SOAROZ Mailing List FAQ
This page contains some general introductory info about the SOAROZ mailing list, SNAP, and the role of the mentor/s. It may answer questions you have about the list, and is worth bookmarking for times when you have a question in the future. (We often find people asking questions on the list that have already been answered here).
About the list
Guidelines and etiquette
Spoilers and spoilering
Common internet acronyms
Resources and general questions
Hints for partners/supporters
About the list
Q. How did the List begin, and what is SNAP?
A. SNAP stands for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. It was founded by Barbara Blaine of Chicago in 1991, and is now a nationwide group with numerous local chapters. The SNAP home page says it is "a USA/Canadian self-help organization of men and women who were sexually abused by spiritual elders (Catholic priests, brothers, nuns, ministers, teachers, etc). Members find healing and empowerment by joining with other survivors."
The SOAR list grew out of the SNAP organisation's desire for a wider platform than a "time and place"-limited group. While SNAP has primarily addressed abuse in the USA Catholic Church, the SOAR list has always included survivors from all denominations, and members from many countries. Through the ten-odd years of its existence, it has gradually become a community in itself, and now has separated from its parent organisation, due to diverging aims and objectives. SOAROZ grew out of the needs of Australian survivors, who were already members of SOAR, for a group more specifically applicable to their situation. The SOAROZ list is a place for survivors to meet with other survivors and share healing journeys. The SNAP organisation is primarily a lobby group. However, many of the issues discussed are similar, and some list members are also members of SNAP. The mailing list and SNAP have many common ideals and goals.
Q. Who may join SOAROZ?
A. In general, membership in SOAROZ is open to those physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abused by members of any religious organization as well as supporters of those abused, such as parents and partners. SOAROZ is inclusive, so there are no hard and fast rules as to who is welcome. However, SOAROZ is not open to those who are abusers. The SOAROZ email list absolutely does not accept anyone who is presently abusing a child, a spouse, or any other person. This policy is absolute without regard to whether the abuser is "trying to change".
Q. Where can I find more information about SNAP?
A. You can visit the SNAP Web page at www.snapnetwork.org.
Q. Tell me more about the SOAROZ mailing list?
A. The SOAROZ group is a community of survivors and their supporters who subscribe to a mailing list,. All messages posted are open to all other members. The list is closed to the public, meaning that only those individuals who have applied for membership and have agreed to abide by certain rules of confidentiality and safety (see groundrules) may participate. No person who is not a member of the list can see the messages posted. Strict confidentiality of those postings is mandatory. The list is anonymous in that no one knows the identity of others on the list. Members are reminded of the following: Email is both a powerful and a limited form of communication. It is a powerful form of communication because survivors and supporters who have been isolated by distance and fear can now join with other survivors in a safe, anonymous conversation, letting go of the pain, healing the soul. You can take the time to connect down to the deepest part of your soul, stay in that space and express it without distractions, or deadlines. It is a limited form of communication because all body language, facial expressions, and tonal inflection are lost. We do not have immediate feedback on how the other person is reacting to our comments unless they post a reply message.
Further questions will be answered willingly by the list mentor.
Q. Is the SOAROZ list moderated?
A. Strictly speaking, no. Some groups you may find on the web are moderated, meaning that one person previews each message posting before allowing it to be posted to the entire group. SOAROZ messages are not previewed. All messages posted by mail list members are available to all members. However, the group does have one or more "mentors".
Q. What is the role of the mentor?
A. The mentor's role is two-fold. First is to perform certain administrative tasks such as handling applications for membership to the group. Second is to attempt to gently guide conversations and postings, to intercede in case of abusive behaviour by any individual/s and, if absolutely necessary, to occasionally ask an individual to either leave the group or to take "time out". The latter is a very rarely used, severe step, taken to protect the safety of members of the group.
Q. May I contact the mentor off-list?
A. Yes. Generally, the mentor can assist you with issues related to administration of the list, confidentiality, answering questions, and so on. The mentor is not a qualified attorney, therapist, etc, but a survivor, just like you. The mentor performs their role on a voluntary basis and has limited amounts of time. If you have questions that are not appropriate for the general group, these should be directed to the mentor. If you feel threatened, see abusive behaviour, or otherwise have an issue that you do not feel safe addressing in front of the whole group, you should send an email directly to the mentor.
Q. How secure is the mailing list? Can people get on the list merely by making up a story? Can a church group put "spies" on the mailing list?
