Ethics Survey – HealingEthics.com

Thank you to one of our readers for letting me know about HealingEthics.com.The website was started by Naomi Heitz, LMBT, who is researching ethics in the healing professions. On the website there is a survey for clients who have experienced breaches of ethics by their healing practitioners and also a survey for practitioners themselves. Naomi is gathering stories and first-person accounts for the website and for a book she is writing.

In Naomi’s words:

Ethics lies at the core of healing professions. Clients put their trust in healers and open to places of great vulnerability. Healers hold the responsibility to respect this trust and provide a safe place for the client to heal. For the benefit of both healers and clients, this project aims to provide a comprehensive look at the personal stories of ethics dilemmas within healing professions, including both traditional health care (medicine, nursing, psychology, etc) and complementary & alternative health care (massage, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, etc).

The scope of the project is broad, covering ethics breaches ranging from sexualized touch by a massage therapist or physician to psycho-emotional manipulation by a spiritual teacher or psychologist. Abuses can occur when a practitioner crosses social, emotional, financial, or sexual boundaries with a client. Abuses also can occur when a practitioner uses techniques outside of the scope of practice for their profession. The effects on the client can range from confusion to feeling uncomfortable to deep violation.

I think we can all agree with that!

You can read more about the project and participate in the survey by going to www.HealingEthics.com.

 

 

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Resource for Healing – Dr. Lisa Cooney

I want to let readers know about a possible resource for healing: Dr. Lisa Cooney. Dr. Lisa is a therapist and healing arts practitioner who works with victims of sexual abuse, primarily childhood sexual abuse. Despite being an MFT, she works with people in generally non-traditional ways, both in person in the San Francisco Bay Area and remotely. She also has a weekly, online radio show on VoiceAmerica. One of the modalities she uses (both live and remotely) is Access Consciousness, which is definitely on the “alternative” side of the healing arts spectrum. If you have issues with that sort of thing, she may not be a good fit for you. (I’m just letting you know…) Since I personally have received many positive benefits from complementary and alternative healing modalities, I thought I’d offer this to those of you who might be game for something different.

I have not worked with Dr. Lisa myself (no, this is not a paid testimonial!), but I have spoken with her and listened to her radio show. (Past episodes are archived for your listening convenience.) It’s interesting stuff! In my experience, the material I heard felt very empowering and applies to victims of all kinds of abuse.

Dr. Lisa’s website is drlisacooney.com. You can access her radio show here. The radio show is a great way to get familiar with her for free and possibly get some great benefits without having to invest any money.

Again, I haven’t worked with her personally, so this is NOT a recommendation, but I do want to let people know about this work in case you might be interested. If you do decide to work with her, please come back and leave a comment and let us know your experience.

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Reclaiming My Life – Michelle Mallon’s Story of Healing

I am excited to present another guest post by Michelle Mallon, MSW, LSW. Here, Michelle discusses her healing journey following abuse by a therapist.
~Kristi

 

Recovering from therapist abuse is hands-down the most painful experience I have ever gone through in my entire life. Healing was incredibly difficult for so many reasons, some of which make me very angry and some of which have brought me great insight. Because of the impact healing from therapist abuse has had on my life, I find it impossible not to want to reach out to others who have been hurt by mental health professionals. Some people have told me that this is because I am unable to “get over” what happened. I explain to them that there is a difference between “getting over” something terrifying and callously moving on, leaving so many others behind knowing that you were very lucky to have ever healed. (I usually say this right before I tell them what they can go do with themselves.) The reality is that for most of us trying to overcome therapist abuse (regardless of whether it is sexual, emotional, spiritual, etc.), very few other people have any idea what we are going through (even the mental health professionals we finally get up the courage to see after the abusive ones to try and pull ourselves back together). And because of that, healing can be significantly more difficult than it should be.

Just recently, I began reading the Your Stories page on this site. I was immediately reminded of the isolation and fear I felt as I tried to find my way through the aftermath of therapist abuse. I drafted a message for the Your Stories page and then I immediately felt like it was just not enough. I then asked Kristi if I could write a piece that would hopefully reach more survivors. I have found the path to healing. I don’t really know how I ever found it because, looking back, I can see just how carefully hidden the path is. I don’t know if my path to healing will be similar to yours. In the hopes that there will be some similarities, I want to identify the things that helped me find my way through this in case it can help even one survivor.

This time last year, I was just beginning to feel my “old self” returning. I was finally able to leave my house for short periods of time without having panic attacks or near panic attacks. I was beginning to be able to focus on something other than what had happened in the years before. And I have to tell you, I couldn’t have been more relieved. The truth was that for a very long time before this, I wasn’t sure I would EVER recover from what I had been put through. In fact, I truly believed I was broken beyond repair. It was the most frightened I have ever been in my life.

