Elizabeth Smart has written a portion of a guide, along with other survivors of child abduction, that is meant to provide help for child abduction survivors to deal with their experiences.
“I made a conscious decision that my abductors had already taken away 9 months of my life, and I certainly was not going to give them any more time than that. We all have so much to live for. It is not worth living in the past.”
Most survivors of child sexual abuse, including those who are raped repeatedly in stranger abductions, have serious issues with anyone who says, “let it go,” “move on,” “that’s in the past.” It is like a dagger to many of us, because we know that the mind and body does not allow a person, who has suffered severe trauma and abuse, to so easily “let it go.” When these words are spoken or implied, they are to make comfortable, a society that doesn’t want to hear about nasty subjects like incest, child torture, and child rape. But it is most often the abuser themselves, or the family in denial, who say to the child or adult survivor, “let it go. That’s all in the past.”
The advice and comments which come from the Elizabeth Smart camp caters to people who want to go about their day and not hear about incest, child rape, and on-going child sexual abuse. The way in which Elizabeth Smart portrays healing from trauma, allows society to say, “See! she is fine. We don’t need to dwell on uncomfortable subjects.” “Elizabeth Smart is just fine, so you see, child sexual abuse and rape don’t affect kids.” “Look at Elizabeth Smart, she has moved on, why can’t you?” “Now we can go about our day and watch football, drink our cocktails, and attend our social functions without having to talk about or deal with things like child sexual abuse.”
People, especially Americans, crave and attempt to survive off feelgoodism, good news and “happy thoughts.”
“Each of us has so much potential in this world. I find it hard to believe that one experience can hold us back from being the individuals we want to be and stop us from doing the things we want to do.”
One experience? She makes it sound like it was a one night event, not nine months of being raped four times a day, death threats, being tied to a tree, and being forced to watch oral sex acts. Yes, one experience should not hold anyone back, but on-going trauma can and does.
“I know this can be a struggle for many kids who experience what we did. Hang on. Keep moving forward. Take one step at a time. It will get easier. “
I’m sorry, but this is not earth-moving advice. It is merely an old cliché’. And please don’t ever tell a boy or teen, who has been raped repeatedly by an adult male, that they should merely keep moving forward and that it will get easier. Because without intensive psychotherapy, boys who have been raped by men, will NOT get better, they will get worse. Repressing the pain only lasts so long. One day the male survivor will experience a lot of hell.
She writes about setting goals, and “to work continually toward those goals, and then to set new ones.”
Yep, been doing that for seventeen years. It never rid me of the nightmares, PTSD symptoms, panic attacks, physical pain, depression, or abnormal fears of death. In fact, all of those things hindered and stopped my deeply desired goals from coming to fruition.
“One of my outlets was playing my harp. I could put my soul into my playing, which in return, for me, expressed how I felt better than talking to someone might have done.”
First of all, the treatment for trauma is not merely about talking to someone. If that’s what people think therapy for trauma victims is about, then they are woefully uneducated in that regard. However, I play golf, snowboard, hike, run, walk, take beautiful photographs, and ride my mountain bike, but I could only do those things when I wasn’t experiencing PTSD symptoms, physical pain, insomnia, and being afraid to go out my door. On the good days I was able to do these activities. On the bad days, I was unable to move.
I also spent years writing my memoirs, a research-based educational manuscript, and a self-help guide for abuse survivors. I love writing as much as Elizabeth Smart loves to play the harp. Although therapeutic to help me overcome my fear of telling family secrets, and as cathartic as it was, my writing never removed my physical pain and mental suffering.
“Both my parents did more for me than anyone else could—they would have gone beyond any boundary for me.”
Like myself, many survivors of trauma and abuse have abusive parents and dysfunctional families. Nevertheless, I had a loving husband who would give his life for me, and who stood by me every healing step that I took. I also had the most incredible and loving animals this side of Heaven. Each of my pets were incredibly comforting in so many ways, but in spite of my husband and my animals, I still had to endure years of pain, PTSD symptoms, nightmares, phobias, depression, and fear.
“Another important part of coming to terms with my abduction was my faith.…”
I too have faith in God. In fact, it was by dealing with what happened to me, that I found God. I was then able to understand my suffering and that, even though I suffered, God still loved me infinitely. I prayed to God every day for strength, healing, clarity and guidance to make my pain and suffering disappear. I offered my pain and suffering to God and accepted it as what I needed to endure, and had complete faith that one day God would heal me. I forgave my abusers wholeheartedly and continued to be a helpful daughter to the mother who abused, abandoned, and betrayed me, and I prayed for my rapist father’s soul to rest in peace. I still suffered for years, and so do millions of other survivors of trauma and abuse, who have faith and who love God.
In 2008, Elizabeth Smart told People Magazine that she recovered quickly because she forgave her kidnappers, and that it’s “just not worth holding on to that kind of hate.” People who have been traumatized and raped, and who make a conscious decision to forgive their perpetrators for religious reasons, or even for personal reasons, often develop problems later in life. Ignoring true feelings, and any anger or rage felt during a horrible experience, means the emotions will lodge themselves into the subconscious mind where they fester and grow. Cancer and other disease is often the result of a conscious choice to forgive, while harboring unconscious pain.
Ed Smart remarked, “It’s a part of her life she can never forget, but it’s nothing she wants to dwell on, so we try not to dwell on it either.” The conscious mind might not want to dwell on the uncomfortable and painful, but the subconscious mind will dwell. There is no escaping unconscious energies. Human beings ignore the subconscious mind to their detriment.
Another thing about child abduction and child sexual abuse victims: Not all of them have monetary resources like the Smart family does. It’s so sad to me that Elizabeth Smart, with all the money they have, never ‘needed therapy, and just talked to her parents,’ but there are countless victims and survivors who desperately need competent therapy and they, or their families, cannot afford it. Many children who are raped or abducted by strangers and sexually abused by family members do not have the money to provide their kids with the kind of outlets that Elizabeth Smart has had, like harp lessons, college and horseback riding.
One of my dreams is to one day start a foundation for abuse survivors who cannot afford therapy. I want to find a way for them to receive the best, most competent treatment for severe rape and trauma. Because the vast majority of victims DO NEED intensive treatment.
But maybe I should be worried about Elizabeth Smart because her words of advice are based in denying that something traumatic has happened and that her subconscious mind is holding onto her true pain. If so, it will be detrimental one day. Maybe I should be worried, but I’m not really sure yet. My next article will explain why………to be continued
–Elizabeth Smart, U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, You’re Not Alone The Journey from Abduction to Empowerment.
“Although her parents offered counseling, Smart has put her life back together without the help of a therapist, preferring instead to speak with her parents and grandparents when issues come up. “I don’t feel the need to talk about what happened to me, but if I do, I know my family is there,” she says.”