A. These are all very good questions and are of concern to all. The only way for the list to work is for all to feel safe to speak their minds and hearts. The security of the list is based on anonymity. It is important that you not divulge your identity to anyone until, as a minimum, you are confident in that other person. While on most listservs it is possible for anyone with a little know-how to obtain a list of the email ID's subscribed to the list, it is impossible to do so with the SOAROZ list. It is possible, of course, that someone could make up a story to join the list. However, people who do not truly belong to the list tend to stick out like a sore thumb. In the event someone who does not belong did enter the list, the mentors would unsubscribe the individual. There have also been a couple of occasions where a person was asked to leave because of inappropriate behaviour.
Q. What can the SOAROZ mailing list do for me (and what can't it do for me)?
A. Ultimately, healing and recovery is an individual effort.
However, the following ideas adapted from the
alt.sexual.abuse.recovery USENET group may be of interest. The
SOAROZ mailing list can:
- let you know that sexual abuse within a religious framework is common.
- let you know you are not alone in your despair or recovery.
- give you a basis for viewing your own abuse.
- support you when you are otherwise isolated.
- show others' struggles for recovery.
- encourage you to seek help locally.
- suggest guidelines for selecting a therapist.
- provide a place to talk about abuse issues nobody else wants to hear.
- encourage you to protect yourself from sources of abuse.
- provide feedback about what you are thinking or doing.
- allow you to share your sorrows and triumphs.
- make known to others on the list the positions of a number of sexual abuse survivors.
- act as a form of self-therapy.
SOAROZ and members of the mailing list can't:
- be depended upon for immediate assistance in a crisis.
- decide if you were or were not sexually abused.
- protect you from your abusers.
- take the place of a professional therapist.
Guidelines and Etiquette
This section lists some very important information about how to participate in the SOAROZ mailing list. Some of the information on this page is merely to assist you in the mechanics of interacting on the list while other items are crucial guidelines for keeping the list a safe place for all.
First, a general comment adapted from
In general, it's a good thing to present a positive and constructive attitude on the group. However, support comes in all forms, and many strong emotions are played out here. Positive support does not mean always acting happy, or trying to make people happy. A constructive attitude does not necessarily mean that you try to solve everyone's problems. Sometimes the most supportive thing that anyone can do is be willing to "sit" with someone while they share strong upset. And while "me too" posts are discouraged on many Internet mailing groups, hearing that someone shares an experience, feeling, fear, or thought can be very comforting and validating to a survivor. The primary ground rule for participating in the mailing list is to treat one another with respect, dignity, and confidentiality.
Q. How do I post to the SOAROZ list?
A. First, apply to join the list via the subscribe page. You will then be sent an invitation to join; you can use your regular email address or create a new one just for soaroz. However, when you post to the list, your email address is removed before being distributed to other members, so no-one will see it. You'll then be approved by the mentor/s, and will have access to the SOAROZ resources. To post a message to the list, send your email to the address given. Every message you send to the mailing list must have a nickname (alias) that uniquely identifies you, because your email address is stripped off.
Q. I have to "sign" my messages?
A. At a minimum, it is considered "poor form" to post messages anonymously. Others find such actions to be threatening. You and the mentor/s will agree on a nickname that you should use to sign your emails.
Q. Can I change my nickname? Can I revert to my real name?
A. You can change your nickname, although it should be done only under relatively extreme conditions and in full consultation with the list mentor. Reverting to your real name also needs to be done in consultation with the mentor, in order to avoid possible name duplications.
Using nicknames is a very powerful tool in a context like SOAROZ. Firstly, it enables survivors to join the group without fear of being discovered, should their abuse still be undisclosed to their family and friends. Secondly, it sets an artificial but effective boundary that protects each member, who as abuse victims suffered severe boundary violations. Using another distinct name online allows each member to decide if, when, how, and with whom, they feel comfortable enough to disclose any part of their identity.
Q. What should I put in the SUBJECT field?
A. If the message is something important or is otherwise on a subject to which you really want others to reply, it is helpful to start the subject line with "Please Read". Also include some detail of the subject content of the post.
Q. How do I send pictures to the group?
A. Contact the mentor for information on posting pictures or other documents.
Q. What types of messages are acceptable on SOAROZ?
A. The list strives to help meet the needs of many. This means that there will be many types of messages. There are no hard-and-fast rules as to what is acceptable. But, there are two definite don'ts:
Messages should never be abusive, threatening or otherwise
hurtful to others.
Messages should never question the truthfulness of a statement made by others.