This year, my life is very different. I look back at the woman I was a year ago and I can see tremendous growth. However, I can also see that even as I was beginning to re-find myself under all of the manipulation and destruction I had been through, I still had a long way to go. There were times when I first started out on this journey where I was making progress, but I didn’t realize I was making progress. I would frequently begin to feel stronger only to be dealt a cruel blow of fear and confusion that would set me back for days, sometimes weeks. If I would have known then that this was how the process went, I don’t think the journey would have been nearly as frightening. And perhaps, this time next year, I will look back and see that I have continued to grow, even from this year. It’s impossible to say. This journey to healing has been nothing short of miraculous. Just when I think I have “uncovered” all of the insight this journey has to offer, I am humbled by another incredible phase of insight. I don’t know if this growth and self-discovery will ever stop. Perhaps if I viewed all of this more as a journey and not as simply reaching a destination, I would have found more peace in the whole process. But to be perfectly honest, as I started out on this journey there was nothing peaceful at all about any of this.

The truth is that the very start of my journey, like many of yours, was incredibly painful—almost unbearable at times. I felt completely lost. I really didn’t know how I had gotten to where I was, and I really had no idea how the hell to get back to where I was before. Some of the worst parts of the journey to healing after therapist abuse had to do with trying to make sense out of what happened with the abusive therapist. And because I still missed him, I was convinced there must be something wrong with me. For almost a year after I refused to see him any longer, I replayed everything that happened during the time that I knew him, trying to make sense out of what happened. I tried desperately to understand what I could have done differently to prevent the relationship from crumbling the way it did. I would look at certain aspects of what happened and think, “He must have cared about me and just lost sight of what he was doing.” And I would be at peace with that thought for a few days. And then nagging doubts would creep in, “But if that were true, why did he just leave me to fall apart on my own? Why, after I told him just how much this had harmed me, did he choose to remain silent and not help me find closure?” A person who cares doesn’t leave someone they hurt (even if it was unintentional) to self-destruct in the aftermath. It seemed like no matter which way I looked at what happened, I could not come up with a “reason” for what happened that made any sense at all. And for that reason alone I was doomed to continue to replay the events in my head, searching for an answer I might never ever find. How else could I feel safe against something like this happening again in the future? The only way I could move on was if I understood what happened and why. And the person who needed to help me understand all of that made it very clear that he had no intentions of ever helping me get to that point. And because of that, it felt like he completely controlled my recovery from this.

And then it happened. Driven by a relentless desire to understand WHY, I had searched tirelessly online for something that would help me understand what the hell happened. I had been seeing a new therapist for about nine months (and I have to tell you, doing that took all of the courage I had in my body!). There were so many times that she seemed just as confused as I was about what happened with the abusive therapist. I was trapped in a cycle of reliving everything that happened over and over again, searching for answers. It was driving me to the point of insanity. As I learned more and more about this thing called “Narcissistic abuse” I began to realize that there was a reason why I had been spinning my wheels trying to understand what happened. There are people who exist who lack any ability or desire to feel any empathy or remorse. Even worse, they lack a conscience. They can cruelly destroy people who are loving, caring and honest and not feel a bit guilt or sorrow for having done so. In fact, in many ways they appear to be “annoyed” by the fact that the people they have hurt are making such a big deal out of what happened. Even worse, they are masters at making themselves out to be victims. Oftentimes, people like these leave behind them a trail of broken bodies and wounded souls as they continue on their destructive paths.

I began to learn new words—words like grooming, gaslighting, trauma bonding and soul murder. These were words that I either had never heard before or had never truly understood until I lived them. These words—words that described things that I experienced but couldn’t put into my own words—were a vital part of my healing. Suddenly I felt a lot less alone. I knew that if someone came up with these words and the definitions that explained my story, somebody, somewhere understood.

But learning these words and reading about Narcissistic abuse was really just the start of my journey. Taking all of it in was a different story. I would frequently find myself wanting to read as much as I could about Narcissistic abuse and then I would experience times where I didn’t want to look at anything at all about it. At first I would get angry at myself because I thought I needed to go through this process a specific way and it was not always the same way that I was feeling. I would get so frustrated with myself as I would read pieces that helped me begin to move forward in my understanding of what happened, but then feel like I was moving backwards. I remember thinking that maybe I was just making myself believe that I was feeling better and that I was really not making any progress at all.

