Articles about abuse memoirs and abuse blogs: why we need to write them
Some years ago, Pump up the Volume inspired me to keep writing my truth. This may have been back in the early 2000s, or it may have been in the mid-2000s, I don’t remember now. Maybe even both. As the reclusive main character said at the end,
I’m calling for every kid to seize the air. Steal it, it belongs to you. Speak out, they can’t stop you. Find your voice and use it. Keep this going. Pick a name, go on air.
It’s your life, take charge of it. Do it, try it, try anything. Spill your guts out and say sh** and fu** a million times if you want to, but you decide. Fill the air, steal it. Keep the air alive. TALK HARD!!!!
As I wrote in Narcissistic Webs:
I hope this will be cathartic, get the truth out, so that I can heal from what has emotionally and spiritually traumatized me. I hope to make it (and my private account) a repository for all the hurt, pain, anger and bitterness, so that I can transfer it out of my heart.
I have dealt with previous abusive situations in this way, putting them into writing and then posting them on the Web, and it has been largely successful in helping me move on past those times.
I feel that if I just make it vanish, hide the story, it will do no more good than it did with my previous abuse stories.
For example, right after college I began writing College Memoirs, which were a combination of good things and life during that time, and the terrible things that happened with guys who used and abused (I hesitate to refer to them as “men”).
I was going to publish them, but feared libel suits, so I began putting the stories into my fiction instead.
But since the demands of fiction are that you don’t put your own life stories into your stories exactly as they occurred, or else your stories will appear pieced together like Frankenstein, I didn’t feel like my stories of abuse were quite dealt with yet.
I also read an article in Writer’s Digest about writing and publishing abuse stories, and the healing it can bring….So I posted a public version of my College Memoirs, first in e-mails to friends, then on a Myspace blog, then on my website.
Even though they don’t get many hits, the stories have been read by some, and in the past several years, I feel myself finally moving past these things that happened 15-20 years ago. They are on the Webpages now and don’t have to be carried around inside me.
I also have a full account of what happened in this particular case, but it is so personal and private that I keep it locked away from anyone but myself. Just as with the College Memoirs, I have a personal and a private version.
My hope is that this blog will have the same effect as those public Memoirs. It has been said many times that the abused need to get their stories out into the open, not hide them for fear of “airing dirty laundry,” because that just victimizes them further.
Some people don’t “get” the concept of writing your abusive experiences into blogs or printed memoirs. Maybe those people are not writers. Or maybe they’ve never been abused or bullied.
Also, remember that Nellie Olson, in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, was a real person–or rather, a few real people–but her last name was changed because she was still living at the time.
Here are some articles to explain this to others who don’t understand, or to help you in your own writing:
Why would anyone want to read about another person’s horrible childhood? One reason: Because our stories are bigger than ourselves.
I read other people’s memoirs to feel less alone than I felt when I was growing up. I felt absolutely alone–cut off and different from the rest of humanity. I wrote my own story to extend that same hand to others. –Sara McGrath, Why do we write these misery memoirs?
Why do people read, or write, unhappy autobiographies and memoirs? A simple answer to both questions is therapy, or more accurately, bibliotherapy.
Bibliotherapy…describes the act of reading selected works for the purpose of healing a personal issue, such as a history of child abuse. –Sara McGrath, Child Abuse Memoirs and Autobiographies
And that’s when I finally ‘got it’, allowing me to forgive and let it go…for good! Freeing my soul of resentment and anger, allowing me to see exactly why things happened and the reasons, but most importantly, making me realize ALL those supposedly ‘negative’ experiences made ME the person I see standing in the mirror today.
And you know what? I truly like that person…now. –Lisa Vaughn, Who Writes Memoirs Anyways?
As I was writing Don’t Mind Me I could feel a sense of relief that I was getting my experiences down on paper; the act of writing the book was cathartic for me and it lessened the power of traumatic memories over me.