Q. How about confidentiality?
A. Everything said in the group is confidential. No one may disclose the words of anyone in the group in any manner without, at a minimum, first obtaining that person's permission. None of that precludes sharing what you have learned in more general terms. For example, it is perfectly okay to say, "A person from England told me that the laws there are different than they are here." It is not okay to say, "A member of SOAROZ told me she went to court in Sydney on April 16 and one of the witnesses said ... ". It is also not okay to share on list any offlist personal communications without the permission of the sender. Likewise, should you choose to be in offlist contact with another member, it is an absolute no-no to share their email address with anyone, even with other list members, without the member's express permission.
Q. Are there any hints about how I should write?
A. It is best to share your feelings and thoughts using "I" words rather than "you" words. For example, it is better to say, "I think I would do this" rather than say "You should do that". Look at what others say as a gift to you and to others. People who write are incredibly brave and are often baring their souls and hearts. Please be respectful of that. You should avoid judging another person. What may be right for you is almost certainly not right for another. Try to avoid giving advice unless asked.
Q. Can I get (or give) medical advice, legal advice, religious or emotional counselling, etc?
A. In general, the answer is no. As to specific medical or legal advice, even if you were a professional it is probably unethical to give that type of advice to a person whom you haven't even met. Inasmuch as most of us are not professionals, it becomes even more important to avoid giving that type of advice. It is okay to discuss how you made out with a certain medication or how you made out with a certain legal situation. We have had problems in the past with information being posted on list that has been incorrect. NO legal, medical or similar information should be relied on without consulting a local professional to confirm its accuracy.
If you're in doubt as to whether something you read, or something you want to say, is advice or not, we use the rule of thumb that if it's written in "you" language (eg. "you should do/say/find out X"), it might be advice, whereas if it's written in "I" language (eg. "I found that when I did X I felt Y") it's probably personal experience.
Q. What can I write about?
A. The short answer is that you can write about almost anything that is of concern to you. However, please remember that your words affect others both positively and negatively. Therefore, please read over this section before you begin posting to SOAROZ. Of course, the overall purpose of the mailing list is the discussion of issues relating to sexual abuse by clergy and healing from that sexual abuse. Your mentor, though, feels that such discussions can legitimately take a wide variety of formats and can encompass a broad array of topics. However, do bear in mind that our members may come from a large range of countries, and what is understandable in one country may be perceived very differently in another. For that reason, try to avoid too much slang, idiomatic phrases, etc.
Q. Is it okay to tell a joke?
A. The answer is a qualified yes. We have found that some types of humour are hurtful. At the same time, we acknowledge that laughter can be very healing. Please understand that members of the list are in widely differing stages of their recoveries and some may not appreciate whatever it is that you happen to find funny. We suggest that, as a minimum, you "spoiler" (see the section on spoilers) any jokes and that you totally avoid any humour that is in obviously bad taste. That would include any jokes about priests, ministers, rabbis, nuns, church elders, or other religious figures as well as any jokes of a sexual or exploitative nature.
Q. How about other "off-topic" messages?
A. Again, we don't want to infringe on free communications and mainly ask that you use good judgment, spoilering if in doubt. You can also send a note to the mentor seeking their thoughts. In general, topics and comments should respect the needs of others on the mailing list.
Q. Are there any no-no's in posting?
A. Mostly, "no-no's" are common sense and basic politeness. For example, it is inappropriate to swear at someone else on the list. More important is that we need all to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. There are probably a few very ironclad no-no's:
* Never question the truthfulness of another member's
experiences. We are all here to speak our truth and be respected,
and along with that comes the obligation to be respectful of the
truths of others.
* Please try to be understanding when a member seems to be "acting out". SOAROZ members are people who come here because they have been hurt badly. Because of that, at any given time there may be several members in crisis. Please be understanding when language seems "off", seems to be angry, or is disconcerting. Personal attacks are, of course, totally unacceptable. If you are angry with another member, please send a note to the mentor before posting a note to the whole group. The good thing about unspoken angry words is that you can always say them tomorrow. But, when spoken, they cannot be taken back.
Q. What is "spoilering"?
A. Some subjects are controversial or otherwise triggering to others. Experience has shown that negative talk about religion, specific churches, specific descriptions of abuse, etc., are very triggering to some. These types of subjects should be spoilered (so named because if you read them when you're not ready, they can spoil your whole day). You do so by placing the word "Spoilered" at the top with a brief explanation of why and then create enough extra lines so that anyone who wants to read on will have to page down. An example is this:
Explicit discussion of abuse
- followed by your message
Q. How do I respond to spoilered messages?
A. If you reply to a spoilered post, DO NOT remove the spoiler space or warning unless you also remove the spoilered material. If this is appropriate, please indicate at the top of your reply that both spoiler and triggering material has been removed.