It turns out that understanding and reprocessing what I had been through happened in phases. This wasn’t like any learning I had done before. In the past, if I wanted to understand something I would read about it and integrate it into my way of seeing things. With Narcissistic abuse, there were so many “layers” of understanding that were essential to my healing that this linear process of learning that had worked for me in the past was ineffective with this. There were many times where I would read an article or a book about healing from Narcissistic abuse and feel as if I had taken all of the important insight that the piece had to offer. And then later, I would stumble upon the work again and be shocked that there was insight in it that I hadn’t noticed before. It wasn’t that the piece had been edited. It was because my brain was allowing me to take in more of the picture of what I had been through. That brain of mine, that part of me that I thought had surely been destroyed in the abuse, was actually guiding me carefully through the process of slowly taking in what I could handle. In fact, I can remember times where my brain would almost “compel” me to read more about Narcissistic abuse and times where it would want to do anything other than reading about Narcissistic abuse. I slowly learned to listen to my brain and do what it seemed to be urging me to do whenever it would do this.

And there was another aspect to understanding what I had been through. As I began to understand what my abusive therapist had put me through I began to realize that I had seen this kind of abuse before in my life. In fact, many adult survivors of Narcissistic abuse eventually come to learn (if they can find the path to healing) that they have been primed by previous Narcissistic abuse to tolerate later Narcissistic abuse. For me, like so many other survivors of this type of abuse, I found myself not only healing from one emotionally destructive relationship, but several. The grief was overwhelming.

Perhaps one of the more difficult aspects of the abuse that I had tried to understand was where in the relationship with the abusive therapist that things went wrong. For a while, I believed that the therapist had somehow changed, since he seemed so competent for a long time before the abuse actively began. And I found myself searching for some point in time where I should have stopped trusting him. I think I believed that knowing this was important so I could have understood at what point my “screaming gut” was right. It wasn’t until a good friend of mine pointed something out to me that I hadn’t thought of before. He told me that there wasn’t any point in time when I should have trusted the abusive therapist. He said to me, “Michelle, he’s a predator. The only reason why he seemed so competent and trustworthy for so long at first was to gain your trust so he could effectively lure you away from your comfort zone. Tell me, would you have allowed him to say many of the things he said to you if he had started the relationship out doing that? No, your inner alarm bells would have been going off like crazy.” This was a pivotal moment for me because I had not given any thought at all to this possibility. I would never imagine hurting someone like that. It was finally starting to click in my head that I didn’t understand what happened for a reason. In fact, I never saw any of it coming because I never imagined anyone would ever treat another human being like this. My own profound compassion and deep empathy for others was something I assumed everyone else had. I am finding that many survivors of this type of abuse “suffer” from the same naiveté because of their own inner compassion and empathy.

At some point I finally began to understand that healing was going to take the time it needed to take, and the more I resisted it (and beat myself up for it), the longer it was going to take. And so I began to make a commitment to myself to give myself what I needed in terms of patience, self kindness and love—anything that I would give another survivor of this type of abuse. I had to be ready to give it to myself and to do so without apologies to myself or anyone else. If I felt like I needed to read all day long about Narcissistic abuse or browse pins on Pinterest from other survivors, then that’s what I would do. If I couldn’t read another word about Narcissistic abuse and just wanted to look at beautiful sunsets, then that’s what I would do. If I only felt capable of staring at a wall for 4 or 5 hours, then that’s what I did. And I did it knowing that I was actually helping the healing process. I began to trust that my brain knew the way to healing and that I just needed to follow it.

As I continued to do this and I allowed myself to reprocess the events themselves as my understanding of Narcissistic abuse grew deeper, I found myself eventually being able to stop replaying the events constantly. I began to focus on other things. My optimism, creativity, passion for everything good in life gradually came back. I no longer felt the need to hide away from an unpredictable and frightening world. I had emerged from this with a very clear understanding of what kind of person I had been dealing with and what parts of me they had manipulated to harm me. Most importantly, I had learned along the way that my perception of things that had happened, my “gut” instinct, was incredibly precise. I learned that I had a gift and it was the ability to connect with and understand other people. And someone who completely lacked any ability at all to do that, someone who was incredibly envious of the fact that I could feel deeply and they could feel nothing, had set out to destroy this beautiful gift I had been given. And they almost succeeded.

