If you have ever experienced the pain of abuse, whether it be physical, emotional, or sexual, this episode will be especially powerful for you.
This is a topic that is often pushed under the rug because many of us who have suffered abuse feel like we are all alone in the experience.
I was sexually abused as a kid by a man that I didn’t know, and for 25 years, I held on to the pain, the suffering, and my silence. I was ashamed of myself for being in that situation, and I did not have any tools to either heal from it or cope with it or communicate what I was going through. It took me 25 years to finally realize that I could no longer live with this pain, suffering, resentment, anger, frustration, and shame.
As a society, we have started moving in the direction where we extend a helping hand to victims of various forms of abuse. Now we actively try to provide a comfortable space for the victims to open up about their traumas. But the path is a long one, and the journey has just started. With the various social stigmas associated with abuse, it’s laden with hardships, and there is still a lot of work to be done around it.
Just like how I held on to my story for almost 25 years, I know that there are many more people who find it hard to open up about something so sensitive and personal. It’s even more complicated when you don’t have unconditional love and the support of others. It’s time we changed it, but the question is how?
To try and answer that, we have an exceptional guest with us today at The School of Greatness. She is a former prosecutor, a legal expert, and a leading authority on various forms of abuse. Her name is Deborah Tuerkheimer. Deborah is here today to help us understand how we can all create a safe place for others to discuss their trauma and abuse openly.
Guys, this episode will get a little heavy and might be a trigger for some of you, but I just want you to remember that you are loved, you matter, and you are going to get through this. There are people, tools, and resources out there that can help you navigate through the healing process and overcome your trauma. On this note, I would like to introduce our guest who will help answer all your questions. Please welcome Deborah Tuerkheimer.
Deborah Tuerkheimer is a professor at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard College and her law degree from the Yale School of Law. Deborah served for five years as an Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s office, where she specialized in domestic violence and child abuse prosecution.
Deborah has written extensively on rape and violence. Her latest book, Credible: Why We Doubt Accusers and Protect Abusers, was recently published in October and is a must-read. In 2015, Deborah was also elected to become a member of the American Law Institute, which comprises eminent lawyers, judges, and academics dedicated to the development of law.
In this episode, Deborah and I will talk about the immediate steps that one should take on being abused so that one finds it in their stride to heal and move ahead in life. We intend to spread awareness and to help those who have dealt with this type of abuse. However, there is a chance that this episode could be a trigger for some of you, and I want to mention that again before we get into today’s episode. Let’s read on.
Many people unfortunately have been the victims of sexual misconduct in their lives, and they don’t have the right tools to heal from it. People are afraid to come out and speak about it because when they do talk about it, other people try to discredit them. This makes it essential for someone to understand and identify the most prominent signs that someone around them has been abused or is currently going through some form of abuse.
“Part of the problem [of not being able to identify when a loved one is hiding their trauma] is it’s easier to see it in hindsight. We all change and go through transitions throughout our lives for many different reasons, not only because we’ve been victimized. I do think that often when someone experiences something traumatic, like a sexual assault, they will give signs to the people near them that indicate something is wrong. If you’re a friend or a family member, maybe it’s worth asking.” – Deborah Tuerkheimer
Identifying the signs is just a part of the solution. Since most people try to hide their pain, getting them around to talk about them and confront that memory again might be quite an uphill task. However, there are ways where you can create a safe place consistently to help your friend or family member to open up about it, and that’s what Deborah talks about next.
“People will speak when they are ready to speak. What we can do if we are close to someone is to let them know that we are here for them, and we will support them when they are ready to talk about what happened. Maybe it’s a therapeutic setting where your loved one discloses their story, which could be with a roommate, a spouse, or parents. We just have to [assure them] that we are there and ready, and try not to force disclosure from them before they are ready, as the consequences could be quite enormous.” – Deborah Tuerkheimer
For someone who is traumatized, it can be pretty tricky for them to open up and to face the misery again. Also, the thought of being discredited and stigmatized by society is a major driving force behind victims being scarred for life while the abuser goes free. If not correctly handled at the right time, this misery could blow up into something bigger, which could considerably impact the lives of the ones abused and those around them. A lot of patience and love is required if you want to help someone in distress, so handle it delicately and practically.
Often we may feel like breaking the silence around our abuse and trauma, but we cannot find the right way to bring it up. We are too worried about how the world might perceive it, or we may be ashamed about the entire experience. Maybe you just don’t know what to do or what to say. Deborah takes us through the action that one must take if you have been a victim of abuse yourself.
“Most of us don’t really understand trauma; we see someone as being deceitful when in fact, they are impacted by trauma. … Unless we have experienced trauma ourselves or we become educated about it, we might believe that someone is lying when they are not. So that’s a really hard truth to hear if you are someone who has been traumatized. You have to prepare yourself for people not responding the way you’d want them to respond.” – Deborah Tuerkheimer
Deborah does think that as a society, we are a little more educated about trauma and better well-versed with the idea that people don’t report right away. And when they do, they may not remember certain details about the incident. This is why it’s sometimes difficult for someone to approach a law enforcement officer. Reaching out to friends or others who have experienced trauma could be the best solution.
“It’s tough to communicate with law enforcement officers because when you are describing abuse to someone who is already skeptical, it becomes even more difficult to persevere. … There is a difference between talking to a police officer, a prosecutor, a friend, [or someone who has already been a victim of abuse]. You may hesitate to put more burden on the shoulders of the other survivors because they are already dealing with so much aftermath [on account of their own experience]. … But context matters, and who you talk to and what you want to get out of that conversation might impact what it is that you are going to talk about, including how much detail you are willing to go into, and how much you are going to lean into the feelings side of it, as opposed to the fact side to it.” – Deborah Tuerkheimer
In a situation so complex and taxing, the thought of being discredited could be too much to handle. Not only that, but people who are part of violent relationships might find it challenging to move out and get away from the source of despair. As a victim, it’s crucial to understand that it’s tough to get someone to change, so looking out for warning signs is essential, and protecting oneself is key. Finding the right person to talk to with a clear intention in mind might help put a lot of things in perspective for you and put you on the path towards healing.
I could resonate so much with the topic of today’s episode, folks, and I am feeling so empowered by the journey that I have been through. This episode will strike a lasting chord with anyone who has experienced abuse in some form. I also hope that this post helped inspire you to overcome your trauma and pursue a life of fulfillment. Deborah and I discussed many topics, and I would highly recommend that you watch the complete episode here.
Healing is not an event, it’s a journey, and it takes time. Just because you have moments where you completely forget about the trauma and the pain, doesn’t mean you’re healed, and everything is okay. This transition may take years or even decades for people to fully release and let go. So I acknowledge Deborah for doing the incredible work of helping people align with their path. If you too, feel inspired by Deborah’s approach to tackling abuse, and if you want to know more about her work, then check out her website.
As a tradition, before we sign off, I want to share Deborah Tuerkheimer’s definition of greatness with you: “Doing things or living in a way that transcends self-interest and elevates the good of other people— that’s greatness!”
If you found this episode helpful, then I would really appreciate it if you could leave a five-star review for The School of Greatness on Apple Podcasts. I also encourage you to tag me @lewishowes on Instagram with a screenshot of this episode and your greatest takeaways from it.
I know I say it a lot, but I can never express it enough. You are worthy, and you matter, and I am rooting for you on your journey towards greatness.
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