Q. What are some topics that should be spoilered?
A. Obviously, this cannot be a complete list so we ask you to
exercise judgment as well. Some topics that should be spoilered
- graphic descriptions of abuse;
- religious discussion;
- explicit discussion of sex;
- intense expression of emotion (especially anger text with lots of swearing in it);
- little boy or little girl talk;
- most humour.
You will find, as you watch others' posts, that you get a feel for which topics to spoiler.
Q. Can I write about my experiences i.e., my "story"?
A. Survivors' stories are welcome. Writing them down can be very good for the soul. It can also be a very difficult thing to do, and no one is expected to share anything they are not comfortable revealing. You do not ever have to post your story unless you choose to do so (except in brief form to the mentors when subscribing). Neither survivors' stories nor any other postings, or summaries thereof, should be re-posted elsewhere without explicit permission of the author. To do so would be a gross violation of that person's trust in the mailing list. Survivors' stories should not be questioned. Questioning reinforces "don't talk" rules of perps, making the cost to survivors far outweigh the potential benefits. Allow people to come to their own conclusions about their own lives and realities in their own time.
Q. What about false memory syndrome?
A. "False memory syndrome" (FMS) is a highly volatile subject with survivors. Whether or not a particular individual's memories are literally true or not is not something that cannot possibly be distinguished on a mailing list. It is the view of the list mentor and of SOAROZ in general that while the physiology of repressed or suppressed memory is not well understood, the reality is well documented. If you would like to do research on false memory syndrome, you can easily search for it on the Internet. Discussions of repressed/suppressed memory are okay on the list. Casting doubt on someone's memories is absolutely not okay.
Q. What is a multiple? How do I talk to a "multiple"? What about little boy or little girl talk?
A. You may meet a number of multiples (persons with DID) on the mailing list. It is absolutely inappropriate to express scepticism here regarding the existence of multiple personalities--DON'T do it. The fracturing of personalities is the result of severe and repeated trauma, usually with a sexual component. Occasionally, some members will feel the need to talk through the voices of their "alters". This is appropriate. Do not be judgmental. On the other hand, because little boy or little girl talk (speaking from your inner child) may be triggering to others, we ask that such talk always be spoilered. Most importantly, we ask that members with MPD/DID who talk through their alters make sure they still remember to sign the posts with their list nickname. They need to make sure all their alters understand this rule too. It is ok, if alters wish to use their own names, to sign with something like "list nickname (alter's name)".
Q. What about the sexuality of other members?
A. As in other areas, judgments of sexuality should not be made. Members run the gamut from heterosexual to homosexual and everything in between. No matter what your orientation is, you have as much right as anyone to participate, and as little right to criticise someone else's sexuality as you would give them to criticise yours.
Q. Can I discuss religion, faith, God, and spirituality?
A. This is a hot button for many. The nature of our mailing list is that many or all of us have been deeply hurt by members of various religious groups. Just as some members find comfort in a deep, abiding faith, others abhor the thought. Religion and religious aspects of healing should be dealt with carefully. Feel free to talk about the religious aspects of your healing (under a spoiler), but please refrain from suggesting to others that any particular religion, or religion in general would be the answer to their problems. Likewise do not condemn any religion. Never criticise a person for remaining with the church that abused them and never criticise those who have "turned their backs" on religion.
Q. How about "Hugs", "Love" and other expressions of sentimentality on line?
A. It's great to give encouragement to others for the courage and strength they show, but a lot of people are uncomfortable with such gestures of affection, so the appropriate thing to do is to check first, or to offer "e-hugs if you want them". We suggest that if you wish to send "hugs", you use the phrase "e-hugs", "safe hugs" or a similar expression. The word "love" can be similarly upsetting to some. It is a sad but too true statement that many of us were told we were loved when in fact we were being violated. The thought of contact, love, and so on, is scary to many of us. We recognise though that many times the intensity of sharing that occurs in the group can create close bonds between members. At the same time, the group is an important place for learning appropriate ways of expressing that closeness and maintaining boundaries. As a general rule, the mentor suggests simply exercising caution.