I do also want to mention that for me, I was never able to find justice for what my abusive therapist had put me through. And that added a very painful dimension of retraumatization to my journey to find healing. Together, with the subsequent therapist I had finally gotten up the courage to see after the abusive one, we submitted a 15-point ethical complaint to the Ohio Board of Psychology. The “investigation” they conducted was incredibly concerning. For me, one of the reasons why I finally had gotten up the courage to see a new therapist was because the abusive one, the last time I saw him, was in his office cursing, yelling and throwing things, telling me there was something seriously wrong with me that he couldn’t tell me until I came back the following week to see him. He told me that he had consulted with many colleagues about this (he said more colleagues than he had EVER consulted with for any client before) and they ALL saw the red flags. He began pulling at his hair telling me I was “castrating him” by not believing him and threw his glasses on the floor saying, “You don’ give me any F*ing credit. Please, Paaleease, Michelle. Have some compassion.” It was a frightening scene, really. Finally I said, “You’re telling me that there is some horrible thing wrong with me, some terrible concern that you failed to mention in the nearly two years that I have seen you, that would make all of this craziness you have put me through recently make sense and you can’t tell me until next week?” And he said, “Yes.” I got up and said, “You’re wasting my time.” He got up, acted like nothing happened, and I left. However, as the days went on, I began to worry that maybe something was wrong with me (besides the fact that I had just had my head messed with by a master manipulator). And actually, during the times when I would believe that maybe the therapist meant well and just lost sight of what he was doing, that maybe he was right—what if something horrible was wrong with me?

It turned out, I was never able to know what he thought was so “seriously wrong” with me. The records I finally obtained from this therapist were so sloppily maintained—there was no diagnosis, no treatment plan, no diagnostic work. And nearly every clinical entry was illegible. In fact, my subsequent therapist showed them to me. We were really surprised by how much they looked as if they had all been written at one time—same color pen used for each one, and handwriting very similar. (After working in a hospital for 10 years, I was well aware that at times I could chart on the same patient multiple times in the same day and, depending on the amount of stress I was under or the rush I was in, just the handwriting itself would look different.) My subsequent therapist even called the abusive therapist and asked him for the missing clinical information (like diagnosis, treatment plan, etc.), and he told her he’d given her everything she needed. When the Board of Psychology began to look into the complaint, my subsequent therapist and I asked for clarification about what he had been so concerned about that last time I saw him. At one point the Board asked my subsequent therapist for a copy of the notes the abusive one had sent to be mailed right away to their office so they could review what he had sent. My subsequent therapist told me she had gotten the distinct impression that what he had submitted to the board was different than what he had given us. But neither of us was ever to learn what the reason was. I have never been allowed to know what my diagnosis was, what the treatment plan was for me or what the reason was for the explosive scene in his office the last time I saw him. The Board of Psych refused to release any information—even information that should have been important for any subsequent therapist to treat a client. The board refused to return my subsequent therapist’s calls asking why she could not have the clinical information. Even worse, after over a year of “investigating” the 15-point ethical complaint, the Board completely dismissed the case—not even a slap on the wrist. So I was being told that this therapist did nothing wrong, but yet I was not allowed to know what he was working on with me in the time I had seen him. I have since contacted the APA, my state legislator’s offices, the Attorney General’s office, the Governor’s office and the state Inspector General. After finally getting a response from the Inspector General’s office and being told they were taking my concerns (there were actually more concerns than just the refusal to release the medical records to my subsequent therapist) to their legal team, I was later told that during a phone conversation (that never happened) they had dropped the case months earlier. They had originally asked me to wait patiently for a written report that would be mailed to me explaining the outcome. It wasn’t until I emailed four months later, when I hadn’t heard anything, to make sure that they had the correct mailing address that I was told about this fictional phone conversation.

There were many things that occurred during the course of the Board investigation (and even after) that were deeply troubling. Each failure of the system that was supposed to protect the public from predators like this set me back in healing. Perhaps when I finish writing my book, I will shine a light on those as well. Let me just say that I saw a whole side of humanity and the mental health profession that I would have preferred not to know about.

My point is that you do not have to get justice for what happened in order to heal. Not getting justice can certainly make the healing process more painful and take much longer, but you can still heal.

Another thing that made healing more difficult—no matter how tender I tried to be with myself—was the reactions of people around me. Whether people came right out and told me that I needed to just “forget and move on” or they just hinted around that I needed to “get over it,” the message was the same: People around me didn’t understand what I was going through. Even people who I believe wanted to understand me. They couldn’t. I hated the fact that I would continually search for answers in what happened. Replaying the events that happened was first on my list of things I wish I could stop doing. But the truth is that if I hadn’t allowed myself to reprocess everything that happened as I become increasingly more aware of all of the manipulative elements that made up what I had been through, I wasn’t helping myself “get over” anything. I was trying to “forget” what happened so that I would make people around me less uncomfortable. And that began to make me angry—angry enough that I stopped caring what other people thought I needed to do to heal. In addition, finding people—other survivors—I could reach out to, who did understand because they had been through it before, helped me to care even less what the people around me thought I needed to do to heal. And that’s what makes sites like this so important. Each of our stories and journeys to find healing are an integral part of what helps others to find the strength to keep traveling this road.

