© 2018 by James Encinas


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Nov 16, 2018

Survivors, Supports, Successes


by Audrey Jordan


The Full Frame Initiative (FFI) is based near Boston, MA. Its mission is “Shifting perspectives on poverty and violence to create wellbeing and justice.” Through FFI, I coauthored a study of how survivors of abuse define success for their lives.


I had not had a lot of previous personal experience with domestic violence or abuse before designing that study. While conducting interviews with survivors and the practitioners who work with them, I learned so much about how survivors pull their lives together in the process of healing. I also saw that the service providers who intend to help often re-traumatize survivors in ways that are counterproductive.


A major finding of the study was the disconnect that exists between how survivors define success for their lives and how practitioners define success for them.


Survivors define success in the same ways you or I define success for our lives: day-to-day safety and stability that allow us to meet our basic needs, compassionate supports and resources to rely on when help is required; supportive social networks that offer give-and-take; competencies and character traits for which we feel grateful and valued; and, a sense that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.


Practitioners tend to define success for survivors as having the recognition that they need to break all ties with the abuser; that their safety is the one priority (even if it means isolation from one’s support network). Success also happens when survivors use all the services the practitioner prescribes to get their lives back on track.


That’s a real disconnection. It explains why therapy, or “the help,” isn’t as helpful as it could be and often doesn’t work.


While finishing the study about survivors, we wanted to learn and know more about the perpetrators of violence and how their definition of success for their lives might look similar or different. That’s how I met James. He taught me to shift my thinking about abusers. I learned from him that violence is a vicious cycle – that hurt people hurt people, and abusers are more often than not people who were themselves abused and suffer the consequences (social, emotional and even physical), of living as victims of abuse. Through James, I learned about ACEs and the importance of focusing energy on breaking the cycle of violence to address domestic violence and other forms of harm.


Most importantly, I learned genuine transformation can happen for a person who is committed to unlearning old messages about who they think they are, learning new patterns, and putting them into action.


As a consultant and coach, I think of myself as a compassionate ally to people in the process of learning and healing. I did not experience the kind of abuse that James and others did. I feel blessed and privileged to have grown up in a household full of love and support with my mom, dad, and wonderful siblings. Of course, we had challenges, but I never was nor felt abused. I didn’t realize how rare that is.


Recent events, such as the Brett Kavanaugh hearing and the #MeToo movement make it clear that issues of abuse and harassment are far more prevalent than we knew. There are so many survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and other types of trauma.


Our response to survivors and getting them to feel success with healing has to be much better than what we’re witnessing through our politicians, entertainment executives, and other so-called leaders, as well as far too many of our fellow citizens.


On a personal note, I lost my mom in October. My siblings and I dearly loved her. After she had a massive stroke several years ago, we co-located to take care of her and each other through a long struggle. It turns out there was a lot about Mom I didn’t know. I learned from my sisters that our mom had suffered abuse and violence in her teens. This helped me understand and appreciate why she was over-protective, and sometimes fierce to a fault. What I choose to appreciate is that in spite of what my mom went through, like James, she learned how to love and be a wonderful caretaker for her children and grandchildren.


I wish I’d known what she’d been through much earlier in our relationship. Maybe I could’ve been more caring and loving to her in ways she might’ve needed. But I can’t dwell on what might’ve been. I appreciate that my sibs and I all had and continue to have the love and support with each other that she and my father taught us, and that we were able to be together surrounding her with the love and honor she deserved.


Thank you for allowing me to share my story. I hope in some way it provides comfort or inspiration or both.


My vision for humanity is that all children experience the love and protection of attentive and

compassionate caretakers, and that they learn to pass this on to others as they grow. There will always be traumas to survive, and everyone will participate in some form of healing. Everyone deserves to create and live their own definition of success.


Audrey Jordan was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She now lives in Fontana, California where she works as an independent consultant and executive life coach.

"Practitioners tend to define success for survivors as having the recognition that they need to break all ties with the abuser; that their safety is the one priority (even if it means isolation from one’s support network). Success also happens when survivors use all the services the practitioner prescribes to get their lives back on track.

That’s a real disconnection. It explains why therapy, or “the help,” isn’t as helpful as it could be and often doesn’t work. " In my work in child welfare for a dozen years, I was trained to see "success" in this way- so glad studies like yours can offer insight into what feels like success for survivors. I continue to work with families experiencing violence in my work at an outpatient clinic- appreciate this information and your perspective.

Nov 18, 2018

Hi tate_franz. I appreciate your comment very much. When I started out in social work many years ago I was also trained to see client success similarly. Well-meaning professionals want to provide the best information to clients, but all too often the wisdom and assets of the clients themselves is overlooked, and too much dependency on the expertise of others is emphasized. It is a pervasive perspective that must be challenged.


