If you wanted an expert opinion on something, usually you’d ask someone with experience on the subject. If you wanted parenting advice, you’d probably ask someone who was a parent, not someone who babysat their siblings a few times. If you wanted to know what sky-diving was like, you’d probably ask someone who’d been skydiving, not someone who’d watched a video of someone skydiving on YouTube.
It just makes sense. Experience gives you an insight into a subject that books and Google cannot give you. It’s why musicians have to practice and perform, not just study theory. It’s why people majoring in education have to complete a year of student teaching before they graduate.
Experience is important, and usually we recognize that and respect the opinions of those who have experience in a subject.
But when someone is a survivor of abuse or injustice, one’s experience can actually prevent one from being taken seriously. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my short time as a blogger, it’s this.
I recently wrote a post responding to a fellow Christian blogger who wrote a version of the popular “good girl is corrupted by a bad boy” narrative. In that post, I argued that this narrative reminded me of my own experience in an abusive relationship. The “good girl” in the story does not consent to a sexual relationship with the “bad boy,” but is manipulated by a man who refuses to take “no” for an answer.
This Christian blogger responded and he had a lot of dedicated followers and many of them defended him, which is fine. People are going to disagree. It happens and I’ve been blogging long enough to be used to it.
What disturbed me, however, is how some of these followers disagreed.
Here are a few examples:
Many of the women who came at you have probably been victims and it has caused them to filter everything through that. They won’t be able to see anything other than what reflects through their own pain. I have real sympathy for them. For those that are just bitter and argumentative nags, not so much.
Read the story. And the issues that it brings up from YOUR PERSONAL STORY need to be dealt with. I empathize, truly. But the best way to deal with those personal issues is not crucifying a guy who wrote a fictional story that somehow reminded you of past or present pain. The arrows you’re shooting at Cory won’t heal your pain.
If you guys are that upset about a story, perhaps you should seek therapy. Displaced anger can be a nasty thing.
You get the point.
The not-so-subtle implication here is that my experience, rather than giving me insight as to what a harmful relationship looks like, actually disqualifies any opinion that I may have on the subject. According to these commenters, and many others, because of my history with abuse, I am now a helpless victim, stripped of my ability to think for myself.
Any criticism I have is considered invalid because it is assumed that my pain clouds my logic. Any anger that I may express is assumed to be misplaced, because I apparently don’t have the mental capabilities to separate any anger I still feel toward my abuser from my other emotions. Any argument I bring up can be hastily tossed aside by faux concerns for my mental health.
Survivors–who have already likely escaped situations in which abusive partners were constantly tearing down their self-esteem and causing them to second-guess themselves at every turn–do not need to be treated like this.
And frankly, we know what these people are doing. Often our experience with being abused makes us experts on recognizing controlling behavior.
We see through the “real” sympathy, and through the condescending, paternalistic suggestions that we receive therapy. We know that they don’t care about our well-being as survivors of abuse.
If they did, they would LISTEN to us.
We can tell that their comments are means of silencing us, of diluting our legitimate points by portraying them as irrational.
We survivors may be hurt. We may be struggling to recover.
But we are not ignorant. In fact, we know more about what abuse looks like than we could ever want to.
And we are not stupid, but we can tell when people think we are and it’s insulting.
When people refuse to listen to survivors of abuse, they deny humankind the wealth of insight that survivors have into the minds of abusers. When people refuse to listen to experienced survivors, abusers win. Abusers are experienced too. They thrive on secrecy and ignorance. They know how hide their actions and disguise their true intentions.
Abuse will only end if people stop treating survivors as victims in need of rescue and start treating them as experienced experts on survival whose opinions on the subject are not only legitimate, but invaluable.
As survivors, our pain doesn’t cloud our minds. It broadens them.
Listen to us.