Taking Her Along With Me

When I emailed the women in my last group at DCRC to tell them that I had given my notice, I didn't hear back from most of them. I had opted for email instead of telling them in-person because I didn't want to hijack the agenda with my news. I wanted them to be able to process on their own time, not be caught off guard. But even with that prep, I wasn't surprised to not hear back.

 A gift of original art from one of the domestic violence survivors in a recent support group.

A gift of original art from one of the domestic violence survivors in a recent support group.

Survivors have a hard time trusting people and it can be especially difficult for them to lose someone that they do trust. And that is where it got hard for me because I wanted to do everything I could to convince them that I'm leaving the agency, not them. That I will continue to do groups and that I want these amazing women to be part of those groups, which is not only my work but also my life. 

The longer I work with survivors and professionals who serve survivors, the more I see how marginalized and sometimes re-traumatized survivors can be by the "othering" that is done to them. "Othering" is essentially a process in which one group separates out another as "them" and not like "us" and in doing so treats them differently. One of the reasons that I object to this othering (in addition to my Women's Studies grad program learnings -like this one - which serves me on a daily basis) is that I am an abuse survivor. But that's only part of it. Othering survivors is wrong because those in a position of authority (an agency, for example) exercise power and control over a survivor, in a similar way to her abuser(s) had. No matter what the reason, confidentiality, safety or something else, othering survivors can only be wrong. Bessel van der Kolk in his book on trauma, "The Body Keeps Score" says “if you do something to a patient that you would not do to your friends or children, consider whether or not you are unwittingly replicating a trauma from their past,”. It's a good checkpoint to make sure we aren't othering anyone we serve.

Last week, I decided that I would share with the women my plans for future groups. I wanted to underscore that not only am I not going anywhere but that I wanted them to be part of my process. The goal in doing so is not only co-creation (and not just in perfunctory "what do you want to get out of this group?" question that is often asked) but also community and inclusion. I'll let you know how it works out. And if you'd like to come along, click here to sign up for periodic updates which includes training opportunities as well as news about my upcoming support groups.