If you are interested in reading the full study I coauthored while with FFI, you can find it here: https://fullframeinitiative.org/how-do-survivors-define-success-report-recommendations/



Dear Audrey reading your post brought to mind Dr. Martin Luther King’s eloquent and insightful words “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” I’m sorry for your loss my sister I know I’ve already expressed this sentiment but as we come into deeper relationship with each other, as I see your beauty, and am informed by your wisdom the greater my awareness of our mutuality of being.

A couple of years ago I was introduced to the South African word “Ubuntu” often translated to mean "I am because we are.” As I’ve grown into deeper connection with God I’ve gotten closer to the concept of Ubuntu and to a clearer understanding of the universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.

Thank you for bringing me into a deeper awareness of the needs of the “other” and reinforcing in me the belief that for us to thrive, for our communities to be made whole it is of a moral imperative that we model and teach our children, parents, and community the concepts of empathy, compassion, mercy, grace and love.


Nov 18, 2018

Dear James - can't respond with anything better. You continue to be an inspiration to me and so many others. Thanks for inviting me to share my story.

Nov 19, 2018

The phrase "a compassionate ally" is very meaningful. Compassion is as important as any "clinical" modality when it comes to assisting a person by seeing that they get some relief from suffering. Thank you, Audrey.

Amen! And it is my opinion any therapeutic intervention provided without compassion is malpractice. It has been my experience that compassion has to come first-- INFORMED and compassionate-- there are a lot of well meaning "helpers" out there who are doing less good than they could be. :)- Thaeda

Nov 20, 2018

Yes, Mary. Compassion is where we have to start - really stepping into another's shoes and imagining, to the extent possible feeling their feelings, seeing their perspective. Heart-to-heart understanding with empathy. Goodness knows we need so much more of it in these times. And it starts with me, with us, right?

Nov 19, 2018


Thank you for your heartfelt post. I too, like you, did not grow up as a victim of abuse. At least that's what I thought. However, the work that you and other's like you are doing is helping me to understand that there are many nuances to abuse. The hurt, as a result, is the same for everyone. Hurt is hurt.

Your paragraph that broaches the subject of transformation is by far, in my opinion the truly the most important, as you suggest. How it is done can be offered in so many different ways. As a Chinese Medicine Practitioner, we believe in order to heal it is vital to have all three "treasures" aligned, ie. wisdom/spirit, loving compassion and a vital body.

We each have gifts to give. As I unlearn old patterns of thoughts, beliefs and behaviors, I am more able to help others unlearn theirs. This makes space for the alignment of these three treasures.

Each and every human has gifts to give. Let us give ours so those that have been abused can realize theirs. Thank you Audrey for your sharing your thoughts.



Nov 20, 2018

Diane - I really like your philosophy of the Chinese Medicine Practitioner re: the alignment of all three treasures - wisdom/spirit, loving compassion, and vital body. We can use more of any one of these but all three holistically - absolutely. And as you say, alignment comes by enabling all three as gifts to give to the world - funny how in giving we get so much, too. THANK YOU for sharing your wisdom, Diane.

Nov 19, 2018

Hi Audrey,


First of all I'm so sorry about your loss. Please know that I am holding you and your family in love and light.


I really enjoyed your post. I agree with Diane that there are all sorts of nuances to abuse — but that hurt is hurt. We need to get to place where we try to help and understand — let alone love and forgive — the abuser as much as the abused ... the bully and the person being bullied. Both need compassion. Both are hurting in their own way.


I recently saw a photo of someone at the age he was when he bullied me during junior high. I couldn't believe how young he looked. He was just a kid. We both were. I tried to think about how much he must have been hurting at the time to do the things he did. I wondered how different things might have been if there had been people like you, James and the rest of us here around back then to help break the cycle.

Nov 20, 2018

And in forgiving others we heal ourselves. Yes. And my hope is that the bullier from your youth crossed paths somewhere along the way with loving compassion and healing, as you obviously have. THANKS for your warm and caring words... I am/we are getting "Back to Life" as Caron Wheeler/De La Soul used to sing. Remember that one?

Dear Audrey: Thank you for opening the conversation with such from-the-heart, beautiful post. I am sorry for your loss and admire your courage in sharing it. You continue to be a source of admiration and comfort. Many blessings and much love!


Juan Carlos

Nov 25, 2018

Juan Carlos,


Brother I always feel your support and love. And you must know that the admiration and comfort are indeed mutual. Your clarity, especially re: EDI issues has provided long-lasting learning for me and others. So glad we are connected!

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