Q. How do I handle disagreements? How do I react when someone has really angered me?
A. Disagreement is good so long as it is mutually respectful. Please make an effort to be tactful and considerate when disagreeing. Do not be belligerent. People are turned off by abrasive presentation of an idea. Remember that the person on the other end could well be in a vulnerable frame of mind -- try to treat them gently. Bear in mind, too, that the violation of our boundaries when we were abused makes us less able to appropriately express, and accept, strong feelings.
When someone has angered you, PLEASE count to 10 before firing off that letter that you can't take back. Better is to send it to the mentor. Never call someone else names. Don't use words like "abusive" or call someone a "perp", a "spy" or any other such triggering term. Not every negative behaviour is abuse, and not every person who does something hurtful is a perp. If you feel attacked in the group, it is okay to stick up for yourself and set your boundaries. However, often survivors feel attacked when the intent of the other is not to attack. Also, often survivors are not very good at expressing feelings in feedback and may say something that could be an attack but is almost always just a clumsy expression. (It is good to keep in mind that colloquialisms vary from country to country. Members of the list come from around the globe and for some, English is not a primary language. For others, American (or other) slang is nearly indecipherable.)
If you feel attacked, a good first step is to say (as calmly as possible) what you think you heard and ask if your interpretation is correct or whether the other person meant to say something different. You can follow up according to whatever the answer to that question is. Misunderstandings are the cause of more "flame wars" on the mailing list than anything else -- and those are preventable by checking out your perceptions before jumping in with raised fists. If you want to support someone you see as attacked, the best thing to do is to pay attention to the person who you see as hurt, and support their feelings without flaming the other party. When you give feedback to someone else about negative behaviours, the easiest thing for them to digest is straightforward description of the problem behaviour without putting negative labels on it, followed by your own feeling reactions to that behaviour. That gives the other person a chance to think about whether they want their behaviour to lead to those feelings in the people around them, and then draw their own conclusions. When feelings are high, it usually doesn't do any good to tell someone to "just stop." Criticising people as opposed to their ideas is not helpful. It is counterproductive to fill the discussion with posts about how someone else is posting, or dissecting someone else's "personality defects". Flaming others is not acceptable. Generally, any behaviour that is deemed abusive, hurtful or counterproductive is unacceptable. If you post something that is unacceptable the odds are very good that someone will let you know, generally by posting in return. If what you posted was misunderstood, or you didn't know that you were being hurtful, simply posting an apology or clarification will often lead to a discussion in which a lot of learning and healing takes place. SOAROZ members are amazingly forgiving.
Not everyone will get along. If there is someone who grates on your nerves, and makes you want to scream every time you see something from them, it is best to choose to avoid contact with that person. Don't read their posts. Why drive yourself crazy?
PLEASE - IF YOU MUST SCREAM, SEND THE NOTE TO THE MENTOR AND NOT TO THE MAILING LIST. YOU MAY FEEL VERY DIFFERENTLY TOMORROW.
Commonly used acronyms
A lot of times you will see peculiar abbreviations and symbols. Some of them are common across the Internet while others are peculiar to SOAROZ, survivors, etc. The list below will help you to know that when someone writes: BTW :-), they are not swearing at you about their car.
BRB: Be right back. Need to go away from the computer for a
BTW: By the way. A side remark or tangent
DSM-IV: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th edition. A document used in the psychiatric/psychological field in the classification of mental disorders.
E-HUGS/EHUGS: Electronic hugs. "I'd hug you if you were within arm's reach." Many survivors don't like to be touched, even with e-touch. Be cautious about offering hugs to people you don't know well.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions list. This document is one.
FMS: False Memory Syndrome. Generally an unwelcome topic on SOAROZ.
FYI: For Your Information. Something you may wish to know.
IMO/IMHO: In My (Humble) Opinion. The poster wants to make sure you don't think s/he's lecturing you. There are more variations on this (e.g., IMVHO is "in my very humble opinion," IMNSHO is "in my not so humble opinion").
IRC: Internet Relay Chat. An internet-wide real-time chat network. A good program to use to access IRC (at least on Windows machines) is mIRC.
MPD/DID: Multiple Personality Disorder, now officially Dissociative Identity Disorder.
PERP: Perpetrator. General term for your abuser(s).
PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
ROTFL: Rolling On The Floor Laughing. Indicates great amusement. A variation is ROTFLMAO (rolling on the floor laughing my ass off).
RTFM: Read The Fine Manual. Sometimes an expression of exasperation when another person doesn't "get it". There is a rumour that "F" sometimes stands for another word.