I’d thought the treatments of ECT would have wiped away many memories but I found no difficulty in recalling events and writing about them really helped me to let go of the past….
Since my book has been published there are members of my birth family who do not speak to me – so intense is their disapproval. Though sad at the break up of my birth family, I do not regret writing and publishing my book. –Judith Haire, On Memoirs: Writing About Abuse and Difficult Topics
Do not allow your perpetrators to silence you.
Many well meaning Christians who have “forgiven” their predators say that the events are also forgotten. If they were, you would not remember them, to share them with others.
Many well meaning people are discouraged to tell their story because they fear that their perpetrator will be offended, or hurt if your expose the truth.
Well, here is some truth for you. The perpetrator that you are covering for, may have actually committed these acts on someone else, and your forgiveness and selective forgetfulness i.e, fear of rocking the boat could be what helps them continue to recommit felonies- child sexual abuse, molestation, rape etc, on someone else’s child including their own.
I am not telling you to take them to court and put them in jail if that is not your desire and it has been twenty years. I talk about my thoughts about court in Taking The Stand.
However, their feelings should not play a part in you telling the truth about your own trauma. Families have silenced themselves for years, and perpetrators’ actions have lived on generation to generation. —How to Tell Your Story
Drawing upon my years of working with people who are healing trauma, in my book The Power of Memoir I discuss the importance for a victim of abuse and trauma to write down what really happened as a testimony to the injustices suffered.
I quote Alice Miller’s work on how important it is to be witnessed with compassion and understanding for the injuries suffered. When we are witnessed, we are no longer alone. Writing offers us witnessing—as we tell the story of how we suffered and coped. As a writer-narrator, we are witnessing ourselves and healing the past.
The studies on writing as healing by psychologists and brain experts all underscore the need to write your stories, to search for and tell the truth. How healing it is to hear your own authentic voice! And when you’re ready, you can share your story so others can learn from your experiences. –Linda Joy Myers, Jaycee Lee Dugard–Her Memoir as Survival Testimony
The silence that protects victims also protects perpetrators. Victims have important reasons for hiding the things that happened to them. There is the stigma of shame, often made worse because the victim is made to feel responsible. And there is the risk of angering the perpetrator.
Until the memoir age, many wounded people have never felt empowered to share their stories. Now more people are telling and more listening.
In my optimistic vision, I see memoirs tearing down walls, and I feel a surge of hope like the crowds who were swinging sledge hammers in the final hours of the Berlin Wall. –Jerry Waxler, Fearlessly Confessing the Dark Side of Memory in this Memoir of Sexual Abuse
Pennebaker also wrote that repeatedly confronting an upsetting experience through writing allows for a less emotionally laden assessment of its meaning and impact.
Once organized, events become smaller and smaller and therefore easier to deal with. Writing moves us to resolution; it becomes psychologically complete and therefore there’s no need to ruminate about it beyond the trauma. –Catherine McCall, Writing and Healing
The August 2006 issue of Writer’s Digest had an article, “Spilling Secrets,” which encouraged me to post my college memoirs online, even though there are stories about abuse in those memoirs. For years, I had been trying to deal with those demons from abuse and bullying by putting those stories into my fiction. But it just wasn’t quite the same thing.
Then I read in this article about Kathryn Harrison, who tried to deal with her past incestuous relationship with her father in fiction, but ended up with writer’s block. Then she realized she had betrayed herself by first writing about this as fiction, and that she needed to break the silence. After convincing her editor to publish this memoir, The Kiss, she began to write it.
And once she finally got it all down on paper and published, her writer’s block was long gone: She wrote eleven more books, “including two more memoirs.”
One of the solaces that art can offer you is the chance to make something out of what’s hurt you. You can objectify an experience, put it on paper, craft it and shape it. There’s perhaps an illusory control over it. But it is significant….
You’re taking this trauma and turning it into something else, as if it were this great mass of clay that you threw down on a potter’s wheel and started pushing around to making [sic] something out of it.