So my hope in writing this is to hopefully help make the journey to healing less lonely and unpredictable for at least one person. This journey to reclaim our lives after being harmed so callously by people who were supposed to protect us can be filled with some of the most amazing insight you could ever imagine. That insight oftentimes comes on the heels of feeling like we have taken a tremendous step backwards. I promise you, the view from where I am standing is breathtaking! There is room for all of us here. You can do this. I am holding my hand out to help you.

From one brave survivor to another!

Michelle Mallon, MSW, LSW

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Michelle Mallon has a Master’s degree in Social Work from Ohio State University and currently teaches in the Computer Science & Engineering Department at OSU. Her understanding of therapist abuse came after she was emotionally abused by a psychologist to whom she had taken her two young children for counseling. Now an advocate for victims of Narcissistic Abuse, Michelle is currently working with the Ohio chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) to create a CEU program to prepare social workers to effectively help these victims. For more information about this endeavor, click this link http://www.naswoh.org/?page=mallon.

 

 

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Comments

Hi all,

I want to make some comments about comments and also acknowledge a situation that has occurred on the Your  Stories page.

First and foremost, I want to remind you all that this is a public site. It is NOT a members-only, password-protected forum where content is only visible to subscribers. What you write in your comments can be accessed and read by ANYONE. So please take that into account when you post.

There has been a situation (i.e. “learning experience”) within the Your Stories commentary that has presented some challenges I was not anticipating, and it has resulted in several changes going into effect. A while back, a dialogue started regarding a therapist accused of abuse whose name was used by the commenters. While I had some misgivings about the person’s name being in the comments, I chose to let things stand as they were. Then, however, the therapist in question discovered her name on the site and responded angrily to the accusations. This put me in a bit of a quandary. As a citizen of the U.S., I believe in the right to free speech, and, as I said above, this is a public forum. However, as moderator of this website and blog, I feel some obligation to provide some boundaries and safety for survivor-commenters.

The situation escalated when the therapist threatened legal action due to her name being linked publicly to the accusations. Since there had not been a formal complaint that resulted in the therapist being found guilty of the accusations, the comments were considered defamatory. So I removed her name from the comments and instituted a new policy that commenters not name names due to potential legal consequences. I also removed the therapist’s comments from the string.

Around the same time, someone else entirely posted a nasty, blame-the-victim comment elsewhere on the site. As a result, I decided to back off my free speech position a bit and more actively moderate comments, removing any “nasty” ones as I saw fit. I wrote up a new Comments Policy that you can read here.

Then I was contacted by one of the survivor-commenters in this situation. The commenter wanted me to remove all her own comments because she was angry that I’d allowed the abusive therapist to post on the site.

Okay….

So there are a few points I’d like to make here.

Yes, comments can be removed and/or edited. I am occasionally contacted by survivors who want me to remove their comments, for a variety of reasons (often due to a fear of being public), and I try to comply with these requests. I am in no way required to do this, but I do try. Removing and editing comments takes some effort, and I may not get to it immediately, but it can be done. (Having said this, if I suddenly get a bunch of requests to remove comments, I may start to restrict the occasions when I do this. Please take responsibility for what you write.)

What I need you all to understand is that if you were engaged in a dialogue with someone and then I remove your comments, it affects the whole string of dialogue. Any replies to your comments are now sitting by their lonesome selves, making for very odd reading. So my removing your comments affects not only you but everyone you were in conversation with. Please take this into account when you ask me to remove your comments and consider whether there may be an alternate solution (like editing or changing names) that does not affect the whole string.

Now, if you do decide to request that I remove or edit your comments, please provide me with a way of getting in touch if I have questions. There may be additional information I need from you in order to comply with your request. If you do not leave me a legitimate email address, this may cause a delay in my being able to comply with your request.

Regarding this particular situation, I believe I have removed what the parties requested I remove from the Your Stories page. Since other participants’ responses have NOT been removed, this has left a very odd and disjointed string of commentary. Now you’ll understand why.

So, to review, here are the points I’d like you to understand:

  1. This is a public website, not a members-only, password-protected forum. What you say is not protected and can be accessed by anyone on the world-wide web.
  2. DO NOT use full names of anyone you are making accusations about. There may be legal consequences for you, for me, for this website. (Note that I have completely refrained from using Dr. T’s actual name in my writings about my experience. That was intentional, to protect my own free speech. You can protect yours by not naming your abusers unless they’ve been formally charged and found guilty of the allegations.)
  3. Comments can be edited or removed, although this does require time and effort, and it may not happen right away.
  4. If you ask me to remove your comments, understand that, if you are engaged in a dialogue, doing this affects others, too, and alters the entire string of comments.
  5. If you ask me to remove your comments, please provide me with a way to get in touch with you in case I have questions.
  6. Please take responsibility for what you write.