SO: Significant Other. Someone romantically attached to the poster. This term is a good way to refer to such a person in a gender-neutral way, i.e. avoiding the terms "girlfriend" and "boyfriend" and also avoiding having to question the status of their relationship (ie. married, longterm, shortterm, open, etc).
Stuffie: A toy stuffed animal. Some people find them very comforting and healing. Yes, adults DO use them. :-)
T: Therapist, counsellor. Shrink.
TTFN/TTYL: Ta-Ta For Now, Talk To You Later. Bye-bye, signoff, adios.
YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary (depending on highway and driving conditions). One of those American colloquialisms that means "you may see it differently".
:-) :) :( :-P :-P~ 8-) These are all internet-expressed facial expressions, referred to as emoticons. Turn your head to the left to get the effect. They are often used to indicate states of mind. The :) smiley is very frequently used to indicate sarcasm or other forms of humour. Don't get offended by something that has a :) after it. (: means that the poster is left-handed. There are countless varieties of these, including:
:-) (smiley w/ nose)
:( (the frowny),
:6 ("bleah" smiley with tongue out),
:P (disgust, or simply sticking tongue out),
8) (smiley with glasses)
Consult a basic internet reference book for more.
Resources and General Questions
Q. Is there any place I can find other survivors of my perp?
A. Currently in Australia there is no formal way of contacting other survivors of a perp. The perp list at http://www.clergyabuseaustralia.org is a good place to start, though. If your perp is on the list, there's probably another victim somewhere. Broken Rites (ph: 03-9457 4999) is another organisation that will put survivors in touch with one another.
Q. How can I tell if I've been abused if I have no memories?
A. Not everyone remembers his or her abuse. A lot of survivors of abuse first start the healing process while still wondering whether or not they had really been abused. The important thing is to ease your pain and begin healing. If there is abuse in your past that is important for you to remember, you will remember it when you are ready to deal with it. Going on searches for memories that may or may not be there is not necessarily going to help you live now.
Q. Are there symptoms common to abuse survivors?
A. There are a number of common symptoms that people who have
been sexually abused tend to have. Please be aware that there are
plenty of reasons besides having been abused that could lead to
any or all of these symptoms. If you are in pain, no matter what
the cause, it would probably be useful to talk with a therapist.
If you suspect you were abused, then seek a therapist sensitive
to abuse issues. The following are some common symptoms.
Incidence of several of them together may indicate past abuse:
- obsessive behaviours/control issues.
- poor self-image/low self-esteem.
- sexual dysfunction.
- suicide attempts.
- eating disorders.
- drug use/abuse.
- body memories.
- memory loss, or missing chunks.
Q Sometimes I think I'm making it all up; am I crazy?
A. No outsider can really tell you definitively whether you're making it all up. It is pretty typical for survivors, even those with validated abuse incidents, to doubt themselves and their sanity. Memory is not like a video camera. Nobody remembers anything with 100% accuracy. However, if you are experiencing chaos in your life, and are haunted by visions or memories of events you want to push away and not deal with, you are probably helping to make yourself feel even crazier by not facing what is inside you.
Q. How much of my childhood should I remember?
A. A lot of abuse/trauma survivors have gaps in their memories. Some people shut out specific events, and leave the rest alone. People who were chronically abused often shut out whole chunks of time, sometimes years worth. This is normal. It is also normal for people who were never abused to have gaps in their memory. There isn't really any set amount that you should remember. You may remember nothing, you may remember everything, but chances are you'll be somewhere in between most of the time. When you're ready to remember, you will. If you're not, don't sweat it.
Q. Medication: to take or not to take?
A. If your therapist has suggested taking medications to control your depression, mood swings, etc, you very probably have questions as to whether or not you should take it. Ultimately, it is entirely up to the individual, excepting in the presence of certain severe emotional or mental disorders in which one can be compelled to follow a course of medication to preserve the safety of others and the person in question. Talk to other survivors, your doctor or therapist, and anyone else you think might be helpful. Read up on the various psychoactive drugs. Then go out and do what you feel will best aid your healing process, whether it involves medication or not.
Cutting and self-mutilation
Q. What is cutting/self mutilation?
A. Cutting or other forms of self-mutilation are wilful injury to oneself, often - but not always - by using something sharp. Obviously, the motivations for cutting can lead to other forms of self-mutilation ( e.g. pulling out eyelashes and locks of hair, or head-banging, for instance) besides actual bloodletting. The key point is that all of them hurt, and all of them cause some sort of damage to one's body.
