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.