Wednesday, February 08, 2006

From Vicki Polin at The Awareness Center, Inc.

The following article describes "The Happenings" of a self-help/networking group for survivors of childhood sexual abuse I developed and sponsored in Chicago several years ago.

If anyone is interested in receiving training in how to develop a self-help network for survivors in your community please contact me.

Vicki Polin


(© 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).


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