Q. Why do I do it?
A. There are several theories as to why people indulge in self-mutilation. One is that it's a control issue. When children are abused, they are in a situation of no control. People who have had these abuses forced on them frequently cut themselves because this is a pain that satisfies the psychological desire for pain, and is also a pain that the victim can stop. Another theory is that people who were abused as children often have been taught (by their abusers, or by others who have denied the child's experiences as being valid) that they are bad people who should, by all rights, be punished. Sometimes people who feel like this turn to behaviours like sadomasochism, or bondage-and-dominance in order to get the punishment that they want. Others can't ask others to punish them, so they punish themselves with cutting. A third theory is that cutting is a manifestation of a desire to become physically unattractive. This is often true of girls who are constantly bombarded with messages (overt and subtle) that they are beautiful and therefore desirable. They naturally reason that if they make themselves unattractive (which may include putting on weight), no one will rape them because they will be undesirable.
Q. What are the results of cutting?
A. Cutting is a mixed bag, but most people agree that in the balance it's a bad thing. Cutting can make you feel powerful. It can make you feel in control. It hurts, and that can make you feel alive. But it also can make you feel guilty for "being some kind of a sicko," and feel shame for having done it. Cutting causes real physical damage to your body. There is also the possibility for infection and/or tetanus (especially if unsterilised implements are used for the cutting).
Q. How do I stop?
A. If you are a cutter, you probably want to stop. The following are some of the arguments against cutting. Reading them should give you some good clues as to how to stop. At the same time, cutting indicates deeply-ingrained issues which should be dealt with in therapy.
Cutting is damage. By cutting you injure your body. This is not a good thing. Your body is important. It's the only one you've got and it should be taken care of. It would be harder to live a fully happy life with a damaged body, especially if part of that damage you did yourself. Cutting is abuse. As a sexual abuse survivor, you've already been subjected to more abuse than anyone should be. Your abusers hurt you, why should you heap more abuse on yourself? You didn't deserve the abuse then, and you certainly don't deserve more now. Cutting often stems from a desire for control. Take real control of your life and yourself and stop.
Q. Should I forgive my abuser(s)?
A. Forgiveness is a difficult issue for a lot of survivors, because we are frequently pushed by others to forgive the abusers. Religious people argue that forgiveness is a pre-requisite for healing. This is not so. Forgiveness often is a result of healing, not a cause. It is important to realise that you are not obligated to forgive anyone for anything, ever. If someone hurts you, it is completely up to you to decide whether or not to forgive him or her. So should you forgive your abuser? No. Can you? Sure, if it's what you want, or if it will help you to do so.
FOR SCEPTICS: SOME THOUGHTS ON SCEPTICISM
Q. Why do perpetrators lie, and why aren't survivors believed?
A. Most of us were told one, or both, of two lies after we
- it never happened.
- you made it up.
The implication of this was that we were:
- delusional (i.e., crazy), or
Silence benefits only the abuser. Secrecy enables a perp to escape justice. But if a victim does speak up, the abuser will usually try to avoid facing the consequences of his/her actions by discrediting the victim's testimony. Such invalidation of a victim's testimony is often not much of a challenge. At the start of the healing process, many survivors are emotional wrecks - usually displaying extremely erratic behaviour and often in tandem with addiction to various substances and/or behaviours. Who wants to believe someone who appears to be falling apart at the seams? The vested interest of perpetrators and those who support them feeds on a survivor's abuse-driven behaviour.
Q. Why do survivors tend to overreact to sceptics?
A. When people say that abuse survivors are "making it up to get attention," "lying," "deluded by their therapists," etc., then those who contend that the abuse didn't happen (because there's no "hard evidence") appear to survivors to be siding with the perpetrators. It also serves to invalidate their experience and their life. This may well not be the case from your point of view as a sceptic, but many survivors will perceive you as siding with the perps because your statements are identical to things they heard from people who victimised them.
Q. Why is scepticism inappropriate on the SOAROZ mailing list?
A. The overreaction described in the previous answer is part of the reason. Over-reaction leads to flame wars and group pain. But it goes further. Every internet group is for the transmission of information. Most of that information is factual, intellectual. But there are groups, including SOAROZ, whose primary intent is to fulfil the emotional needs of the Net community. Because its purpose is weighted more toward fulfilling emotional needs than the intellectual ones, in a milieu such as SOAROZ it is inappropriate to shout down or invalidate a survivor's story. The risk of causing real hurt to a real survivor far outweighs the risk of allowing someone to "get away with telling lies for attention".
