Thursday, January 13, 2005

Empowering Survivors - The Importance of Networking

Years ago I was a volunteer speaker at a self-help network that was developed by Vicki Polin. The network was open to survivors of childhood trauma. This was before the days of the internet. I saved an old flyer for the group and thought there was some insight that might still be helpful to survivors today.


(© 1996) Vicki Polin, M.A., A.T.R., L.C.P.C.
After several requests the networking group has been expanded to include adult survivors of childhood trauma (emotional, psychological, physical and sexual abuse). The NETWORK offers survivors a place to share ideas, connect with others and learn new skills. There is no fee for this group, but a donation is requested. The group meets every Sundays and is open to both men and women.

The Networking Group began January, 1996 and continues to grow. Each week the focus has been different. So far we have experimented with the art making process and had many discussions on issues relating to the healing process. One week there was a discussion on the words used describing and defining the healing process. Another discussion was on what is normal. It's important to remember the word normal is relative. Normal - is what an individual, family, group, society is used to. What is normal to some people may not be normal to others. When it comes to the healing process the same is true. There is no right or wrong way to heal. Each individual must take their own personal journey.

When the networking group was describing the words used in the healing process everyone agreed that the word "victim" referred to an individual who was victimized. The victimization could be witnessing and/or experiencing a trauma (i.e. emotionally, psychologically, physically, and/or sexually).

But what happens when the traumatic event(s) is over? Often the trauma changes the way an individual sees and/or experiences the world. Everyone agreed that sometimes a victim stays in the victim role because of perpetuating circumstances. There was a debate about how a victim can move into the survivor role. Does a person become a survivor as soon as the victimization ends (i.e. the offender stops)? Does the role change after the individual begins to make some sort of transformation in the healing process? or does the victim role change after the survivor becomes someone who has emerged victorious? This debate continues.

Then the question was raised: Once the individual reaches the survivor role is that it? Can you ever get past the survivor role? Someone suggested the term "Thriver", but that didn't feel right to group. "Who wants to be thriving on victimization. Then another participant shared his views;

Growing up being victimized is like growing up in a war zone. Once you are able to recover to the point of a survivor and can grow past it, you can become a veteran, just as individuals in the armed forces.

After the group I looked up the terms discussed in the group in the American Heritage Dictionary to see how our definitions compared to the dictionary. This is what I found.

vic-tim. someone who is harmed or killed by another. One who is harmed by or made to suffer from an act, circumstance, agency, or condition. A person who is tricked, swindled or taken advantage of.

sur-vivor. To live longer than; outlive; to live or persist through.

vet-er-an. One who has a long record of service in a given activity or capacity.

Another week participants talked about some of the struggles they have with their own personal healing process, and their wish to be rescued by someone (i.e. friend, partner, therapist), especially when they are having a difficult time. Feelings of loneliness, isolation and desperation were shared; along with coping strategies. For some it was difficult to understand why it's not in their best interest to always be rescued. Then the following story was shared:

A man came home one day and discovered a moth cocoon near his door. He became curious and wanted to watch the moth emerge, so he took it inside and put it in a warm place. Soon the moth began to break through the top of the cocoon. It made a small hole in the top of the cocoon and then seemed to be unable to free itself further. As the man watched, he became impatient and worried because the moth seemed to be making no progress in breaking free. In an effort to be helpful, the man cut a larger hole in the top of the cocoon.

To the man's dismay, the moth emerged with a large, bloated body and small, withered wings. It couldn't fly and had great difficulty managing its unwieldy body. In his efforts to make it easier for the moth, the man hadn't realized the central role that a seemingly insurmountable effort played in the emergence of a healthy, viable adult moth. He didn't know that it was essential for the moth to struggle through the small hole at the top of the cocoon: it was the process of squeezing through the hole that forced the liquid in the moth's body out into its wings. Under normal circumstances, by the time an adult moth has struggled through the small hole in the top of the cocoon, its body is smaller and its wings are large enough to support it. Effort and struggle comprise the key to healthy development for the adult moth. (Getting Through The Day: Strategies for Adults Hurt As Children, Nancy J. Napier).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish there was a group like this near me. Does Vicki still offer a self-help group in Baltimore? If not, she should start one. I feel so alone and need to find a place that would accept me for being who I am.

