do the same! May you never feel forgotten or unseen. And, may your holidays be safe, and wonderful, and special to you.