As moderator of this blog, I am doing the best I can, but I am human and sometimes I make mistakes or allow something to fall through the cracks. If that happens, please know that I am sorry. It’s not intentional and it’s not personal. My intention is to provide a forum for voices to be heard, and I’m realizing that sometimes those voices need some protection. I will take that into consideration in moving forward.

Thank you.

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Resource: “First Aid for the Soul after Heartbreak” by Sandra Lee Dennis, PhD

In my last post I shared an article from Sandra Lee Dennis, PhD on forgiveness. Sandra’s got some great information on trauma and betrayal on her website SandraLeeDennis.com – Finding Heart in the Dark, including two free eBooks: 13 Signposts of Betrayal and First Aid for the Soul after Heartbreak. I found them both very well done, and Sandra has generously allowed me to share First Aid for the Soul after Heartbreak with my readers. (If you visit her site and sign up for updates, you can get them both for free.)

To access the PDF, click this link:

First Aid for the Soul after Heartbreak

This will also be on the Articles and Publications page.

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An Article from Sandra Lee Dennis on Forgiveness

Just wanted to share this great article by Sandra Lee Dennis on forgiveness.

For a long time it was my intention to write a blog post about forgiveness, which I would cheekily call “The F Word,” but I never got around to it. Now I feel kind of thankful that other people are writing similar posts so that I can simply read theirs!

Here’s Sandra’s:

Just Forgive! – by Sandra Lee Dennis, PhD

The trauma, confusion and heartache of betrayal often get worse before they get better. When your trust shatters, it can leave you spinning for a long time. After a while a kind of desperation sets in to find a way out of the pain.

In the ensuing quest to recover as quickly as possible, you will soon discover, as I did, an apparently straightforward remedy. Most everything you read, from self-help to depth psychology to the wisdom traditions—and just about everyone you talk with—will advise you similarly.

When you have been badly hurt by someone, in order to heal, you must simply forgive, let go and move on.  Just forgive and you will have the magic remedy that will wipe away the brokenness, stop the pain, and give you back your life, or so you are told. What could be more obvious! Encouraged by this chorus of well-wishers, I was inspired, and forgiveness became my new quarry, the sought-after Holy Grail.

Premature Forgiveness Only Covers the Problem

Striving to forgive too soon, or maybe ever, depending on the circumstances, turned out to be a self-defeating quest. Even if we imagine we have arrived at this saintly state of mind, premature forgiveness almost guarantees we will bypass our own suffering.  When what we need to do to move forward is to embrace, not bypass, the pain.

I speak from experience, because, believe me, I tried to forgive.  I fervently included forgiveness practices as part of my regular meditation and prayer times. Sending the man who left me loving kindness and wishes for healing, acknowledging his pain, and detailing my own transgressions became an integral part of my routine, second only to brushing my teeth.  In addition, I spent two years daily working the exercises in A Course in Miracles—the primary focus of which is forgiveness—as well as meeting weekly with a support group.  Despite all these efforts, I still felt horrible.

My traumatized state of mind repelled my exertions like oil does water.  My psyche would have none of this forgiveness nonsense, and demanded more potent medicine.  Outside the time of sustained attention on my practices, and sometimes even with a fierce focus on them, my mind kept reverting to resenting, blaming and hexing him for what he had done. Frankly, trying so desperately to forgive only showed me how far I was from being the spiritual, kind, forgiving person I imagined myself to be.

Forgiveness Grows in Mysterious Ways

When we take forgiveness to heart as an ideal—and who doesn’t want to be a kind, forgiving person?—we may naturally, anxiously, skip over the distressing thoughts and feelings that our soul is calling us to traverse.  Before true forgiveness can emerge from the ashes of broken trust, we need to wrestle with and listen to the messages in our own suffering. This means it may take many years of acceptance of our resentful, miserable, unforgiving selves before the heart softens and forgiveness comes quietly, almost magically, to fruition.

For most of us shattered trust brings with it a call to the work of complex grieving. We must grieve before we can forgive, and there is no timetable for that grief. True forgiveness, as a station of the heart, not simply a movement of the rational mind, becomes then an ideal to aspire to rather than an accessible way of being in the world.We may wish to forgive, even set an intention to forgive, but like so much else that involves our depths, forgiveness grows underground in mysterious ways that are not in our hands.