The writer of the article, Sandra Hurtes, writes,
If you get squeamish at the thought of making the personal public, ask yourself what’s stopping you….
If you, too, are concerned with outing those who harmed you, the words “bear witness to the truth” might cast a new perspective on your dilemma.
In her book Writing as a Way of Healing, author Louise DeSalvo suggests asking yourself who your loyalty is for and what truth you want to bear witness to.
A letter to the editor about this article, by Ruth Pealer, published in the April 2007 issue, said,
I believe most writers, if not all, write for therapeutic reasons….
I think if you can ask yourself why you need to write, it’ll release you from your personal demons, and you’ll progress further in your writing career…
There will be people who object to your writing, and it’s up to you to keep writing regardless. I’ve noticed memoir writing has become popular in recent years. Why is that happening? Perhaps it’s because our society has become more secretive, more abusive or has become a riskier place to live.
As written by Brent Staples in his review of The Kiss,
Younger novelists have joined the memoir trend. But hard-core traditionalists have denounced it as a blight on literature and a turn toward self-indulgence and exhibitionism.
This is curious indeed, given that novels and memoirs are often so closely related as to be interchangeable. First novels in particular are often no more than thinly veiled personal histories.
In addition, the best memoirs use fictional techniques — and could easily pass for novels if the writers wanted to call them that. In other words, what distinguishes many memoirs from fiction is that memoirs own up to being true….
For Mr. Gass, biography is only acceptable when produced by some mythical neutral observer. He sees memoirs as “tainted with conceit” and the impulse to preen for posterity.
But novelists suffer this ailment as well. Even the most respected of them have kidnapped enemies into their pages, trashing spouses, lovers and rivals — while hiding behind the label of fiction.
Memoir writers drop the pretense, which makes the narrative more honest and often more compelling….
It has become popular to dismiss memoir as a way of peddling misery to a voyeuristic public. But what’s at play here is a prejudice that regards fiction as more literary than nonfiction narrative writing.
That may have been true in other times, but given the stylistic kinship that now links novels and memoirs, that prejudice is no longer supportable.
(No, don’t trust the blurb at the beginning of novels that this book is not based on real people, living or dead. That’s just a legal thing to fend off libel suits. Libel suits are a common problem for writers.)
As written in the description of an Oprah episode about Mackenzie Phillips:
After 31 years of secrecy, Mackenzie says she had to tell her story for herself and others like her.
“In the finding redemption and freedom for myself, maybe I’m going to be giving a little piece of it to somebody else to hold onto,” she says. “Having this type of story, and still being here to tell the tale, tells me that I’m still here for a reason.” —Mackenzie Phillips’ Family Secret
The bottom line is that speaking up about abuse is rarely easy. It is one of the hardest things you may ever do.
But, you need to be brave and speak up anyway.
If you remain quiet and never speak up, this abuser will most likely abuse you or someone else again. You could prevent this. You definitely will not if you remain silent.
If you keep this abuse within yourself and suffer in silence, you will never truly heal. Talking about what happened to you, is part of the healing process.
When you speak up about abuse, you encourage other people to speak up and they are more able to heal their pain.
Abuse needs to end and it may not end in our lifetime. However, by us speaking up about our abuse, we can begin to heal within and prevent others from being abused. –Joanne Cipressi, Be Brave to speak up if you were abused
Wikipedia article on the “Misery Lit” genre
(Though, of course, it can be said that blogging is more authentic than misery lit, which can be seen as peddling misery to line the publisher’s pockets. Bloggers often don’t make anything.)
But Glass says many readers identify with aspects of the stories. “I have had a lot of letters and emails from people since the publication, from adults who were abused as children. These people say they wept as they were reading it because it just took them back.
“One chap in his 50s who wrote to me had been as badly abused [as Jodie], if not worse. I’ve also had emails and letters from other foster carers who said, ‘Thank goodness you have told the story.'”