Sceptics are the one who need "hard evidence."
Unfortunately, in most cases of abuse, hard evidence is difficult
or impossible to come by. Probably because our experience,
as survivors, has made the likelihood of all forms of abuse far
too credible, survivors appear to be gullible or even eager to
believe the worst about human nature. And on the other hand,
sceptics often come off to survivors as "not being in touch
with reality," "in denial," or naive in the
extreme. Sceptical posts have the following negative effects:
- divert from recovery issues by allocating bandwidth to controversy.
- reiterate many all-too-familiar statements of invalidation.
- frighten recovery neophytes into silence, thus delaying the healing and support process for them.
There are literally thousands of other news groups in which sceptics can exercise their need to find the "truth." The most compassionate, if not tactful, thing to do in SOAROZ is to take a "hands off" approach to letting survivors pursue their own goals within the group. Survivors are not stupid and incapable of critical thinking; most have had their faces repeatedly rubbed in the fact that no hard evidence exists to verify their assertions.
Hints for partners of survivors
Rule 1: Make sure you are getting the help you need to deal with the strain of being an SO, especially during the rough period when your loved one is becoming aware of what has been done to them and by whom. You can't be any good to somebody else if you're all wrapped up in your own issues. This doesn't mean you should treat your loved one like an idiot, and never bring up things that bother you; it means that you need to remember that your loved one has been grievously injured in the past, and this injury is scattered through their psyche like a minefield. So consult a professional; you'll learn a lot.
The Ups and Downs.
Your relationship with your loved one is probably going to be a bit unconventional. Some suppressed anger may pop out and land on you when you did nothing to deserve it. Or you may come home after a hard day, want some support for yourself, but discover that your loved one has been thinking about suicide all day. So now you feel like a jerk, and your day was still bad. Or your loved one will need hugs and holding but will be in a seriously non-sexual mood. And in the course of holding and hugging you will start to feel sexual, and now the two of you are seriously crosswise. Re-read Rule 1. And remember that not every problem in your relationship is going to be due to your partner's abuse.
Helping your partner.
Work at encouraging your loved one to get professional help. You can't be their therapist: you aren't trained for it, you haven't got the time, and you're too involved.
Do your best to be there when you're needed. Survivors, especially in incest, have been subject to an unimaginable breach of trust. They need to rebuild the ability to connect with another human being and rely on them. During the tough times the relationship may seem awfully one-sided. Try not to blame your loved one, and work out your annoyance/anger with whoever is helping you (Aha! Rule 1 again!).
Your loved one may have serious flashbacks or psychological episodes triggered by seemingly ordinary events; they may have what appear to be extremely irrational fears of crowds, the indoors, the outdoors, nightfall, other "dumb" stuff. They may wake up in the middle of the night with big-time anxiety attacks. Try to be sensitive to these concerns and learn what to avoid (and, less paternalistically, discuss it beforehand). You may have to do things like leave in the middle of a movie if it's getting to be too much for your loved one. Work out your feelings about the ruined experience with whoever is helping you (good old Rule 1 again). Try not blame yourself when you screw up; some things you just can't predict.
If you are a survivor:
No online group is immediate in a crisis, and its members are not trained to deal with people in crisis. Consequently, SOAROZ members should not be relied on for sufficient and timely help in those circumstances. In many cases, there will be someone online to support you through the worst of it, but if you are suicidal, or in crisis, call 000 (if in Australia), a crisis line (such as Lifeline - 13 11 14 anywhere in Australia), or your therapist. SOAROZ members will still be there to support you in friendship as you deal with your emotions when the crisis has passed. That doesn't mean you can't post about how you're feeling during the crisis, but it does mean that shouldn't be your primary safeguard.
If you are a supporter:
(This one is tough, but could be important.) Think hard in advance about how you would handle an emergency. Plan with your loved one. Under what circumstances would you call 000? Do you know their therapist's name? Do you have the phone number handy? What medications is your loved one taking? If you're not a legal spouse, who's going to vouch for your status in your loved one's life? Is there somebody else (parent, ex-SO, the perp) who is liable to wade in and make things worse? If so, what might you be able to do about it? Think about all this ugly stuff, get mad about it, and talk about it with whoever is helping you (Surprise! Rule 1!). Then file it away in the back of your mind and get on with your lives together.
And finally, a rough rule: you can gauge how depressed somebody else is by how depressed you feel when you're around them.
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