January 13, 2005 8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even an on-line one would be helpful. Something that's not public, but only survivors.

January 13, 2005 9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the awareness center offers self-help groups on line. Go to

January 13, 2005 9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only problem with an advertised group is the screening to make sure that those who join are genuinely survivors.
I don't mean to make more work for Vicki, I know she's swamped, but it might be more beneficial to have an un-advertised group that can only be accessed by those who have come forward (?) But then that might leave out those who may NEED a group to even help them come forward to begin with. I don't know what the answers are, but there's got to be something.....

January 13, 2005 10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be honest, I think in person groups are vitally important. Perhaps people can hire Vicki or The Awareness Center's speakers bureau to do trainings on how to run self-help groups? That way there's at least one group in every community.

January 13, 2005 1:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

can anyone start a self-help group? or do you have to be a therapist?

January 14, 2005 8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous,

You don't need to be a therapist to start a selfhelp group. I'm sure as a survivor, when having the energy and time to do it, you might do it great.

You might think of an e-mail supportgroup or of a closed forum. I myself have set up a website in the Netherlands, for survivors of (sexual) abuse by helping professionals (predominantly working within the health care system but also the educational system and clergy). You might have a look at which is a Dutch provider for a forum (for our closed forum for survivors I use it). If I remember well you can chose between Dutch and English. You can create the froum as you wish (colours, type of letters and the like). It is not a free forum but it is VERY cheap (not one dollar a month). It is easy to handle, you'll very quickly be able to get along with it. If you want to have a look, just visit their site where you can see some of their open forums of people which gives you a good impression how nice creative you might be with it. My own open forum is not special but very simple and b/c of the taboo of the subject not very much used. Our closed forum I can't show to you, that's much bigger and very a very busy one. I handle an e-mail procedure before I let people join. Mostly you would be able to see in the first mail that it is a victim writing to you (not by what s/he writes but by HOW s/he writes). B/c I think safety is very important for the users I have some e-mail contact before I inscribe them. The code they get they only get by phoning me. That's safer and you also get a more personal idea of someone. If I might be of help in any way, just let me know, ok?

You need to know that in the beginning it will take some time to create it and also in the beginning when there are only some people participating it is not always easy to keep the forum going then. Some are coming regularly but others drop by. At times some people won't be there for weeks or months. If dealing with a membership under 15 you will get it busy b/c of lack of other's reactions at times. But, I'm sure you are able to do it, why not?

Our site has a small English part to give you an idea what it is about, if you might want to have a look: you're very welcome. The site now counts about 210 pages of which some quite long. There is poetry in English, messages of hope in English and I collect news about boundary crossing by professionals from all over the world (especially the Neds, America, Canada, GB). The English newspages (link NIEUWS) you can read of course too.

Hope this might give you some empowerment to eventually start something, eventually together with some others. For Jewish survivors I think it might be very good to have a closed forum b/c then people from all kinds of countries might join, even from Israle of course and peopel who are now feeling without support like the survivor from Baltimore here, would have a place to turn to whenever they want - that's the good thing about a forum versus a callcenter or a therapist. You can enter and write whenever you feel like it.
You also might join the e-supportgroup of AdvocateWeb of course which is called hopetalk.
a very helpful, supportive, informative website and hopetalk I only can recommend. You might also try that.

Yours, Jeannette

January 14, 2005 7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jeannette,
Does your site offer resources for people who are Jewish? I went to your site and it didn't look like it did?

I'm Jewish and want to be in a self-help group that can help me with my spirituality issues too. I've gone to so many self-help groups, and every time I turn around it starts to feel Christian. It gets so frustrating. I want to be able to connect to God, but it just doesn't work.

January 15, 2005 10:06 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home