Meanwhile, let’s direct some of that loving kindness toward ourselves as we pass through this dark night testing and stretching of our hearts.

Adapted from Love and the Mystery of Betrayal by Sandra Lee Dennis, PhD—now available in print and ebook.

And here’s the comment I left:

I tried very hard to bypass my anger. The first thing I did (within 3 months of my own betrayal experience) was go to a Non-Violent Communication class. I kept getting triggered and felt far more violent than non-violent, so I quit the class, feeling like a failure.

Then I was going to all these bodyworkers and energy healers, because I had totally somatized my experience, and listened to them all tell me I needed to forgive in order to heal. And this was before I’d even gotten in touch with my anger! It was like blackmail: If you want to heal, you have to forgive. If you do not forgive, you will not heal. I felt doomed. Finally, I had someone tell me that really the only way to heal was to feel the emotions. That you couldn’t bypass them — you had to go through them. What a relief!

After time I did want to forgive, for my own peace of mind, but I think that happens as a RESULT of healing, not the other way around. Once you acknowledge and feel your feelings, then you can move through them and start to let go of what you’re holding on to (and holding against the other person).

To me it feels hard to be a “spiritual” person (I’m not hard-core spiritual, but spirituality is important to me) and hold onto what I think is true about forgiveness. Because everyone is spouting the need for forgiveness and it’s hard to think differently and feel okay about it. It’s funny how seemingly open-minded spiritual practices can also feel so narrow minded. Having acceptance for people’s unique processes is SO important!

You can read more of Sandra’s posts about love and betrayal on her blog at www.SandraLeeDennis.com.

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New Comments Policy

Hi Everyone,

I want to let you know that I have instituted a new Comments Policy. It is very important that you adhere to the guidelines presented here so that we can avoid any potential legal problems. It is especially important that you do not use actual names of any abusive therapists. That is not what this site is for. The purpose of this site is to provide support for victims of abuse and resources for healing. We cannot use it as a place to name names.

I hope that you can understand the need for the policy and respect it. I want to provide a place where people can speak about their stories with safety and freedom, but we do need to take some care in order to avoid any negative consequences.

As this is a recently implemented policy, if you see something on the site that seems questionable to you, please let me know.

I’ve included the policy below.

Thank you for your support!

Comments Policy and Participation Guidelines

SurvivingTherapistAbuse.com is committed to the free and open exchange of ideas. We respect your First Amendment rights and embrace the core values of free speech.

Comments posted on the SurvivingTherapistAbuse.com website reflect the opinions of the individuals posting them and not necessarily those of the website administrators. If you have a concern about any posted content, or about any content that has been removed by a site administrator, please e-mail info@survivingtherapistabuse.com.

Page and blog administrators review comments and posts regularly to ensure any issues or concerns are addressed in a timely manner.

Please respect others who comment on our sites. Please avoid comments that personally attack others or are inappropriate, inflammatory, offensive, profane, obscene or sexually explicit. Comments of this nature will be deleted.

Posts that contain names of specific individuals as part of a complaint, concern or compliment will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Depending on the circumstances, at the discretion of website administrators, the post or comment may be removed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Website administrators reserve the right to block or remove the content of any post that violates any of the above stated policies.

SurvivingTherapistAbuse.com is not responsible for, nor does it endorse, the content posted by participants on the website.

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Two Questions

Hi Everyone!

I’m putting a couple of questions to you all and would love to know your thoughts.

  1. Occasionally (thankfully not very often) I receive some really negative comments that may not be considered respectful of therapist abuse survivors. This includes, for example, comments that involve blaming the victim, saying the victim had a choice, that the victim consented, etc., or comments from people who just want to go off on someone. I’m talking about the rude, nasty, sometimes hateful stuff and not about general negative commentary.Up to now, my general policy has been to let the comments stand because I believe in freedom of speech and that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But a colleague recently suggested that I could take a more discretionary approach and delete negative commentary as I saw fit, as long as I posted a disclaimer on the site regarding that policy. What do you all think? Are the negative comments upsetting to you? Would you prefer I make them “go away”? Or are they thought-provoking? Do they provide you an opportunity to express your anger about victim-blaming and that sort of thing?

  2. Right now we have a “Your Stories” page on which people can post their stories in the comment section. Occasionally someone submits a much longer story that would be prohibitive to read as a “comment.” So I am considering including links to survivors’ stories that would each open up on its own page (with a comment section below that would be exclusive to that story). The stories could only be accessed from the Your Stories page — although I could also put links to them in the sidebar. Hmmm. This is something I’m just starting to mull over and would like your input!