The psychologist and author Oliver James says that such readers, who recognise their own experience in the books, are likely to make up a much bigger proportion than we might like to think.
“Although it is true that on the whole, compared with 100 years ago, there are fewer people walking around who had a horrendous childhood, there are still a hell of a lot of people out there who have had neglect, maltreatment, physical and sexual abuse and cruelty inflicted on them. These narratives will provide them with an opportunity to identify, let’s say, with the various characters involved.” –Esther Addley, Guardian article on the recent rise of abuse literature
What is the role of survivor stories in suicide prevention?
A closer look at why people blog
What all of the recent media attention to bullying has done is given untold numbers of victims—past and present—a voice to share their experiences, now that they finally realize that they are not alone. –Signe Whitson, Yes, We Are Talking About It More!
I’ve written through some hard times over the last twenty some years – divorce, a cancer scare and operation, a toxic relationship, and worst of all my son’s descent into drugs.
There were many days when I felt as if I had no control. I wrote because I needed to make a living, not realizing that writing through tough times is what gave me strength…and by doing that I gained composure and confidence to face the negatives that seemed to be swamping my own life story. –Elvira Woodruff, Writing and Healing: Five Stellar Strategies for Writing Through Tough Times
I do not want pity. I do not want you to feel ill about any of it. I just want to exist somewhere, someplace where I am not told “get over it”, “shut-up”, “everyone has a bad life”.
I do not want to be an ugly stain, a throttled voice or a beaten soul. I want to heal, if at all possible, I want closure for my life of such horrors and traumas. –Karen Placek, Foreword: An Independent Mind, Knot Logic
A commenter on the blog of Mikalee Byerman, who was threatened with a lawsuit for blogging about her divorce:
People blog about their lives, plain and simple…and this is your life. If writing this entertaining and resourceful blog helps you and others heal a little from a traumatic experience, where’s the harm in that?
This blog by Releasing Jessie discusses the purpose of writing a blog about her experiences with her narcissistic mother, and her fears of her mother finding it; in the comments, other bloggers share their own fears and reasons.
My Trip to Oz and Back is much like my own blogs, an account of two years spent by the writer with her girlfriend, which was actually a 50-page letter sent by the author to her ex-girlfriend.
That was in the late 90s, when the author had never heard of borderline personality disorder, so there had been no official diagnosis for her to point to. But the more she learned about BPD, the more she knew her ex-girlfriend had it, so she posted this letter to help others who are dealing with someone with BPD.
It has been on the Web since 2003, and by November 2006 had received 53,000 hits. As the author wrote on the main page,
Writing this was cathartic. It doubled as a form of therapy. I actually did send the letter; however, I doubt that it had much effect. The more I learned about BPD, the more I realized that the likelihood of this person ever really understanding, was probably close to zero….
Why would I want to put such a personal document online? There are several reasons. First, I wanted to give an accurate portrayal of what it is like to be in a relationship with a person with BPD. There are many books and websites on BPD, but relatively few from a significant other’s point of view.
Second, I am hoping that someone out there might read a bit and identify with it. When one is in a difficult situation, sometimes just hearing about another person’s similar experience can be affirming–as in, “I’m not the only one.”
Finally, I consider myself a success story–see the final chapter, the epilogue. My wish is to give hope to others.
Like me, the author changed names and identifying details. This is to protect the guilty as well as the innocent.
It’s the most baffling part of Richard and Tracy threatening a lawsuit, because I never used and never intend to use their real names in these blogs–and anything I would tell my priest about this, would be the truth, and not in any way actionable.
Joyful Alive Woman also wrote about her abusive, narcissist, former female friend.
Mulderfan commented on a post,
FYI, a THERAPIST suggested I “piss and moan” on a blog as a way to rid myself of my demons. Its actually been a great way for me to meet other “volunteers” who, unlike you, validate my experiences.
My own abuse memoir starts here.