Why We Must Speak Out
This morning I happened upon an article in Smithsonian magazine about a grand hotel in Paris that had, during the Nazi occupation of Germany, provided refuge and sustenance for escaped prisoners. The writer who had researched for the article had come across many instances where these survivors, asked about their experiences in the camps, and their escapes, did not want to talk about what they had endured, about what they had seen and experienced. And, while I respect their feelings, because I know what it is to have experiences that humans should not have to endure, I also know it is absolutely essential to share that painful information, as much as it may hurt to revisit that which you wish had never happened at all.
Keeping secrets serves the purposes of perpetrators, allowing behavior that is reprehensible to continue. Shame also serves perpetrators, ensuring that there will always be those who can be safely victimized since it is common knowledge that victims may well not speak up for fear of being reviled.
Reviled for being the victims of evil.
It makes no sense. Yet at some level of our being shame can find places to take root, especially if the ground for shame has been prepared. Many of us who have been victims of one kind or another were well prepared in childhood in some way. Those ways might vary from family to family. A young child caught masturbating, for instance — a perfectly normal happening — could be shamed for doing so, laying a foundation for future shaming when that child — older now — is incested and their body responds, perhaps enjoying, as bodies do, the sensations, despite any fear or misgivings about what might be going on. Pleasure + secrecy = shame.
And then of course there are the threats of retribution. As much as a child may want to speak up about something that has been done to them incorrectly, something that they instinctively know is wrong, if that child has been threatened with physical harm should they speak up, the child is forced to carry information in his or her body-and-mind that they, in a sense, must “own.” Shame blossoms inside them because that incorrect act must now become a part of them…perhaps forever. In a sense, because they cannot release the offending information it becomes part of who they know themselves to be.
Thus is the power of authority-over effective in keeping victims quiet and acquiescent. As a result, the victims ensure — unintentionally! — that their abusers can continue abusing. The victims may even have been threatened with death if they speak. I have. To this day I have not publicly written about one particular type of abuse that I endured. That abuse happened over 60 years ago. When I first began my healing process in the 1990’s, I approached two different therapists looking for assistance in processing this long hidden material; each of them ushered me out the door almost immediately after I opened my mouth. Because even therapists have been cowed by the threats they’ve received for having assisted people who were supposedly lying to them, sharing horrifying memories that they were unable to shake.
Shame, it seems, will be kept alive at any cost… it’s a human cost and it’s paid by everyone who is touched in any way by the ramifications of those acts, not only the victims themselves but their families or lovers. On the flip side, I have paid a price for speaking out about many of the things that have happened to me, mostly in the loss of contact with much of my family, many of whom would rather this information was not made public. I have never shared our shared name; (my own has changed many times) I have never mentioned their individual names, yet the stigma — and the shame — for my speaking out is so great that it has been both insinuated and directly communicated to me that I am a threat to their reputations.
That situation itself is the direct result of applied shame.
Shame ensures that victims remain victims.
A living, speaking, writing former victim is a danger to perpetrators everywhere.
If you have been made a victim, forsake the label, speak up. Speak out. Tell your story. Not just what happened… but how your life was affected by what happened to you, how the lives of others in your life were affected.
Help move humanity forward. Shame evil.