Thanks for your ideas and your support!


January 2, 2015 – Update

Thanks for your input! I have now posted the Comments Policy and Participation Guidelines for the website and all comments will be subject to moderator approval.

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“Hurry Up and Heal” – An article from Feministing.com

I want to share this great article from Feministing.com called “Hurry Up and Heal”: Pain, Productivity and the Inadequacy of ‘Victim vs. Survivor’ by Dana Bolger. I think many of us can relate to this!

“Hurry Up and Heal”: Pain, Productivity and the Inadequacy of ‘Victim vs. Survivor’

Afterward, my friend said to me, “Stop calling yourself a victim. You’re a survivor.”

The notion of the compulsory transformation from ‘victim’ to ‘survivor’ is hegemonic in violence care-work in the United States. To be a victim is to be fresh, still smarting, an open wound. Weak, disempowered, passive.

To be a survivor is to be strong, (pro)active, healthy, and productive. To have progressed.

The point of transition from victim to survivor is variously delineated as the moment at which someone first discloses to someone else that they suffered violence, meets with a therapist, reports to the authorities, or (even) takes their story to the press or engages in policy work.

In elevating those who “move forward,” the victim/survivor dichotomy implicitly condemns those who do not, reaffirming myths about what constitutes a good versus bad survivor, and legitimizing certain forms of survivorship over others. To be a (strong) survivor is to carry that weight — figuratively, and literally. To be a (weak) victim is to crumble, “stay” silent, engage in self-harm.

Compulsory survivorship depoliticizes our understanding of violence and its effects. It places the burden of healing on the individual, while comfortably erasing the systems and structures that make surviving hard, harder for some than for others. You are your own salvation. You are your own barrier to progress.

* * *

My school hired a lawyer to clean up its act. She was invited to speak to the entire campus community to educate us about rape culture. Instead, she said: “Rape is the death of the victim’s spirit.”

I’m not dead.

‘Victimhood’ comes with its own baggage. In the popular imagination, to be a victim is to have lost but worse: it is to have let yourself lose.

Only certain people get to be victims (or survivors). The very categories are policed on the basis of identity, presentation, and experience. We only recognize the violence of certain acts. We only mourn the violation of certain bodies.

* * *

“Just get over it.”

Others decide how we express our pain: too little and they catastrophize (“he damaged you”), too much and they demand we move on.

The idea of the victim-survivor transformation is linear, and directional. You’re a victim until one day, you “speak up,” you report, you go to therapy, and poof! you blossom into a survivor. You “put it all behind you,” and then there’s no turning back.

The cult of compulsory survivorship ignores the cyclic nature of healing. The good days. The bad days. Healing is nonlinear, messy, disruptive, and unpredictable. Trauma is, as others have pointed out, generational and historical. We carry trauma in our bones.

I don’t believe the afterward of violence ever really ends. We get better until we don’t.

* * *

“We’ll get you fixed up and back to college in no time.”

Before that, I’d never known I was broken.

Who benefits from believing in the “fixable”? Who benefits from insisting that trauma and its effects have ended, from tying up pain with a pretty little bow?

Our society is invested in the idea that we will return to “normal.” That there is an impending date at which we will be as we were, when the ‘after’ will look like the ‘before,’ when everybody can finally have some peace and quiet. Perhaps for some that day will come. Perhaps it won’t.

We want to believe violence’s impacts are finite. We want to believe that healing is constant and progressive. Perhaps deep down we know this is not true. We cling to it for our own comfort. We insist victims perform resiliency for our own peace of mind.

The relentless imperative to “hurry up and heal” is an appeal to smooth over your rough edges and Move On. Get back to being a productive member of society. We hear it everywhere from our homes to our college campuses to the streets of our burning citiesI urge you to set aside your pain and engage in productive steps forward. Performing our survivorship benefits the privileged (who seek to remain comfortable in their ignorance) and the powerful (who are deeply invested in managing the anger of the marginalized). The compulsory transformation from victim (unproductive) to survivor (productive) serves an imperialist capitalist state.

Our history books paint the U.S. occupation of this country as over and done, a concluded (if tragic) chapter from a colonial past. If the trauma is over, then we can move on and forget. If the trauma is done, we can in good conscience stop carrying that weight.

I don’t know what to call myself these days. Victim/survivor feels inadequate. I want new language. I want new structures and systems and institutions that affirm and support vulnerability, instability, and anger.

* * *

“Right now you might think of him every second of every day but someday, you will think of him less.”

I do–

Read the article in its original format and find out more about Dana Bolger on Feministing.com.

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