Monday, March 16, 2015

I'm Not Your Token Angry Survivor

Content warning for discussions of abuse.

    It's a bizarre cycle that never ends: abuse victims are only taken seriously if they have the right behavior.
    Now, lately the progressive Christian internet has been pushing back against this. Fantastic articles like this explain why survivors might be loud, angry, and hysterical, and that is okay.
    I can't describe how wonderful this is.
    But. While the loud survivor needs people to stick up for her, so does the quiet survivor, the one who's cautious because she doesn't want to ever abuse someone else.
    In other words: believe it or not, not every survivor is the same.
    That means you do not tell the survivor that their actions uphold abusive powers. You do not criticize their fear of holding people accountable. You do not demean their sensitivity as complicit in abuse. 
    Because if you only advocate for the angry, demonstrating victims, because if you refuse to listen to the ones cowering and weeping in the dark because they're too scared by your actions to join and you refuse to understand why, you aren't an advocate for abuse victims. You're an advocate against power.

    I don't know much about survivors of physical and sexual abuse. But I know about verbal abuse.
    I know what it is like to be specially sensitized to every last word, to see before anyone else if someone is intending to harm you with their words because they're uncontrollably angry. I know what it's like when you read too much into words because you have to, because that is your only survival mechanism.
    I know what it's like to be flabbergasted every time you see anger handled without rage and pain.
    So sometimes on the internet, when I see Christians ripping into each other on Twitter, I remember pain. All criticism makes me uncomfortable, but I do recognize it as necessary.
    But sometimes I see dehumanization. Mockery. Repeatedly ignoring someone's point. Assuming motives.
    And I am reminded of being verbally abused. And I am scared stiff that somewhere, someone, no matter how nasty they have been, will be verbally abused. 
    No one should ever, ever have to feel that.
    I get that I can't police the angry survivor. I don't want to. I'm not a therapist, but if you were abused, at some point in healing you probably should be livid.
    But if I panic and say "this behavior seems unhealthy to me," am I not allowed that action, too? Are we not allowed, imperfect humans as we are, to survive and grow messily, with grace and understanding and guidance?
    Some would say "no." And I think that's just as dismissive, hurtful, and silencing as those who demand "good" behavior from the survivor.
    There are times I can learn from the angry survivor. Staying silent isn't helpful, I know.
    There are times I can scream with them. I can take comfort in other people's awareness.
    But maybe there are times they can learn to show more kindness from hesitant people like me.

    Basically: there's a difference between being an advocate against power structures and being an advocate for the abused. 
    You can be both, I'm sure, but, once again: if your primary motive is to tear down the systems and you find yourself ignoring the survivors who are telling you they're scared or feel marginalized, you're not an advocate.
    And, sorry, but I care more about people than systems, whether you're building them up or tearing them down.

    Now, feel free to disagree in the comments.

*post inspired by a conversation on

1 comment:

  1. I don't feel free to disagree, because I don't disagree at all. Very well said.